Friday, May 26, 2006
Remodeling: pain before gain
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
If you've followed our columns recently, you'll know that we've been tracking an interesting project: the complete remodel of a former fraternity house. As you can imagine, it is quite an undertaking.
The last time we checked in, we were in the process of obtaining a building permit. It has since been issued, and the next step for the contractor has been to peel away the layers of this old house. Over the years unfortunate remodels have buried the original style, which we hope to restore. To accomplish this, entire sections of this home have had to be removed — which means major demolition.
Not every remodel faces such a dramatic tear-down, but homeowners do need to be prepared for some demolition on almost any project. We have found that homeowners are often caught off guard when they realize the extent of the demolition that will be involved. But if you know what to expect, you can weather the demolition storm with a little more patience.
There will be incidental (and not necessarily insignificant) demolition on a project site — meaning your yard — such as losing landscaping, sprinkling systems and/or fences to construction machinery, materials and access.
Inside the house, you probably expect to tear out walls or rip up floors in the rooms you are working on, but you may not expect to do that in rooms you aren't working on. However, if your remodel will create structural changes to your house, it may be necessary to open walls and floors (read: demolish) to get to the structure of the house, even in parts of the home not being remodeled.
When a second story is added or a load-bearing wall removed, the weight of the new construction has to be transferred down to the ground. Transferring this weight can involve new columns that need to go through the main level and basement. These columns are often just a couple of 2-by-4 pieces of lumber, and they usually fit nicely within existing walls. However, sheet rock will need to be removed to install the column.
It is also sometimes necessary to install a new concrete footing (or block of concrete) to receive the structural load. This requires peeling back flooring material, cutting into the existing concrete floor, and digging a hole for the new footing.
And if we haven't made you nervous enough, whenever you change the structural loading of your house by more than 5 percent, you need to make the whole structure compliant with the current code for earthquakes. This involves tying the walls, the roof and the foundation together and stiffening the walls to resist the forces of an earthquake.
But the good news is, demolition is the beginning. not the end. It is a necessary inconvenience (some would say a necessary evil) in the remodeling process. But everything that was torn out will be replaced and made to look just like it did before or better!
So our recommendation is to ask a lot of questions about what will need to be demolished, and prepare yourself for the "ugly" part of remodeling. The beautiful part will be the house-warming party when you are finished. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.