Surprise! Surprise!

26 Jan 2012

A professional tells how to avoid remodel nightmares

By Larry Parrish Do you like surprises? Likely, that would depend on the nature of the surprise. Some are good, others not so good. For example, an unexpected bonus with your paycheck—good. A pink slip in your pay envelope—not so good. surprise   When it comes to remodeling your home, I propose that virtually all surprises are bad, even if the outcome is good. Because surprises result from lack of control, and lack of control—when the stakes are high—is not good. The No. 1 fear of homeowners contemplating a home remodeling project is “The Surprise.” Specifically, surprise bills at the end of the project, a surprisingly late completion date, and a surprise product instead of the one you specified. In the interest of keeping your project under control, here are some common remodeling surprises, and strategies you and your team can use to avoid them.
Surprise This isn't what I wanted. I didn't  understand the blueprints, and I didn't  read the specifications.
First of all, don’t assume anything. Construction has a language of its own, full of jargon and symbols not familiar to everyone. This is why architects and contractors take special classes in how to create and read blueprints. As a homeowner, you can’t be expected to know the difference between a girder truss and a sole plate, but it’s your responsibility to ask questions until you know what you’re building. Read and understand the specifications, because it will describe exactly what is, and is not, included in your contract. Ask your contractor or architect to “walk you through” the drawings in detail. If you have trouble visualizing from two-dimensional drawings, as many people do, ask for a model to be built, or for a 3-D computer rendering.
Surprise The cost estimates for my building plans are much higher than my budget.
Budget surprises can be avoided by involving your contractor early in the design process to provide cost feedback and suggest cost-saving materials or methods. A design/build company is another alternative. In any event, don’t design without your budget clearly in focus. Share your budget with your design team early, and check it often as the design progresses. surprise_remodel
Surprise I had no idea a remodel  project would require so much of my time.
Home remodeling can be a substantial undertaking, and you should budget adequate time accordingly. The typical remodeling project involves dozens, if not hundreds of products and design decisions. A kitchen remodel may take about 40 hours of your time for design meetings and product selections before work begins. During the construction phase, four hours per week is realistic for project-progress meetings and review. A major remodel can take much more of your time. If you’re too busy now, consider postponing the project until your schedule clears a bit. Otherwise, you may be forced to take shortcuts you’ll regret.
Surprise I just found out we’ll have to spend a lot of money to remove lead paint and asbestos before we can proceed. This wasn’t in our budget.
Hopefully, you found out before lead and asbestos was disturbed, turning your home into the next Superfund site. Any portion of a home that will be disturbed, and was built before 1978, should be tested for lead-based paint, as required by federal law. All homes should be tested for asbestos. Manufacture of both lead paint and asbestos was banned in the United States for residential use in 1978, but asbestos has been seen again recently in drywall compounds imported into the U.S. Be sure to test your home during the early design stages to ensure your family’s safety and to budget and schedule for necessary remediation. Testing is relatively quick and affordable.
Surprise The product I want will not be available in time to meet our construction schedule.
All product selections should be made before construction begins. You won’t be pressured to make quick decisions, you’ll have time to order that special tile from Italy (and to reorder it when it all arrives broken), and your project won’t be delayed, waiting for decisions or products.
Surprise When we submitted our expensive building plans to the building department or home­owners association, we found they don’t comply with zoning/building code/covenants, and can’t be built.
You may own your home, but there are many regulations that can control what you do with it. The sooner you determine the legal constraints affecting your project, the better. First, you should determine, definitively, if your property is controlled by active covenants. If so, get a copy of the covenants and read them. You will likely need approval of the Architectural Control Committee, and should meet with them early. Then, you should schedule a meeting with the building department of your local municipality to review your ideas, looking for any regulations that will thwart your plans. In Boulder and Boulder County, these could include flood zones, solar fences, compatible development, floor-area ratio, parking, access, wetlands, site reviews, dark-sky requirements, massing, height restrictions, landmark/historic reviews, setbacks, septic issues, boundary disputes, archaeological conservation, view corridors and protected species, to name a few. If there will be issues, you want to know before you spend a lot of time and money on blueprints you can’t use. .
These are just a few of the many possible surprises you may encounter. One key to avoiding them is good communication. Don’t assume anything. Ask questions, and insist on clear and thorough answers. You've heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. Use photographs, sketches and models in your design meetings to communicate ideas clearly. Take as much time as necessary to review and read the contracts, blueprints and specifications. As President Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” If you’re planning a home remodel, I hope it’ll be everything you've dreamed of, and your only surprise will be it turns out even better than you imagined! Larry Parrish is the owner of Parrish Construction Co., a design-build contracting and custom cabinetmaking firm based in Boulder since 1969. Visit for info.
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