Posts Tagged 'bang for the buck'

Queen Anne 1 – Before & After

Kitchen Challenge: Design a comfortable kitchen for a family of five within an existing narrow maze of circulation.

Kitchen Solution: A functional arrangement of appliances and ample workspace – all found within the existing walls – by simply eliminating one door.

Kitchen, before

Kitchen, after

Dining Room Challenge: Revive the original charm and warmth of this historic Craftsman interior.

Dining Room Solution: The paint was stripped from the original millwork, and the perfect period-appropriate paint color was chosen for the plaster.

Dining Room, before

Dining Room, after

 

The Truth about Green Design

From the food you eat to the car you drive (or bus you ride), the idea of being “green” has become a part of daily life in America, especially in forward-thinking cities such as Seattle.

When I have clients who ask about whether or not I do “green” design, the answer is, “Of course!”  I have always been motivated by eco-consciousness and energy conservancy.  Now we just have more and better tools available.

A "green" green sink. Salvaged, recoated, and repurposed in the laundry room.

A "green" green sink. Salvaged, recoated, and repurposed in the laundry room.

But, what does it really mean for YOU and YOUR project?

First, I need to understand your motives and objectives.  Clients often fall within one or more of the following categories:

  • Good Steward – You want to do what you can for the environment.  You want to reuse what you can and donate what you can’t, even if that means you have to invest more money in labor. When you cannot find suitable salvage, you want to purchase products that are “green”.
  • Health Conscious – You have chemical sensitivities or underlying health conditions which have made you greatly concerned about the off-gassing of products, as well as dust and mold.
  • Investor in Technology – You want to support alternative energy innovation by using systems such as solar heating and rainwater harvesting, even if the initial investment is significant and the payback period is long.
  • Conservationist – You want to consume less, and get more out of what you already have.  You are not willing to be experimental and would rather “go with the known”.
Cabinets and light fixtures like these are excellent candidates for donation to a salvage company.

Cabinets like these are excellent candidates for donation to a salvage company in exchange for store credit, tax credit, or cash.

Prioritize

It is very rare for a client to say “yes” to all of the above categories and also be willing to accept the higher price tag for materials and labor that accompanies that decision.  Nearly everyone has to at least prioritize their eco-goals, finding the best intersection of cost, return on investment, comfort, and impact on the environment.

One person's junk is another person's treasure.  This mantel was salvaged from a home on Capital Hill in Seattle.

One person's junk is another person's treasure. This mantel was salvaged from a home on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

Buyer Beware

The marketplace is flooded with “green” products (including many inferior or fake ones), and using those products doesn’t necessarily make your project a “green” project.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there suitable salvage that would be an alternate?
  • How long will this product last?
  • How much of this product is wasted during installation?
  • If recycled content is important, what percentage and what type of recycled material does it contain?
  • How much energy does it take to produce and transport this product?
  • Is the source renewable?
  • How reliable is the information?
  • How much more does this material cost, and how does that compare to additional labor for reused or salvaged material?
  • How difficult will it be to maintain this material or this installation?
  • If resale value is important, how does this choice factor in?
  • Is this trendy?  Will it go out of fashion?

Establishing this criteria at the beginning of the design process allows us to filter each decision according to your objectives, reducing frustration and delivering the best outcome for your budget, life, and the environment.

Fiber cement rainscreen siding, aluminum windows, composite decking on cedar framing

Fiber cement rainscreen siding, aluminum windows, composite decking on cedar framing

The Secret to Picking the Perfect Paint Color

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Paint color selection tools of the trade

For many homeowners, picking the perfect paint color is a daunting task – prone to error, causing arguments, piling up receipts for samples or do-overs, and sometimes resulting in the decision to “just give up and paint it white”.

This is why I include paint color selection as a part of my architectural services. Having done this many times before, I make it easy and fun for my clients.

Here are some things to remember when selecting paint color:

A lot of men are color blind.

One of every ten men have some form of color blindness, while women are rarely affected. There are different severities and types of color-blindness.  The most common type is the inability to distinguish red and green.  This can be very challenging when looking at various shades of paint colors, as often the only difference between two colors will be the amount of red or green undertone.

All whites are not the same.

If you hold a fan of “whites” at arm’s length, you would think they were colors like blue, pink, grey, or yellow.  Yet, each of them are considered “white”.  I have heard the following statements, each of which is a clue that my clients need help, whether they realize it or not.

  • “The contractor said he has a white that they used before, so we’ll just use that.”
  • “I just want white.”
  • “We don’t want any color, just an off-white.”
  • “My mother says we should use antique white.”

Complex colors change in different light.

Many of the popular brands of paints have a complex color base.  This makes the color very rich, whether light or dark.  It also affects the color’s appearance in different types of light.  When you select colors, you should look at them in the type and intensity of light they will be seen in.  DO NOT pick your paint colors on the floor of a fluorescent-lit showroom.

The trickiest colors are green, khaki, and grey.

In my experience, the colors that appear the most different according to the quality and type of light are green, khaki (or camel) and grey.  When I select one of these colors, I pull as many samples out of the oversize fan as I can find and pin them all up, either in the intended location or in the closest facsimile of the environment.  I look at them several times throughout the day as the light changes, and remove any chip that begins to take on the appearance of another color.  Green will tend to shift to brown.  Khaki will tend to shift toward either purple or green.  Grey will tend to shift to purple or blue.

Be careful with luminous colors.

If you adore “happy colors”, remember that a color can be bright without being luminous.

I once had a client who wanted a bright green bedroom, the color of the flesh of a lime.  The color she chose was very luminous – meaning that it had a “glow”.  As a small chip, it was very appealing.  But, when the whole room was painted, the color bounced off every wall, making the room so intense that the painters could only be in there for a short period of time before having to step outside to allow their eyes to adjust back to normal.  (That room was immediately repainted a soft yellow.)

Color looks more intense on ceilings.

A paint chip with a hint of color will take on the appearance of a strong color when painted on a ceiling.

Exterior house colors always look lighter than expected.

Selecting exterior house colors is one of the most challenging tasks.  Nearly everyone who has chosen their own exterior paint will tell you they wish they’d gone darker.

Exterior paint always looks significantly lighter (10x or more) than the swatch.  The sun is an incredibly powerful light source, even in the Pacific Northwest, and it affects the appearance of color dramatically.  When you are choosing exterior colors, you should be looking at the darkest colors in the range.  If you there is a house in your neighborhood you like, it is well worth knocking on the door to ask what color they used or to ask permission to bring your paint fan with you to compare swatches with their house.

Consider the items that will go in the room.

Does the furniture have a red or green undertone? Are there things in the room that will contrast too much with the color? Is there something that you want to use as a focal point against the color  such as artwork or antiques? Are there things on the ceiling that you don’t want to draw attention to?  (A color on the bathroom ceiling might sound like a fun idea, but remember that the exhaust fan, ceiling lights, etc. will be more noticeable than they would against a soft white.)

Avoid trendy colors.

The retailers have a knack for rotating color trends, and today’s beautiful green will soon be dated.  The exception to this rule is choosing a color that is currently “trendy” but is one that you have ALWAYS loved.  If you have loved it your entire life, you probably always will.  If it is a new color that you are enjoying, have fun with your towels, bedcovers, or rugs.  It is easier to rotate those when you become sick of the color than it is to repaint the room.

Question the accent wall idea.

My theory is that if you want a color but only on one wall, you probably aren’t convinced that you like the color – or that you will like it for very long.  Here is another opportunity for tablecloths, rugs, towels, etc. to take on that role.

A true accent wall uses a contrasting or more saturated color to emphasize the architectural features of a space, not to showcase a fad.

Ask for help.

I bring every Benjamin Moore and Devine color created into my client’s homes, sparing them the confusion at the paint counter.  Rather than looking at tiny strips of five or six shades, we look at 4″x4″ swatches of color.  My paint kit is organized by the amount of undertone in each color, so it is easy to predict which colors will tend toward red, green, blue, or purple, based upon where the color is located within the stack of each color.  I leave these swatches with my clients, ordering replacements for my kit.

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4"x4" squares of Benjamin Moore colors

After my clients have had some time to look at the color swatches in various lighting over a few days, we select a few to mock-up on the wall.  We don’t use the little paint pots or pouches unless they are the exact brand AND sheen we intend to use, since both of these factors affect the color’s appearance.  We normally have mock-ups painted in 12″x12″ or 24″x24″ squares, in both the brightest and darkest spots of the room.

10 Rules of Thumb for Remodeling

As an architect who specializes in major remodels of older homes in Seattle, I often meet potential clients who ask the same questions:  Should we add a second story?  Should we build an addition into our backyard?  Should we tear down and start over?  Or, should we fix this and flip it?

Each house and owner is unique, but there are some basic rules of thumb for making this important decision.

Rule of Thumb #1: The Big Picture

If you are uncertain about living in this house for at least 5-7 years after the major remodel is completed, then your efforts should focus on wide market appeal instead of what is uniquely important to your family’s lifestyle. The concept of owning the same home for 30 years and having the same job, or career for that matter, is a thing of the past.  Some project types have very high, immediate return on investment (ROI) ratios, such as kitchen and bathroom remodels.  According to Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report, 2008-09”, a mid-upscale kitchen remodel in the Pacific Northwest averages between $62,997 and $119,361 Construction Cost with a 81.9%-87.3% ROI, and the same quality bathroom remodel in that region averages between $18,452 and $58,317  with a 76.2%-79.5% ROI.

Rule of Thumb #2: “Location, Location, Location”

Counting on your neighborhood to “transition” in 5-7 years time is a risky move and should be considered a gamble.  If your intent is to use the equity to move to a nicer neighborhood, then make choices that are appropriate to this house in this neighborhood.   Save the splurges for the house that you intend to keep in a neighborhood that is certain to support the investment.

Rule of Thumb #3: If it’s broken, fix it.

I once interviewed with homeowners whose house was full of things that needed to be fixed, including an unfinished basement remodel.  The house was already a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with a 1-car garage; they were contemplating a second-story addition to include 3 more bedrooms and 2 more baths.  When complete, their house would have been the biggest on the block, and their resources would also have been completely exhausted.

Sometimes fixing the space you already own has a greater potential return on investment than trying to outweigh what is old and broken with new square footage.

Rule of Thumb #4: Consider leaving it alone.

Major remodels should result in major changes.  Unless this is your last home, don’t spend money changing all the cabinetry in the house simply because you prefer maple over walnut (or vice versa).  After all, you bought the house with those cabinets in it, and the next person who shares your tastes will probably still buy the house…as long as they believe the house is a good value.

Rule of Thumb #5: The more phases, the more the project’s cost.

Remodeling in phases costs more.  It is always less expensive to have skilled labor come once to your house to do all of the work rather than to have them come three times to complete a third of the work each time.  This is true even without considering the inflated costs of labor and materials. Homeowners are often surprised to find out that the second phase of work may cost as much as the projected total cost only two years ago for all phases. Planning to complete work in phases should only be considered if you either a) intend to stay in the house long enough to undertake all of the phases of work or b) execute the phases which result in the greatest return on investment first.

Rule of Thumb #6: Adding a second story = whole-house remodel.

The prime candidates for second story additions are homes in older, dense, and highly desirable neighborhoods.  Because these homes are also older, they usually need upgraded plumbing (often including new water and sewer mains), wiring, windows (repair if not replacement), and mechanical systems.  They often have significant deferred maintenance items, leaving them in need of exterior (and sometimes interior) stripping and re-painting, re-roofing, rot repair, etc. Not very many homeowners are willing to make such a major investment and still park on a cracked driveway or have a house with a mismatched roof.  All of these items add up to more than you’d imagine for the amount of square footage you plan to add.

Depending on your local building department’s requirements, a major remodel may require that the entire house be brought up to current building code.  Different jurisdictions have different definitions of  “major remodel”, either based on a dollar amount threshold or a ratio of the current value of the house to the Construction Cost.  It isn’t safe to assume that because you don’t intend to remodel a portion of the existing house that you won’t be required to.

Rule of Thumb #7: Consider the yard as another room to remodel.

If your addition creates a strange roof shape, difficult drainage condition, or restricts visual or physical access to the yard, proceed with caution…or not at all.  The return on investment for an extra room may be more than outweighed by the loss of the relationship, or potential relationship, of indoors to outdoors.

The porch and landscaping make rooms for outdoor living.

The porch and landscaping make rooms for outdoor living.

Rule of Thumb #8: Crunch the numbers.

Add what the house would currently sell for, less what you owe, plus what you anticipate spending.  Then, go shopping.  If your house is currently worth $700K, you owe $350K, and you are contemplating a $600K major remodel, you should have a look at the housing inventory that is up to 120% of  $1M (which is $700K-$350K+650K).  You may be shocked to find that there is a home that already meets or exceeds your needs in that price range, or one that is much, much closer to the finish line.

We need “starter homes” in our close-to-downtown neighborhoods, and choosing to sell your home to someone who is just getting started is indeed a very “green” choice – not to mention much less stressful than undertaking a major remodel.

Rule of Thumb #9: Hire a talented Contractor, and get out of the way.

Most homeowners have full-time jobs and don’t have construction backgrounds. Despite your deepest wishes to keep an eye on things and to put in some sweat equity to save money,  you shouldn’t expect to live in the house while it is under construction or use your own labor to reduce costs.  If you are counting on either of those to make the project possible, you are probably taking on more than you should.

A good contractor makes the dream a reality.

A good contractor makes the dream a reality.

Rule of Thumb #10: Hire an Architect (hopefully me).

As an architect who specializes in residential projects, I am able to help you do much more than just plan your ideal home.  I ask the important questions and consider both the emotional and financial effects of the answers. The earlier you involve me in the decision-making process, the more you stand to gain – even as early as shopping for a home.  I can help you compare the pros and cons of candidates, including the home you already own, to determine which one offers the greatest potential.

What Everyone Should Know about Windows

Whether you’re building a new house, remodeling, or considering window replacement, windows are an important decision, with a large price tag.  As an architect, I have seen dozens of brands of windows installed and have observed the lifespan and customer service factors as well.  Here is what you need to know in order to make an informed decision about your window purchase.

Lowest to highest price (in general):

  1. aluminum
  2. vinyl
  3. wood – primed interior and exterior
  4. fiberglass
  5. wood – stain-grade interior with primed exterior
  6. metal clad exterior with wood interior

Pro’s:

Aluminum

  • narrow frame
  • modern look
  • “no maintenance” finish

suggested brands- Marlin

Marlin aluminum windows

Marlin aluminum windows, interior

marlin2

Marlin aluminum windows, exterior

Vinyl

  • “no maintenance”
  • more energy efficient than aluminum
  • inexpensive

suggested brands- Marvin, Pella, Andersen

Wood

  • historic look
  • material is insulative
  • paintable
  • less expensive than some fiberglass windows and all metal-clad windows

suggested brands- Marvin, Lindal, Cherry Creek, Pella, Andersen

Fiberglass

  • paintable, or can leave exterior and interior unpainted for “no maintenance”
  • some are insulated
  • material is dimensionally stable, meaning that it doesn’t expand and contract with temperature changes as much as vinyl

suggested brands- Marvin, Pella, Andersen

Metal Clad Wood

  • “no maintenance” exterior
  • option for primed or stain-ready interior
  • finish weathers well, even in marine exposures
  • return on investment (when compared to painted windows, the price gap is closed after only one re-paint)
  • some brands are susceptible to fading of coating on exterior

suggested brands- Marvin, Loewen, Pella

loewen2

Loewen metal-clad windows

Con’s:

Aluminum

  • not recommended for painting
  • same color exterior and interior
  • most brands do not meet current minimum energy code requirements in Washington
  • some units are not “thermally broken” – meaning that the metal conducts heat and can contribute to condensation
  • some brands/lines have not undergone technological advancement since the 60’s and are still on the market
  • some metals are incompatible with others, and this must be taken into account if you will have other metals in direct contact

Vinyl

  • limited color choices – mostly white and putty
  • not paintable
  • same color interior and exterior
  • material is not as dimensionally stable, meaning that it will expand and contract with temperature changes more than some other materials

Wood

  • more maintenance – need to repaint every 5-7 years in the Pacific Northwest region
  • stain-grade interiors and exteriors are more expensive
  • energy code compliant units typically have vinyl tracks or seals, which are not visually desirable for some applications

Fiberglass

  • same color inside and outside, unless you paint one or the other

Metal Clad Wood

  • higher price

Understanding the Technology

Some basic information about types of windows and doors can be found here:

Window and Door Manufacturer Association, “Window FAQ” and “Door FAQ”

Currently, the Washington State Energy Code requires that windows have a U-value of 0.35 or better if following the prescriptive path of compliance, meaning that the percentage of windows is not limited as long as the U-value meets or exceeds the minimum requirement.

A window’s U-Value is representative of the window’s resistance to heat flow, and the lower the number the better the insulating value. This is the criteria that retailers highlight the most, but it is not a comprehensive evaluation of the window’s performance.  It is also important to know that different operations of windows will have different U-values.  Although one manufacturer’s fixed window may meet the minimum code-required U-value, it’s operable units may not.  This does not necessarily mean that you will not be able to use them, but it does make it more difficult to achieve and demonstrate compliance.  More information about selecting energy efficient windows in Washington can be found here:

Efficient Windows Collaborative, “Fact Sheet: Selecting Energy Efficient Windows in Washington,” Sept. 2007.

National Fenestration Rating Council, “Questions About Buying New Energy Efficient Windows?”, Nov. 2002.

You should also be considering window’s structural performance rating, particularly if your house is exposed to high wind speeds and/or driving rains. The structural performance rating is a measure of the amount of air pressure, or wind load, a window can resist before failing.  Homes with significant exposure would benefit from a higher than minimum structural performance rating, as those windows are more resistant to wind-blown water intrusion.

The different structural classifications are defined and certified by the American Architectural Manufacturer’s Association.  To read more, visit www.aamanet.org and review their brochure.  More information about the values associated with the ratings can be found here:

Excerpt from the AAMA/WDMA/CSA “Standard/Specification for windows, doors, and skylights”

Proper Installation is Vital

Consider your windows as important to your home’s health as the condition of your roof.  Windows should be installed by qualified contractors, able and willing to identify and remedy any rot and flashing issues.  You should anticipate and budget funds beyond the quoted cost of the windows and simple installation to be able to correct any deficiencies that are discovered as well as replace interior trim and casings, repaint, and/or touch-up drywall.

“Replacement windows” are NOT the same as replacing windows with new units that have a nail flange and are properly flashed. You may be better off keeping your old windows and considering ways to reduce infiltration, rather than allowing “replacement windows” to be set into a bead of caulk which will be prone to failure.

Queen Anne 3 – Before & After

QA3_before

Before

QA3_after

After

First, fix what is broken.

When purchased, this house had one issue that needed immediate attention – a drainage problem created when sellers hastily poured a concrete driveway to increase resale value. By doing so, they inadvertently directed rainwater, which previously found its way into the soil, into the neighbor’s yard and also into the basement.

And, while you’re at it…

As is often the case with remodeling, fixing this problem triggered other projects. The back and side yard were partially excavated in order to expose the basement foundation for waterproofing, during which we discovered that the existing underground drain lines were broken, filled with sand, and discharging water too close to the house. Since this property is surrounded by parcels on 3 sides and there is no stormwater main line in the street in front of the house, the downspouts were directed to a dry sump, located as far away from the foundation as possible.

The ground disturbance moved the landscaping projects up in priority.  After all, why spend money planting temporary grass?  This, in turn, moved the roof up in priority so that a dumpster could be placed close to the house without damaging the landscaping.  Which, of course, meant that the gutters would need to be replaced…

Hello, curb appeal.

The result is a great example of getting “big bang for the buck” by utilizing maintenance projects an opportunity to create curb appeal.  And, the money spent generated more return on investment than the sellers ever dreamed possible.