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Three remodeling stories

by Leon A. Frechette

Are you faced with the dilemma of whether to remodel or move? This can be a difficult decision. To help you better understand your own situation, let's review the experiences of three couples who made the decision to stay and remodel. Their stories may answer some questions you may have.

All three projects are within 4 to 10 blocks of each other in Spokane, Washington. What is amazing is that home values within this area vary widely, but perhaps that can be expected depending on the neighborhood. Each story tells of a unique project, undertaken for very different reasons.

The 1912 Stucco Tudor Home

The first couple bought their home in 1981 for around $53,000. Built in 1912, their stucco Tudor home had two bedrooms and a full bathroom on the second floor and contained 800 square feet on the first floor, 750 on the second, and 700 in the basement.

Immediate Repairs Needed

Unfortunately, when they first bought their home, they were faced with repairs. The house had been sitting vacant for a year before they purchased it. During that time, water pipes and heat radiators had frozen. The house also had an old oil boiler.

They removed the oil boiler and installed inner thermal electric water radiant baseboard heat. But the baseboard heating system did not prove to be efficient; there were no storm windows, and the house still had cold spots. They contacted the local electrical utility company to have their home converted to gas (hot water and furnace) and to qualify for the Weatherization Program. They sold the radiators and some of the thermal baseboards to a used building supply. The rest of the inner thermal baseboards were sold to a friend and donated to a local charity.

The Weatherization Program helps customers identify and repair areas where energy may be lost due to inadequate insulation and inefficient doors and windows. Financial assistance may be offered by the electrical utility company to qualifying customers for taking weatherization steps. For example, grants may be offered to help cover a portion of the cost of insulating attics, walls, and floors over heated areas. A small grant may be paid toward replacing existing windows with more energy efficient windows. An energy audit determines the exact amount of each grant, and the grant does not need to be repaid. Any remaining balance after the work is completed and the grant has been awarded is the homeowner's responsibility. There may be a weatherization program in your area—you will want to contact your local electrical utility company for more information.

While the house appeared large, the rooms were small. With children still at home, it was time for an expansion. The thought of moving never entered the picture—they liked the neighborhood—but they didn't know how to add on without losing the integrity of the home. An architect friend drew some plans that the couple liked so well that they hired a contractor and started their project in September 1993.

The Remodeling Experience

The contractor was to be responsible for excavation, foundations, framing, plumbing, roofing, insulation, and drywall. In order to save money, they purchased the windows which the contractor installed. They also did the demolition with the help of their 13-year-old son, and they did their own wiring—all 4,500 feet of it!

Another area where they saved (or in this case, made) money, was by putting their detached single-car garage up for sale. They ran a classified ad in the local newspaper that read "Garage for Sale," which most people read as "Garage Sale." Boy, were these people surprised when they showed up looking for furniture and trinkets! Once sold, the garage was relocated and the couple didnít have to go through the process of tearing it down.

The completed addition is a dream come true as it gives the homeowners the extra room they need and want. The square footage of their home was increased by 800 square feet per floor, including the 800-foot double-car garage at basement level. The addition includes a new kitchen, full bathroom, and a mud/laundry room on the first floor. The second floor has a master bedroom, an extra bedroom, a full bathroom, and a rebuild of the original bathroom.

Final Thoughts

This house finished out with four bedrooms and three baths, not to mention the original sun room, a deck over the garage (using a special membrane material so water will not leak into the garage), and the original basement that incorporated extra rooms. The new addition was finished to match the existing home, both exterior and interior.

By the time the job was completed, the couple put between $80,000 and $90,000 into the project. For a time, their home outpriced the rest of the neighborhood, but this was of little concern to them. They like the neighborhood and plan to stay there, and that was their main reason for doing the project.

A Contemporary Becomes Victorian

The second couple had an unusual project that was both interesting and unique. They moved to Spokane from Seattle in 1990, at which time they purchased their 1910 home at a cost of about $55,000. Even though the home required a lot of work just to make it livable, they bought it because of the neighborhood. It was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-and a half story contemporary home with 1,900 square feet, including 600 square feet in the basement. He had been a carpenter for 20 years and both are in real estate. This project was so extreme—a major remodel since they wanted a Victorian house—that if you hadn't seen the home before it was remodeled, you would never recognize it.

He drew his own plans and they decided to handle the entire project themselves. They started in 1991 by adding a 900 square-foot two-car garage. Work on the home actually started in 1992. Before the entire project was completed, they estimated total costs somewhere around $40,000 in materials only since the owner supplied all the labor. This project also allowed the couple to reinvest profits from the sale of their home in Seattle. Again, this home outpriced other homes in the neighborhood which are valued between $110,000 and $150,000.

Some of the products that were purchased and installed will not only save money in terms of energy efficiency but will also enhance the finished look of the overall project. For example, they selected used 2" decking and used columns for the front porch. They added another 1,100 square feet to both floors for a total of 3,000 square feet including an additional 600 square feet for the basement and an additional 900 square feet above the garage that is used as a self-contained studio apartment (kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom—all electrical is on the house meter). The rest of the home has six bedrooms and three bathrooms.

Incidentally, the sycamore tree in the yard dates back almost 90 years and really enhances the overall transformation this house has undergone. In the early 1900s this tree, along with others (locusts, Norway maples, and elms) were used in plantings designed by the Olmsted Brothers, famous landscape architects of Brookline, Massachusetts. This firm also designed Central Park in New York City and the Stanford University campus. This particular sycamore tree was shipped in from a Boston nursery and was featured in an article in Sunset Magazine in 1967.

Maintaining the Status Quo

The last project belongs to a friend of mine who is a commercial contractor. He acted as his own general contractor, doing the work himself and hiring subcontractors to complete different phases of the job.

While the value of his home was not as high as the values of other homes in the neighborhood, $150,000 to $250,000, it was one of the oldest, having been built in 1912. However, in his block alone in the past few years one new home was built and four others underwent major remodeling projects. Basically, this addition was to increase the homeís value to keep in line. Other factors that were considered were the neighborhood and the difficulty of moving. After looking at new houses, my friend did not find the quality and style he was seeking and felt he would have to remodel any new house before even moving in. In short, he felt the new homes were overpriced for the quality.

Additionally, every person who had ever lived in his house had updated it to make it better for the next person (like converting from coal to gas). However, additional space was needed. The house, a 3/4"-story Craftsman home had an original square footage of 1,900 and an additional 600 square feet in the unfinished basement. The new addition, about 600 square feet over the garage, added a master bedroom and bathroom suite with a large walk-in closet. He also added another 100 square feet to the front room of the original house by bringing out the windows to the end of the porch.

The home was purchased in 1987 for about $82,000 and the addition cost $65,000 in 1992. Some of the materials were purchased at discount since he is a contractor and his wife is an interior designer. This addition was done completely to maintain the style and integrity of the original home.

The kitchen was remodeled at a cost of about $20,000, and the discarded cabinets were moved to the detached garage behind the new addition which has been converted to a "men's club."

Final Thoughts on Remodeling

All three owners tackled their remodeling projects with creativity and good sense. If you are facing the "move or remodel" dilemma, make sure you carefully evaluate all the possibilities and restrictions. For example, before you invest time and money in any remodeling project, understand the guidelines provided by local codes and regulations as they pertain to your project. One important factor that needs to be considered before remodeling involves "zoning regulations," which impact the use of your property in relation to its property lines. Zoning ordinances establish land use: residential, industrial, or commercial. Usually "residential" is subdivided into single-family or multi-family categories. These ordinances protect you, your neighbors, and the community from undesirable or inappropriate land uses and/or construction. Other factors to consider include:

  • Special height restrictions.
  • Egress window requirements for bedrooms, especially those located in basements.
  • Wall thickness and insulation requirements, as determined by any state or local energy code in force in your area.
  • Minimum-sized footings and foundations for the addition of a second floor.
  • The existence of covenants, which could restrict you to height, type of roofing or roofing material, color, siding, etc. Check the title of your home to verify the existence of any covenants.
  • If your home is a historic building or located in a historic area, you could be restricted in what you want to do with the exterior appearance—contact the historic preservation office in your area.

Copyright © 1994 & 1998 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
The previous article, in whole or in part, appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of At Home.


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