Planning a Remodel

Related page: Adding on to a House

Parent Q&A

Get permit now when planning for remodel? Apr 16, 2018 (1 responses below)
Where to begin with a major home remodel/addition? Feb 3, 2018 (2 responses below)
Seeking Advice re Remodel vs. Move and/or Remodel Recs Jan 30, 2018 (2 responses below)
House addition or remodel Mar 23, 2017 (3 responses below)
Trying to estimate just how pricey to build out on our house Nov 28, 2016 (2 responses below)
Bumping out a wall to expand the kitchen Aug 31, 2016 (1 responses below)
  • Remodeling newbie here hoping for advice from more seasoned homeowners. I browsed the BPN site on home remodels but didn't see anything specifically on this question. 

    We have in mind several remodel projects for our house in Berkeley. The highest priority is to tear out an existing addition to our house and have a new addition built on the same footprint, but half a level higher than the current addition, to be level with the main floor of the house (the current addition is ground level, which is half a level below the living room/dining room/kitchen). For various reasons, we probably wouldn't want to do this work for at least 2 years, possibly 3-5 years. But I've heard the permitting process can take so long, that I wonder if we should start working now with an architect to draw up some plans. Is it possible to have a project permitted but hold off on the construction for some period of time? Or does it all need to happen in quick succession? How much can we expect to spend working with an architect just to have some plans created?

    On a related note, does the architect handle the permit application process, or is all or some of that left to the contractor? 

    Anything else this total newbie should keep in mind as I begin this process? Many thanks!

    To begin with, you may want to check with the city or an architect if your project even needs a permit. It's not adding new space. For example, a kitchen or bath remodel can often be done without permits. If you haven't yet, I would strongly recommend just talking to the city permit desk officer about these topics first. 

    I can only speak from my experience in Albany, not Berkeley. Permitting takes 6-9 months (not 2-3 years). An approved permit must be issued ('pulled') within a year or it lapses. The permit application is typically submitted by an architect (who represents you at city hearings etc) but issued to a contractor. You can issue a permit to yourself as homeowner but there are certain risks associated with this: http://www.cslb.ca.gov/Consumers/Know_Risks_Of_Owner_-_Builder/. Also, Albany requires a construction bond (around $2000) which is only refunded after construction is complete and the project passes final inspection - this is to motivate people to finish their projects.

    In your situation, you could possibly get a permit application approved, issued, and then schedule construction 1-2 years later; assuming that a contractor would agree to those terms and you're willing to wait to get your bond back (and your project done). 

    How much you spend on an architect can vary widely depending on the project scope, but if there's structural work involved, expect $10-20k on design/survey/engineering fees and another $10-20k in city permit fees, all before a spade even hits the ground. 

  • Hey BPN'ers.  We're thinking of adding a second story to our 1100sf house in Oakland.  What are the first steps?  What can we expect? Who can you recommend? 

    Thanks!

    We are about 75% through an addition/remodel of our home. Here's what I'd suggest based on our experience so far -- start with a local contractor or contractor/architect duo who know the local code and requirements. Think about your space plan for the addition, whether major upgrades to the existing foundation, structural, electrical, HVAC, plumbing would be needed. Ask them for a rough estimate of what the whole project would cost - expect a number around $500 per sf. At this point, you decide whether you want to proceed... I'm assuming you'll also evaluate whether it's easier to simply sell and move. 

    If you decide to go forward, you have to start drawing up the detailed plans for permitting. Secure the finances, and a loan/refi if that's required. Plan for how you'll live through the construction (stay or move out). Once construction begins, you should expect to have to be very involved (it's your home after all). You'll need a work schedule that's flexible enough to allow meetings with various contractors/tradesmen between 9-5. Expect your weekend to be completely taken over by design/purchase decisions. Expect at least one or two major 'surprises' that will require additional work/money to resolve. Expect to be at least 10% over your initial budget. Try to plan for relief (small vacations, help with childcare from family, etc) to keep the stress/anticipation from taking too much of a toll. 

    I'm sure you'll find many many specific recommendations from others on this forum. Whoever you end up selecting, make sure they have local knowledge, and be sure you can trust them with your home (even if that costs 5% more). Good luck!!

    You need an architect, a contractor and permits from the city. The contractor can help you get permits. I worked with George Catalin on my projects and he helped me navigate all this process. I highly recommend him! He did a great job, asked for a fair price and made this process so much easier for me.

    His phone number is: (510) 695-4119 

    http://remodeling-building.com/ 

  • Hello, we live in North Berkeley in a 1910s-era small home on a tiny half-lot.  We would like to upgrade to a slightly larger house with a larger yard in the NB area, but the lack of inventory and high real estate prices have not made a move possible for us yet.  We are trying to decide whether to continue to watch the market or whether to renovate and try to make the most of the little space we have.  I have a few questions related to this quandary: 

    1. Does anyone have a recommendation for someone I could talk to who could help us decide whether to wait on the real estate market or go ahead with a home renovation?  I am not sure who to go to for this sort of professional advice.  The amount that we might spend on a remodel and the hell of living through it might make a new-home purchase more appealing, though our base costs (higher taxes and interest) would go up significantly, possibly making a new home in this market unaffordable.  

    2. If we go forward with a remodel, can folks please offer us recommendations for reasonably priced architects and contractors who are good at maximizing space in small, old Berkeley homes?

    3. Do folks recommend an architect-contractor combo rather than design-build firms?  We won't have a lot to spend, and I worry about the architect-contractor combo requiring more oversight than we will have time for, but we want to make the most of our $ and our limited space. I have read that design-build firms aren't always great at creative thinking in old Berkeley homes.

    Thanks very much!

    I can only speak to your last question, about whether to use an architect/contractor combo or use a design/build firm.  We added a second story to our small Rockridge bungalow about 12 years ago, and then last year did an extensive kitchen remodel that included moving a bathroom and creating a family room and we used an architect/contractor for that project.  Comparing the two, I am very sorry we did not use an architect for our second story addition.  Although the design/build folks we used were fine, what you have heard about not being very creative proved true for us.  When I compare how much better the space was used in our downstairs remodel vs. upstairs - especially considering that upstairs was brand new, a completely blank slate - I really wish we'd used an architect upstairs.  We've already had to do some remodeling upstairs to get better closet configurations, but it's too late for certain bad decisions that just weren't thought through well enough by the designer/contractor.  If I could go back and spend the extra $10K to get someone who would think about things that didn't occur to me, I would do it in a heartbeat.  My advice is don't skimp on this, you'll regret it.

    We live in Richmond and faced the same dilemma.  Our decision was to go ahead and do a remodel to maximize our current investment in our home and yet make it a comfortable home for us over for the next several to more years that we plan to live in it.  Your decision will depend quite a bit on how much equity you have currently in your home and whether -financially- it makes more sense to continue investing in that home or to move elsewhere.  If you go down the path of remodeling however, I cannot recommend our contractor (Jim Tyler) and architect (Alex Chiappetta) more highly!! 

    For a first step, it would probably help you most meet with a contractor (again, ours is wonderful) to discuss what the price tag would be for the scale remodel you're about thinking.  From there you can decide whether to do a smaller/larger remodel or if the whole thing isn't worth your money or time.  Our remodel is extensive which will make our house really nice in the end, but does mean that we have to move out of our place for 6 months, so take that added headache into account as well.  After you meet with a contractor about what kind of money it would take to make the space you want in your home, then head to redfin or zillow and see how far that same investment would take you in the current buying market (of course figuring in a +10% minimum overage for every list price you see). 

    We met our contractor via a friend and he hooked us up with an architect that he's collaborated with for years.  Both Jim and Alex primarily work in and around the Berkeley region so they'll know the city codes well and can advise you about what's "easy" verses "hard" to do with your existing space.  Regardless of what contractor you go with make sure that your and their expectations for the scope and scale and style of the work are on the same page.  Our contractor really emphasized that with us and it helps a ton to make sure the project creep and other issues don't happen. 

    Our contractor is Jim Tyler  510-672-4031

    Our architect is alex chiappetta architecture (510) 849-1698 www.acastudio.com

  • House addition or remodel

    (3 replies)

    We have a 1200 square foot house and wanted to do a small outward addition in order to expand the living area and add a second bathroom. An architect just told me that any addition of square footage would require a budget of at least $500K. Holy smokes. I'm looking for real data or reports on actual remodels (within existing footprint) or additions in the Bay Area, modest in size and design features. What did you do, what were the costs, was it "worth it"? IF there was an architect and contractor you really liked working with, I'd also welcome that info. Thanks! 

    RE: House addition or remodel ()

    Remodels in the Bay area are expensive; 500K seems a bit steep to me though. We have done 3 remodels since we moved in 5 years ago, and each has been very much worth it (none was an addition, although we escavated our basement and crawl space). Prices will vary significantly between contractors, so clearly go for multiple bids. I would highly, highly recommend Jon Larson at Jarvis architects on College Ave. in Rockridge 510-654-6755; he is patient, understands not everyone has unlimited resources, and is of course a very talented architect with an impeccable eye for detail (and color too). He is also a great resource for local contractors and specialists each offering varying degrees of "perfection," (at corresponding prices). I have seen good work on our block and heard good reviews from neighbors of Jennings McCann Construction (http://www.houzz.com/pro/jenningsmccann/jennings-mccann-construction; 510-388-4441; ben [at] jenningsmcann.com). They've completed several a couple in-law accessory units near us, and I know they are reasonably priced. We did a small(ish) project with Zanderbuilt (https://www.zanderbuilt.com/ 510-524-9790) which included structural changes but no additions, and have been very pleased. Zanderbuilt was high quality and stuck to their schedule, the later being almost unheard of in the industry. For engineers I would look no further than Peter Van Maren (510-653-0675); he is very dependable and many others are not.

    RE: House addition or remodel ()

    If you were adding on top I'd believe $500K, but outward should be less expensive (especially if roof line and foundation are uncomplicated). I think  approx $400/square foot would be a good (very rough) estimate, so unless you're idea of "small" addition is over 1,000 sq ft, you should be able to do this for less. Just my two cents from my experience planning my own addition.

    RE: House addition or remodel ()

    That estimate is very high, or the addition you're talking about isn't very small. We added on about 400 sq ft to the back of our house, for a lot less than that. And we dug out a basement underneath the addition and did other "extras", but even so it was not near $500k. If we had done a bare bones addition we probably could have kept it under $250k. Estimate I was given was $300/sq ft, but that's very rough and it could have gone up. I think our contractor and architect were reasonably priced too so you may need to shop around, but it can be done for less. Might also depend on where you are located, but I'd say get another opinion.

  • Hi,

    Apologies in advance for this naive question--I know there are lots of issues with foundation, contractors, permits, etc. Taken at first glance, I'm guessing my wish is too complicated and cost prohibitive, but I'm wondering if others have successfully done similar projects. Looking for words of wisdom...

    I'd love to extend our kitchen. I'm trying to figure out how much we could do and how much this would cost. It would require knocking out about eight feet of an exterior wall and building an approximately four-foot-wide floor, etc. 

    Has anyone done a similar project?  

    If so, what was the cost? Have you gotten a contractor to put in estimates for different parts of the project--so maybe we could possibly save a little money by doing parts of it ourselves?

    Do you have recommendations for contractors, or anyone experienced in construction? 

    We do have an architect in the family to do drawings for permits... 

    Our kitchen is split off from our breakfast room and living room--making it a small dark corridor. It's just annoying since we spend so much time in there...these 1920's kitchens were all about trying to impress husbands and guests by keeping all the work and dirty dishes a secret. We're more open. Guests/partners are welcome to see the dirty dishes and hard work:) 

    Thanks!

    Removing an exterior wall is exponentially more costly than moving interior walls. Moving an exterior wall to gain only four more feet of space does not seem cost effective. Assuming the the yard is big enough with sufficient setbacks, why not consider an entire room addition. Since you have a professional in the family, why not let that person make several preliminary sketches. then approach your city building department to learn what is involved, whether zoning permits, and certainly building permits. With that "feasibility" study in hand you can approach architects and builders for cost estimates, and building plans. I did something similar for a new garage studio, and it worked out find. Prepare to do your home work. Good luck.

    First you need to see if it can be done, structurally and if the city and neighbors would allow it.  The architect in your family should be able to tell just by looking.  I hope your architect  family member has done many kitchen designs.  There are a lot of little details an experienced kitchen architect/contractor will know to include.  If this person doesn't specialize in kitchens you might not get the kitchen you want.

    ​We did similar remodel with our kitchen removed an interior load bearing wall and used part of the formal dining room.  Cost was in the $75K range and yes I did some of the labor.  I suspect since you have an exterior wall add another $25k so you would probably be in the $100k plus range.  With a 1920s house I'm sure you will find many surprises which will add to the cost.   

    For a comparison, ​I've been shopping around for just a simple bathroom remodel.  The quotes I've been receiving for a basic/cheap HomeDepot modern is in the $25k to $30k range.

    ​With the way home prices keep going up it's probably going to be a very good investment.

    Only recommendation I can make is to look at the contracts finished work.  This is your kitchen, a place you will be spending a lot of time in.   Make sure you get someone who is good so you'll have a finished product you will be proud of.  Other piece of advice I can give you is remodels can be very stressful on marriages.  For many months  (probably 6 months or more)  your kitchen will be ripped-up and unusable as the remodel bills keep coming in. Then there will be the surprise unexpected costs and the design changes which really test your relationship's limits.

    Been there, done that several times.  Hope this helps.

  • Bumping out a wall to expand the kitchen

    (1 reply)

    hi there! We are in the process of planning a kitchen remodel, and we'd like to move out an exterior wall to increase the kitchen space into the previous patio. Does anyone have experience with bumping a wall out? Pros/cons? Could anyone recommend a good contractor/ architect? And if we have a good idea of what we want is an architect needed? Since we are brand new to the process, any advice and recommendations are appreciated!

    Exterior walls are load bearing.  You are going to need a structural engineer to see if it's even possible.  You will also hast to check with the city to see if this is something they will allow you do to.  I would not hire a contractor unless they are a structural engineer.  Not trying to scare you but look on YouTube of hoses where contractors have removed a load bearing wall and the  roof starts sagging or collapsed.  The other thing to think about is we are in earthquake country.  You might have to beef up your foundation and will probably have to retrofit your home to meet current earthquake standards.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions Related Pages

Need ideas for do-it-yourself fixer house

May 2010

We recently purchased a fixer upper in Albany and need to re-do the kitchen and baths, and much more. We have a good amount of sq. footage (for Albany) but it seems to be in all the wrong places and we don't have a good sense of how best to work with it. Any suggestions on a hopefully not too expensive person who might help us? We mostly just want some ideas and can do the rest ourselves, I think. - Visual-spatially Challenged


I am an architect in the city of Berkeley and can tell you that if you do not have ample experience in doing these types of projects, great confidence in your abilities, and a whole lot of free time, you should not attempt to construct this project alone. A good designer and a good general contractor can save you a ton of headaches/heartaches in the long term.

To achieve your ultimate goal requires good planning and vision, things that most architects and home designers can bring to the table. Many older homes in Albany have rooms that are too small, unfunctional, poorly organized with poor natural lighting. You will want to open up and reorganize your spaces, engage the exterior, improve the natural light while minimizing the amount of structural work required, since in general this increases cost but does not add or enhance the space.

Most Architects and home designers are happy to meet clients for an initial consultation without charge, so this would be a good place to start. Interview several to find one you feel comfortable working with, talking to and asking questions. Look at their past work and talk with previous clients if you can. Be absolutely comfortable with who you choose, since you will need to have a close, open working relationship with them in order to have a successful outcome.

Lastly, find a good general contractor that will work with you to insure the workmanship is done well on the important things (foundations, plumbing, electrical, etc), but will allow you take on the sinpler, less critical task your self. Charles


Having just finished a complete remodel of our home which required a lot of structural work and reconceptualizing interior spaces, I would not recommend that you do this yourself unless you are an experienced contractor or architect. There are so many details that it is important to get right before you close it up! Now we just sit on the couch or at the dining room table and admire all the great choices we made! I highly recommend Steve Shirley as a design/build contractor. Steve can take you and show you the many projects he has done in the area (including ours), and you will be glad you had his help. His number is 510- 351-9600 and his outfit is called Bay Area Design Build. Anon


I highly recommend you hire an architect to help you out. We faced a similar situation a few years ago with our place and we were really happy that we hired Greg Klosowski at Ellipsis A+D (510) 798-5887. He is an architect and he came up with a several options for us, with associated cost estimates, which was all really helpful to us. His fees were reasonable, but most of all, we liked his work and how he really helped us understand the issues and limitations. Todd


I have done lots of remodeling, and a room addition, and then built my own home in El Sobrante. Greg Watson is the best contractor I have ever hired. He's honest, and he does really great work. MY husband is an attorney, so the fact that he has all the licenses and insurance was important to us. Other contractors come in with low bids and the ''change order you to death.'' Greg's prices are very fair. I told lots of people on the BPN about him because he was so kind to me when I was in the middle of building my house and had a HUGE family emergency. Anyway. . . . . His number is 510-223-1541 (office) and 510-453-5638 (cell). You can tell him Marilyn recommended him. Good luck!


Time-and-materials vs. Fixed cost

April 2009

We would like to enclose a balcony on our home and turn it into indoor living space. Currently it has walls and a roof, so it just needs to be enclosed, finished and brought to code. This will be permitted work, under $15K. We know some of the price will be determined by our taste in variables such as windows, flooring, fixtures, etc. But this question is about the construction, electrical work, etc. Some of the estimates we have gotten are time and materials and some are fixed price. Does anyone have advice on whether we should go with fixed price or time and materials for a project of this scale? What criteria should we use to make that decision? Thank you! anon


Your question is difficult to answer, as both alternatives have pros and cons. There are always unknowns in a remodel, no matter how small, so when you commit to doing the work there might be the need to increase your budget. The illusion with a fixed price is that you will avoid this, but if there is dryrot somewhere, for instance, the scope of services will go up regardless which type of contract you settle on. I think what is more important is your gut feeling, how the prospective contractor communicates with you from the very start.

If you like a particular one and how s/he represents their services, go with your intuition. Of course you still need to check references.

That said, you need to understand yourself as well. If you think you will be fretting the entire time about how your contractor is using his/her time, whether s/he is being efficient and/or really knows how best to proceed, is spending too much time thinking things through, you would do best with a fixed contract fee. I hope this helps. I am not a contractor, but I've seen both sides. AHB, Architect


I've done it both ways: two big remodel projects on time-and-materials, a big landscape project as fixed-cost, and a window replacement project as fixed cost. For myself, I'm going to go with fixed cost for any further projects. The reason is it's much less hassle for the homeowner, assuming you use a good, reputable contractor, do your homework ahead of time, and plan reasonably carefully.

My fixed-cost landscape project (with Lazar) was a dream - they just did everything they said they would in the time they said they would! There were a couple of items that I asked them to come back for, included in the price, no problem.

In contrast, the T jobs involved me on site every day, adjusting this and that, adding new things, subtracting other things, worrying constantly about running over the budget. We had decided on T because we were worried about the budget and hoped to shave things off if unexpected problems came up. However, in reality, the T gave us too many opportunities to make changes that ADDED to the cost, such as well, as long as we have that wall opened up, why don't we go ahead and do X, y and Z! Even though I trusted the contractor - they have done several jobs for us over the years - I found myself monitoring who was where and for how long, and adding up numbers. In truth, even a T contract has some fixed costs, such as sub-contractor costs. But it is just so much more complicated to monitor that fixed cost.

One caveat about fixed-cost, though. Put all your effort into understanding exactly what work has been agreed to, down to the last nail, and make sure you are satisfied it is covered in your contract. I did have an issue with a window repair contractor where I assumed certain things would happen based on our verbal discussion, that in fact were not in the contract, and with a house painter who wanted to charge me after the fact for things like touching up after he replaced the glass he broke (!). Make sure everything is there in the contract! Good luck.


Remodel kitchen to improve sale price?

Feb 2008

Hi - we've been given advice to remodel our kitchen and baths to get the best price for the sale of our home. I want it to look nice but don't want to spend a fortune. How can I balance getting a solid design and reasonable construction costs. My preference is to spend a total of $35K on the kitchen which would include all new cabinets, flooring, countertops etc. I've talked to three sources 1) EXPO quoted me $80K+ 2) Kitchen design shop on Telegraph $80+ 3) a contractor $65K - plan on a 20% contingency. Although all the sources are saying roughly the same thing, I am just in awe that it could cost this much. I want a nice kitchen for the new owners, not my dream kitchen. Any advice about where to go from here? Who would you recommend I talk to get started? Kitchen Blues


Hi. I had my kitchen completely remodeled last year for 33K. That includes a new wood floor and IKEA cabinetry that look great. I had to totally restructure my kitchen and added a huge wood sliding door. My contractor was great. His name is George Matthews and he now has a website where I believe he has posted pictures of my kitchen if you'd like to check out his work. Good Luck. It shouldn't have to cost as much as people are telling you... in my opinion. You can see his work at www.geomatconserve.com Leslie (a very happy customer)


With the current housing market, I can't imagine putting $80k into a kitchen just to sell a house. Does your real estate agent really think it's worth the investment? My husband is a licensed general contractor with plenty of experience in the field if you'd like a free consult. ergowiz


As someone looking for a new house, I've got to say that I prefer houses with kitchens that AREN'T remodeled. I know a newly remodeled kitchen is going to add $50-$100k to the price of the house, and for that money, I'd much rather get what *I* want. I might feel differently if your kitchen were really gross, but if it is reasonable, I'd rather have what you had. I've talked to other people who feel the same way. Anonymous


For kitchen and bath remodels, I recommend Paul Lashley 510-910- 1028. He does EXCELLENT work! I wish I had been able to have him remodel my bathroom, but he was too busy at the time with another project, and I wanted things done right away. I wish Imd waited because I was later REALLY impressed with the quality of the work when he spent a couple days doing other projects on my house (installing railings in a loft, for example) in anticipation of selling my home. Rahel


You do not HAVE to remodel your kitchen and bath.It is a lot of work and a lot of money. You might make it back, but you need to decide if you make *enough* over your costs for remodeling to be worth your while.

How bad are your current kitchen and bath? You can do a lot to spruce up those areas without completely gutting and redoing them. Can you just get new appliances and countertops? Maybe reface the cupboards or clean them up really well? In the bath, you could re-enamel your tub, put in a new sink, fixtures,lighting, and then paint it yourself.

Don't get bullied into spending tens of thousands of dollars. Of course real estate agents want to sell homes with brand new kitchens and baths. Who wouldn't? You can still make yours newer and nicer without going all out.


I would do the MINIMAL amount to update the kitchen. You don't want to put in a new kitchen for people you don't know! They may hate the kitchen you like...and all that time & money will be a waste. Definitely paint, change the countertop...do the minimal to update the kitchen but your money is better spent on the kitchen that you want for yourself. No new kitchen


Hi, I completly remodeled my kitchen (into my dream kitchen with cherry wood cabinets, glass tile backsplash, slate floors, stainless steel bosch appliances, granite countertops, undermount sink, new windows). I spent a grand total of $13,900. Go to Sincere Hardware in Oakland on 11th st and Alice st for your cabinets (buy their in-stock ones, not thier custom-made ones), sink, faucet countertops and windows. Go to the sears outlet in San Leandro for your appliances (ebay and amazon have some good prices on these also), and right by the sears outlet are a bunch of discount tile shops (for your floor and backsplash). I did all the shopping and paid my contractor $4000 to put everything in. I love my kitchen! It doesn't have to cost so much. Have fun! Kate


We had a contractor recommended from BPN remodel our kitchen 3 months prior to moving. Paragon remodel was the only one that returned our call.

New lighting, paint, counters, knobs, a sink and the floor was removed and new tile installed. IT made a huge difference! We sold the house last summer and if we hadn't remodeled the kitchen I'm sure it would have sat on the market for months. Again the contractor was Paragon Remodel, they have a web site paragonremodel.com. 510-390-0616 is the number. Good luck with the sale and remodel! Paul


Consulting with a contractor for new project

Jan 2008

I'm looking for a contractor consultant who can consult with me on finishing an unfinished room in Oakland hills area. I'd like to do most of the labor myself but would want the consult of a professional who can tell me about processes, best practices, electrical, what materials and where to purchase, etc. Has anybody worked with someone in this way, and if so, can you make a referral? Thanks, Steve (415) 608- 5034. steve


I want to recommend Geoffrey Rosenblatt as a Construction Management Consultant. We hired him to help us manage a $350K home expansion project that got off to a rocky start with our contractor. Wish he had known about him sooner. He was a true pleasure to work with. He listened to our questions and concerns and helped us understand all the issues before us. I had read several construction management books but they didn't address our specific issues and didn't address ''local custom.'' Geoff helped us understand why were having such a hard time with our contractor, negotiate change orders, make decisions about options and put together our final punch list. We had two in-person meetings (the first for which he didn't charge) and the rest of our interactions were by phone, which kept the cost down. He saved us money and helped us have some peace of mind through what was an extremely stressful process for our family. He also does much more than what he did for us. www.garcm.com Homeowner


I have a very dear friend who happens to be as good a contractor as you'll find anywhere. He lives up in the foothills, but comes down to the Bay Area for work. He recently finished work on our home in Berkeley, doing our earthquake retrofit, installing a tankless water heater and dishwasher, moving our washer/dryer to the garage, moving our thermostat, installed new phone and electrical jacks, etc. He can do any job, big or small (replacing your roof, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, foundation repair, stucco, painting, etc.). He is licensed and bonded. If you are looking for a VERY trustworthy contractor who can't do a half-a**ed job out of principle, you need look no further. He will give you a good rate, though he would be a bargain for what other contractors charge $100+. His name is Ozzie Oswald (yes, that's his real name) and his e-mail is ozandeve [at] sbcglobal.net . If you wish to contact me about him, I am more than happy to answer any questions you have. jonathan


How to plan for a remodel

Sept 2007

I would like to get advice on how to plan for a remodel. Where to start? I want to expand my house (family room, bedrooms, etc), to the sides of the house or building a second floor. We need to live in the house during the remodeling. I need expert advice/ideas/tips on the best course. Can a contractor do all stages from planning? Or do I need an architect or engineer or an interior designer? My expansion will be done within a budget, so what's is the best way to go? Also, I live in Benicia so if you refer contractors please let me know if they can drive an extra 25 minutes for this job! Thank you in advance for sharing your experiences. clueless how to remodel


There is no single way in which one can prepare for a home remodel. Having work done on your own home is often stressful, emotional and rewarding. Here are some very basic suggestions: 1. Figure out what you want, and what your construction budget is before meeting with anyone, (include a 10-15% contingency for the unexpected). If you don't know what you want, buy some books or magazines with images of what you have in mind--this will help you communicate your ideas to your designer. 2. Hire a design professional (architect) or a design/build contractor, because a good plan doesn't have to cost more than a bad plan. If the changes are extensive there will likely be design approvals required, and a regular contractor likely won't be able to help you with those. 3. Hire someone with whom you are comfortable and can communicate with. A remodel can be a complex thing for a novice and being able to communicate well with your designer and/or contractor will make things go a lot smoother. 4. Talk with friends/relatives who have had work done on their home and ask them about their experiences. This will help you understand what may be in store for you.


The remodel you are planning sounds like a pretty major project, and I would definitely get an architect involved right from the start. They will either have a structural engineer on staff or have someone they work with. It is well worth the expense. I'd also recommend using a licensed contractor who has experience with this kind of project. We did an attic conversion a few years ago to add another floor of living space. We had to do some seismic upgrading and then decided to upgrade our kitchen at the same time, so it was a big project (we stayed in our house too). I am so glad we had an architect doing the design. It gets very complicated. In our case, we already had a contractor in mind who had done some work we liked in our neighborhood, McCutcheon Construction. They were able to give us a ballpark figure after doing a walkthrough and listening to our plan, so that helped us define better what the scope of work was going to be. They gave us names of several architects they had worked with in the past. We interviewed the architects and chose the one we liked based on the similarity of his previous projects to ours and frankly his pleasant personality (Gary Parsons). But you could go the other way too - pick your archtitect and ask him/her for recommendations for contractors. A lot of architects and contractors have websites you can look at, and there are lots of recommendations on the BPN website and other places, so start with a few and then start talking to people. Good luck with your project! Ginger


Process for planning a remodel and hiring a contractor

July 2007

We are in the initial stage of trying to find a contractor to remodel our kitchen and bathroom. I would love to get recommendations from folks who have had great experience with affordable contractors in the Oakland area. We are thinking of something nice, but not too elaborate, since the main driver for the remodel is to sell our house in a few years. I would also be interested in knowing the process you followed to plan the remodel and select a contractor or designer. In addition, is it worth the money to bring in a designer, or can a contractor help with the design concepts or should we bring in an experienced real estate agent who knows what would add the most value to the house? We are new to the game and are looking for any help/guidance. Thanks! Tony


Focusing on one part of your question, Remodeling magazine works together with Realtor magazine once a year to publish, metro area by metro area, the cost-benefit ratios for various types of renovations across the country. Nationwide, the annual survey of contractors finds that most renovations return about 80% of the cost of investment when you go to sell. (One way of thinking about this, they argue, is that your renovation costs only 20 cents on the dollar. Certainly there's lifestyle value in addition to the financial payback at work.) As you move to the Western Region and to the Bay Area, the ratios increase to 100% payback and then generally to about 115%-120% payback for various renovation projects here--some are below 100% and some significantly above. I have an electronic copy of the most recent stats for the Bay Area; email me if you'd like a copy.

I'd definitely suggest talking with a realtor to get a sense, for instance, if buyers would ''expect'' a certain level of finishes in your home's price range (granite or caesarstone vs. formica). Sometimes there are layout/functionality questions we can provide insight on--change-out the one bathtub in the house to a big shower stall? Open up this former utility space to a kitchen-family room combination or close it off to a home office? and so on.

But sometimes it makes the most sense to just do what you want to do--I have a client who just repainted her living room bright red. She loves it, and so what if her realtor will suggest that it be repainted before marketing?


Planning a green remodel in Moraga

Feb 2007

Hello, we want to remodel our Moraga home. We would like to find a contractor/architect that would have ''green'' experience and would help us minimize our environmental impact by working on ventilation, passive solar, insulation, use of recycled material... The challenge is that we are on a budget too! Ideas, examples, books and workshops are welcome. Thanks ''green-my-house''


Good for you for choosing to go green! I am an architect but am not able to do projects outside of my place of business right now (and my employer does not do single-family residential). Anyway, here are some links for you to try:

For finding a LEED-accredited professional (one with training and knowledge about green architecture, LEED is short for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)Use this link to get a directory of LEED-AP architects in California http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/AP/ViewAll.aspx?CategoryID=1306=1585

Also look for incentives from local utility companies for rebates for energy efficient improvements. They should have info on their websites. If careful, green design doesn't have to cost more, especially if financial incentives such as rebates are used - you also have to look at how quickly your payback may be.

Here is a local retailer of green products: http://www.greenfusiondesigncenter.com/

The Ecology Center in Berkeley has links to resources on their website: http://www.ecologycenter.org/directory/

SF Environment also has a resource directory: http://www.sfenvironment.com/aboutus/innovative/greenbldg/resource_guide/#job1

Beckie


Take a look at Dwell magazine. It's published in San Francisco, and focuses on environmentally friendly design, and sometimes features budget design. Since they are published locally, they tend to feature architects and designers from our area. Dwell Fan


I highly recommend Hyer Architecture. They are ecological architects and have worked on homes in the Berkeley and Lamorinda areas. I have two friends who have used them - one to build a house and one for a remodel. Very green. http://www.hyerarchitecture.com 702F Harrison St, Berkeley 510-527-1915 good luck!


I have a wonderful architect for you. Lyndsay Koch is a Certified Green Building Professional. We met her while she was working for the architect that designed our new home in Orinda. Lyndsay has now started her own architectural business and is doing excellent work. Although she is relatively young, she is very talented and has an incredible eye for design. Because she is just starting out, I'm sure she would be very reasonably priced. Rest assured though, you won't compromise quality. Definitely include her in your interviews - you'll love her. Please let her know that Laurie Dunn recommended her! You can also contact me if you'd like more info. Contact: Lyndsay Koch, Lyndsay [at] KochArchitecture.com; 510-903- 1104.
Laurie


I've been in the green building and sustainable business world for a long time. There are some good, reputable green remodelers around here, and there are many who are trying to move into this work and who have a ways to go in developing their knowledge and changing their work/materials/business paradigm. I recommend you write down clearly your needs, wants, priorities and budget. Then write down your requirements for a building professional(s)--not only their skills and special niche, also their working style and their crew (is foreign language acceptable to you?). Finally, assess your own interests and skills for overseeing such a project and decide what role you want to play. There are many resources available to enhance your learning. Barbara


Green contractor

Feb 2005

Not a specific recommendation, but I wanted to be sure you're aware of the Green Resource Center in Berkeley. They don't have the funds/staff to stay open regularly, but are open by appointment. I also find they are VERY responsive to e-mailed requests for information and resource referrals about all aspects of green building, remodelling, furnishing, etc. You can learn about them at http://www.greenresourcecenter.org/ (And use the contact link to e-mail). R.K.


Straw Bale Contractor

Oct 2004

We are considering building a small structure (one bed/one bath) in our backyard using straw bales. Can anyone recommend a contractor that has worked with straw bale construction? Does anyone know whether this type of structure is acceptable under Oakland building code? Any advice or experience you have with straw bale construction would be appreciated. Thank you in advance for your recommendations. Oakland homeowner


Quantum Construction (510) 559-1080 builds straw bale homes. They can offer advice on building codes and other aspects of building with straw bales/natural materials. Their website is www.quantumconstruction.org. Melissa


I don't have a builder to recommend to you for your project, but I do have a couple of suggestions for finding one.

Truitt and White Lumber in Berkeley (841-0511) might be able to put you in touch with contractors who are experienced in that sort of construction. There is a group of builders who are practitioners of ''green'' building (sustainable and energy efficient) who meet there monthly. They are not directly affiliated with Truitt and White, but if you call and ask to speak to a salesperson in the Contractor's Office (where they sell to contractors rather than homeowners), you might get some names.

My other suggestion is to call the Ecology Center- they might have some referrals. They may have books on the subject, and check Builder's Booksource for books also.

Any experienced and licensed general building contractor will be able to give you all the information about codes and other such issues that you will need to plan your project. Good luck! Cecelia


Check-out the California Straw Bale Associations site: www.strawbuilding.org it has good building code and contractor/architect info. Skillfull Means is VERY well respected bale builder as is John Swearingen. I have worked with Michael Jacobs of Talia developments. he is great. He hired had a special straw bale foreman who had a lot of experience with the building system. Call the city directly and ask about code issues: do they have a perscriptive code (you can build with bales, but have to use their system precisely) or a performance code (you can build any way you like if your engineer certifies that you have met their structural design parameters). My understanding is that bale construction yields the most thermal benifits and energy savings in hot, dry climates. Do you want to use the system in temperate Oakland? Bale walls in earthquake country require lots of framing lumber and cement plaster (portland cement has very high embodied energy). You may want to consider other ''green'' systems more appropriate to Oakland climate, if ''green'' is your goal. anon


Where to start on the whole process?

October 2002

Hello; I am seeking advice and recommendations for the whole process of a remodel / addition to a small (1000 square feet) Berkeley home. Where would you start? How many different architects would you consult with? Does the contractor usually ''come with'' the architect, or do you separately hire an architect for the design, and then make the rounds of the contractors (again, how many to consult with?). Any books that helped you out at first? Thanks for any insights and recent recommendations you can provide.
Needing a little more space in Berkeley


I learned the hard way when I remodeled: 1. Get bids from 3 or 4 contractors. 2. My contractor did ''come with'' an architect and I was sorry I didn't know more to go out and find my own. Review the architect's portfolio. If his/her work doesn't fit your vision, find one whose work does. 3. Adding/changing features in the overall design plan after work has begun adds $$. Take your time when deciding what you want done. I ended up going out and buying my own hinges and window latches since they put brass and I wanted chrome. They never even considered consulting me and I was too green to think of such things. 4. Find out beforehand what their ''repair'' policy is. I had nailheads popping out of the sheetrock for 2 years after the fact due to the green wood used in framing. This is something that they should handle (and reluctantly did) but it continues to happen in the third year and they've washed their hands of me. I used Ken Winfield/East Bay Construction, by the way, a firm that has a good reputation and came highly recommended... Jennifer


My husband works with a contractor who is honest, dependable, and skilled. They have worked with others' architectural plans, and they also know of a couple of good architects they have worked closely with in the past. Might be worth a consultation. His name is Lee Grossman and his number is 707-539-5122. Cassi


Surviving a remodel

August 2001

We wanted to remodel our kitchen and make an addition: The project involved foundation/drainage/roof-work. We are also a budget-conscious growing family. We decided to forgo the architect as we had a very clear idea of what we wanted + had preliminary sketches from an architect-friend and decided to use a design-build contractor. Funds were secured with an equity line.

In mid 1999 we contacted the Traders Guild and got a few contractors' names. We interviewed several, clearly explained what our plan was, how we intended to reduce cost by contributing some unskilled labor (mainly foundation digging and demolition) and buying directly all big ticket items .We thought we found a contractor we could work with (name withheld). The contractor, in turn, recommended a designer.

The design process took 4 months, among many postponements, missed appointments etc. guess we could have already sensed that something was wrong. We got the the plans submitted them to the city, had to revise them, but finally got an approval. The contractor got the plans in March of 2000, kept them 5 months, until June, and came back with an estimate. We agreed that the price was acceptable, agreed on a start date (early July), agreed that my husband would have done demolition, dig foundation, agreed that we would have purchased cabinets/appliances/windoes and proceeded with the demolition BEFORE we signed the contract. That was the biggest mistake and we paid dearly for it. As we completed the demolition the contractor came back with a contract 40% more expensive than what originally discussed: in addition, all major works (roofing/drywall/hardwood floor/electrical) were on an allowance, and therefore subject to change. You would wonder what the contractor did for 5 months with the plans we gave him. Furthermore, the contractor said the he had no time for the job and we had to wait for 2 months, until end August, when a contract-foreman would have been able to supervise our job. At that point we had no kitchen, no laundry, no walls, 1/2roof: were stuck and had to continue.

From that on was just misery: the contractor, who had the plans for 5 months + did recommend the designer and consulted with him during the drafting process, suddenly decided that he did not like the construction plan and that he could not build what was designed. He proceeded with work (full roof demolition) without consulting us, or against our wishes with some added major expenses. He abandoned us to his unskilled laborers and to foreman who quit in the middle of all this without any warning. There was no attention and no commitment and no presence to the job: we did not see workers for weeks at a time, to the point that the city building inspector had to leave messages with our nanny. Oh yes, we had a 6 mos. baby and were still living in the house

The whole project, which was supposed to last for 2/3 month took 7 months and we finally called the end in January of 2001, even if we were not done. Every day we still find something that was done poorly/cheaply/sloppily. A 400lbs commercial range was left standing on one leg and one piece of carpet that caught fire the first time we turn the oven on. Walls, who were designed specifically to accommodate cabinets, were framed wrong, and we had to cut the cabinets. Window/patio doors were poorly installed and do not close, electrical had to be rewired, and we had to subcontract out roofing and hardwood floor because the original estimates were increased by 100%.

I could continue but I still get furious! The contractor was so out of tune that he had prospective clients call us for references! Last but not least, the contractor's wife left abusive messages on our answering machine because we were upsetting her sensitive husband We calculate this project costs us more than 50% of what planned in $$$ + a tremendous amount of grief: we hated the contractor, ourselves, and the stupid idea we had. Guess I am not in the position to give any advice: we thought we did our homework but clearly we did not, we ignored the early signs and were incredibly naive Yes, we made a mistake by not signing the contract before starting demolition but have been blatantly taken advantage of. In contrast with the other two postings, just be aware that not all remodeling turn out to be a dream job: nine months after saying goodbye to our contractor, we are still recovering from the anger and the frustration. -s


I am an architect and reader of the Berkeley Parent's Network. I read your horrible story and couldn't help but write you. Contractor's are licensed by a board in the state of California and this board receives complaints. While there are many contractors who are trustworthy and do excellent work, others shouldn't have a license. From the sound of your story, yours falls in the latter category. Enclosed is the web address of the State of California Contractor Licensing Board. Here you'll find information about lodging a complaint. I encourage you to do this if only to help save someone else from going through what you did. You may even be entitled to some of your money back depending on the type of contract you signed with your builder. Here's the web page:

http://www.cslb.ca.gov/cllrb_chapter04.html

Sincerely,
Eric Robinson
Architect