Help for my parent- new kitchen in Philly

Niki FriedmanOctober 17, 2013

Hi all,
My parents have never done a remodel before but they are considering the following:
-Kitchen gut and partial removal of load bearing wall (using ikea cabinets, moderately priced appliances)
- semi custom wall unit for dining room to fit around a window (again could be ikea)
- removing carpet and refinishing wood floors
- adding wood floors or a matching laminate in kitchen.

They are at a loss of where to start. Our only experience is with DC based design builds and I think a design build in general would be too costly for them.

Since there's the potential of removing a wall, should they start with an architect? An ikea contractor?

Any suggestions would be helpful. Thank you!!!!

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Removing walls requires structural engineering plan. Architects do space planning and design, but not structural plans, unless of course they're also stuctural engineers. So if you want to get a feel for what would be required to remove walls, my recommendation would be to meet with a structural engineer.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 7:08PM
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A competent contractor can remove structural walls with local code approval. It isn't that big a deal.

You need to seek out a contractor, design/build or whatever, that has a stellar reputation. Your parents can afford no less.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 8:41PM
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I recently moved to Philly and am astounded at how fly by night contractors are around here. Yes, I know they are known everywhere for sometimes being unscrupulous, but I think it is a whole other story here in Philly. I was not the least surprised this summer when an entire building collapsed here and killed six people and when a row house exploded taking down a house on either side. Nearly every house we looked at purchasing had add-ons and major construction done with no permits pulled. It is just the way things happen here and it is dangerous. This city has been so poor for so long. There are very few building inspectors and contractors know they can get away with guess work. It is a real nightmare.

I strongly urge you to hire a structural engineer. A good one. We hired someone who had at one time been the chief engineer for the city, and as time went on it became clear to us that he was flat out wrong in some of his assessments.

If you are playing around with load bearing walls, get an engineer who is willing to stamp a report and specs with their approval. And one who is not buddies with your contractor.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 9:56PM
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It must vary by locale - my city in CA always requires an engineer-stamped plan before approving structural changes. Might have something to do with being in earthwquake country. Maybe ask the city what's typically done in your area? Or you can do it without city approval - I'm inclined to a agree that it's not rocket science.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 1:20AM
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Niki Friedman

Hi- I should clarify... My parents live in the suburbs (Montgomerg County).

If anyone has a referral for a design/build in the area, I'd appreciate it.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 9:09PM
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The labor multiplier for the area is between 1.3 and 1.4, I think, so whatever the national average is for something the labor is going to be 30% -40% higher here.

The permitting and inspection process with vary by locale even within Montgomery County. I did a project where the inspector drove up, verified that the documents were posted and did not step in the house. (And a fireplace was being added to that house). My carpenter just finished a project in Montco where the inspectorS (more than one) did not sign off on the kitchen because they did not like the ergonomics of the kitchen faucet. The contractors went to HD, bought a cheap faucet, installed it and the inspectors signed off.

So there will be a lot of variability.

I am not sure that a design build will be more expensive when all is said and done. I am currently doing a bath and GC'ing it myself and it is going to be slightly cheaper than going with a design build only because the contractor is moonlighting. The plumbing and electrical was just as expensive, and I did not need stamped drawings in my case.

How high is your parent's bar set for quality? I use a design build firm with very high quality control when I can afford it, but they are pricey, and sometimes treat you like you are working for them. But I will give you their name if you are interested.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 9:36PM
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Niki Friedman

Thanks Palimpsest. The issue with a design build is that they would never go for Ikea cabinetry and the cost would be sky high. My parents live in a 1960s split level in a middle class neighborhood. I don't think they want to put anything more than $20k into the project (not 100% sure but that's my guess).

In terms of quality control, they are retired so they'll be watching the work closely. They got screwed many years ago on a bathroom remodel so they are trying to be smarter this time around.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2013 at 8:59AM
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