How to Avoid Construction Surprises

If you have read my blog, you will know that I believe there are no real surprises in the estimating of construction. There is a thing called inexperience… and that usually results in surprise costs. I had to stop watching HGTV because the programs almost always result in the designer and contractor meeting with the Owner to let them know about an “unforeseen” issue that was going to break the budget. Also in most cases I would wonder why they didn’t know they would need a beam, that they couldn’t move the plumbing without additional expense, etc., etc.

A hidden cost in construction, that shouldn’t be a surprise is rotting sills. It doesn’t matter how expensive the home is, we are constantly finding wood rot behind the front stoop. So much so, that we already know we are likely to find it even when there are no visible signs; and we can find evidence pre-budget. The primary culprit is typically poor coordination between the builder, the person siding or the mason.

In the picture below we were performing an interior renovation in Wellesley. The client had hired a well-intentioned landscape mason to renew the front stoop, making it wider and using natural stone. Because the mason wasn’t familiar with this type of work (connecting masonry to the home), they left portions of a pine water table in place and were building up against it. They were creating a future rot and insect issue as well as leaving some rot that was pre-existing. Fortunately, they were truly interested in doing the right thing and waited for us to get a carpenter there to remove the water table and install flashing.

I know these are not sexy photos- but hopefully it will help if you are planning to replace the front stoop. Below we moved a large granite landing away from a house in Dover getting a new porch. We and found the rot we expected… about 9 feet of rotted sill plate. No problem! 2 hours, 2 carpenters, 18′ of 2×6 pressure treated lumber and NO INVOICE to the client. I can’t wait to show you the beautiful porch that will be here in a few weeks.

Happy renovating, Ray

Adding a 2nd Floor in Newton

We are excited to wrap up the frame of this project in Newton. Not just so we can reduce the anxiety of the client, also because the owners will begin to fully understand the improvement that this master retreat and newly designed 2nd floor will provide for their family.

We are often asked when we think the best time to take a roof off is. My silly answer… “when it isn’t raining”. The fact in New England is, that weather is subject to change most times of the year. Here it is early September and we have had several days of rain and the remnants of one hurricane with another on the way. The most important part in removing a roof structure is the planning so don’t be afraid to ask your remodeler what their plan is.

  • Plan the weather as close as possible with every weather app on hand! We do want a decent window of opportunity.
  • Have contingency plan to weather tight if the weather forecast is “not what you heard on the news”. The dismantling may be partial to aid in shorter weather windows.
  • Hire expert Carpenters that know how to make this process an expeditious one.

There are many reasons to go up! Newton Renovations often involve going up because the closer we get to Boston, the lots become smaller. There are also economies to this type of renovation because we do not need a foundation and sometimes going up is more elementary. In this case we had to design a somewhat complex roof system that involved a crane to get the beams up, create the open space, and not only add a master suite- complete with walk in closet and master bath- we had to create a proper laundry and larger bath for the growing young ladies.

I can’t wait to show you the after photos! Thanks to Jeremy and team for your hard work getting the roof on, Ray‚Äč

Newton addition
newton construction
newton remodel
newton remodel

Tips on Hiring a Contractor; Part 1

Electricians

Our skilled (and friendly) electricians taking a lunch break 

One of the many important parts of hiring a contractor is to know what type of subcontractors they use, how often they use them, and why they use them. Some General Contractors (GC’s) sub-contract everything, and this is common in the new home market because there is very little service required to owners, and things are more often done one piece at a time. Unfortunately, it often results in the contractor shopping by price (not quality), and sometimes less oversight from one phase to another. If you are hiring a GC that subcontracts everything, it is a good idea to understand the level of their management on the project. We use a Project Lead Carpenter at our firm where a highly skilled craftsperson can produce great carpentry while managing and working with the required trades.

The “what” subcontracting at our firm is everything except the carpentry we are doing. The obvious trades we have to employ are the licensed ones. In Massachusetts, that is the plumber, electrician and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning). If we have a lot of roofing, flooring, demolition, etc., we do work with some great folks….. but if we need a small amount of these items, it is more efficient to do it ourselves. That leaves the specialty trades. Because of a specific skillset or equipment, we sometime need people to bring heavy machinery to excavate and install foundations, and specialists that are excellent plasterers, painters and tile installers.

How often a contractor hires the same folks is also important. I believe that while our sub-contractors are not our employees, they are part of our family that will deliver the same good work and service that our firm does. I understand the need to be budget conscious and some would argue that the best way to do that is to bid everything to multiples. If you have expertise in remodeling and your sub-contractors are good honest business people, the GC should be able to manage any sub-creep in pricing and get a fair price for the project. The client will benefit long after the project is done with any follow up service and lasting quality.

Why I choose the items to sub out and subcontractors boils down to delivery of great quality at a high value. I sometimes hear in interviews for carpenters that they can do everything from light electrical to all the tile work. Understanding how something is done, or being able to do something is not the same as being the master of something. Any fantastic carpenter is probably not a fantastic tile man. If the quality is matched, the time to execute is likely longer- and more costly.

While you are interviewing for the right company for your family, ask a few more questions about who else will be in your home.

Happy renovations!

Ray

What is a Master Builder?

Some light reading for the summer.

I had a job recent applicant use the phrase “Master Builder” to describe himself during an interview and wasn’t sure how to take it. Not that I was questioning this person’s ability to lead, manage and work on our projects, but because I had spent a lot of time in my younger days trying to find out the criteria for this title. Other than architectural history classes, I remember this term being bounced around a couple of decades ago and used in advertisements by self-proclaimed master builders. I never did find any courses or criteria, or special licensure that would make one a “Master Builder”.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines a master builder as:  a person notably proficient in the art of building, the ancient Egyptians were master buildersspecifically:  one who has attained proficiency in one of the building crafts and is qualified or licensed to supervise building construction. Average modern construction (much of it in my opinion) wouldn’t hold a candle to the ancient Egyptians. Nor would holding a Massachusetts Constructing Supervisors license make one “proficient” based on the criteria our state requires to obtain one.

Wikipedia, provided sources that were contemporary. In 1887, full swing of the Victorian period: A master builder is recognized as such, not only for his ability to rear a magnificent structure after plans prepared by the architect for his guidance, but because of his ability to comprehend those plans, and to skillfully weave together the crude materials which make up the strength, the harmony, the beauty, the stateliness of the edifice which grow in his hands from a made foundation to a magnificent habitation.” The Inland Architect and News Record (1887), Volume 9, p. 43. The same source also identifies a Master Builder as “the central figure leading a construction project in an Amish Community”. Now that is something I could get behind :)

On a recent road trip across Europe, I stayed at Le Place d’Armes in Luxemburg.  I had the fortunate experience to have a room in the old attic of the building. It was this experience that compelled me to think of the skill used to build the large structure that dates back to the 18th century. Here is an old photo of the exterior, where I stayed in the corner attic room, along with the beams that were likely hoisted up by pulley’s.

Le Place D'Armes

Modern times have certainly changed the way we build, more notably for efficiency rather than longevity. Because the origin of the master builder was the precursor to the modern architect according to most historic sources, I think it is safe to say that currently on all large scale projects, there are many experts involved to dream up, engineer and oversee a project. For your remodeling needs, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have an experienced team that consisted of professional designers and craftspeople…. just saying.  

Decorative Open Ceiling

Why is Bath Remodeling so Expensive?

Bathroom renovations are not inexpensive; and that is one reason we believe it is a good idea to meet with clients at their home initially to see the size and condition of the space. By looking and putting our eyes on it, we can provide a verbal ballpark and explain the design budget process before we start designing away. One common reaction I get when I talk budget is “How could it possibly cost so much?” Understandably, most folks mentally simplify the budget using the cost of installing new tile plus what the local plumbing store quoted for new fixtures. Unfortunately, there is a bit more to it when you add all the line items together- and don’t forget the plumber! As a point of reference in our area, a family bath about 5×8 will cost typically between $25k and $35k. The big delta on the budget range is a combination of how old the home is and what you will selects for finishes.  Master baths vary more because the space, size, interior architecture, and the clients desired outcome have more variables. Master bathroom projects in this area can cost from $40k to just below six figures. Remember, there are tubs for $1k and tubs for over $10K.

There are a few factors for bath pricing that make the cost of this project one of the most expensive per square foot.  I know there is no square foot price in renovation, however there are a few main reasons baths top the chart:

  1. Every specialty trade involved in large projects will participate in the bath renovation.
  2. There are no economies of scale.
  3. The finishes are a larger portion of this type of project.
  4. Good tile work always requires excellent preparation and execution, and is worth paying more for.
  5. Plumbers. ?

I was traveling over Memorial Day weekend and discovered a photo example of what the most important part of any renovation is.  These photos were taken in a 4-star bed and breakfast with beautiful finished and handmade wallpaper, so clearly the Owner wasn’t new to higher end work. It is the work you don’t see at the end of the project when the tile looks great and the fixtures selected are beautiful. A successful renovation is when the electric and plumbing didn’t leave any time bombs behind, the carpenter fastens the subfloor and underlayment properly, and the tile installer professionally waterproofs and sets the tile. The cracks in the marble tile photo show thin white lines in the marble which are cracks developed by improper preparation of the underlayment below. The failure of the shower tile is likely the use of a poor underlayment or lack of waterproofing. Unfortunately, the renovations to this magnificent Inn were only about 6 years old.  

cracked subway tileCracked marble tile

 

Contact us here for more information if you are interested in renovating your bathroom.

Happy remodeling!
Ray