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  1. #1
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    Home Remodel: Do, Don'ts, Advice

    We're considering doing a fairly extensive remodel of our home (kitchen, bathrooms, ???), and I've never done anything of the sort. We have an idea of what we'd like in terms of big picture, but no idea re details. For example, we may know we want a tiled shower stall, but no idea beyond that. Will the GC we hire expect more details, or is it something that can be worked on as we go? And how do we estimate cost in this vague concept? Obviously, I have a zillion questions, and there are probably a zillion more that I don't even know to ask.

    Also, a couple of the things we want done are exterior painting (and some siding repair) and installing central AC. Is it better to go through the GC we hire for the remodel or is it something we should handle ourselves? Will it be cheaper one way or the other?

    So, for anyone who has done this before, any guidance or advice you can give, any description of the process, or whatever, will be appreciated.
    Last edited by Danno; 08-28-2014 at 11:53 AM.
    "fuck off you asshat gaper shit for brains fucktard wanker." - Jesus Christ
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  2. #2
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    The best advice is run away if you value your marriage. Just go buy the house you want and avoid all the hassle. Major home remodel is a real pain in the ass.

    All that said, there are a million ways of going about it. If you can afford it, just find a good GC and let him steer you through the whole process. Sure you can save money by doing a lot yourself, or hire things out independently, but it may not be worth the headaches. Finally if this is as major a remodel as you make it sdound, consider moving out for the duration. Living in a torn up house with no kitchen or bathrooms can be a nit inconvenient.

    I agree it is a constitutional right for Americans to be assholes...its just too bad that so many take the opportunity...
    iscariot

  3. #3
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    Everything is more expensive if you go through the GC, since they typically take a cut of everything (or add a percentage onto everything). But you're paying them for exactly the reason you mention: to have someone to answer your questions, help you think things through, and advise based on their experience (which is presumably greater than yours). If you want to go cheap, plan things yourself and hire individual contractors. If you want someone to help you coordinate everything, hire a GC and expect to pay a little more. If there are certain things that don't really require a GC to help (like AC install or painting), hire those directly and don't include them in the scope of the project you pitch to the GC.

    We hired a GC to help with our living room remodel because there were a lot of moving parts. It cost an extra 5-10% but it was worth it when everything worked out perfectly and we avoided a couple of major missteps along the way.
    Outlive the bastards - Ed Abbey

  4. #4
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    Danno, if you have time, we should grab a beer next week and discuss. I bought a home specifically as a fixer-upper and am doing 90% of the work myself and have learned a LOT so far. I also have some contractor contacts that might prove useful for you.

  5. #5
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    If you want to do it right get an architect and detailed design plans. You can still make minor design changes along the way. I had a buddy that is draftsman due architect design without the signoff and they were a big help. Since I did mine on the cheap. My contractor went to jail twice and I crawled through a window for a month. Took twice as long and double the cost as my original estimate. Mostly due to my changes. House looks great now..

    I like Houzz.com for ideas.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pegleg View Post
    Everything is more expensive if you go through the GC, since they typically take a cut of everything (or add a percentage onto everything).
    Not necessarily. Good GCs have good relationships with subs and can sometimes get a lower price because they know somebody is working on the other end lining up materials and organizing the other subs. The tile guy knows that correct quantities of material will be there and that the plumber will be done in the bathroom and ideally there will be less BS to deal with. The GC does get a paid but the good ones can save you money and/or time (which is the same as money).

    Danno, people like you need to hire architects or designers or something. Yes, it will cost you money but you are just going to fuck everything up if you can't call an HVAC contractor or 3 and get estimates for A/C. I would think that this sort of shit would be right in a lawyers wheelhouse (contracts and shit).

  7. #7
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    To get ideas about what you want to do, start going to open houses in the area, and visit model homes if there are new tracts in your area. Pick up some women's porn mags like Architecture Digest and flip through the pages for ideas. Go visit the local tile shops to see what you like, better yet go to stone yards and look at natural stone, it is much better then tile.

    I have remodeled our whole house, and did it all various ways. I did it piece by piece, so it took many years, but it was livable and affordable. I did one room at a time, had a GC do the kitchen, hired individuals for parts of the bathrooms, i.e. set the stone, do some of the major plumbing and electric, did some myself. Did all the painting and nearly all the finish carpentry, and would probably never do it again if I could afford to have someone else do it.

    I agree it is a constitutional right for Americans to be assholes...its just too bad that so many take the opportunity...
    iscariot

  8. #8
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    Definitely move out for the duration as stated above, especially if it's the kitchen. Hiring a trusted GC will help deal with herding subs, suppliers and hopefully avoid unforeseen situations, along with adding some finer 'polish' to the project.

    Having a good plan with some allowance for variables is ideal. Working with a designer will offer (hopefully objective) insights, options and possibilities you or a GC may not realize until later or not at all. With remodels, there are always other issues that come up and not limited to electrical, plumbing and finishes. Through a design process you may be able to make other improvements as long as you are trashing the place and will have some other talents on site.

    As a designer of a lot of remodels, a common problem is the home owner is 'too close' to the house or project. It's hard to step back and be objective while looking at other possibilities, ie, including moving the kitchen because it really might be for the greater good of the home layout.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by hutash View Post
    The best advice is run away if you value your marriage. Just go buy the house you want and avoid all the hassle. Major home remodel is a real pain in the ass.

    All that said, there are a million ways of going about it. If you can afford it, just find a good GC and let him steer you through the whole process. Sure you can save money by doing a lot yourself, or hire things out independently, but it may not be worth the headaches. Finally if this is as major a remodel as you make it sdound, consider moving out for the duration. Living in a torn up house with no kitchen or bathrooms can be a nit inconvenient.
    I think we can get closer to what we want by doing the remodel, we have looked at RE here (and will continue to look until we're fully committed to this process). When you factor in the cost of selling/buying, it would take a lot of extra money. And yeah, we're thinking we'd have to move out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pegleg View Post
    Everything is more expensive if you go through the GC, since they typically take a cut of everything (or add a percentage onto everything). But you're paying them for exactly the reason you mention: to have someone to answer your questions, help you think things through, and advise based on their experience (which is presumably greater than yours). If you want to go cheap, plan things yourself and hire individual contractors. If you want someone to help you coordinate everything, hire a GC and expect to pay a little more. If there are certain things that don't really require a GC to help (like AC install or painting), hire those directly and don't include them in the scope of the project you pitch to the GC.

    We hired a GC to help with our living room remodel because there were a lot of moving parts. It cost an extra 5-10% but it was worth it when everything worked out perfectly and we avoided a couple of major missteps along the way.
    I thought there might be some discount because of volume, connections, etc. But if not, it may be worth it to do some of it ourselves, like house painting. What project did you do, I can't recall?

    Quote Originally Posted by adrenalated View Post
    Danno, if you have time, we should grab a beer next week and discuss. I bought a home specifically as a fixer-upper and am doing 90% of the work myself and have learned a LOT so far. I also have some contractor contacts that might prove useful for you.
    Sounds good, I like beer. We're not moving super fast on this so have some time to discuss. Sorry we won't be able to do so this weekend.

    Quote Originally Posted by 4matic View Post
    If you want to do it right get an architect and detailed design plans. You can still make minor design changes along the way. I had a buddy that is draftsman due architect design without the signoff and they were a big help. Since I did mine on the cheap. My contractor went to jail twice and I crawled through a window for a month. Took twice as long and double the cost as my original estimate. Mostly due to my changes. House looks great now..

    I like Houzz.com for ideas.
    I don't think we need an architect, as we're not planning on doing anything to the bones (except perhaps knocking out a non-load bearing wall).
    "fuck off you asshat gaper shit for brains fucktard wanker." - Jesus Christ
    "She was tossing her bean salad with the vigor of a Drunken Pop princess so I walked out of the corner and said.... "need a hand?"" - Odin

  10. #10
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    I've done it, but I have an awesome girl who got touchy at points, but we've finished 2 kitchens ourselves and are working on a third.
    So we were our own GC. It wouldn't work for a lot of people.

    We've gone through the bad contractor scene and one really good contractor which we still use. Don't tolerate the bad ones.

    Suggestions:
    0) Do things one at a time; don't try both bath and kitchen simultaneously.
    1) Have good temp kitchens and hopefully a second bath to rely on. I'm suggesting summertime, not winter to manage cooking outside for example.
    2) Gut the things yourselves, don't bother to pay goons to do that.
    3) Put in the best appliances for your own pleasure as well as resale potential.

    One process involved buying a 2 burner propane stove and getting set up for outdoor cooking (we had a 4 yo and a 2 yo at the time).

    Then we gutted the kitchen down to the studs. That was a bitch, particularly tearing out the old floor.

    My wife found a cabinet maker she liked (she interviewed at least 5) and he built custom cabinets for not too much. She also chose nice appliances like a viking 6 burner stove, miele dw, subzero, etc. The installs were taken care of by the cabinet, countertop and the flooring doods. All in all it ran about $30k + our time.

    As usual, your experience may vary.
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  11. #11
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    I did an addition and remodel to my house last year. Acting as an owner / builder, I have a new respect for the juggling act of being a general contractor and trying to get various sub-contractors lined up in a timely schedule. I saved a lot of money by avoiding GC mark-ups but it was stressful and not something I could have pulled off if I didn't already work from home.

    The best advice I can give you is to avoid "designers" and get a real architect to draw up the plans. I've seen people make this mistake. It will save you time, major hassle with the city / county, and possibly money in the long run. Unless the remodel is purely superficial, of course.

  12. #12
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    Hire an experienced GC who has completed multiple projects similar to yours. Ask the GC for the following:
    1. A list of major remodel projects completed in the last five years.
    2. References. You want to speak to people who have also had a similar project completed by this GC. Ask those people if you could come over and check out their home (this is a little ivasive so bring the owner's a bottle of wine).
    3. Ask if he has insurance. What types of insurance does he carry?

    A good GC who has done many projects such as your will be able to give you a ballpark figure of the costs based on your conversations with him. He should ask you the right questions. Have a general idea of what you want and he should guide you.

    Do not attempt to be your own GC. Seriously! I have seen way to many cases where this goes really bad.

    It's hard to give advice based on the little information you provided, but here are some nuggets of my wisdom:
    1. Make sure you use cement board behind you shower tiles. Do not let the GC install "green" board.
    2. Don't install a shower seat. Yeah, you can do it, and some work, but I've seen way too many problems.
    3. Don't install a tile shower floor. Again, yeah they can work, but again, I've seen too many screwed up. Save yourself some money and possible future headache by installing a pre-manufactured pan.
    3. Make sure your AC is sized correctly! Do you already have a forced air system. Request that the mechanical contractor has completed ACCA Manual "J" and "D" calcs before. Request these document prior to any mechanical installation; even though you won't understand them. Many mechanical contractors have no idea how to size a system correctly.
    "Can't vouch for him, though he seems normal via email."

  13. #13
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    ^^ Nothing wrong with a tile shower floor and pan. If your tile guy can't do that, you don't want him doing anything else either. Most cities require a 24 hour water test anyway.

    On the bathroom note, bathrooms are really freaking expensive. They always cost more than you expect them to.

  14. #14
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    GC will cut out having to find someone good to do each job. Hopefully, they have a guy for each aspect who can get it done fast and well.

    A designer will help immensely if you have the scratch and want it to look good. They can definitely be worth the money but are not cheap. A good one can really make things happen, some work with a good GC already anyway.

    Building a good relationship with a good GC over the years can be a really good thing. My folks just took a three week vacation to the beach while their guy they've known for years built on an addition. Not a single phone call, they came back and the guys were sweeping up the driveway, job was done.

    Oh yeah, Edit to add: Houzz.com can be your best friend, but yes, it is addictive.
    Last edited by shredgnar; 08-27-2014 at 04:39 PM.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by TahoeJ View Post
    ^^ Nothing wrong with a tile shower floor and pan. If your tile guy can't do that, you don't want him doing anything else either. Most cities require a 24 hour water test anyway.

    On the bathroom note, bathrooms are really freaking expensive. They always cost more than you expect them to.
    I didn't say there was. Trust me, I investigate these things for a living in Colorado. Anything can work if done correctly, I've just seen too many screwed up so I guess I'm jaded. I know the work force, and I like simple! Shower pans are simple (relatively) There is no requirement for water testing in Boulder (You live in Boulder, right Danno?)
    "Can't vouch for him, though he seems normal via email."

  16. #16
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    To get where you want to go you need to know where you want to get. That is the first and most important thing. Well, after what you can spend.

    I've done this more than pretty much anyone who isn't in the business and you need a real idea of what you want before you start. Hutash was right about open houses and magazines, as far as he went.

    First, you need to make a list of things that are non-negotiable. Like, "additional first-floor bath" or "whatever. Spend some time on this part and get it right.

    Then, scout around at some open houses, and then study every magazine you can find, (Fine Homebuilding is a good one for this purpose) and cut the pictures out and paste them into a scrapbook-type deal. Bring that book to any meeetings with the GC. Define what you want and how much you can spend and you are literally halfway there.

    This is critical: The most expensive words in the English language are: "While you're at it….". The second most expensive words are, "We've been thinking about this and we'd rather…"

    Ruthlessley relentlessly focus the scale and scope of the project and you will be okay.

  17. #17
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    Houzz.com is an awesome resource.

    Hire an architect.

    Custom cabinets can be had for not much more than HD or Lowes' top shelf stuff, and they are, well, custom.

    Talk to people that have used the GC before. There are a lot of bad ones for resi work.

    PM Foggy

    Try to get it dialed with the architect. Changes are where contractors make their money back.

    Take the middle bid. The low guy sucks, and the high price guy doesn't want the business. If you pay the high price, he will "work you in", until another sucker pays even more. This is not always the case. Again, referrals are key, but not a guarantee either.

    If the spot they are planning on putting the rain head shower looks too close to the shower door, make them change it before they dry wall the ceiling. Do not trust your wife's opinion. The "I told you so" conversation is not very fulfilling when you have to mop up water after every shower. Don't ask.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by iceman View Post
    To get where you want to go you need to know where you want to get. That is the first and most important thing. Well, after what you can spend.

    I've done this more than pretty much anyone who isn't in the business and you need a real idea of what you want before you start. Hutash was right about open houses and magazines. What you need to do is make a list of things that are non-negotiable. Then scout around at some open houses, then study every magazine you can find, (Fine Homebuilding is a good one for this purpose) and cut the pictures out and paste them into a scrapbook-type deal. Bring that book to any meeetings with the GC. Define what you want and how much you can spend and you are literally halfway there.

    This is critical: The most expensive words in the English language are: "While you're at it….". The second most expensive words are, "We've been thinking about this and we'd rather…"

    Ruthlessley relentlessly focus the scale and scope of the project and you will be okay.
    Houzz.com check it out. The most expensive app you will ever put on your phone or iPad. My wife is still addicted, and we are "done" with renovations to this house. Ha, I almost believe that.

  19. #19
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    I really don't think you need to hire an architect, if you are only ripping out existing finishes and one non-load bearing wall. If you are going to hire anyone (besides the GC), I would hire a residential interior designer since they know more about color, texture, lighting, etc. than most architects.
    "Can't vouch for him, though he seems normal via email."

  20. #20
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    I have hired (and fired) a bunch of architects and I come down on the side of they are not useful for remodeling. Especially not for the additional layer of cost they will add. But if money is no object, hey.

    You can be the architect with the magazine pictures. Decide what you like. Then get the GC to put the plans into Sketchup or similar so you can move around in the new space. Money well spent if you're moving walls.

    good point by below zero about the designer, but also, don't even go to those meetings, send the wife and do whatever they say. Seriously. Trust me on this.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Below Zero View Post
    Hire an experienced GC who has completed multiple projects similar to yours. Ask the GC for the following:
    1. A list of major remodel projects completed in the last five years.
    2. References. You want to speak to people who have also had a similar project completed by this GC. Ask those people if you could come over and check out their home (this is a little ivasive so bring the owner's a bottle of wine).
    Very true. I've heard too many nightmare stories to not take the hiring process VERY seriously. Lots of sucky GCs out there who will piss you off in so many ways. Finding a good one can be extremely difficult, but is well worth the effort. Honestly, I'm a bit nervous about hiring one myself for my next project, as I have very high expectations. My wife and I make a pretty good team, and I feel like our tile/trim/paint work and more smokes most of what I've seen in the area, so that's why I'm nervous. My next remodel is going to be pretty massive though, and is far beyond anything I've done, so thinking a GC will be the way to go, but I'm going to be very, very selective in who I choose, even if that means paying a premium over other guys.

    Quote Originally Posted by Below Zero View Post
    2. Don't install a shower seat. Yeah, you can do it, and some work, but I've seen way too many problems.
    3. Don't install a tile shower floor. Again, yeah they can work, but again, I've seen too many screwed up. Save yourself some money and possible future headache by installing a pre-manufactured pan.
    I don't quite agree with you there. I've seen plenty of beautiful tile showers done right to believe otherwise. Unless you're talking about those pimp one-piece marble pans, pre-manufactured pans are for trailers. A nice house needs a shower that's 100% tile and glass. Pre-fab stuff and shower curtains need not apply.

  22. #22
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    Depending on your level of expertise I would suggest doing the bathrooms yourself. This isn't rocket science...it's putting up backer board, tiling, painting, installing toilets/sinks/shower pans/tubs, etc. If you have to move pipes get a plumber though.

    As for the kitchen, do the demo yourself then GC that shit. That's at least what we did...doing the remodel with two kids under the age of 3 was tough though. If I had it to do over again and unlimited funds I would definitely contract that shit out.

    Of course, this all assumes you get a really good idea of what you want to do...like down to finishes and shit.
    Damn shame, throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that

  23. #23
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    If you have a decent contractor the shower floor can be tile with no problems. The first one we did is 25 years old (holy shit!) and last time I was over there it still looked and worked like new. I don't own that house any more but I'm friendly with the owners still.

    But water is the enemy of houses, keep that in mind. Overbuild roofs and drains and gutters (I hate gutters) and grading and you'll be fine.

  24. #24
    Hugh Conway Guest
    dude can't change a bike tire or install sprinklers in his lawn.

    1) hire an architect
    2) hire a GC
    3) have them do everything

    or stop being stupid and figure out how to do it yourself.

  25. #25
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    dont use vinyl floors you bum
    Zone Controller

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