Remodel 101: Going Green

Bellevue couple built green for themselves and to teach others

Rebecca Teagarden | Seattle Times | May 14, 2013 | link

SEATTLE — Before she got into the construction business 41 years ago, Donna Shirey was a teacher.

Turns out, she still is.

The Shireys, Donna and her husband, Riley, have long believed that sustainable building is smart building. And in 2005 they decided to go for it: build the greenest, most affordable, healthy, comfortable and quiet home possible on the shore of Lake Sammamish in Bellevue, Wash. The Shireys would be their own client, and they would open the house to anybody who wanted to come have a look, from construction to completion.

Its sustainable credentials are many: photovoltaic panels, solar hot water, tankless water heater, hydronic radiant heating, heat-recovery ventilator, living roof, recycled-content tile, salvaged-wood flooring, metal roof, local materials, rainwater collection using a 3,000-gallon cistern, small footprint, wind turbine, five-star Built Green rating. More.

The more the merrier, is how they look at it. Why, Shirey (who’s fond of such construction bon mots as “build tight; ventilate right,” and “use built-ins, not furniture”) has lived all of her years in a sustainable frame of mind.

“My parents went through the Depression; my dad was a butcher in Cleveland. We saved and recycled everything,” she says. “You never knew what you were going to need.”

The Shireys completed the place they call “the Zero Energy Idea House” in 2009. Most recently it and the couple’s Florida home were featured in the book “Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid” by Sheri Koones. (Fun fact: Robert Redford, who wrote the preface, worked as a roustabout in the oil fields south of Los Angeles as a teenager.)

Koones tells us that houses use about one-third of all the energy in America. But for 80 percent of the year, the Shirey home requires no energy to operate. And each year Puget Sound Energy has sent the Shireys a check for about $650 for power returned to the grid.

The home is contemporary but made comfortable with fat alder trim and bright, cheerful (no VOC) paint. Rooms (two bedrooms, 2 ½ baths) are no larger than needed. The living room is a conversation-inducing 11 feet by 12 feet. The home steps down the lake’s-edge hillside, from TV loft upstairs to the bedrooms below the main living space.

Interior designer Autumn Donovan helped inside, working with the Shireys’ “recycled” furniture — pieces they already owned. “Those chairs over there?” Shirey says, pointing to the living room. “I’ve had those since 1982. We just got them recovered.”

That kind of ethic is evident all around. “There’s always something people can do,” Shirey says, “whether they’re building a new house or have an existing one.”


Remodel 101: We’re on your side

Builder Confidence Improves in May

RIS Media | May 15, 2013 | link

contractor on construction site [1]Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes improved three points to a 44 reading on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) for May, released recently. This gain, from a downwardly revised 41 in April, reflected improvement in all three index components – current sales conditions, sales expectations and traffic of prospective buyers.

“Builders are noting an increased sense of urgency among potential buyers as a result of thinning inventories of homes for sale, continuing affordable mortgage rates and strengthening local economies,” notes National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chairman Rick Judson, a home builder from Charlotte, N.C. “This is definitely an encouraging sign even amidst rising challenges with regard to the cost and availability of building materials, lots and labor.”

“While industry supply chains will take time to re-establish themselves following recession-related cutbacks, builders’ views of current sales conditions have improved and expectations for the future remain quite strong as consumers head back to the market in force,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 25 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

All three HMI components posted gains in May. The index gauging current sales conditions increased four points to 48, while the index gauging expectations for future sales edged up a single point to 53 – its highest level since February of 2007. The index gauging traffic of prospective buyers gained three points to 33.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, no movement was recorded in the Northeast, Midwest or South, which held unchanged at 37, 45 and 42, respectively. Only the West recorded a decline, of six points to 49 in May.

Remodel 101: Take it from the pros

Remodeling? Avoid These Costly Mistakes

Vera Gibbons | Zillow | May 27, 2013 | link

Hammer on cashWhile many Americans are ready to take on remodeling/renovation projects this spring, doing it the wrong way can be costly. Some errors to avoid:

Not knowing exactly what you want

If you don’t know exactly what you want or specify what you want, you’re going to get what the contractor thinks you want. And it could end up costing you dearly! For home remodeling design ideas, inspiration and a whole lot more (including cost estimates), check out Zillow Digs (free on the iPad or the Web). You can search by style, cost or room. And what’s really cool is that you can search by specific elements within a room, such as quartz or granite countertops, for example. Share your boards with your contractor so that you’re clear on your objectives.

Hiring the first contractor who comes along

Sure, he may seem nice, and he may seem competent, but have you checked him out? What do your friends say about him? Have you contacted his references? Seen his work? Are there any complaints lodged against him? (P.S.: The Better Business Bureau just released its top 10 list of inquiries from consumers, and half relate to home improvement.) What do subcontractors and suppliers have to say about their dealings with him? Is he licensed and insured? As excited as you may be about taking on this new project, you need to do a fair amount of due diligence.

Jumping at the lowest bid

Get at least three bids, and throw out the lowest one so as to avoid the inevitable consequence: cheap materials, shoddy installation, etc. Don’t invite trouble in! Rather, hire someone who not only comes in within target, price-wise, but is someone you feel personally comfortable with.

Not insisting on a written contract

Every detail about your project should be included in a contract, from the start date to the approximate completion date, right down to the brand of fixtures to the number of coats of paint. Be as specific as possible! Also important: setting a time limit for fixing defects so that if a dispute arises, it’s not endless.

Not setting a payment schedule

How you pay a contractor is almost as important as how much. Spell out the payment schedule in the contract, beginning with the amount to be paid upfront (which should be no more than 30 percent).  Periodic payments after the work starts should correspond to completed segments of the project. And the best way to ensure that work gets done when and how you want it? Leave a significant sum (at least 10 percent) to be paid only when the job is completed to your satisfaction.

So over stainless steel?

Can Stainless Be Dethroned as King of the Kitchen?

Mary Boone | Zillow | December 26, 2012 | link

The kitchen in a Phoenix home for sale.

Not so long ago, a repairman could tell the age of an appliance by the color of its finish. If it was avocado or harvest gold, it had to be from the 1970s or early ’80s. Poppy red meant the appliance was made in the 1970s, and harvest wheat, coffee or almond meant your oven or fridge was new in the early 1980s.

Stainless appliances first burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, and they’ve had a remarkable run. But there are those in the industry who sense “stainless fatigue” among homeowners.

It should come as no surprise, then, that major manufacturers have their own ideas about the next hot appliance finishes:

Slate could be great  

In September, GE introduced a new finish called “Slate” across its line of appliances.

The company’s news release about the launch details how its industrial designers spent countless hours conducting consumer research and reviewing design trends in the kitchen, home furnishings, home entertainment products, and automotive interiors and exteriors.

The result was Slate, a warm, gray metallic with a low-gloss finish that is a natural complement to the wide spectrum of wall colors, countertop materials and floor/cabinetry finishes found in today’s homes.

“As people transition their kitchen appliances over time, it was important to us to find a finish from a palette that is timeless and harmonious, yet distinctive,” said Lou Lenzi, whose team of designers created the new finish. “Slate is a universal, neutral finish that will suit consumers who want a premium finish that can complement or even replace stainless steel.”

Ice may be nice

Whirlpool Corp. introduced its “Ice Collection” of appliances in July, including a glossy white finish for dishwashers, microwave ovens, ranges and refrigerators.

“White is the new stainless,” the company’s news release said. The collection also includes a sleek Black Ice finish.

Patrick Schiavone, Whirlpool’s vice president of global consumer design, has said he “is over” stainless steel and set out to update the style and appearance of black and white appliances. The collection is defined by silver accents, elegant lines, sleek handles and streamlined controls.

Is black back?  

When high-end cooking appliances manufacturer Wolf introduced its newest model in early 2012, its news release boldly proclaimed: “Black is the New Stainless Steel.”

The company’s Black Glass model comes adorned with a black glass tubular handle and cobalt blue interior. In addition to the oven, Wolf is also offering black glass trim kits for its warming drawers and convection and standard microwaves.

“Our commitment to design has always been on par with Wolf’s dedication to innovation and quality,” Michele Bedard, vice president of marketing for Sub-Zero and Wolf, said in a news release. “Introducing a new finish elevates the line and opens a whole new realm of design possibilities for designers and consumers alike.”

Can color triumph?  

Viking Range Corp. offers 23 color alternatives to stainless steel in its high-end open-burner range; the company most recently expanded its palette of finishes to include Cinnamon, Dijon, Kettle Black and Wasabi.

All those choices, yet stainless steel reigns supreme.

“I’d say 80 percent of our sales are still stainless steel,” says Brent Bailey, design director at Viking Range. “I could add another 100 colors, and the percentage wouldn’t change much.”

Treat yourself like a chef…

Create a Pro-Style Kitchen in Your Home

 Mary Boone | Zillow | May 6, 2013 | link

Homeowners who regularly cook and entertain need kitchen spaces that are functional, efficient and beautiful. Even if your culinary creations are more often inspired by Chef Boyardee than Chef Gordon Ramsey, the right layout, surfaces, sinks, storage and appliances can make your kitchen a star.

The terms “chef’s kitchen” and “gourmet kitchen” are tossed around a lot these days. Within the real estate world, they generally indicate high-quality finishes and professional-grade appliances. In a broader sense, they indicate the use of features — such as open storage and easy-clean surfaces — that chefs use in their professional kitchens. Incorporating some of these professional-style amenities will go a long way toward making your new or remodeled kitchen a place where culinary magic happens.

Sink sensations

Kitchen faucet

A restaurant-style sprayer adds a professional element to this custom kitchen by designer Amy Troute.

Want to speed through prep and cooking without spreading germs throughout the kitchen? Touchless faucets have sensors that allow you to turn them on or off with a wave of your hand. A number of manufacturers offer these high-tech faucets; check out Kohler’s Sensate or Moen’s MotionSense to see a sampling of what’s available.

If you’re serious about cleanup, you might want to install a restaurant-style sprayer. These faucets, priced between $600 and $1,200, generally have a high-arc spout with a high-pressure pullout nozzle to blast food off plates. Traditional commercial faucets are too large for most residential situations, but some manufacturers, such as Blanco have created smaller versions of these pro-style sprayers for use in home kitchens.

Of course, you’ll need a pro-style sink to go with your pro-style faucet. Deep, wide bowls with flat sides and slightly curved corners provide maximum usable space and easy cleanup.

Let there be light


Recessed lights, pendants, under-cabinet task lighting and a skylight provide plenty of options in this kitchen by Details a Design Firm.

“From recessed to accent and under-cabinet lighting, LED is hot,” said John Petrie, 2013 National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) president-elect. “At our industry trade show, one of our cabinet manufacturer members had integrated LED lighting into the cabinet that turned on and off as the cabinet was accessed. This was a show stopper and very popular.”

The best kitchens have layers of light: Task lighting is essential over prep areas and the cooktop, stylish pendants over the eating space put meals in the best light, while recessed ceiling lights provide overall lighting and ensure there are no dark spots.

Open floor plans

Entertaining kitchen

Two sinks and a massive center island make this kitchen by Mitch Wise Design the perfect space for two chefs to work and entertain.

People who love to cook often love to entertain — or at least interact with the family while they’re cooking. Kitchens that physically flow into family or living spaces make that connectivity possible.

Additionally, many home chefs enjoy the company of others who are passionate about food, so it should be no surprise that there’s increasing demand for gourmet kitchens that can accommodate multiple chefs. Of course, size alone won’t make a kitchen attractive to foodies: The space has to flow efficiently. Consider installing dual sinks, dishwashers and even refrigerators, as well as an island or peninsula that allows for multiple prep areas.

Pro-grade appliances  

Pro Appliances

A pro-grade refrigerator and range up the wow factor in this kitchen by Shuler Architecture.

Professional-grade appliances often take up more space than their standard counterparts, but they can provide extras that — if you really love cooking — make them worthwhile. A pro-grade refrigerator, for instance, allows you to keep plenty of fresh produce and cold beverages on hand. Most models also give you the ability to set separate temperatures for their various compartments.

Drawer-style dishwashers, especially when you install two, can make cleanup more efficient. Similarly, many home chefs have begun to install multiple ovens in their homes; having standard, convection and microwave ovens ensures you’ll always have the right tool for any task. Many of the most well-appointed kitchens feature built-in, integrated appliances.

“While stainless steel finishes remain popular, especially in high-end professional-style appliances, the ability to integrate, or ‘hide,’ your appliances is very popular,” Petrie noted.

Surfaces matter


Durable and heat-resistant, soapstone countertops are a sleek addition to this kitchen by Brigid Wethington.

Counter surfaces that can’t have hot pots placed on them will be burned, those that can’t be cut on will be scratched, and those that stain will eventually be discolored. It’s just a matter of fact. If you really use your kitchen, you’ll want to choose the most durable (i.e., heat-resistant, scratch-proof, stain-resistant) surface that fits within your budget.

Petrie says he tries to arm clients with information that allows them to select products that work for them. “For instance, I would discuss their desire for a white marble countertop,” he said. “While the look is fantastic, the attention required to maintain it is much greater than the same look and feel they will get with a manufactured stone product.”

Make it convenient

Open shelving

Chefs can grab pots and pans with ease in this modern kitchen by Todd Davis Architecture.

Most commercial kitchens store dishes, bowls, utensils — everything — on open shelving. Professional chefs, after all, don’t have time to dig through drawers to find whisks or measuring cups. Restaurant-inspired stainless steel shelving may be a little too industrial for many home kitchens. You can soften the look by using wood or painted shelving.

Or, you may decide to forgo open shelving and rely instead on features hidden away inside cabinets, such as roll-out shelves, pull-out spice racks and lazy susans.

Return of the remodel

Home Remodeling Business Posts Big Turnaround

Daily Real Estate News | Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | link

“Home owners are tired of waiting to make improvements,” according to a remodeling trade association, which released its latest data showing the home remodeling business  is reaching “new heights.”

Current business conditions in remodeling have seen steady rises since March 2012 and now stand at a 5.97 rating — compared to 5.59 one year prior, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s first-quarter index. NARI also notes that sharp increases in the number of inquiries and requests for bids reflects an increase in consumer confidence in the housing market.

“Remodelers nationwide are not only experiencing increased activity right now, but many have a backlog of projects well into the fall,” says Tom O’Grady, chairman of NARI’s Strategic Planning & Research Committee. “This current condition is worlds away from March of last year and suggests that the recovery is beginning to gain speed.”

The main drivers of remodeling activity cited in its index among respondents was the need for improvements due to postponement of projects and due to improving home prices.

“We knew that several things had to turn around in order for business to get better, and NARI members are finally feeling a holistic economic recovery outside and inside the housing market,” O’Grady says.

Ready for a new roof?

Time to Replace or Repair Your Roof?

Joe Provey | Zillow Blog | April 12, 2013 | link

Source: CertainTeed Asphalt Shingles

Source: CertainTeed Asphalt Shingles

Making good decisions is the key to minimizing near- and long-term costs related to any home improvement project. This is especially true for large, complex jobs like reroofing. In this particular case, some of the most important decisions should be made before you hire a contractor or choose a shingle manufacturer.

The first decision is whether to simply patch leaks and damaged areas or whether partial or complete reroofing is in order. If you choose the latter, you’ll also have to decide whether to roof over your existing one or remove it. There are cost consequences either way.

Replacing shingles due to wind damage or a fallen limb is relatively easy and inexpensive. Torn or damaged shingles can be removed, and new ones can be slipped in place. The downside is that unless your roof is relatively new and you happen to have saved some spare shingles from the job, your patch job may not match the existing roof. But that is a small price to pay if the repair will extend the life of your current roof for another 10 or 15 years! However, if you plan to sell your home in the next few years, ask your contractor to order shingles that match as closely as possible. A roof with a prominent patch is unattractive and will not increase a potential buyer’s confidence.

Repair or Replace Roof - Asphalt ShinglesAsphalt ShinglesIf the damage is more significant but confined to one side of the roof, partial reroofing is an option that will cost thousands of dollars less than doing the entire roof. Repairing a section of roofing will also make it easier to blend new with old, because slight color differences will be less noticeable.

However, counter to intuition, partial reroofing jobs are more expensive on a cost-per-square (a 10-by-10 foot area) basis. They can create added problems, too. For example, if an asphalt roof already has two or more layers, all layers will have to be removed in order for the partial reroofing to proceed. So in addition to increased labor and disposal costs, you may face the possibility of a lopsided effect, with the old roof ending up a couple of inches higher than the new one. Even when built up with a course of shingles and covered with a ridge cap, the hump may still be noticeable.

A new roof — cheaper in the long term?

Even if only part of your roof is showing signs of wear, it’s wise to consider doing the entire job while the crew is on-site with its scaffolding, ladders and equipment. This will likely be less expensive than doing one part now and the remainder in a few years. I recently had a quote to repair one side of a four-sided hip roof for $2,800. For the entire roof, meanwhile, the quote was $9,000, or $2,250 per side. Given that the previous owner had reroofed 17 years before with shingles that only carried a 20-year life expectancy, I decided to spring for complete reroofing.

When to reroof depends on several variables, including the shingles’ wear and age, the climate in your area, and your home’s susceptibility to future damage. I patched my own roof after Hurricane Irene blew off six or seven shingles in 2011. The replacement shingles were off the rack at the home center and lightweight, but they matched the existing three-tab style, were somewhat close in color, and saved me from having to buy more shingles than I needed. After adding a few extra dabs of roofing cement under the patching shingles, I hoped for the best. The job cost $160.

A little over a year later, Hurricane Sandy blew away another dozen or so shingles. Reroofing with a more durable shingle, one with vastly improved adhesives, held a lot of appeal. The fact that the new shingles would have six nails per shingle instead of four, as now recommended by the shingle manufacturer for high-wind areas, was also an incentive.

Tear off or roof over?

Once you’ve decided to reroof, you’ll have to decide whether to install your new roof over the existing one or whether to tear off the old one. Once again, the choice comes down to saving a little money now and risking greater expenses down the road, or spending more now and minimizing future expenses.

Bob Vila roof 2
If you have only one layer of asphalt shingles, you may decide to have them removed even though you’re not required to. Doing so may save you money in the future. For example, if you live in an area that is subject to high winds, keep in mind that shingles will hold better if fastened directly to the roof deck. In addition, removing the old shingles will allow you to inspect the roof deck or sheathing.

The opportunity to evaluate the condition of your roof deck is valuable, insofar as you can check for wood rot and the presence of inadequate sheathing fasteners. By making any necessary repairs and adding fasteners to sheathing (especially annular nails or screws), you will avoid the dramatic losses caused when sheathing blows off the roof, allowing rain to cause extensive interior damage. Beginning your roofing job with a clean roof deck (old shingles and roofing felt removed) also means you have the option of adding ice-and-water-shield membrane along the eaves. It can only be applied to a clean deck but will help prevent damage due to ice dams.

A new roof is a big expense but should last you for decades. Do it right and you’ll have one less thing to worry about when storm winds blow. In the long term, you’ll also end up with more money in your pocket.