Skip to content

The Grand Remodel: The Prelude

After nearly a decade, we’ve decided it’s time. Time to rid ourselves of another eyesore in the house, the ill-conceived, strangely constructed-with-permits Backroom of Doom. But in reality this project is complex, because of how our place is arranged and our usage patterns. Thus it deserves a more honest title: the Big, Scary Remodel, including, but not limited to…

  • The bloody backroom. Which means foundation work. Rapture!
  • The outdated kitchen, which is not only attached to the bloody backroom, but has the ever common complaint of too little counter space in a crappily arranged area.
  • Adding another bathroom. I don’t care what other people say, if there is more than 1 person living in a building, you need more than 1 bathroom.
  • Removing the unused, space-hogging chimney. Don’t need it, don’t want it, get rid of it.
  • A new roof. Something more energy-efficient, long-lasting, less prone to damage, yet easy to repair if needed. I hear lifetime composite might be in my future.
  • A companion for the roof, along with the dream of (some) renewable energy production: solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. At the very least, have a roof well-constructed to take solar in the future, if we cannot do it during this project.
  • Central heating, maybe. Did I mention that this house is old enough to lack central heating? It still does.
  • Electrical upgrades, as well as fixes to obsolete wiring in which past electricians had failed.
  • Too many new appliances.
  • Sound-proofing, where feasible.
  • Exterior paint. I grow weary of off-white. Death to beige!
  • Doing the above in as green a manner as possible, where affordable.
  • A dragon. Why ask for a pony when a dragon more appropriately suits one’s needs? Especially a fire-beathing one who’ll intimidate those who might damage our precious garden without a care in the world.

That’s the short list. Obviously, this will grow (and shrink) as we get a better idea of realistic scope and budget.

With a project of this scope, most people would start with an architect they like, work to get designs and plans, then get bids from contractors. Well, we don’t know any architects, at least of the residential and remodeling design variety. And since we’ve gotten used to screening and dealing with contractors — you know, the ones who will actually be doing the demolition and construction work — we thought we’d take an alternative and more modern route, and seek out design+build firms. Design+build companies include both the design (architectural, structural engineering, where needed) and construction aspects. Ideally.

So, with a list in hand, I finally emailed 9 prospective design+build companies. To my surprise, within less than a week, I got 7 responses. Two never responded; their loss. Of these, we decided one was located too far for us to comfortably do business with, and another seemed more focused on whole house remodeling — far too big a scope, likely far too time-consuming and too costly. So, we scheduled initial consultations (free) with 5 of them.

Suffice it to say, after speaking with these designers and contractors, executing the Big, Scary Remodel would not be as clear-cut as we had thought. But hey, that’s part of the learning process of this project. But we did learn that we might be able to accomplish most (maybe all, but I’m cautious) of the list within our budget. A little hope now is better than the hopelessness we’ve felt while waffling over this for the past nine years.

One lesson, subject to change, is to pay for the set of plans (i.e., the detailed design, which in itself is a non-trivial amount of labor) once, but get detailed bids for materials and demolition-construction labor from multiple sources. That way we can compare how much the same project would cost, both financially and time-wise. And hopefully we won’t need to pay (again, other than the single design cost) until we agree to work with a specific contractor. We’ll see.

Another lesson, in addition to the reality that detailed design plans must come before detailed bids, is learning about architectural requirements. Unless you’re building a second (or more) storey, or something underground like a basement, you don’t need a licensed architect — at least in the Bay Area, if not in California. A residential designer should suffice; if structural engineering work is needed, then that designer should work with one to get things to code. Note also that the residential designer should at least get the plans within City and State building codes.

The next step: Figuring out the design. During our bathroom remodel, the design phase took nearly half a year, whereas the construction a mere 3ish weeks. Being the schedule pessimist that I am, I imagine that design phase for this project could take a loooooong time. But this isn’t our first remodeling project, so we’ve got some experience, as well as a better idea as to what we’d want and not want. Again, we’ll see.