You’ve made the decision to hire an architect or builder to redesign your (pick one) home, kitchen, bathroom, great room, or master bedroom. Excitement builds in your head as you ponder sunlit rooms, a nap on your favorite window seat, and (of course) all the environmental strategies you have found and can afford. Focusing on the updates is fun and creative, but don’t forget about the infrastructure you already own; it may need some help.
At LOCUS, we generally recommend our clients do a full house assessment before they start a project. We usually have a budget we need to respect, but clients often think about that budget just in terms of new space. We consider it our responsibility to look beyond the project goals and make sure we give consideration to the entire home. A house is, after all, the largest investment most people own. What good is a new kitchen if the rest of the house collapses around it?
Before you remodel, consider your…
1. HVAC SYSTEM How old is the furnace, boiler, air conditioning, or hot water heating system in your home? How efficient are they? If any of the systems is likely to fail within five years, or if they are inefficient, it may be a smart financial AND environmental decision to replace one or all of them. You can use this calculator to compare some options for heating and cooling. If any of your heating pipes or ducts are wrapped in asbestos, you may want to abate it as part of construction, especially any accessible sections where children might be around.
2. VENTILATION Most older homes have adequate ventilation simply because they are drafty. Fresh air comes in everywhere. When renovated, these homes usually become “tighter” and no longer provide inhabitants adequate fresh air. This can lead to multiple problems, including poor air quality, excess humidity, and the eventual appearance of mold. Consider an ERV or HRV, or another appropriate ventilation strategy.
3. ELECTRICAL Does your home still have some knob and tube wiring, cloth-shielded wiring, or faulty switches (if old enough, some may contain mercury)? If so, you probably should dedicate some of your budget to new wiring, fixtures, outlets, and switches.
4. PLUMBING Does your home have old galvanized or iron pipe for domestic water delivery? These pipes can affect water quality and constrict flow. We recommend replacing any iron pipes used to deliver water, which can mean replacing the main supply line to the street or well.
5. SITE DRAINAGE Are there any places around your home where the ground or sidewalks directly adjacent to the house slope down towards the house? This will direct water to the basement wall, and can lead to basement leaks, mold, poor air quality, and structural damage. It’s generally an easy fix to take care of the problem, which might include gutters and downspouts, especially in areas with clay soils.
6. ROOFING Roofing is often in worse shape than it appears from the ground. Have someone assess your roof to determine if it needs to be replaced or repaired. Try to use something other than asphalt shingles. They’re petroleum based, in most areas cannot be recycled, and damage easily. Other options are more expensive, but often have a lifespan double or triple that of asphalt shingles.
7. OVERLOOKED MAINTENANCE Give your house a thorough walk through. Is the siding effectively shedding water? Are there cracks in the basement walls that need attention? Do the kitchen and baths have adequate exhaust capacity? Do you see any mold anywhere inside? Do windows and doors seal adequately? If you are overhauling your home already, an on-site contractor can easily take care of these extra items without hitting you with a change order, assuming the updates made it into the contract or construction drawings.
We encourage our clients to set aside 15-20% of their initial construction budget for a “contingency” fund, to address the items above, unforeseen problems, above average rainfall/snowfall (damage during construction or project delays), or structural issues uncovered during construction.
Set aside another 10% of your budget for scope creep. Despite the best intentions, something always gets added to the project in midstream – “well, we might as well put in the half bath” or “Let’s do the 10kW photovoltaic array!” or “I’ve decided to go ahead with the display shelf for my Minnesota State Fair tchotchkes”. Better to have some money set aside for these little eventualities. Oh, and do yourself a favor and buy a good hammer.