Finding the Right Flooring for You

In the Northeast, the most popular flooring we install is white oak planks. This type of floor has remained popular because it is durable, and has a lasting aesthetic that can survive trends by re-finishing.  Refinishing an oak floor completely can be done 3-8 times (depending on the experience of the refinisher) and each re-finishing has a lifespan of about 20 years.  Not a bad long-term investment!

There have been other wood species that are popular in our area, such as Brazilian cherry. It is warm and dark with more of a redder tone than walnut. My advice is to think about the whole house and overall architecture before making a selection since it is important to have consistency through the interior where you install wood. Plus, it will be part of the architectural tone of the interior for some time.

In one home we renovated in Dover, the owners had installed wide plank walnut throughout when the home was built. The New England neo/shingle style made this a perfect choice. The floors are a great timeless statement. These planks were about 6” wide, which I know many people do enjoy a wider floor.

If you are adding on and have a lot of good existing oak, one great idea you can use that will keep a good consistent flow is to use wider boards in the same wood for the new family room. Then re-finish the entire first floor at one time. This would keep a sense of cohesion while making one space feel more upscale/casual and all the floors would have a similar matching color and grain- you could even stain them to match. Keep in mind that the wider the board, the higher the cost and it is recommended for boards over 4” that the flooring be glued and nailed to avoid cupping.

Now a day, wall to wall carpet has become increasingly popular in Master suites.  I think this has a lot to do with creating a soft and warm surface when we swing our legs around the bed for those first morning steps.  Additionally, the bedroom is where a pattern on the floor can create great synergy with the design and add a layer of texture.

There is a common misconception that carpet is less expensive than wood, which isn’t always true. The first time I learned about fine carpeting was about 20 years ago. The client asked me if using carpet would save them money if they installed it in their master bedroom; I said sure! Off they went to a very nice and reputable dealer and selected a beautiful Tibetan Wool carpet that was approximately $30 per square foot installed. Don’t worry; a good wool carpet is available for about the same cost as wood flooring.

No matter what you want your floor to do, make sure it is part of the overall design discussion when you begin planning.

Happy renovating! – Ray

 

Ice Melt Alternatives

It’s that time of year again! For some of us, there are special challenges around keeping our entry safe for family, the delivery folks and guests.

If you have a nice flat walking path to a covered entry- all you need is a shovel and some ice melt. But wait! Before sprinkling anything down there are a few things you should look for.

Some ice melt products can be very harmful to certain surfaces or your pets. Concrete is especially susceptible to calcium damage if the concrete is new or the product is overused. Read the labels carefully and if you must put down salt, do it sparingly.

Last winter, I went to see a previous client in Weston about another renovation in the middle of February. They have a long sloped walk that leads to an entry that ends up collecting a lot of snow and drips. The sloped walk keeps water flowing when it melts and freezing on the path in the cold which makes this an ongoing maintenance issue, even with a mild winter.

If you have wood steps like mine, you know that a mild day of drizzle with below freezing temperatures overnight leaves a very slick surface. If you have a slope with an area of runoff that makes the ice difficult to keep up with, constant snow melt can damage the steps and be very time consuming to keep up with.

That Weston client had these rubber mats leading down the walk that were heated and were also very skid resistant. I decided to try them on for size in a very unusual lay-out as shown. Last year I had temporary pressure treated wood on there and didn’t mind throwing salt and sand on them. I couldn’t imagine salting the new Ipe walk, and I had to promise my wife that I would buy these mats if we went with wood over masonry so the morning walk to the bus wasn’t a daring act of balance.

A couple of quick notes:

1) What you see cost about $1k (my in-laws are worth it).

2) Most exterior outlets are 15 amps. Each 5’ section is 2.4 amps and each step is .7 amps.

I didn’t need a new circuit like my friend Bob in Weston but I did buy a remote so I wouldn’t have to go outside to turn them on. You could add an outlet with a timer switch if that works for you and only run them when you need them. In my test today, they warmed up in about 10 minutes while 25 degrees outside and the manufacturer says it melts 2” per hour.

Happy Winter! – Ray

Pros and Cons of Waterfall Edges

Waterfall edges on counter tops can be a great way to push a modern vibe. As long as you know what to expect, you won’t be disappointed.

The first thing you should be prepared for is the cost, because in some cases this look can more than double the price. The things that have an effect on price start with the seam. Where the vertical and horizontal edges meet, the material should be grain matched to keep the movement in the top contiguous. You can see in the photos that this is true for both pictures. The picture with the double thick top is in our showroom and the waterfall edge is on both sides of the counter. On the other end (not shown) the grain does not line up because the material was not long enough. In the “during construction” photo for this high-rise kitchen remodel in Boston, we were able to procure a “jumbo” slab for seamless top and matching grains. Also, there is a price difference on the thickness of the counter and if you have it doubled up, you can achieve a finished side on both ends of the counter. Make sure you ask about the edge and get a look at the lay-out before you make a final decision.

 

 

Because this look is popular, driven both by the push for modern design and the desire to have a statement piece- don’t just put this look into a kitchen because you want one. When we are asked about incorporating a waterfall edge in a design, we try to also show 2-3 other concepts with other monolithic ideas to resolve what really works in the space. A great looking kitchen is the sum of the parts and if this is forced into a space it really doesn’t fit, it can actually detract from the end result.

It isn’t just for stone or quartz, we used a great piece of walnut in one kitchen that gave an additional stool space around the corner and made for a nice warm transition to the family room!

Happy counters! Ray

What’s Under That Old Siding?

In the picture below, this is a typical 1940’s home in a Wellesley neighborhood we have done a few projects in. As part of a whole home renovation, we are going to put on a new roof, new siding and replace all of the exterior trim and windows. When we are done, it will be better than new!

Our firm has removed and renovated siding from homes that are CIRCA 1760, and unfortunately; also homes that are only a few years old because of faulty product or installation. I often get asked about what to expect once the siding comes off, or hear that someone told them they won’t know until after the siding comes off. 

The reality is that it is very predictable with an eye on a few items. A good exterior inspection will shed light on repairs that were made or if there was a lot of deferred maintenance. If the home is on the historic end of the spectrum, it will look close to the photo of the 1940s home except the boards will be less uniform and there will be larger gaps. On a home like that, as long as the wear and tear are typical we expect to replace about 10% of those boards before re-siding and if the home is in rough shape, we will be re-nailing the sheathing and probably some of the framing. The renovations of the homes that fall in the 1940 category are about the same. These homes were built post war with pride and are not really that old in the renovation business. If a previous owner neglected the home, we would probably find some insect or water damage (about 2-3 days of labor from a carpenter to repair).

It’s the 1975 to present day houses that are the more troubling ones to work on, mostly because the issues are born more from a dollar driven new home construction and use of poor materials. It will likely be plywood below with rot from leaking assemblies and rotted trim. The sheathing will need to be re-nailed because there were not enough nails to begin with and larger sections will need to be uncovered.

One of the questions most asked is whether the siding under vinyl or aluminum siding will be salvageable. Although I am an optimist, the reality is that these homes were usually over-sided because of an issue with the original siding. Additionally, there will be nail holes all over the original siding. If you are planning for a full exterior renovation, my advice is to budget for the original siding to come off so you don’t end up in worse shape when the vinyl comes off. Happy renovating! Feel free to contact us if you are in need of exterior remodel to see how we can help!

Fantastic Finished Basements Begin with Building Science

We get many calls for finishing basements, especially as winter looms and families look to stretch the range of their home and entertain the children. The most important part of finishing these spaces is of course getting the space that gives you the most bang, tailored to your family.  The top contenders are: Play date spots for groups of toddlers, gaming space for tweens and teens, media and/or entertaining spaces and my personal favorite, the home gym.

Finished Steam Room and Home Gym in a Wayland Remodel

A common misconception about finishing the basement is one that I have heard from some of our clients. “What I want isn’t complicated, so I don’t think I need a higher level of expertise on a project like that”. Here are a few reasons this space needs to be treated with care and why the value priced quote you may get could be a poor investment.  There will be a wide range of value decisions along the way; however, what is underneath the walls in basements becomes more important than the rest of the home in terms of safety, health and comfort.  

Let’s start with the existing finished basement that many of you either have inherited or saw on your home search. In the 60’s or 70’s the homeowner put up some studs and paneling for a hip man cave or neighborhood bar.  These spaces are usually falling down, and don’t have any heat or insulation.  Then, as the energy crisis in the 70’s got folks geared up for insulation, some basements received a good dose of fiberglass between the sheetrock and the concrete walls… it was code after all! Now that we know what we know, here are the 3 MOST important things we believe are the foundation (no pun intended) for a healthy basement:

  1. We use metal framing studs on all perimeter walls. Metal won’t absorb water and the space between the finished walls and concrete can have much different dew points than the room itself.

  2. Spray foam insulation is used instead of fiberglass on these perimeter walls as well. We get a thermal break from the colder concrete and a much reduced condensation. You have probably seen copper pipes in the summer beading with water… once the foundation is insulated… we don’t see this. It is much more expensive, but the peace of mind on long term comfort and moisture reduction makes this a must for us.

  3. Proper air ventilation is something that is required for any space that is either new construction with foam, or for areas like basements that have less than 4% of the floor space in window openings that allow fresh air in. A good heat recovery ventilator keeps the air quality healthy at all times.

Metal studs and spray foam insulation in a Brookline basement remodel

There are a couple of code items that apply as well. The ceiling height for habitable space is a minimum of 7 feet 2 inches. Also required and extremely important is a means of egress.  Most basements have a door to a bulkhead- so if you are having slumber parties, make sure the kids know the way out in case of emergency, and clear any snow off the bulkhead in the winter.