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

Have a Little Fun with your Renovation!

blue vanity

Our showroom bath was all original from 1929, except for the sink and toilet. It would be kind to say that it was the area of our showroom that had the most “deferred maintenance” and we found ourselves apologizing whenver a client asked to use it.And when you hear “be careful, the toilet is a little wobbly”, it doesn’t spark much confidence.

 

Don’t take life (or every home project) too seriously. If there is something you can do in your renovation that makes you smile every time you see it, then it’s worth doing. In our showroom we have to show the things that are most used and try to add a bit of flair so that folks can push their comfort level just a bit. We often hear people say that they would love to do colored cabinets, but are concerned they will fall out of love in a couple of years. If the kitchen or bath is designed with synergy of color and texture, the colored cabinets will have a lasting and pleasing aesthetic.

 

We have a few more things to add to our bath… but “the cobbler’s shoes”. Here is a sneak peak of the starter kit, with fun blue cabinets! The hardware is mixed but complimentary and we decided to play on the current trend of wood looking porcelain tile in a different geometric pattern. Our team decided that a unique and silly restroom sign was in order for our newly renovated powder room. We found some very interesting things online ranging from goofy to downright inappropriate. With no consensus, we declared Alexandra (a talented designer, Spartan racer and jewelry maker) the official restroom sign finder. We hope you like it… she couldn’t find something just right so she made it herself :)

 

restroom sign

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

What are the Costs vs Value of Remodeling?

Every year, Remodeling Magazine publishes a Cost vs. Value report and tries to estimate the return on investment to different home projects so consumers will have an idea of what the total investment is.  While I am obviously not going to look like an objective source in these matters, I would like to point out a few flaws with the report, as well as provide you with what I know makes our clients glad they renovated.

The primary factual concerns I have with the report are that the cost is averaged out in very different geographic and economic areas. Our higher end projects are typically a bit more expensive, and if you live in a community where custom fixtures are not part of the spec., you get lumped into the “New England” market anyway. I have done $25k bath renovations in Holliston and $150k master baths in Chestnut Hill. I have installed $10k tubs in Holliston, and $500 tubs in Newton…. you get the idea.

Next, the source of the report is a survey of realtors. Nothing against the Real Estate Community; however, about 10 years ago a very distinguished realtor in my area told a prospective buyer her master bath renovation in Wellesley would probably cost $25k. We ended up helping the buyer with the project they wanted for $59k, and needless to say they had to shop around a bit to get to the bottom of the discrepancy.  Additionally, the Realtors Association is large, and the average experience delta from new agent to seasoned pro is pretty big.

Wellesley Bath Remodel

Here is the other part of the cost/value equation.  Imagine you live in a house and the bath is about 60-70 years old and has to be renovated due to “catastrophic delayed maintenance”.  You have a few choices:

  1. Patch the leak and sell low!
  2. Do a substandard renovation and sell with a bit of guilt, or re-do the bath again in 5 years.
  3. Repair it properly, enjoy the new space the way you want it.

The other major value changer is in the savings of staying where you are. Homes need maintenance, and eventually renovation. If you like your neighborhood and lot, and you can have a space tailored to your family; you will save the realty commission and the moving expense and get to live where you love. As an added bonus, the longer you stay in your home (I recommend a 5 year minimum) the monetary cost/value delta shrinks. The actual ROI, not the hypothetical return as if you would sell your home the day after completing a renovation, is the appreciation of the real estate at the new home value.

The real danger is for the serial career movers out there.  If you change states often for greener job pastures, perhaps buying a new house in each place is a better idea. Happy Remodeling!

boston bath remodel