Posts Tagged 'budget'

Wood Flooring – Decision Factors

What are the main decision factors when choosing between pre-finished wood flooring, engineered wood flooring, and solid wood flooring that is finished in place?



  • Pre-finished wood flooring typically has microbevels, which are little v-shaped notches between the planks. Some homeowners think that is attractive and desirable – accentuating the length of a room or creating the illusion of a different proportion. Others think that the grooves would look too “busy” and be a nuisance to clean.
  • Engineered wood flooring may or may not have microbevels, depending on the brand, style, etc.

Pre-finished solid oak flooring with microbevels displayed on top of a field-finished oak floor without microbevels.

    Visual Authenticity

    • Some brands of engineered wood flooring use one wide plank of flooring to simulate several narrower planks. What is referred to as a “1-strip piece” will be a single plank that is a single strip.  A “2-strip piece” will be a single plank made to look like two strips, etc.  If the product has microbevels, this is very noticeable.  If it is smooth, the seams are still visible, but less noticeable.


    • If you are putting new wood flooring next to existing wood flooring, the thickness of the materials may differ, especially between engineered and older wood flooring. If you do not want to have a height difference between two areas, you will either have to have a transition (such as a stained door sill) or build up the subfloor underneath the new flooring to match the height. If your primary motivation was saving money, this added expense should be factored into your decision.


    • Pre-finished has an aluminum oxide finish that cannot be site-finished and does not have a real “clear finish” due to the aluminum suspended in the finish.  If you have large pets with claws, lots of animals, heavy traffic, routinely wear shoes in the house, or are generally hard on your floor, this should not be your first choice.
    • Engineered allows you to sand and refinish the floor, but how many times depends on the thickness of the wear layer.  Look for the thickest wear layer available.  There are companies that have wear layers nearly as thick as solid wood flooring.  Owens has a line with a 5mm (approx. 3/16″) wear layer.  For comparison, 3/4″ solid flooring has a 5/16″ wear layer above the tongue and groove.  This is the amount that is sandable, however you cannot sand all the way down to the tongue and groove without splintering and exposing nails.  So, in reality, a 3/4″ solid product has about a 6mm (1/4″) wear layer which is just about equal to the Owens 5mm wear layer (which can be sanded until there is no wear layer left).



    Wear layer of solid unfinished oak vs. engineered unfinished oak





      Installation Options


      • usually nailed in place, concealed within the tongue and groove joint

      Pre-finished or Engineered

      • nail-down,
      • glue-down, or
      • “floating” (boards are separated from the subfloor by a sheet material and not physically attached to the subfloor)



      • less mess and smell during installation
      • faster start-to-finish install time
      • may be less expensive than field-finished, depending on species, width, and type of installation


      • more expensive and/or exotic species without a significant price increase
      • some brands/lines are suitable for installation over radiant floors (check for options)


      • more predictable longevity (and therefore less likely to end up in a landfill)
      • is able to be refinished many times, with certainty
      • more familiar to floor refinishers (been around forever)
      • unlimited choice of stain colors, which can be swatched on the flooring after it is installed
      • your choice of finish (type, sheen, brand, number of coats)
      • best for period-appropriate installations (top-nailed, inlays, etc.)

      To learn more…

      I recommend Jeff Lane of Lane Hardwood Floors, one of the most talented and knowledgable hardwood flooring vendors and installers here in Seattle.


        Getting the Project Started

        “We want to move forward.  What next?”

        Now that we know we’re on the same page (see How to Prepare for the Architect-Client Interview), we build the foundation for a successful project, beginning with:

        • Contract and retainer – When the budget, objectives, timeline, and chemistry are all in place, the next step is signing a contract. A retainer is required with your signed contract, which is applied to your final invoice. The retainer is typically 10% of the estimated fee.
        • Follow-up meeting – This is an opportunity to continue the discussion about design we began during the interview. You may be able to fill in a few blanks that you hadn’t been able to earlier, or you may have additional questions, ideas, or inspiration images to discuss.
        • Measure and draw existing – To get started on a remodel or addition project, I first need to document what is there. This may be limited to relevant areas or include the entire house, depending on the scope of your project. Most Seattle homes that are “typical urban lot” size take two people 3.5-4.5 hours to measure, which includes significant architectural features (walls, doors, windows, etc.), but does not include mechanical or electrical systems and fixtures, or items which would require destructive demolition. Note: We need to open closets, cabinets, etc. to measure how deep they are and will also take photographs.  Access to the attic(s) and crawlspace(s) should be cleared and ladders provided, if needed.

        How to Prepare for the Architect-Client Interview

        The first meeting is an opportunity for us both to interview each other.  It is very important that everyone that will be involved in the design process be together at the interview so that we all get the chance to ask questions and get a sense for what it would be like to work together.

        “What do you need from us?”

        1) Brief written description of your goals for the project, including:

        • list of “must-have” items, “would be nice to have” items, and “don’t want” items (Note: If all of the people living in the house don’t agree about the goals, it is helpful to know what differs.)
        • budget for the construction cost of the project (for more insight into costs, see “How Much Will my Project Cost?”).
        • timeline for the project (when you will be ready to start design, begin construction, and move in)

        2) Inspiration photos from magazines, books, vacations, etc.  (Note: It is not necessary that these photos be “the answer” to your goals, so don’t exhaust yourself trying to find that!  It is more helpful that you find photos of things you like, even if the photos represent a variety of architectural styles.  A photo of a “cozy corner” may look different for you than it would for someone else, so photos really help me tune into your own personal taste and learn what those words mean to you visually and experientially. Even photos of something you really DON’T like can be helpful for comparison.)

        3) Information that you may have about the house and/or lot, such as:

        • old blueprints – whether original or from previous remodels
        • survey
        • “Improvement Location Certificate” – Sometimes found in your mortgage documents, this is a drawing that shows the outline of your house, garage, etc. (the “improvements”), with dimensions of the structures and of the lot itself.  Sometimes, easement information and encroachments may be included in this document.  If you do not find a one in your file, you may want to check with your title company to see if there was one obtained on your behalf.  I have found that the drawing does not always make its way into your loan document package.)
        • copy of previous appraisal
        • if you’re changing the exterior appearance of the house, it is helpful to know if you anticipate problems with your neighbors
        • neighborhood covenants, if any

        4) “Walk and Talk”  – One of my favorite things to do is to be guided around a house by potential clients, listening to what they do and don’t like about their homes.  It is fun to learn what they wish for, what they’ve already changed, and how they see themselves living there.

        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.

        “How much will my project cost?”

        “Do I have enough money?”

        The first thing you need to know is that the total cost of your project is made up of both “hard cost” and “soft cost”. “Hard cost” is also known as “construction cost”. This includes materials, labor, and contractor’s profit & overhead. When you read about “cost per square foot” in magazine articles or ask a contractor what a project cost, this is typically the number quoted.

        “What should I use for estimating my project’s construction cost?”

        To get you started (only a first guess), here are a few resources:

        Free Residential Building Cost Calculator

        – A free online calculator for new home construction from, that uses information from the National Building Cost Manual (published by the Craftsman Book Company).

        Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report

        – A regional report by Remodeling magazine of midscale and upscale projects for common types of residential remodeling project. Also lists estimated cost immediately recouped by the resale value of the improvement.

        “How Much Will It Cost?”

        – Published a few years ago by Fine Homebuilding, this is a helpful budgeting tool in a grid matrix format. Requires a paid membership to download (it’s worth it).

        “How Much Will My Kitchen Cost?”

        – Same as above, but specifically regarding kitchen remodels. If you pay the membership, you get access to both articles (among others).

        Don’t forget the “soft cost”…

        In some areas, such as Seattle, sales tax is a big number (currently 9.5%), so you can see how quickly the bottom line can be affected by additional expenses related to your project. These items that the homeowner is responsible for are considered the “soft cost” of the project, such as surveyor’s fees, architect’s fees, structural engineer’s fees, reimbursable expenses, taxes, permit fees, and a contingency fund. A good rule of thumb is to budget at least 35% for “soft cost”. In other words, construction cost + 35% of construction cost = project budget.

        Have a contingency fund.

        The most difficult costs to predict (especially when remodeling) are those which will be paid from your own contingency fund. You MUST have a contingency fund of at least 10%, and I strongly recommend 15-20%. The smaller the project, the larger the percentage. You will rely upon this fund to pay for unforeseen work (conditions that are not visible or predictable prior to demolition). You will also be presented with items during construction that usually include the phrase “…while we’re here, it would be less expensive to go ahead and…” Part of my job is to help you differentiate between the “must do” and “would be nice to” items, and to think ahead to other items that may be triggered by these decisions (also known as anticipating the “domino effect”).

        And, sometimes you need even more…

        Some projects have unique features which may require specialized services not included in “hard cost” or “soft cost”, such as geotechnical engineering, soils testing, and environmental impact analysis. Landscaping, furnishings, and curtains, are not included in either category, so you will need to create separate budgets for those items.

        Other resources

        How to Work With an Architect

        , by Gerald Morosco, AIA

        An excellent step-by-step guide to the architect’s role throughout the design and construction process.

        Not So Big Solutions for Your Home, by Sarah Susanka, AIA

        Regardless of what you discover about your budget, Sarah Susanka’s advice in this book, and others in the series, will help you discover how to live large in less space.

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