Monday, August 5, 2013

DIY - Part 2 - Pergola


A little disclaimer... these DIY Series posts are intended to give you a general idea of how to build simple structures and/or complete easy weekend projects around the house. This is not a step by step instruction manual as everyone's situation is different. If you have any questions or comments regarding our series please feel free to post a comment and we will do our best to answer your question!

Let's stick with our outdoor theme for a bit. Here in Part 2 we will focus on pergolas; not to be confused with trellises... What is the difference? Trellises are generally free-standing structures made out of wood or metal with crossbars. They can be attached to a wall (see part one). Pergolas are also structures with crossbars but they are supported by pillars and can be used to cover a seating area, patio, or a walkway.

Pergolas also add a more luxurious appeal to an outdoor area. While you would probably want to build and install your trellis in your front yard (i.e., over an entry or at your garage door) your pergola will most likely spice up your backyard! 

This is a relatively easy structure to build over a weekend. The materials and details are really up to you. Get creative with it. There are tons of HOW TO guides all over the internet but you should always try to make your projects your own. As far as the size, color, and detail of your pergola? This should all be up to you. Just remember, the larger or longer your pergola, the more support posts you will need. For arguments sake, let's consider installing a 10' x 10' pergola.

Note: If you are going to be installing your pergola in grass you will have to set your posts in concrete. A good rule of thumb would be to dig down 36" and a diameter 3 to 4 times the size of the post; however, you should check with your local municipality to make sure you are adhering to their guidelines and code. 

Assuming you will be installing your pergola on an existing concrete patio you will need to start with post anchors. For a 10' x 10' pergola you will need 4 4"x4"x10' posts. The type of wood you choose should be dependent on your local weather patterns. Cedar is a good choice because it weathers well; however, some people choose pressure treated wood and then paint the pergola. Your post anchors come in different sizes so make sure you choose the correct anchor for your post size. You will use Tapcons to connect your post anchor to the concrete and wood nails to nail the anchor to your actual post. Use a level to ensure that your posts are being installed straight. 

Next you will attach the support beams. There will be four beams running perpendicular to the posts on the outside and inside of the pergola. Cut 2" x 6" beams to size and install them on either ends with wood screws. You can decide to go with a very basic edge detail or a more intricate edge detail if you have access to a router. See below for different types of edge details:



Finally you will add the crossbeams. Measure the cross beams (again using 2" x 6" boards) and mark the area where you will need to notch the cross beams in order to bracket into your support beams. With a 10' x 10' pergola you should have between 6 and 8 cross beams. Again, this is a matter of personal preference so add as many you would like. Notch your cross beams with a table saw (as mentioned in part 1, if you do not have tools, you can have the hardware store pre-cut all of your lumber). Attach your cross beams to your support beams and use a wood screw (long enough to successfully reach and adhere to support beam) to attach both beams. Again, edge detail for your cross beam is up to you. 

Add a diagonal brace at each post and connect to to the support beams for additional reinforcement.

You can leave your pergola as a raw wood structure (not recommended unless you are using a sustainable wood) or you can stain or paint it. Here are some examples of pergolas:

So there you have it! Another easy weekend project that will not only give you something to do but also increase your home's backyard appeal! 

Blog post by Aja De Los Santos, GM & Head Designer at Investcove Properties

Friday, July 26, 2013

DIY - Part 1 - Trellises


Who doesn't enjoy a nice DIY project? My DIY project of the day was looking up the pluralized form of trellis. It is trellises by the way, in case you didn't know... cause I didn't :/

Anyways! Let's start this DIY series off with my husband's favorite outdoor accessory, TRELLISES! A well appointed trellis is like a fine glass of wine or a decadent chocolate cake. It is bold yet understated, refined, and subtle. Adding a trellis to any outdoor area adds an element of luxury, almost immediately increasing curb appeal! Should we start a drinking game? Take a shot every time I say a derivative of the word trellis. I will wait while you catch up...

Let's start small with an over the garage door trellis. Disclaimer; please make sure you are sober before handling any power tools!

This type of trellis is an easy weekend project and as mentioned above will add a luxurious element to your exterior facade. Start with the brackets on either side of the garage. The garage in the picture above is fitted for two cars but you can build your trellis for any size garage. The longer the width, the more reinforcement you will need. In the above image it was necessary to insert a bracket between the two doors. If you do not have this option (i.e., if you have a two car garage and no space in between) you may have to fix a small reinforcement piece in the center of the trellis. However, a standard two car garage door should sustain a trellis with only two brackets on either side. Use 2x4s for your bracket backings and cut them approximately 25" long. I suggest using pressure treated wood. Secure these bracket pieces to your home's exterior with the proper hardware (i.e., if you are screwing into concrete you will need a Tapcon). Your local hardware store will be able to help you find the proper fastener. 

Next come the decorative pieces you add to the bracket that is fixed to the garage or exterior surface (technically still part of your bracket). These pieces hold up your joists (the beams that run along the width). The above picture uses a 2x8 for the top piece and a 2x6 for the lower curved piece. These curves and notches are achieved through the use of finish carpentry equipment (most likely a router). If you do not have access to this type of equipment you can mark your wood and bring it to your local hardware store and they will cut it for you (some charge a minimal fee). You will screw these additional bracket pieces into the fixed bracket base with wood screws. There are really no exact measurements for the brackets so I would say this is where you need to get a little creative. The picture below shows another trellis option with less intricacies in the bracket design. 

Next you will cut and install the joists. These are the pieces that run parallel to each other across the span of your garage or exterior opening. Use 2x6x12s or which ever length you need for your respective space. The key here is using a 2x6 material. Finally you can use 2x2 pieces to finish the top running perpendicularly to the joists (you can find nice finished 2x2 pieces in the fencing section of your local hardware store). I would suggest setting them approximately 6"-12" apart depending on your preference and they should hang over your joist piece about 4". 

The very last step is to paint your trellis and then you are finished! This is a very easy project. If you organize your layout and sizes and know what you need you can simply go to the hardware store with your list and have all your material ready and cut before you leave! Below are some additional pictures of over the garage trellises. Enjoy the project and get creative. There is no need for an extremely detailed set of instructions. Every trellis is different and you should find a way to make it your own!

So now you know how to build a trellis and more importantly you know how to pluralize the word! If you have any questions please feel free to comment below and stay tuned for more DIY projects in the series!

Blog post by Aja De Los Santos, GM & Head Designer at Investcove Properties

Monday, July 8, 2013

Due Diligence

This post is on the importance of doing your homework before you start any home improvement project. I recently received a call from a person who had started remodeling their kitchen and received a stop work letter from the city in which they live. This was a simple case of not knowing the rules and regulations that the city imposes on construction work within its limits. They had decided to remodel their kitchen themselves in order to make the process more affordable. They ordered cabinets from a local cabinet company and had friends and family begin demolishing the kitchen. By the time the old kitchen was completely removed, the city posted a "stop work" order and referred them to the building department. Generally if a county or city catches someone in the process of construction without proper filing and permitting they will issue a stop work order until the person properly records and permits the construction work. Permitting is of course fee based but receiving a stop work order can often result in additional fines. 

They quickly found out that there are specific documents and guidelines that they should have followed in order to complete a kitchen renovation. They also found out that the condo association where they live does not allow homeowners to do the work themselves and that they would have to hire a licensed contractor. This is where Investcove Properties comes in. They called us in a panic and asked if we could help. We met with them and began the permitting process (which should have been started prior to the remodel). The problem with this is that permitting can take up to six weeks depending on the jurisdiction and in the meantime these people had no kitchen! We could not continue the work until all of the permits were issued.

After we received the permits (approximately two weeks later) we scheduled one of our crews to begin work on the kitchen. Here is where another problem arose. The company that they purchased their cabinets from measured the kitchen incorrectly. This poses a very difficult problem. When purchasing a semi-custom kitchen it is imperative that all measurements are accurate. There are pieces called "fillers" that help to create a custom look by filling in areas that need to be spaced in order to properly fit the space. When there are gaps in the cabinets and the fillers are not installed you will see air between the cabinets. In this situation not only were the cabinets measured incorrectly but the company did not provide adequate fillers.

This is an example of a cabinet filler. In this situation the semi-custom cabinet width did not mount flush with the wall so a filler was used to complete the space.

The people in this situation simply wanted to upgrade their kitchen while saving money. They purchased the cabinets from wholesale cabinet company (i.e. $999 10' x 10' kitchen) and had the intention of doing the work themselves. Because they did not do their due diligence prior to starting the work the project ended up costing them far more than they anticipated in both permitting and legal fees and installation labor. In addition, because the cabinets were not measured properly it forced an imperfect kitchen installation. We did our best to adjust the cabinets and make the kitchen look as complete as possible but without the proper fillers and correct measurements it is next to impossible to do so without additional custom work.

Here is my advice to anyone considering going at it alone:

1) Determine whether or not the work you are considering requires a permit. Most work does require a permit so it is important to properly document the work prior to beginning any remodel. You can do this by contacting your local City or County office, explaining the work you are considering, and inquiring on the permitting process.

2) Determine whether or not you can actually do the work yourself. If it is something that seems beyond your scope then call up some contractors, get some estimates, and save money until you are ready.

3) If you purchase materials from an outside vendor it is imperative to ensure that the measurements are accurate. A contractor who comes in to install the materials but does not order them will not take responsibility for items that are ordered incorrectly. When you order materials through the same contractor who installs them they will always guarantee their accuracy but when you order from a separate source it is that company's responsibility to correct their mistake. 

Blog post by Aja De Los Santos, GM & Head Designer at Investcove Properties

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Remodeling 101: Part 3 - Budgets


The most common question that I receive when I meet clients during the initial consultation of any renovation project is, "How much is this going to cost?". This is not a question that can be answered on the spot. There are many variables that go into estimating any construction project and it is important that the contractor is able to do their due diligence before disclosing cost figures. It is one of the reasons why people are told to get multiple quotes. You would be surprised how much estimates can vary from one contractor to another. 

I like to know my client's budget up front. However, finding this out, is more often easier said than done. People are hesitant to disclose their budgets up front. I understand this mentality... The client is concerned that if they tell the contractor their budget is $15,000 and the actual cost is around $10,000, the contractor will automatically bill up to the client's budget and pocket the difference. I am not saying this doesn't happen, however, if you have done your research and hired a reputable contractor it most likely will not.  

I have had several projects in which I was able to come in under the client's budget and others in which the customer had unrealistic expectations of what their desired improvements would cost. In either situation I can explain and justify the costs and offer solutions to reduce the costs if need be. 

Here are two examples:

Client A (under budget) - Wanted his bathroom remodeled for around $7,000. He received multiple estimates from other contractors for around $10,000 but couldn't justify spending that amount of money on "such a small bathroom". After meeting with both him and his wife and discussing their expectations Investcove was able to complete the job for around $6,300.

Client B (unrealistic expectations) - Wanted her 2,500 square foot home completely renovated including a full gourmet kitchen, custom laundry room, two bathrooms, removal of existing tile and installation of hand scraped hard wood flooring throughout, brand new impact windows and doors, interior and exterior paint, and filling a sunken living room in with concrete. This was an extensive remodel that included heavy duty plumbing and electrical work. In addition, this client chose very high end and expensive materials. She did not disclose her budget upfront but we later found out that she estimated all of the work to cost around $70,000 which was about $30,000-$40,000 less than the actual costs based on her material choices. 

Client A was obviously happy because their remodel came out around 10% less than anticipated. They had a feeling that $10,000 was too much money for their bathroom remodel and they ended up being right. The fact that we knew their budget upfront allowed us to suggest materials that we knew would be conducive to their budget and in this case even came in under budget! This doesn't always happen but we definitely always try. 

Client B was panicked because she received the estimates and was shocked by the pricing. In this case, if she had disclosed a $70,000 budget up front we could have sat down with her and explained why it was unrealistic and how we could get the costs down to where she wanted them to be. 

If you are considering a remodel but have no idea what things costs or what your budget should be here are some suggestions to point you in the right direction:

1) Ask around - Talk to your friends, relatives, and neighbors. Talk to anyone who has completed a remodel in the past year and ask them how much they spent. I know, I know... this is not the most comfortable conversation to have but if you explain why you are asking they will be more than happy to help.

2) Google - Go ahead! You know you Google everything else. Google, "bathroom remodeling costs" or "cost to install new flooring" and read some of the message boards to get an idea of what things costs. As with everything else on the internet... keep an open mind and take everything with a grain of salt!

3) Research - Look at some of our earlier posts on HOW TO: Hiring a Contractor. Do your research and only call contractors that are reputable. Receive recommendations from friends or other trades that you do business with. Make sure they have a portfolio and ask them about their experience in project management and working with budgets.

4) Pictures - Have inspiration pictures for your contractors when they come to the initial site visit. There are multiple ways to achieve one look and pictures can help your contractor guide you in the right direction for your desired outcome and budget.

5) Full disclosure - Tell the contractor your budget. By now, you should have honest and reputable contractors in line and you need to trust that they will do everything within their power to provide you with the best possible pricing. 

6) Trust your gut! - I think this is true of everything in life... trust your intuition! If you have a bad feeling about a contractor then leave it at that and do not do business with them. On the other hand, if you have a good feeling about a contractor then you should probably trust that you are making the right decision! 

If you have any questions on construction budgets please feel free to leave a comment or you can head on over to our Facebook page and post to our wall or private message us! 

Blog post by Aja De Los Santos, GM & Head Designer at Investcove Properties

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Remodeling 101: Part 2 - Bathrooms


A typical bathroom remodel takes 2-6 weeks, depending on complexity. This overview includes the most common elements of a bathroom remodel. It is important to review and understand these elements in advance before hiring a designer and/or contractor. This will help the professionals you work with create a design and project overview within your budget and time frame.
  • What is your budget for this project?
    • As mentioned in our previous post, it is important to discuss your budget with your contractor and/or designer. A qualified design/build firm will have experience in working with budgets and be able to guide you in the general direction to meet your needs. They will not increase their fees to match your budget or try to convince you to increase your budget. They will explain to you if and why your budget is on target or unrealistic. 
  • What is your goal for the remodel?
    • Are you looking to update, add space, or both? What is the ideal bathroom you envision yourself in?
  • Technical aspects of the bathroom remodel include:
    • Current square footage and desired square footage.
    • Will your project require an engineer or architect? Most likely you will not need either unless you are moving walls and/or the ceiling.
    • Does your project need to be permitted? Your project will require a permit if you are moving electric and/or plumbing. Check with your local municipality for permit regulations. Your contractor/designer will be able to advise you on local rules and regulations.
      • Your designer/contractor can help you with these technical aspects but having a general knowledge of what may come up in your initial conversation is very helpful to both parties.
  • Other elements of the bathroom remodel include electrical, lighting, walls, plumbing, windows, doors, shower/tubs, toilets, vanities/cabinets, counter tops, sinks, and flooring.
    • Electrical - Will you need a service upgrade? Do you need a sub panel? How many outlets and switches will you need? Would you like your lighting on a dimmer switch?
    • Lighting - What type of lighting fixtures would you like? Do you want recessed lighting and/or flush wall mounted lighting? 
    • Walls - Will you need any wall paper removed and/or installed? Would you like the walls textured or smooth? What color and finish of paint do you envision for the walls and ceiling?
    • Plumbing - Will the plumbing need to be upgraded and/or relocated. Most of the time, I advise my clients that we will be upgrading their plumbing behind the wall. The reason for this, especially if it is a newer home, is that the builders use inexpensive materials that are no longer sufficient. 
    • Windows - Are there any windows that need to be removed, moved, or installed?
    • Doors - Are there any doors that need to be removed, moved, or installed?
    • Showers/Tubs - You will have to decide if you would like a tub/shower area or shower area only. If you would like a tub what type/color would you prefer? Do you want tile on the floor or back splash  Do you want a tile listello (this is the decorative band that runs around the shower walls)? Do you want a nook for your shampoo/soap? What type of materials would you like? Pattern? Tile Size? Grout color? Do you want an installed bench? Do you need grab bars? Do you want a glass door? What type of faucets would you like?
    • Toilet - Will you be keeping your existing toilet? If not, what make, model, and color?
    • Vanity/cabinet - Will the vanity be custom ordered or pre-built? What type of material, color, and stain? What door and drawer type? What type of accessories (knobs, pulls)? 
    • Counter tops - What type of material and finish? What type of edge detail? Would you like a back splash?
    • Sinks - How many sinks? What type of sink? What color and finish?
    • Flooring - What type of flooring materials? Would you like a tile, wood, or PVC baseboard?
These are the questions your designer/contractor is going to ask you when discussing your bathroom remodel. Look at your existing bathroom and write down what you do not like. Then look at pictures and decide on the type of bathroom you would like. Talk to your designer/contractor about your ideas. Be flexible and understand that they are professionals in their field and want to help you achieve your vision. They will explain what can and cannot be done and why. You can then, together, come up with a solution and plan for the bathroom remodel.

Blog post by Aja De Los Santos, GM & Head Designer at Investcove Properties 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Remodeling 101: Part 1 - Kitchens


A typical kitchen remodel takes 6-8 weeks, depending on complexity. This overview includes the most common elements of a kitchen remodel. It is important to review and understand these elements in advance before hiring a designer and/or contractor. This will help the professionals you work with create a design and project overview within your budget and time frame. 

  • What is your budget for this project?
    • I have worked with several clients who are reluctant to tell to me their budget. This is understandable as many contractors will bump their fees and estimates right up to the client's budget limit, however, most honest and reputable contractors/designers do not do this. It is important for me to understand a client's budget because it helps me shape the project within their parameters. I have had instances where we are able to complete the project for far less than the client expected as well as situations where the client's budget is completely unrealistic. 
  • What is your goal for the remodel?
    • Are you looking to update, add space, or both? What is the ideal kitchen you envision yourself in? The contractor/designer wants to give you everything you want so it is important that you thoroughly understand what you would like to achieve with your project.
  • Technical aspects of the kitchen remodel include:
    • Current square footage and desired square footage.
    • Will your project require an engineer or architect?
    • Do you need any walls removed?
    • Does your project need permitted?
      • Your contractor/designer can help you with these technical aspects but having a general knowledge of what may come up in your initial conversation is very helpful to both parties.
  • Other elements of the kitchen remodel include electrical, lighting, walls, plumbing, windows, doors, cabinets, counter tops, sinks, flooring, and appliances.
    • Electrical - Will you need a service upgrade? Sub panel? How many outlets and switches are there and how many will have to be installed?
    • Lighting - What type of lighting do you want? Recessed lighting or mounted lighting?
    • Walls - Are there walls that need to be removed or moved?
    • Plumbing - Will the plumbing need to be upgraded or relocated?
    • Windows - Are there any windows that will need to be moved, removed, or installed? What type of moldings will be installed around these windows?
    • Doors - How many doors will need to be moved or installed? What type of doors? What type of moldings?
    • Cabinets - Would you like your current layout replaced or redesigned? What type of cabinets would you like? Custom? Semi-custom? What type of color and finish will the cabinets be? What type of drawers and doors? Will there be any custom built-ins?
    • Counter tops - What type of counter top material would you like? What color? What type of edge detail? Will there be a different type of back splash installed?
    • Sink - What type of sink? Under mount? What size sink? What type of faucet?
    • Flooring - Will flooring need to be removed? If so, what type of flooring would you like installed?
    • Appliances - What type of refrigerator, disposal, range/oven, range/hood, dishwasher, microwave would you like? What are the sizes?
Your contractors/designer is going to ask you all of these questions in detail. You will be able to go over everything with them at the time of your consultation, however, understanding all of the aspects and technical details of your remodel ahead of time will help you to achieve the best results. Investcove Properties provides there clients with a remodel work sheet prior to the initial consultation. This helps prepare the client for the types of questions that will be asked of them.

Blog post by Aja De Los Santos, GM & Head Designer at Investcove Properties

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating

The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) explains that while many people use the terms "interior design" and "interior decorating" interchangeably, the professions differ in critical ways. If you are contemplating remodeling and/or redecorating and considering hiring a designer and/or decorator it is important to understand the fundamental differences and how each professional may be able to help you with your project. 

Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a space that are both functional and attractive to the customer (NCIDQ). The interior designers job is to understand space and both its potentials and limitations. The interior design process includes understanding of architecture, engineering, and construction. A quality interior designer will be able to explain a room's function and what may or may not be changed. 

Scenario: Nancy and Bob are interested in updating their kitchen. They would like to make their kitchen larger in order to incorporate new cabinets and an island. Nancy would like the sink to be moved from an existing wall into the new island. Nancy and Bob call Mary a kitchen designer they were referred to by friends. Mary is an interior designer who specializes in kitchens. Mary explains the process of expanding the kitchen, installing an island, and moving the sink. Although she is not a contractor, she has enough fundamental knowledge to understand what will and will not work with Nancy and Bob's new kitchen design.

Example: Below is an example of interior design at work. Let's say this is Nancy and Bob's kitchen before and after. While the before and after layout is somewhat similar it is apparent that an interior designer was involved in the process. This designer squeezed the most potential out of this kitchen by adding cabinets, installing more functional appliances, creating and updated look, moving electric to create more light and aesthetic appeal, and extending the space with a misshaped island which works very well here. 

Interior decorators are not involved in the layout of the space. They are generally hired by homeowners, developers, and commercial buildings to create a look that is both desirable and comfortable. Decorators help their clients in choosing furniture, fixtures, fabrics, and miscellaneous decor. There are also instances where the interior decorator will help choose lighting fixtures and paint colors although interior designers can do this as well. 

Scenario: Nancy and Bob absolutely love their new kitchen! One night Nancy comes home from work and goes to her bedroom to change into her sweats. She goes to the kitchen where Bob is cooking dinner (how great is Bob!) and tells him that she loves the kitchen so much but now the bedroom just feels blah! They know that they will not need to move any walls around or change the layout so they consider calling Frank, a local interior decorator who just finished redecorating their favorite local restaurant. Frank comes to their home and gets an idea for their style and taste. Nancy and Bob would like a warm space with a relaxing and peaceful vibe.

Example: Below is an example of interior decorating. Again, let's say this is Nancy and Bob's bedroom. The space has not changed but it has been completely transformed by the interior decorator (in this case, Frank). The furniture placement, choice in wall color, application of wallpaper at the fireplace, and finishing pieces are all ideas generated by the interior decorator collaborating with the customer. 

Blog post by Aja De Los Santos, GM & Head Designer at Investcove Properties