Odd Projects

4 06 2009

I recently completed one of my most unique, and rewarding projects in a while.  I was approached by my church, to create a portable Baptistery.

"The existing installation"

"The existing installation"

The project included removing a baptism tub from thier old location, designing and building a rolling platform with a surround and stairs, and covering the entire structure with Eastern Hard Maple.  It would need an access door to reach the drain system, enough structure to support itself, the water weight, and an average human body.  It would also need a very tough finish to repell water.

"The New Structure"

"The New Structure"

I began with six (6) heavy-duty locking casters, 2×4 I-beams & frame, and cabinet-grade plywood.  The skin would be 1/2″ maple plywood, trimmed with 3/4″ solid maple.  By completion it was pretty heavy, but the casters made it very mobile.  Balzer Painting added a tough polyurethane finish, and it was ready for water.  The church will be adding indoor-outdoor carpet to the stairs, as soon as the product arrives.

"Finished, Except For Carpet"

"Finished, Except For Carpet"

It was an honor to be involved in something which brings new spiritual life to many people.  It was great to here the complements on workmanship.  However, my reward was seeing the radiant faces coming up out of the water last Sunday, renewed, committed, and full of emotion.

John Weber, www.riorenovation.com


Lighting Design & Controls

13 05 2009

DSC_7245TLighting Design and the Budget for Light Fixtures and Controls should have a much higher priority than they do in todays Renovations.  My years as an Electrician and Electrical Designer, exposed me to the highs and lows of  this issue.

In commercial projects I experienced a lot of attention to high-quality lighting design, fixtures, and controls.  This was mostly due to the fact that we were designing and building along with Professional Architects who valued the effect that good lighting had on the Architectural Finishes they were specifying.

Why doesn’t this carry-over to residential projects?  It does when Architects or Professional Designers are involved, usually on the higher end of the project spectrum.  The common scenario on the lower end is that the lighting design and budget end up last on the list due to a designer who hasn’t the awareness or training to market thier value.  The designer specifies gorgeous, expensive finishes; then fails to light them well.  This leaves them looking flat and drab, unlike the customers experience in the showroom.

Since the majority of my projects are Dream Kitchens, I’ll share my views on lighting them.  The first component I need is an owner who can afford to light the space properly.  The most important element I consider is a layered aproach.  Multiple layers of light-source to create multiple moods.

Top Layer: Flush-mounted adjustable/aimable low-voltage halogen, to create pools of light on cabinetry and counters.  I usually use LBL or Tech Monopoints.  Recessed cans will work, but they need to be adjustable or aimable within the can.  In a vaulted ceiling, I will often use monorail with adjustables to simplify the installation.  I will usually hide the transformer in a cavity to save cost.  My favorite light source or lamp is Halogen IR.  I can use a 37watt IR lamp and achieve a 75watt output (it’s green).  If there are any artifacts in the granite counters, they will “pop” under the IR source.

Middle layer: A mid-sized pendant or two centered in the space for ambient light.  This is a decorative fixture which many manufacturers can provide.  It should simply fit the style of the space.

Low Layer: Under-cabinet lighting.  I usually use 120 volt Xenon modules by Kitchler.  Though they are now offering an LED version at twice the price.  In smaller spaces a puck might work.

A little more glitz: I have the most fun with pendants over eating areas, breakfast bars, etc.  I’ll usually place blown-glass pendants over the breakfast bar.  Another element might be up-lighting hidden by the crown moulding of the upper cabinets.

Controls: I am a strong advocate for zoned dimming.  I can control each layer of light with a seperate dimmer, and create multiple moods within each layer by adjusting it’s dimmer.  I always use Lutron dimmers.  It’s no mistake that I use halogen lamps, they dim very well, prolonging thier life, and saving energy (dimmers are green).

Let your designer know that lighting matters to you!  Include money in your budget for high-quality lighting and controls.  When the project is complete, sit back in the evening with the lights dimmed and enjoy the mood!  Crank-em up to full brightness the next morning for cleanup!  Now you understand……….

John Weber www.riorenovation.com

Partying with Appliances?

16 04 2009

prologo_color1Loma & I had a great time last night at the Professional Remodelers Organization “Evening at Basco”.  The food was excellent, we toured all of the latest appliances, and met some wonderful people.  Nice to talk to you Kathy Kremer, Ruth the Redhead, Bob Wilcox, Mitch & Arlene Stanley, Joe Ness, Theresa Springer, the Gaganeau Rep, and the DCS Rep.  Thanks to Basco for hosting, and to Joe Ness and Mitch Stanley for the new brand “PRO” (Professional Remodelers Organization), I think it’s a hit!  Thanks to everyone else involved in putting-on this event, nice job!  As for the products, for years I have leaned heavily toward GE Monogram.  There are a number of reasons for this: features, appearance, configurations, lack of issues, great service, etc..  But DCS caught my attention again with a new drop-in cooktop (I have always loved their dual-level burner and five-burner configurations).  Fisher & Paykal has taken DCS to a new level.  They offer matching wall ovens, warming drawers, drawered dishwashers, & pro-refrigeration, not to mention their outdoor kitchen line.  Kudos to DCS, you really shined for me last night. 

John Weber, www.riorenovation.com

Remodel Timing

28 03 2009

dsc_0400tIs this a good time to remodel?

That depends on your perspective.  Mine is that it’s always a good time to remodel, it’s my business.  Less selfishly though, I usually begin by asking my customer for all of the facts.  It’s hard to solve any problem without a complete set of facts.

Are you remodeling for resale?  How long do you anticipate staying in the home?  Are you repairing damage? Are you making room for additional family members?  Do you have a handle on the potential costs?  Are the funds available?

In the recent financial climate, a lot of customers who were remodeling for short-term resale have simply vanished.  With values dropping, the short-term pay-back just wasn’t there.  As we head into the later half of 2009, I see that new home sales in my area are up, and renovation permits have turned the corner as well.  So many of the short-term customers may be back soon.

Many people are finding it necessary to share housing, thus driving the need to expand their floor plan.  More families are committed to staying in their homes long term, and want to invest in spaces that drive social interaction.  So if you’re in one of these groups, this is a great time to remodel provided you have access to the funds.  Using home equity to fund your project used to be a no-brain-er for the short-term.  A home equity loan is not “magic money” though, you still have to service the debt!  If you’ve been in your home for a while, have a low mortgage, and have a stable work situation, then you may be able to handle the monthly home equity payment just fine.  A positive side affect of the recent economic climate, is that almost everything is a little less expensive.  Contractors are hungry, and labor in plentiful.

If you are repairing damage, don’t wait.  The consequences of waiting will drive the repair costs literally through the roof.  Insurance companies tend to get a bit fussy if you fail to maintain your property sufficiently.  If you’re making room for additional family members, consider that the average room addition project takes three to six months.  So don’t wait until you need the space, anticipate the need and act with enough time to accommodate the new member.

We have been a society of consumers.  If we want to change this and become “Green”, then we need to fix what is broken instead of replacing it.  Recycle and reuse what we remove, and install recycled, local, sustainable materials.  I believe that when we remodel, we are at the core of being “Green”.  We don’t replace our home with a new one, we reuse, recycle, and renew what already exists.

John Weber, www.riorenovation.com

Remodel Misconceptions

26 03 2009

demopile2What are the most common misconceptions you encounter in Remodeling?

There are two that I encounter quite often.

The first is “I can do this myself”.  Some do-it yourselfers have what it takes to accomplish their “dream space” and come pretty close to a professional product.  Usually lacking though, is access to some of the specialized products neccessary.  Most do-it-youselfers lack the time, tooling, expertise, and physical stamina to produce a professional product.  I usually get their call about half-way through the demolition phase, explaining how they tried to do it themselves, and quickly were in over their head.  Would I please take-on their project, as no other contractor wanted their mess.  Or they show me a space they would like to remodel, noting that they remodeled the adjacent space themselves, which resembles the mistakes of every how-to class at the local big-box home improvement store.  In the later case, I usually end up renovating two spaces.

The second misconception is “grossly under-estimating the cost of professional remodeling”.  They have seen all of the home improvement shows, and are certain they can complete their project for “X” amount.  Their project is just like the one on the show, and the total costs were listed at the end of the show.  I quickly explain that the listed costs didn’t fit their square footage, and mysteriously excluded labor, which can run between 30 & 50% of total project costs.  Perhaps the Show’s Host performed some of the labor, some by the Homeowner, and some by a crew of people behind the scenes.  Never the less, it can take a lot of man-hours to transform a space.

Both of these Homeowners require the help of a professional to realize their “dream space”.  I always encourage Homeowners to be involved in some portion of the project as a cost-savings.  In thirty years, I have had a handfull of people help with demolition, usually the husband.  Only twice have I had someone follow-through with their intention to paint the ceilings and walls (kudos to Martin & Chris).

My complements to the do-it-yourselfers who realize thier “dream space” within a realistic budget.  No doubt you did a lot of research, learned a lot through the process, purchased some good tools, made a few mistakes, managed to keep your day-job, and spent time in the hot tub soothing your sore muscles.

John Weber, www.riorenovation.com

Let’s Get Started!

26 03 2009

John WeberThe birth of my “Blog”:  I’ve been involved in Design, Construction, Renovation, and Property Development for my entire adult life.  When a friend asked me how long I had been answering questions about Remodel and Construction issues, my response made me feel very old!  Some thirty years of successes, mistakes, research, and endless learning.  That friend suggested that I share those experiences in a much broader way, with a “Blog”.  So here I am pouring over old email records to select the gems that have shaped my passion and put food on my table.

John Weber, www.riorenovation.com