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The Grand Remodel: Resources, so far

Here are some remodeling resources, divided into organizations and books. It’s too early for me to lay down nitty-gritty advice on how to screen and handle designers and contractors. That might be more appropriate for a post-construction entry — y’know, after going through the experience? :) Then again, I might omit much of that aspect simply out of privacy concerns. But hopefully some of the stuff here will point you in good directions.

If you have remodeling resources you like, please do share!


Organizations

I have a habit of checking Angie’s List and Diamond Certified when looking for a contractor, as well as other types of services. Then I double-check to see what comes up with web searches and Yelp.com. When possible, I also speak with friends and neighbors.

Angie’s List. Think of this as a non-free version of Yelp.com, but with moderation — this means they always review submissions before posting, which helps reduce trolling and asinine reports. While some highly rated companies offer discounts (nice), they do NOT pay to be listed (even nicer). This is obviously to emphasize Angie’s List’s consumer advocacy stance, as well as avoid conflicts of interest. They also offer some services as part of the paid membership, including a complaint resolution process.

Update (5 June 2011): I can no longer wholly recommend Diamond Certified. Not that all contractors there are bad by default, but I found it’s much better to go by a combination of Angie’s List, personal recommendations, and even skimming Yelp (with many grains of salt, of course).Diamond Certified. They review services covering Bay Area counties. Take note that unlike Angie’s List, Diamond Certified requires vendors to pay to be reviewed. Also note that even if after a vendor has paid, it does not guarantee listing as being certified: that’s where their stringent rules come into play, e.g., requiring a standing 90% positive approval rating from surveyed clients. FYI: Many of the vendors seem to fall in the middle to high-range, in terms of price.

California State License boards for contractors (CSLB) and architects (CAB). Check these sites to ensure that licensing for your contractors or architect is up to date — before you pay for any of their services! Contractor entries also include bonding, insurance and workers’ compensation information, which should all be up to date.

For green building information, check out Built It Green (BIG), who provide detailed guidelines for green construction and remodeling in California. There’s also the federally run US Green Building Council (USGBC).

On a related note, regarding energy efficiency and solar installation:

There are several national professional associations to which a contractor or designer may belong. For example, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), and their Silicon Valley Chapter. There is also the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) for those who specialize in such structures; they also have useful, detailed Planning Guides with Access Standards. Depending on the scope of your project, a prospective contractor or designer might be in either or both of those groups.

In addition, you can search for professionals certified by these associations:

Books

Make use of your local library! If you have your own copier, gathering visual ideas becomes an easier, less costly task. I learned from the bathroom remodel that it’s better to just make copies of images you like, and spend money on reference-like guides with more explanatory text.

Speaking of which:

  • Johnston, Amy. What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You: The Essential Guide to Building and Renovating (2008). The author’s perspective is primarily focused on large construction projects, so it’s better to pick and choose which tips better suit your situation. For example, she seems to interview and use architects first, and interview contractors late in the game — very different from what we’re doing. The book is more on project management, financial and legal issues, rather than materials and design styles. Has excellent examples of questions you should ask when interviewing contractors and designers (again for Johnston, it’s typically architects, but similar questions apply).
  • Peterson, Lyn. Lyn Peterson’s Real Life Kitchens (2007). A good guide to working out what you need (and don’t need) in kitchen design, from layout to materials.
  • Ruiz, Fernando Pagés. Affordable Remodel: How to Get Custom Results on Any Budget (2007). A great book on how to choose particular tasks and materials, in order to stay within your budget.
  • Susanka, Sarah and Vassallo, Marc. Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live (2009). Many praise Susanka’s Not So Big House, which when skimmed through before our bathroom remodel, I found to be useless. The houses featured were still too damn BIG (compared to our own), and the projects focused primarily on rebuilding or whole house renovation. However, this new book on remodeling actually fills the gap I seek, and contains some good ideas on space arrangement in a small home.

The Taunton Press publishes tons of books with great visual ideas and nicely arranged photographs. They do update books within their Ideas series every few years; and because that series has a more a picture book feel rather than reference, those books tend to lack indices.

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