Now, it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get down to the actual work. In this chapter, we will begin by taking a look at some of the major renovations that you might have to do at one point or another.
When redoing your house, you’ll find that some parts require more attention than others, especially due to their big effect on the rest of your household. For example, your roof keeps your house cool by protecting you from direct sunlight in the summer while keeping the rain and snow out during the cold season. Similarly, your home’s sidings and windows both affect your home’s internal climate, be it by controlling the amount of sunlight that enters your home or by modulating the amount of air that circulates inside your place. On the other hand, your home’s foundations are what keep it structurally standing in the first place. Therefore, before worrying about the aesthetics of your kitchen, these elements should be high on your priority list. Let’s look at them one at a time.
1. The Roof
Besides keeping you warm and dry, your roof is responsible for protecting the rest of your home from the whims of Mother Nature; any other part of your home that is renovated before your roof is liable to get damaged by a few minutes of rain. Consequently, if your roof has a problem of any sorts, you should start your renovation efforts with it.
So, does your roof need renovating?
These are the situations in which the answer is “Yes”.
- Your roof is turning 25 years of age (a quarter of a century in roof years is a life time in human terms).
- The shingles are curling in one of two ways: at the edges or in the middle.
- A lot of shingles need replacing. Since it’s very difficult to find new shingles that match your old ones in color, especially due to the old ones being baked out in the sun for the past few years, you’re better off redoing your entire roof.
- You find granules in your gutters often (this means that your roof has reached half of its life and needs you to keep your eyes peeled).
- The sunlight is seeping through your roof and hitting your attic (seeping sunlight means that rain and snow will soon follow and find their way into your home).
- Your roof is sagging, which means there is a structural issue that needs your attention.
What do you need to know before replacing the roof?
Armed with the knowledge of what to look for when inspecting your roof, we can now look at a few other basics you should keep in the back of your mind. You have to choose between 5 main materials used in roofing.
- Asphalt composition shingles: cheap and available, but not as visually appealing as some of the other options on this list
- Wood Shake: expensive shingles, but they make up for their higher price through their attractive look
- Metal roofing: hard to come by, and not many professionals are adept at installing it; specialized institutions are required for this job
- Slate roofing: offers an attractive look, albeit a bit pricey (just be careful if you install it, it can be quite slippery)
- Rubber slate or “faux” slate: have been gaining in popularity recently, especially due to the fact that they are made from recycled material
There are several factors that will affect your choice of shingles besides your personal preference. Among said factors is the location of where you live and the weather conditions there. You also have to take into consideration the pitch of your roof, which is its angle. For instance, wood shake shingles are more appropriate for steep pitches than low pitches.
Another decision you have to make is whether you want the roofers to remove your old shingles and replace them with new ones or to cover the old shingles with the new ones. There are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration, including the added weight of two layers of shingles, the transmittance of problems from one layer of shingles to the other, and then the amount of work each option entails.
A decent roofing team can renovate your roof within a few days. Nevertheless, you can help them by hiring them from late spring to early autumn, which usually offers the ideal weather conditions for them to work.
If you want to maximize your resale value as well as make worrying about your roof a thing of the past, then focus on buying materials of the highest quality.
Just as you need to be selective about your contractors and architects, so too does this logic apply to you roofers, if not more so. You see, you’ll probably work with your roofers just once within your entire life. Therefore, most roofers don’t place customer service that high up on their priority list.
Given the amount of liability involved in roofing, you need to have your paperwork in order, just to be safe. The three most important documents to focus on are a building permit for your work, a written contract that defines all the details, and a letter from an insurance company assuring you that the roofing project is covered.
A roofing job involves plenty of nails, some of which will fall in your lawn and create a hazard for your family unless dealt with. Insist on having your contractor bring with them a tool to pick up these nails come pay day.
2. The Foundation
Having taken a look at the top of your house, let’s scrutinize the very bottom of it as well.
The first thing to understand is that we are all liable to have foundation problems. For example, if the soil beneath your house shrinks or becomes unable to support the weight of your place, your home will move and you will experience what is known as foundation settlement. Conversely, a clay-rich soil that gets wet can easily expand causing your walls to buckle.
The point is that regardless of whether the soil beneath your feet is shrinking or expanding, you need to address the problem straight away. Otherwise, the problem will get exacerbated with time, thanks to the repetitive cycles of wetness and dryness that affects your soil. So, what can you do?
You have two main options: replace your foundations or repair them.
- Replacing your foundations - Should you choose to replace your foundations, you’ll need to get heavy machinery to lift your entire home, remove the soil around your foundations to expose them, remove your old foundations along with any structure attached to them, and replace them with new ones. Afterwards, your home is lowered once more, and the soil is returned beneath it to cover the foundations. As you might have guessed, the process is costly, it can disrupt your everyday life, and a lot of things can get broken along the way.
- Repairing your foundations - Repairing your foundations is a much simpler task than replacing them altogether. All you have to do is have your foundations inspected and, with the use of the proper materials and techniques, have them permanently repaired. Additionally, foundations can be repaired any time of the year, and all they need is a day or two.
Is it better to replace or repair your foundations?
Unless the foundation is beyond saving, you should repair your foundation rather than replace it. It is worth noting that when your foundation does break, the problem resides in the soil, as we pointed out earlier. Thus, replacing the foundation doesn’t fix the root of the problem; it only deals with its manifestations. The end result is that your new foundations will likely crack again should the soil problem remain unaddressed. Hence, your best bet is to hire a good contractor who will fix the soil problem in addition to repairing your foundations.
3. House Siding
The siding of your house is the exterior that the world sees, and just as you would do your best to wear clothes that both keep you warm and express your personality, you should make sure that your house’s sidings are doing the same for you.
With that in mind, you should be aware that your house’s sidings are prone to several problems, mostly due to external weather, smog, cars, and Father Time. Here are a few of the things that can come up.
- Rotting sidings - Occasionally, a part of your siding can begin to rot, while the rest is in perfect condition. In such an event, your best course of action is to replace the rotting parts. The areas you should take care of the most are the ones nearest to the foundation because they get hit by water splashing from the ground. Replacing the rotten siding with hardboard should prove to be a very efficient solution as hardboards can live up to 30 or 40 years.
- Problems with the paint - There are numerous problems that can plague your siding’s paint job; however, the solution is usually one and the same. First, the source of the problem is identified and dealt with. Subsequently, the damaged paint is removed, and assuming that the underlying boards are fine, a new paint job is done. And by choosing to paint your entire house instead of the affected area only can give your home a fresh, vibrant look.
The last of the major repairs that we’ll be looking at is what to do about your windows. So, let’s get familiar with what renovating your windows entail.
To start with, it’s important that you understand that replacing a window doesn’t mean taking the old one out completely. Instead, it means that you are getting rid of the old sash and other parts. Yet, a few other parts remain mostly due to the impossibility of their removal. The end result is a window that’s a hybrid between a new window and the old one. Given the intricacy involved in replacing windows, it is usually an expensive job, which makes you wonder whether you need it in the first place.
Reasons for Replacing your Window
There are countless reasons that would compel you to replace your windows. Here are just a few of them.
- The first function of a window is to protect you and your loved ones from the cold weather outside. Consequently, having leaky windows that allow cold breezes to sift through is a clear indicator that it is time for revamping them.
- Apart from keeping you warm, windows are integral in moderating your home’s ventilation, making it important for you to be able to open and close them with ease. Thus, if you’re having difficulty using your windows and they seem to be beyond repair, then go forth and replace them.
- There comes a time when a window has gotten so old that it would be cheaper for you to replace than to repair it. Alligatored paint and rotting wood should get you considering your alternatives.
- Double pane windows are supposed to protect you from the weather outside by virtue of the vacuum between both panes. Therefore, you should replace your double pane windows if they feel cold to the touch in the middle of winter.
- High energy bills are a sign that you have a leak somewhere in the house, which makes you wonder where the leak is coming from. Maybe the window?
One of the constant questions thrifty homeowners ask themselves is whether they can do a specific repair themselves or they need a professional’s assistance. When it comes to windows, you will be better served if you let someone else do the job for you. First of all, replacement windows are hard to come by if you’re not a professional. Additionally, you might not be prepared for plenty of peripheral work that comes with replacing windows, like installing exterior cladding for insulation.
HVAC Ductwork, Electrical, and Plumbing
Now, we take a look at your pipes, beginning with the ones that carry air throughout your home.
On average, 30 percent of the air that circulates through your ducts is lost to leaks, pressure imbalances, and thermal loss. However, by properly designing your ducts and following a few guidelines, you can reduce the amount of lost air. For starters, ducts should be designed with the use of professional software and constructed with high grade materials. Also, it never hurts to have routine inspections. So long as you take duct design seriously and focus on efficiency early on, you can save up a lot on your energy bills. Over and above, here are a few pointers for you to bear in mind:
- When it comes to ducts, short and straight is better than long and twisted. Shorter ducts don’t resist airflow as much and the number of spots that can cause leakage is minimized. Also, twists and turns tend to be vulnerable spots that are susceptible to leakages.
- You ought to make sure that your ducts pass through places that are themselves conditioned. The alternative is having your ducts that carry cold air pass through an abnormally hot area or vice versa.
- Each room should have two vents: one for letting the air in (supply vent) and one for letting the air out (exhaust vent). The exhaust vent should lead to a return duct that takes the air back to the air handler.
- Should you need to insert tees, joints, and elbows for your ducts, you should make sure that they are sealed shut.
- No matter what your contractor tells you, it is an unacceptable practice to have structural voids in your house used as channels for air flow. It is an antiquated wasteful construction practice that deserves to go the way of the dinosaurs: extinct.
Once you have your ductwork installed, you should have it pressure tested, which includes passing air under pressure through the system and monitoring its efficiency. However, even if you don’t need to replace your ducts, you should still clean them.
2. Electrical Wiring
Electrical wiring, both old and new, can easily go bad and need repair. The infrastructure that powers all your gadgets hides behind the walls and you should remind yourself to capitalize on the opportunity of you renovating the house and get some electrical work done while you’re at it. Here are a few reasons why you should seriously consider redoing your house’s wiring:
- As your family grows, you’ll probably need more electrical outlets to power your devices.
- Outlets age like anything else in your house, maybe they aren’t able to hold a plug anymore, so you might need to replace them.
- If you don’t have GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters), install them for your safety. These have one purpose and one purpose only: to shut off the electricity should any of the plugged in devices come into contact with water.
- Sometimes you just need to enhance the amount of power surging through your house in order to keep up with the modern devices.
Plumbing repairs are also best done during renovations. Some of the common problems you can tackle are as follows.
- Leaks in plumbing (visible and hidden). Proper connection between the water supply and waste line fittings can ensure you a minimization of leakages, and it is the best way to prevent this problem from appearing in the first place.
- Clogged toilet. These are easy to fix, and you don’t have to worry about a mess if it does done correctly.
- Leaking water heater. Whether the water is seeping from a pressure relief valve or a heater drain, the problem can be fixed.
Another adjustment you might want to do to your plumbing has to do with changing the layout of your kitchens or bathrooms. You can change the location of a toilet or a sink, but you have to take a couple of things into consideration: the code restrictions and the constraints of your own house’s layout. Other than that, rerouting supply lines and drains is an easy job. In either case, you’ll have to piggy back off of your house’s current infrastructure.
Changing Your House’s Layout
The ability to add or remove walls can revolutionize the way your house looks, whether by creating wider and more expansive spaces or giving you more rooms to work with.
The end result is the ability to transform your house into a brand new one without ever having to move. The only caveat you need to be careful of is that any structural changes have to be approved by Building Control.
1. Demolishing Walls
Demolishing walls may alter your house’s structural constitution if you have load-bearing walls. Speaking of which, there are a few types of walls we should acquaint ourselves with before we start swinging sledgehammers.
- Stud partition walls. These types of walls are erected to separate the space into multiple rooms. They’re made from a frame of timber covered with plaster board. They’re non-bearing, so you can go ahead demolish away.
- Partition wall. Usually they are made from brick or blocks, and they can either be load-bearing or not. As a result, you need to have them checked, preferably by a structural engineer.
- External wall. Thicker than your internal wall, external walls are usually load-bearing and are difficult to take down. You’ll probably need heavy machinery for the job.
With all our talk about load-bearing walls, let’s take a look at how you can try to identify them on your own.
Although load-bearing walls look identical to any other wall, there are a few indicators that can give you a fair idea of whether a wall is playing a part in keeping your home standing or not:
- Load-bearing walls tend to be built one above the other, which means that a load-bearing wall will start from the foundation and shoot through your entire home till the roof.
- A load bearing wall has to rest its weight on something, usually on a metal or multi-board wooden beam at the foundation level.
- The direction of your floor joists can give you a good idea of which walls are carrying loads and which aren’t. Typically, load-bearing walls are built perpendicularly to floor joists, so look out for that.
In spite of having a few indicators of what might be load-bearing and what might not be, none of this is a good substitute for hiring a professional to do the inspection for you. When it comes to your home’s structural integrity, you need to take guess work out of it and let the professionals do their job.
Assuming that you have correctly identified your load-bearing walls and want to remove some of them, what now?
Load-bearing walls can be removed, but the process can be a bit of a hassle. To begin with, you’ll need a structural engineer to help you calculate the load carried by the wall you’re about to demolish. Afterwards, the same engineer will have to calculate the size, shape, and material of a beam that will replace your wall and take over its responsibility of carrying the load above it. Even during the job, something has to carry the load-bearing wall’s load before you install the new beam, which will probably be a temporary support wall.
The finished result will substitute an entire wall for a beam, giving you an option of two: you can either let that beam show for everyone to see or hide it through one means or another.
2. Adding Walls
At the other end of the spectrum, you can add new walls and partitions to your place. A partition stud should prove more than enough when you want to divide an open space into several smaller spaces. Partition studs can affect your house’s traffic as well, dictating the first thing your guests see when they walk into your home or separating the kids’ area from the adults’ area. It is worth noting that it is considerably easier to remove a wall than to install one.
3. Ideas Regarding Changing Your Floor Plan
Now that you can add and remove walls as you please, let’s take a look at some of the things you can do.
Changing one room into two - Should you want to transform one big room into two smaller rooms, you have two options. First, you can install a partition wall. This is an elegant solution, but you’ll need to watch out for any electrical wiring you might have to reroute. Second, you can use a movable wall that gives you the versatility of having a wall when you need one and opening the space up when you choose to.
- Exposing a ceiling - Even though this doesn’t count as changing your house’s layout, exposing a ceiling can have a dramatic effect on a space. It will imbue the space with a sense of majesty and luminescence. Additionally, it’s easy to pull off, yet you might need help if you choose to install new lighting fixtures or have a vaulted ceiling re-drywalled.
- Creating an open-space - Open floor spaces are very popular these days: they’re great for entertaining guests and the larger sizes can do a lot of good for your resale value. However, you should be careful when demolishing walls and have a structural engineer walk you through it. You see, the larger the open space you create, the greater your need is for a professional who can do the math and tell you how to keep you house standing strong. You also should take into consideration the differences in ventilation requirements and how a wide, open space can help affect your heating and cooling systems.
Flooring and Backsplash
The first thing worth knowing about flooring is that there are several materials you can use to create the exact ambience you’re looking for. We’ll take a look at a few, exploring their positives as well as their negatives.
- Ceramic tile. A waterproof material that can function as both floor tiles and countertops. The problem is that some types of ceramic tiles can scratch, or even get chipped altogether. Also, grout lines can be problematic on occasion and prove difficult to clean.
- Hardwood flooring. One of the more popular types of flooring, it is a versatile material whose aesthetic appeal and durability make it a solid choice for any homeowner. Nevertheless, some types of hardwood can get darker with time, while other types change in size, affecting the overall look of your floor.
- Laminate flooring. A cheap alternative whose strength and durability make it easy to preserve. It is a suitable option when it comes to a zone in your home that experiences plenty of traffic. The drawback here is that this type of flooring is easy to scratch and cannot be refinished.
- Marble flooring. The epitome of durability and versatility, marble tiles can be placed anywhere, be it the wall, the floor, or a hallway column. You can also engrave them with texts and designs of your choosing.
- Cork flooring. This is an excellent choice for areas where kids play or for areas where you want to create an atmosphere of comfort and serenity. The catch here is that this type of material can be expensive.
- Bamboo flooring: This is a greener solution than other flooring alternatives. Bamboo trees grow quickly, and bamboo is a strong, durable material that can bestow elegance on any space. Just make sure not to leave the floors wet and to avoid exposing them to direct sunlight. Otherwise, they may change shape, color, or both.
- Natural stone. Natural stone is a broad category that covers several different types of stones underneath it: slate, marble, limestone, and many more. The uniqueness of each stone makes each flooring job unique. These are eco-friendly tiles that can make your space feel more in tune with the natural world.
Doing your flooring requires that you take into account multiple factors in order to achieve the best result for you. With that in mind, here are some of the factors you should bear in mind.
- Always take into account your home’s layout. For example, in the event of you having a wide, open space, it is advisable for you to use the same material for your flooring throughout said space so as to give off a clean, continuous look.
- Along with the layout, you should be careful of your home’s architectural style and try to match your flooring with it. After all, any sharp dissonance within your home will affect the end look as well as your resale value. This is why it is never a bad idea to go with hardwood floors: they go with almost any architectural style.
- If you’re worried about durability, you should factor in the local climate along with the local foot traffic in your house into any decision you make. Therefore, look out for damp or humid weather should you be thinking of using hardwood.
- Another thing to try to aim for is a comfortable floor, particularly if you spend a lot of your time standing. An excellent candidate for this is cork. Just be sure to steer away from any floors that can pollute your home’s air, such as vinyl flooring and anything that pumps your house’s air full of VOCs (Volatile Organic compound).
- Speaking of comfort, another little element that can add plenty to your house is a good carpet. It’s soft on the feet, looks good, and brings the room together.
A backsplash is used to protect your walls from water and other liquids, especially in the kitchen and bathroom areas. It isn’t a necessity to have, but it does a lot to the spaces it gets installed in: their practicality mixed with their aesthetic look makes them a good choice more often than not. Let’s take a look at a few things you should take into consideration.
- Color. You should aim to choose a color that represents your personality. To make matters easier, you can choose colors that fall into one of two categories: vibrant or neutral. Each one of them comes with its ups and downs, with vibrant colors bringing life to the space in it’s in, while neutral colors create a sense of serenity. You also need to think about how your backsplash is going to tie in to the remaining elements in your kitchen. For instance, think about how your backsplash will play off of your countertops and how you can use the two to make an even more nuanced statement. A colorful countertop can be complemented by a neutral backsplash. Conversely, in the event that you have neutral countertops, pick backsplash tiles that play well with the texture and feel of the countertop material.
- Material. The material you pick for your backsplash can play just a big a role as the color you choose. You have numerous types to choose from, including ceramic, brick, quartz, and even mirror, which can give your backsplash that extra something. Just remember that the main deciding factors are your personal disposition, the overall look you hope to achieve, and the style of the house you inhabit.
- Shape and pattern. You can either go with classic shapes or fun novel patterns. Classic tiles give your kitchen a timeless feel, whereas fun patterns have the benefit of being hip and trendy. Nevertheless, it is very possible to do a pattern that is itself timeless. This can add a lot of aesthetic appeal to your home, assuming that you’ve made sure that the pattern fits well with the rest of the house’s architecture.
- Budget. A tight budget will drive you towards more standardized shapes and sizes. Regardless, you can still add clever details, even when using classic tiles. Additionally, using natural stone, such as travertine tile, can allow you to use the leftovers in another smaller project later down the road. Over and above, you can save money by buying from a direct importer rather than from a retailer.
- Getting professional help. Whoever installs your backsplash should be an experienced professional in order to give you the finished look you’re looking for.
The last part of this chapter is going to explore how you can look towards the future and make your house greener. Not only will this lower your energy bill down the line, but it will also help in conserving Mother Nature. Furthermore, eco-friendly houses have higher resale value than their not-so-green counterparts.
There are two main routes you can take when it comes to going greener: you can turn your house into a passive one, or you can focus on buying recycled materials, energy saving appliances, and water conserving fixtures.
1. Passive Design
Passive design is the term used to describe how some architects aim to design a house that can utilize all the natural resources at its disposal so as to moderate the temperature inside of it. The ideal situation is one where a homeowner can completely do without any auxiliary heating or cooling, which would normally use 40% or more of their energy consumption.
The best time for you to design your house in a passive fashion is at the very beginning, when the architect is still putting the plans on paper. Fortunately, you can still upgrade your home’s design during a renovation.
Additionally, a passive home requires residents who understand how the home interacts with the surrounding environment and what to do accordingly. This entails a sense of proactivity on the part of the house’s residents.
With all of that in mind, let’s see what passive design involves.
- Passive design takes account of the surrounding climate as well as its seasonality. Therefore, there has to be a sense of familiarity with the climate zone in which your house is situated.
- The orientation of your house plays an integral role in the amount of sunlight that is allowed into any given room along with the breezes that manage to seep in.
- Good shading can reduce the amount of heat hitting your home up to 90%. Whether it comes in the form of physical shades (such as shutters and pergolas) or shaded glass, shading can be a valuable asset in the arsenal of the architect giving your house a passive design.
- Sealing your home can be an excellent way to prevent energy loss that occurs due to air leakage.
- Insulation is like a big thick jacket that you’d wear in the middle of a snow storm but for your house. And just as a jacket, it can isolate your house from what’s happening outside of it, effectively slashing your energy bills in half.
- Thermal mass can be most easily described as a material’s ability to absorb and store heat energy. The best way to think of it is how long it takes to heat up a slab of concrete versus how long it takes to heat up a block of timber. Materials that require plenty of heat energy to heat up are considered to have high thermal mass, whereas materials that don’t need a lot of heat are described as having low thermal mass, and knowing when to use one of those materials and when to use the other is a hallmark of a good designer.
- Windows are an important part of any household, and it’s imperative that you appreciate their effect on your house’s climate. Normally, they are the gateways through which both light and fresh air make their way into your home. However, they can be a harbinger of unwelcome heat gain or heat loss should the glazing on them be inappropriate.
- Skylights are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can admit more than three times the amount of light that a vertical window would. They can also help with your home’s ventilation and air circulation. On the other hand, they can cause heat and cold to creep into your house when they are unwanted or to escape when they are most needed.
- Using bright colors in your home can be an excellent way to increase the luminescence inside without having to add any light bulbs.
2. Buying Eco-Friendly Products and Appliances
Having thoroughly explored the consequences of utilizing a passive design for your home, we will now look at the other alternative.
The first thing we will do is to look at a few products that you can buy today and that are made from recycled material.
- Composite decking. This decking is manufactured from a mixture of wood waste and recycled plastic, yet it offers impressive strength, durability, and overall stability. What’s more, it doesn’t warp, crack, splinter, or rot as wood would.
- Recycled plastic carpet. Although they are made from plastic beverage bottles, you would never suspect it from the look of them.
- Repurposed furniture. If you have a piece of old furniture that you don’t use anymore, instead of throwing it away, you might want to investigate other possible uses for it.
- Formaldehyde-free cabinets. You do not want anything that has formaldehyde in your house seeing as it is a toxic substance. So, do yourself and the environment a favor: steer clear of this chemical as much as you can.
- Paint with low-VOC or VOC-free paint. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, which (as the name suggests) are volatile. They tend to emit dangerous molecules into the air.
Conserving water usage
There are multiple appliances and fixture that can help you reduce the amount of water you use on a daily basis.
- A low-flow toilet can reduce the amount of water used up with each flush. Given that your toilet is one of the biggest water wasters in your entire bathroom, this seems like a good fixture to have.
- Aerators and flow reducers can be added to you shower head and faucets to reduce the amount of water flowing out of them while giving you the feeling that nothing has changed.
- Water filters can help relieve of you the need to buy mineral water all the time.
Besides what has been said above, there are a few more things you can do to help preserve our environment.
- Buying energy efficient appliances is always a smart decision. To help you in this quest, energy guide labels can give you a clear idea of the efficiency of a particular appliance when compared to other appliances that do the same thing. You can also buy appliances that have the Energy Star logo on them.
- One of the best ways to be green is to minimize your waste as much as possible. In this vein, you should think about what you plan to do with the demolished materials during your remodeling project. Can these materials be repurposed for something else? Can they be sold or salvaged in any way?
After covering all the groundwork you need to do at the beginning of your remodeling project, we will start focusing on each and every room in your house and see the kind of renovations we can do there. We’ll start with the kitchen in the next chapter, and look into the basic layouts that it can have along with how an island and cabinetry affect it. We will also investigate some of the appliances that your kitchen will need and will end the chapter by a discussion of what to do with your dining room.
For a full list of chapters, click here.