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Home Renovation | Part Two on Home Improvement

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(Part Two of a Two-Part Series on Home Renovation)

So you’ve decided Denver’s hot real estate is just a bit too sizzling to invest in a new home. Instead, you’re going to stay put and concentrate on home improvement to size your home appropriately and bring it up to speed with the current accents.

But where do you begin and how do you know you’re selecting the right home renovation projects? Are you addressing the right rooms/areas?

Denver architect Doug Walter has come up with his top list of must haves. And some of them might surprise you. We are all too familiar with the titillating items like kitchens and master bathrooms but what about the pabulum objects like hot water heaters, electrical and roofs? Let see what Doug’s deliberations has exposed.

Home Renovation

1) Taking Care of Deferred Maintenance — Focus on the Unglamorous

The Ugly Ducklings Win! You are probably surprised that I’m leading off with this item, but it’s the one expense that will protect all others. This is not the most glamorous use of your remodeling budget, but it’s a terribly important one.

Every home I’m called to evaluate has at least $25,000, and often more, in deferred maintenance. You need to spend this money first, before you get to do the glamorous improvements. Any item that affects health, safety or welfare should be addressed.

You’ll recoup these expenses when you go to sell, and the fact that the heating, electrical, plumbing systems are current will make the home more saleable.

First make sure the roof and gutters are in top shape. Leaks can do serious damage, left unchecked.

Is your furnace or boiler old? New ones are 20 to 30% more efficient than older ones, which means you’ll be spending more of your Xcel bill. Check out the rebates Xcelis offering on new systems.  Newer equipment offers new features, like variable speed fans, or zone dampers for furnaces, and the ability to add separate heating zones for boilers, as well as a sidearm water tank that promises unlimited hot water.

Many old homes still have their original 100 to 125 amp electric service, which is inadequate for a home of any size, given today’s code requirements for more frequent plugs and separate circuits for every appliance in the kitchen. Why not upgrade it before you do the remodel so there’s room for more circuits.

For a lot of clients, we are suggesting dropping the electric, phone, and TV lines to the garage, and running lines underground to the house, which cleans up the view overhead the backyard.

Plumbing concerns include old water heaters that might leak, old galvanized supply lines that are corroded, and broken drain lines and sewers. Plumbers offer a video camera inspection of your sewer to make sure it’s in good shape. Low water pressure might indicate need to replace the line from the street to the house.

Whenever a home is offered for sale, and a contract accepted, the first thing the buyer does is commission a home inspection.  If you aren’t too familiar with how home systems work, you might consider commissioning your own home inspection so you’re aware of the critical areas that need to be addressed. Then, down the road when you go to sell, you can share this inspection along with the receipts for remedial work. It’s smarter to do the work now, so you can enjoy the benefits while you live there.

Basement Remodels

2) Basement Remodels

Basements have tremendous potential to add living space at the lowest possible cost, since you already have the space. What needs to change are the finishes to make it liveable. Such improvements have a 70% return on investment, according to the 2017 Cost vs Value study.

Need another bedroom, guest suite, family room, office, exercise space, shop or wine cellar?  All are all easy to accommodate downstairs.

In most pre WWII homes, the basement was mostly a utility space, with small windows, low ceilings, and ducts and pipes hanging down.To work on a basement and strip it, by framing new walls, adding new lighting, and providing at least one egress window, will run $70-100 per square foot on average.

Larger egress windows do wonders in bringing in daylight, especially on east, south and west sides. If you locate the egress where a basement window already exists, you can save money by keeping the width, but just minimize the sides, and extend the depth of the egress.

Do everything you can to get the ducts, pipes, and lights up inside the ceiling to maximize the height. Working around the ductwork by zoning your plan so that the ducts are not in your main living space, but instead in closets, halls  or bedrooms is a good idea. You may need to move one or two ducts.

Basements have some inherent advantages over above grade space; it’s warmer in the winter, cooler in summer, and more private year round. It’s also very quiet, since the walls are brick or concrete surrounded by earth. One question I get all the time is, “Can I add a bath down here?” If there’s already a bath or even just a laundry, the answer is almost always yes. But even if the main sewer exits the basement above the floor, you can still add a bath by using a sewage ejector.

Finishing a basement gives you the opportunity to insulate the walls, and especially the rim joists of the floor above.  If there’s a crawl space under part of the home, insulate that as well and consider sealing the dirt floor to reduce radon and moisture migration.

Bathroom Remodeling

3) Bathroom Remodeling

Bathrooms are very high on the chart for high returns on remodeling investment, especially if you are adding one. Bathrooms are fairly expensive to remodel, so many people don’t, which accounts for all those pink and black tiled baths from the 1930’s around town! By expensive, we’re talking $7,000-$20,000, depending on size and level of finish.

One word of warning: the only correct way to remodel a bath is to gut it down to the framing. This is because there is quite often hidden water damage beneath that tile.

Another advantage of opening up the walls and floor is that you can fix any structural damage, replace old supply and drains, add solid blocking for future grab and towel bars, and possibly add heat mats under the new tile.

Try to choose classic finishes for the new bath that will “age well.” Think white, not something like avocado green, or whatever the hot color of the year is.

Make sure your bath includes an exhaust fan ducted to the outside, and ideally put it on a timer or motion sensor switch instead of an on/off switch. This is because a fan needs to run 15 to 30 minutes after your shower to eliminate the moisture.

Kitchen Remodeling

4) Kitchen Remodeling

This is the crown jewel of any home remodel, and sits at the top of the charts in terms of return on investment. Kitchens and master suites are what sell a house, assuming it has good curb appeal. Since kitchens return such a high percentage of investment, can you go ahead and plan an Architectural Digest” kitchen in your Platt Park bungalow?  Please don’t! Scale your kitchen to the value of the house.

When you have a party or family dinner, where do people congregate? Yes, the kitchen despite the fact you’re trying to get a meal on! Kitchens can be redone for as little as $15,000, but are more commonly in the $40,000-$70.000 range. People living in high-end homes of the Country Clubor Cherry Hills Villageneighborhoods sometimes invest $150-$200k.

There is a huge spread in prices for every part of the kitchen. For instance, you can buy a decent slide in range for $700. But if you’re intent on a pro style range, that’s $5,000-$8,000. Some clients prefer European ranges that can cost $40,000, for one appliance! Choose your appliances, cabinets, counters, and tile wisely! Other than minor departures, your home should have a united feel.

If you watch any of the shows on HGTV or the DIY network, you’ll note that early in any show, one of the hosts says, “And we’ll take out this wall between the kitchen and living space.” Sometimes this is easy; other times it’s painfully difficult. What affects the cost is the complexity: what’s inside that wall that needs to be rerouted. You must consider the following: what does that wall support? How difficult will it be to patch in the floor and ceiling?  Where does the wall exit?

Since kitchens are so expensive, they don’t get remodeled very frequently. Therefore, you want to look far ahead and pick a style that will age well. Classic styles will last, while trendy ones may not. I worry about today’s gray kitchens; in 10 years, we’ll probably be saying “that’s SO 2017.”

Deck and Patios

5) Deck and Patios

Decks are a popular home improvement that can add value, if done well. We are blessed in Denver with at least six months of the year where you can live and entertain out of doors.

At a cost of around $40 to $70 psf, the cost of deck space is a fraction of enclosed space.

The deck extends your living space out into the landscape, with the side benefit of eliminating water-thirsty lawns.

Many older homes were built at least three feet above grade, and you must go down stairs to get to ground level. By building a deck at the floor level, the indoor-outdoor relationships is greatly improved. We often take a window and cut it down into a door, or sometimes cut a larger opening for a French door.

Make sure the deck is built soundly, to code and under city permit. There will be concrete pier footings to hold up the treated wood beams and joists. Metal connectors will secure pieces to each other, and the deck to the house.

Most clients today are choosing composite decking, with some form of plastic sometimes mixed with wood fiber. The advantage is that it is immune to splintering or splitting, and is low maintenance. Know that darker colors absorb the summer sun more than lighter colors. I’ve seen one of the decking products that advertises that it reflects much of the sun that hits it, keeping it cooler on bare feet.

Looking beyond the basic deck, people are adding railings, benches, planters, pergolas, and outdoor kitchens.The sky’s the limit. Pay special attention to stairs off the deck, and make sure they have a generous tread and short rise, which makes them safer all year long, not just in winter. Provide at least one handrail.

If your home is more on grade, you’ll probably be adding some sort of on grade patio.

Materials to use include poured concrete, tinted or stamped concrete, concrete pavers set in sand, or brick pavers set in sand or on concrete. Sand set pavers have the advantage of being easily repaired if a section heaves, or gets otherwise damaged. They can also be expanded if the need arises. With either a deck or patio, you may want to consider a roof structure over it for shade and protection from rain. It’s a grand way to appreciate Colorado’s outdoors whether it’s under the searing sun or a raging rainstorm

(Copyright 2017 Doug Walter, Architect

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