Benefits of Using Steel Beams in Residential Remodeling

I am often asked the question during a site consultation; “Is this a bearing wall”? What people want to know is, “can this wall be removed or a new entry installed”?  Most of the time it is very easy for an experienced builder or designer to determine which walls are bearing in a home and which ones are not. While it doesn’t always require a structural engineer to figure out where the bearing walls are, in Massachusetts any opening larger than the beam, header or girder sizes located in the code book require a structural engineer to specify the beam size, connections and load path.

Enough of the boring engineering (sorry engineers).   In residential remodeling we are constantly asked to open walls and it is a huge pet peeve of mine to install the easy low hanging beam that announces; “I am where the room used to end”!   Because of my penchant for better design and a stronger end result, our firm uses a lot of steel beams and therefore we often need to involve a structural engineer.

Benefits of steel:

1. Steel beams are always more compact than engineered lumber or typical lumber headers.

2. The deflection (how much the beam will bend under stress) is easier to dictate.

3. Steel can offer larger openings that other beams cannot.

Cons of Steel:

1. Cost is a little more to pay for engineering (about $500), and the material itself is a bit more pricey depending on the size.  

2. Steel should be installed by very experienced workmen who are familiar with the equipment, weight of lifting this into place, and the connections.

3. Steel installs require more hands on deck for safety and alignment.

The reason some contractors shy away from steel is that it can be intimidating to work with steel because it requires some heavy duty tools like a welder or drills that are commercial capacity. It also requires more hands on deck and is not the job typically for a carpenter and helper.

The real bottom line is that when you are going through the design phase, make sure you understand the result aesthetically of when a wall is removed and that you are comfortable with how your home is going to be held up.

Happy Renovating!

The Importance of Mock-ups in Home Remodeling

Many times in the construction process there are details that can benefit from a template, mock-up or pattern. Often we mock-up decorative window pediments so the client can feel comfortable with the scale and how it looks on the house. This can also help keep the construction moving along if we need to have a coppersmith create caps for those pediments- they can be made while the carpentry is happening so they get installed right away instead of being delayed by waiting until the pediments are all built for measuring.

Sometimes one of our designers may ask the carpenter create a pattern to see the detail if there is any question about making it more optimum to the project. I know that I am someone who likes to see these so that I can make sure things look as good from our real vantage point as they do in the 3D rendering our architecture software produces. Details are the part of the project that make difference.

In the photo below, this rough mock-up at a project in Dover helped the client see the overhang of the roof, it helped the carpenter lay-out the final bracket installation and also allowed the designer to make a minor modification to the ceiling materials, rafter layout and little end detail. All of which will make standing up to this pool side bar a much more quality experience for everyone when it is done.

Roof mockup in Dover

If you are a visual person like me, don’t hesitate to ask for some tools to help understand your space better- maybe even drawing the built-in shelves on the wall before the carpenter starts will make you feel less anxious about the end result!

cabana roof in Dover        Copper roof overhang in Dover

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the weather, converting one story to two

We do many projects that involve opening a home in a way that could make it vulnerable to the elements. I am often asked if we do large home renovation projects in the winter season, or how we protect the home against the elements. Believe it or not, I have actually done a few projects where we removed the entire roof structure to add a second floor in the middle of winter while we had clients living in the residence- here is how we plan for it.

The first step is to have a scalable plan. It is important to know how long certain assemblies take and what the resources are. This is construction so contingency is needed in case we have some ebb and flow to certain pieces. Step one, do not remove the roof first without knowing what the next steps are-even if it seems like the obvious first thing to go. We know in advance if we are keeping the ceiling (and if that is a viable floor structure), we may also have some items that require or benefit by pre-cutting or building some of the walls. Step 2, we live in New England so the weather can change without much notice, so it’s crucial to be watching the weather daily. That may sound obvious, but in the construction business our planning is so vital around the weather that we are almost as aware of the dew point as the time of day.

In the case of this current project, it rained a bit every day the week before this photo was taken, so we were busy cutting all the roof rafters and wall studs so that we could make progress this week. We also built a 2 story wall inside that we will lift tomorrow morning, and built a couple of the interior bearing walls as well as prepped the steel beam. The weather called for possible showers this Wednesday so the project lead decided to remove only half the roof in case we had to cover- that forecast changed yesterday :) so we continued to move forward… and watch the weather. Every project is different and every week offers different weather- so plans will change, but our customers will always stay dry.

 

Project Management for Residential Remodeling

Project Management in home remodeling has a bit more to it than scheduling- many items involved are tacit in nature.  At The Wiese Company, we know that having a diversified skill set from unique and friendly teammates is the right mix, but “why” is it important to have this diversity?   For starters, all of us humans have interests and strengths- and why not capitalize on that. The opposite is sure fired disaster and letting people do what they love always helps deliver excellent results.

Here are a few insights into what we do:

  1. Designers and architects meet with client and design a project that meets the need and budget. This process is usually 1-2 months for an average home addition with kitchens and baths- and usually doesn’t have all the “details” worked out, such as tile selection or maybe the final design of an architectural element such as a portico.

  2. The design and production staff have walked through the property early on in the design program and now re-convene to discuss construction staging and working around the family. (have pets, kids, relatives visiting, vacation? I think the Latin is “life interuptus”J)

  3. The project is in full swing, the plumber informs us that he has a family emergency and he will be delayed 3 days…!!! The inspection is set and we have been anticipating starting the insulation on the following Monday- in jumps the production manager to hit the reset button (without changing the end date). It can also happen that the custom bath that we ordered in advance has arrived with a defect… The designer that is wearing the project coordinating hat is on the phone with the distributer working all the magic possible and the project manager is on the phone with the plumber to see if we can get an inspection without it.​​​​

At our firm, we have a weekly meeting with all the field staff and have a designer present so that everyone is familiar with the stage of every project.  The carpenters get questions answered, the designer gets to share and distribute needed paperwork and if someone here needs a sick day- you’ll never notice a hiccup in your project.

The result of solid project management is making it look easy. The benefit of having the designers integral with the project allows for quick solution oriented changes or corrections.   The synergy of a great construction manager working with a craftsman who loves his trade and a designer who has great vision keeps all the pieces running smoothly.   I would tell you about the other billion scenarios that make this important but I haven’t seen them all yet! And- that is the great fun of our endeavor.