Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally

edeeveeFebruary 27, 2014

It looks like we'll be closing on the Ugly Duckling in mid-March and, thanks to you guys, I kind of have an overall vision of what I want the public living space (livingroom, kitchen, dining room) to look like. But what's the order of operations for finalizing those plans?

We'd like the star of the home to be the view to the lake. That means taking out walls, adding windows, probably replacing a door. Is that where I start? I'm pretty sure we'll need a pro to tell us what we need to do structurally. Who am I looking for -- an architect? An engineer? Can a regular licensed contractor reliably figure this stuff out?

The place needs an HVAC overhaul and quite possibly some energy saving upgrades (although it does already have newer windows). We want to get an energy audit and are considering a high efficiency ductless mini-split system to replace the old electric baseboard heat and the single a/c unit that is currently sticking out of the living room wall :/

We have talented friends/family including a furnace guy, a woodworker, some drywall guys, a slightly sketchy painter, and my brother, who used to be a KD. So we're thinking we could save money by acting as our own general contractor ... but it's all so 'which came first, chicken or egg'. Every time I start to think about it my brain feels scrambled.

Where do we begin?

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Annie Deighnaugh

If you can afford it at all, an architect would be wonderful as s/he can help coordinate the entire project, can give suggestions about what should get done and in what order and help you with budget and contractors who you may need but not have someone specific in mind. While they aren't structural engineers, they can guide you as to any structural deficiencies they may find. Also, depending on how you work with them, they can even participate in overseeing the project to make sure it is being executed soundly. In the end, they may save you money by preventing you from making costly errors.

On the other side too, read a book like how to be your own contractor so you can get a vision as to what's involved in the process.

In between the two, if you have a good idea of what you want done, then a good remodeler can probably do it for you, but often they want to work with their own subs so they know the quality of the work being done.

You might check out the building a house forum as the questions about needing an architect and being your own contractor, etc. are frequently raised there.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 9:10AM
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Thanks, Annie! I may be even more ignorant than I thought. After a quick peek at the building a house forum I'm even more confused. I thought you hired an architect to insure that your plan works structurally, not just from the aesthetic aspect. Now I'm seeing that architects hire structural engineers?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 10:11AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Yes, that's correct. An architect will know how to make the house structurally sound in terms of how the weight from different loads are handled and transferred to the foundation with bearing walls and such, but a structural engineer may be required to determine the specifics like size of beams, materials beams are made of, etc. to ensure the the supports are adequate for the loads involved.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 10:41AM
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I would caution you about making decisions of this magnitude so early in the game. The best advice I ever received was that during the first year of occupancy you should do nothing to the house that could not be reversed. Thank goodness I listened to this advice because many changes that I thought I wanted to do, became moot once we lived in the house a while.

This advice doesn't pertain to things like an HVAC update or other maintenance issues.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 12:36PM
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As the mother of an architect, I suggest an interior designer, and I am not talking about these self-anointed ones, but the real thing with a 4-year degree from the school of architecture, not the architect with a 5-6-year professional level degree.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 2:47PM
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Hmmm, that's weird. I wrote a post this morning. It took a while to show up, but eventually it did. I wrote a post this evening. When it didn't show up right away I thought it was just delayed. It's still not here. I apologize if something similar suddenly appears.

Annie: Thank you for the clarification.

Dianne: I wish we had a year to let it percolate! Unfortunately, the kitchen as-is doesn't really function. The appliances have been removed and modern, full size replacements will not fit in their designated spots. I guess I could rip out the upper cabinets where the stove and fridge were, then place them there side by side - but I'm not sure that will leave room to access 1/3 of the cabinets we hope to keep. Plus there would be no landing zone next to the range. While I think waiting on things that are mostly aesthetic is really smart, I don't want to live without a functioning kitchen for a year. And, if I need to tear up walls to make it function, it makes sense (to me) to plan for the entire affected space. I do appreciate your interest though -- and, in other circumstances I would agree that your advice is spot on.

patricia: Really? Every day I live I get a clearer idea that I don't know a lot about ... a lot. I thought an interior designer was like an interior decorator -- someone who helped pick out furniture and finishes. What are the credentials I should be looking for?

This post was edited by edeevee on Thu, Feb 27, 14 at 21:01

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 8:46PM
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An interior designer has a 4-year degree (many who claim to be are interior decorators who are not college-educated in their field or are trade-school educated). Interior designers are very close to architects but you will find their interests lie in short-term projects, removing walls, rejuvenating an existing structure, engineering the existing structure in such a way that it is more practicable and workable. Architects do like "big" projects. Many firms employ both. Interior decorators who love the title interior designer are often trained on the job or attended a trade school, and many just believe they are very talented and can recommend which vase to go with your sofa.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 9:12PM
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patricia: Do you know what letters go behind the "true" interior designer's name?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 9:24PM
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ASID are the initials you are looking for. American Society of Interior Design.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 10:25PM
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Hi, start by going to your county and getting the As Built plan records. Sometimes it can take a week or more. This will be helpful for your vision in that you can see where all original items where or are. This way you can mull things over before you speak to an architect .

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 10:28PM
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sewlutions and jterrilynn: Thank you! Thank you! Both of your posts were very helpful.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 10:38PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Perhaps it depends on the architect...ours has training in interior design as well as being an architect. He also has done many home remodels in addition to new builds. Given your description of how extensive the work is on your home including adding new windows, moving walls, adding insulation, various upgrades, etc. it may be better to get someone who can address all of it. I know our architect, who never complained about anything, was griping about working with an interior designer on a remodel who, after construction had begun, insisted a load-bearing wall be moved. She had no conception of the constraints involved as the house was near wet lands in a high wind area with cantilevering and steel beams. It ended up costing the clients megabucks.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 8:30AM
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Even an interior designer should call in a structural engineer, if it warrants. Like Annie noted, the structural engineer is knowledgeable about structure. On many build projects, at least here in Canada, if structure is to be adjusted, the inspector will not sign off the project without a report and clearance from a structural engineer.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 11:28PM
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Project scope and critical path planning. This is the task you are facing.

This is what is needed to be created. If you can have your "crew" over and get reliable and detailed info based on getting your collective heads together, then do that.

If not, then a professional such as a contractor or architect or designer should be called in to fulfill this duty.

The grand plan should include the entirety of the scope of work, and then break this down into the logical order of completion, timelines for each segment, when things can overlap and when one aspect must be completed in full before another can begin. Budgets for each segment, with contingencies and alternates would be considered here as well. Then of course the master plan adds up to the master budget which has to be found to begin.

The goal is to not un-do something to do something else, to make sure that the outcome is what is envisioned, to make sure that funds are available for satisfactory completion, and to schedule the trades for both materials specifying, ordering, and installation.

Example is that the electrical and HVAC work would probably be one of the first to be done. But a preliminary selection of appliances in the kitchen and elsewhere would factor into any changes at the panel and running main lines into the spaces. Same idea with plumbing. You don't need to know the exact faucet, but an idea of how many sinks would be important for the rough-in.

And find out what aspects will need to be inspected, who is going to get permits and handle inspections, and if and when a stamped engineer drawing may be needed to pass inspection.

So timeline and money.

And have fun and enjoy your new house.

And remember my earlier advice. A nice new gas grill and patio set to keep everyone from losing it! Sitting in a chair with a cold drink looking at a lake is the big idea here, yes?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:13AM
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Good points Annie and canuck! I haven't had much time to browse but, on my first look, the interior designers in this area seem to be focused on decorating and the architects on huge public building projects. Like I said, I haven't had much time to look yet so I'm hopeful I can find someone in between -- who also has a working relationship with a structural engineer.

julie, Are you trying to scare me? If yes, then you succeeded ;) My husband and I have worked on a lot of projects through the years but never one as big as this. I'm starting to think hiring a good GC is the way to go. Think of the savings in therapy bills! Or alcohol!

Just yesterday I was sketching out an idea for the kitchen when suddenly I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute, how does the water line get to the refrigerator for the ice?' When we were young we made ice the old fashion way. Since then, we've lived in homes where the kitchen was already set up for it. Until that moment I wasn't planning on hiring a plumber. That, and your post, make me wonder what else I am not considering?

Gas grill. Comfy chair. Cold drink. Oh, they seem so far away right now!

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 10:37AM
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I think that an experienced kitchen remodeler who is a NARI member would be a good place to start if you want to hire a contractor. Be advised that they may prefer to work with their trusted subs and will want to really be sure your "crew" is up to their standards. Paying a contractor to babysit is expensive, and they charge for that.

I work in HVAC /commercial sales and look at commercial building plans every day. What I have outlined in my earlier post is the standard professional process for project completion. So not meant to scare you, but meant to help you put into perspective the experience and skills you and your crew have or do not have.

A common mistake when planning is failure to really add all of this up, plus contingencies, and be realistic about budget. Wishful thinking at this step leads, unfortunately, to drastic cuts as the project ends. Unfortunately the end part of the project is what you see and touch on a day to day basis, and apt to really make you feel like opportunity was missed.

Finding out in advance that something like a prep sink, high cfm hood, ice maker, or soffit removal, which you may or may not really care much about in particular --if it will add in unforeseen ways to structural or mechanical costs can help prioritize your project. This type of expertise is valuable and IMHO worth paying for.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 11:43AM
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