By Gina Dostler
Jane Austen once wrote, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Just saying, “staying home,” fills me with peace and contentment. I can instantly feel myself curled up on the couch reading a good book or in the kitchen baking my favorite recipe.
Many people feel the same way and are taking their home up several notches with upgrades, remodeling their spaces into their vision of comfort and peace. Or some are tearing down their existing home to build an entirely new home in its place.
Brett Whitehead,President of Brandywine Homes, explained to me the process of home remodeling and gave me great insight into the world of builders.
Q: Brandywine Homes has been building urban infills for around 17 years. Just recently you made a move into custom remodels. Why?
A: We were approached several times about five or six years ago from friends and family to build custom or remodel homes. At that time, we were very busy so we couldn’t devote the time to weigh the possibilities if this was a needed market. Today, we find there are a lot of opportunities out there for remodels or custom builds. Pockets of older homes, built in the ’60s and‘70s, are going through major transitions. Original owners are moving out and a new, younger generation is moving in and the houses are just not big enough for today’s family. Some are tearing down and others are just gutting the interior and adding 2,000 square feet to the house. A lot of people love where they live but want an updated or new home.
Q: What about remodeling the home from the ground up. What questions should be asked if remodeling is the right thing to do?
A: One of the first things you need to ask is how your home can be more energy efficient. Older houses don’t have proper insulation, and/or windows and doors that don’t seal properly. There are solar panels that provide electricity and tankless water heaters that heat on demand, all which are great energy savers and can be added to your home.
Think about the functionality of your home. For major remodels, the kitchen might need a major facelift with granite countertops for easy cleanups, new cabinets for easy access, new fixtures and lighting and opening up a wall to the family room where the whole family can interact. A popular redo is creating a tech center that connects with the kitchen so the parents can interact with the kids doing their homework on the computer as mom and dad cooks up dinner.
Bathrooms are another place for redos. Two sinks, his and hers, is a given when we update a bathroom along with added granite or quartz countertops, backsplash on the mirror or a large spa tub to the master bath. We see a growing trend of creating luxurious interiors with a spa feel to it. More and more people are spending time at home and creating a place where they want to spend time inside a beautiful home and relax in their own space.
Q: Describe a total 21st century home makeover.
A: Bigger rooms are a top priority for homeowners these days with large open spaces and less-formal rooms. Ripping up the carpet and installing harder floor surfaces including ceramic tile, hardwood or engineered wood and laminates. The hard surfaces are easier to clean, are more stain repellant, and less likely to collect dust. Except for bedrooms, carpet is still popular in those rooms.
Kitchens and bathrooms are a hotspot for remodels. And an upgraded kitchen gives the house its greatest value and becomes a focal point for friends and family. The upgraded bathrooms bring more room and functionality.
Finally, going green with installed solar power and roof tiles that reflect the sun’s heat keeps the house cooler; and using recycled materials such as recycled-glass countertops, insulating wall systems, natural lighting and ventilation, and sustainable hardwood and bamboo flooring add to being green. Better technology with smart homes, home theatres, wiring for iPads, dimmers and automatic window coverings are all part of the home makeover these days.
Q: What are some of the challenges encountered when remodeling a home and how should they be solved?
A: There are many challenges to building remodels to custom homes. Challenges are minimized if the builder conducts research about the home’s history (ie: how the house was built, which walls are load bearing, which posts can be removed, what walls to take out, or if there are any termite damages, etc.). Then we work with the homeowner’s vision and the cultivated knowledge of the house to build the dream home. The homeowner most often has very little experience in building so sometimes it is difficult to convey the process it takes to make their vision a reality. Utilizing computer graphics or taking pictures of similar houses helps project our idea with less confusion and ambiguity. We compile all this into a book for the homeowner with everything we are going to build, the timeframe, cost and all the necessary materials.
Q: What tips can you give so the remodel plan stays on budget and there won’t be any financial surprises at the end?
A: Be prepared. Know up front that it is going to be a stressful undertaking. Be clear on what you want developed in your home and also be prepared to make many decisions within a given timeline.
The homeowner must realize that there are processes to the building of their home. For example, in custom homes, the foundation comes first, and then the framing, the electrical and plumbing up next and each level requires decisions. Delays made by hesitations are cost inducing, taking the project off its schedule and budget. Waiting for materials is a nuisance for sure and usually are delayed due to late decision making. The homeowner must understand that in today’s environment most companies are not carrying inventory like they used to and it may take several weeks to receive the materials. Even appliances are not stocked and are being built on demand.
Sometimes, there is little progress because there is a wait for inspections from the city. We like to form a partnership with the homeowner and become a part of building their special dream home, work with them to provide insights and advice in helping them make decisions. In the end, our intent is to give the homeowner a beautiful home, something to be proud and happy about with the least amount of frustration.