Duo's Dos and Don'ts

Almost all of us love to have a bright and cheery home. In colder climates, we love the fact that if we orient the long direction of our house facing south we’ll have light and the sun’s warmth in the house all day. The unfortunate reality is that every single part of every home is degraded by ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Plastic becomes more brittle, wood actually loses elasticity and flakes away, paint begins to become brittle and powder, and all your interior surfaces (unless you have an anti-UV coating on your windows) begin to bleach out.

When renovating a house, it’s very easy to get excited about making big changes: raising the roof, making a façade symmetrical, or angling out a wall. But with an existing shell that’s comfortable in its own skin and has systems that are closed circuits (plumbing, electricity, HVAC), it’s much more cost-effective to think about alternatives to expanding your house.

Picture yourself looking in a mirror. If the mirror is small, you have to get very close to it to see your face. If the mirror is hung too low, you have to bend at the knees to see your face. If the mirror is too high, you have to stand on your toes to see if your belt buckle is on level.

Many times additions layer onto homes, so you have to walk through the archeological history of your home’s history to get to a new space. Investigate the cost of simply removing walls and doing a smaller addition rather than a larger addition that bypasses an existing space.

It stands to reason that something that takes a lot of thought takes more time to execute than mindless activity. Similarly, something that needs to be precise takes more preparation and control to execute. Time is money. Demolition is imprecise and takes precious little mindfulness--but it’s not risk free. There are three things that can get you into trouble in demolition:

It is always less expensive to drop a beam below a floor than it is to set it up into the floor cavity. Laying floors on top of beams requires less thought, precision, and planning. It is always cheaper to have columns set under beams than have a long open span. It always costs more to have one big beam above a window wall than to have structural supports between the windows breaking up the span. Whenever you try to make gravity “disappear” in the design of a building (this is often the great allure of Modern homes), costs rise. If you can allow things like columns and beams to show themselves things get less expensive.

Gutters and leaders are devoutly to be avoided. They make construction more expensive now and in the out years. Gutters do control most of the water that runs off your roof, but not all of it. Most gutters are set an inch or two higher than the leading edge of the roof line and form a perfect scoop that holds all ice and snow in place, ultimately forcing water to back up underneath your roof shingles and into your house. More propitious for installers, the weight of snow and ice terminally bends or rips off gutters on a regular basis. If gutters are installed correctly (lower than the roof edge), heavy rain water will sheet off the edge of the gutter and erode the ground plane around your facade. They do control water that might otherwise get in your basement, but that is a last-ditch effort when regrading has failed.

Architects and interior designers are quite clever and can see around corners and visualize the way things will look. But no one can visualize exactly what a home’s interior is like, despite all computer program promotions to the contrary. There’s nothing like walking into the full-size, reality-based interior of your home and seeing how the natural light comes in and what the walls shield and reveal to completely change any lighting scenario that might have been drawn.

The vast majority of American homes are sited on their lots without any thought to the views. This is because most American homes are built from stock plans that assume a flat site that has a street in front of it and a yard behind it. When you ram a simple rectangular box into a hill that flies off to one side, all kinds of weirdness can happen: Decks launch out into space, windows face hillsides, great views are unseen, and rainwater flows where it shouldn’t. There are ways to make your house connect better with the existing site’s topography, trees, views, and so on, but it takes a lot more effort than simply removing a wall or adding a bay window.

Whoever you are is what your house should be. If you don’t like yourself, your house will not make you like yourself any better. If your family is dysfunctional, a new home will not pull it together. So any renovation you attempt as a psychological balm is destined to fail. Know that what makes your family and friends love you is you, not who you want to be, not what you could have been, and definitely not what your home should be. The best remodels are the ones that take whoever you are and celebrate it

Although huge houses offer factual elbow room, houses that embrace greater than expected ceiling heights, larger than expected openings, and greater connection between spaces can give the same sense of openness, freedom, and delight as their larger, more expensive, and probably energy-wasteful counterparts offer up. Design can conquer construction, both visual and functional.

Foundation plantings can do a lot to beautify your home, but they can grow very quickly and cause more harm than good. The first danger is that the constant shade cast on your siding material (except for inorganic, brick, stone, or stucco) serves to rot wood, remove paint, and otherwise create perfect harbor for insects as well as provide condos for any number of little animals that may end up coming into your home when things get cold. Second, when bushes and plants get big enough, they actually come into contact with the surface of your house (including windows and doors), scraping away whatever paint might be present, damaging vinyl siding.

In every way possible eaves save money. They boost your home’s ability to resist decay from the sun, the rain, and anything else that is flying around in the atmosphere. The presence of eaves increases the time between repainting or residing, or repointing mortar between stones or bricks. By pushing the water away from the perimeter of your foundation, and keeping the sun away from your walls, eaves preempt the UV decay, water intrusion, and extreme temperature variations that stress out your siding, windows, and doors.

Permanent light fixture locations are a straightjacket, so when remodeling it’s always a good idea to provide a few too many. Installing three “extra” lights during a full rehab costs as much as one retrofit into finished space. Similarly that extra outlet that goes unused has only its initial installation as part of its price tag, so having too many outlets is not necessarily a bad thing (given the fact that you’ll probably change the way your room is furnished and used several times over 20 years).