Materials and Designs

This article is the second in a four-part series that consumer advocate, Richard Connolly published in The Boston Sunday Globe in September, 1991. Although that time seems long ago, little has changed, as you will soon discover.

Remodeling? Determine materials, designers

Richard Connolly

Boston Globe Correspondent

Once you have researched what you can do, afford, and receive for your money, it is time to consider the materials for your remodeling project.

If you want to match items already in the house, examine them closely and make a detailed list of everything you can actually see inside and outside your home before you visit a retailer’s showroom. Take a few pictures to bring with you.

Next, prepare a list of questions to help you understand how, for example, the building, cabinet, plumbing, and electrical suppliers conduct their businesses.

Several especially important questions to ask regarding delivery include: Is the cost of delivery separate? Is there a minimum order? Is lead-time necessary? Is assistance required when off-loading? Is delivery to an outside staging area or can they place materials in specific locations inside the house?

Ask about the methods of payment (bank or personal check), special order deposits, and return policy and procedure. Most important, inquire about the supplier’s policy regarding the replacement of defective merchandise. For example, if your new sink develops a crack, will the supplier pay for the cost of removal and reinstallation?

Finally, check on the hours of operation. Knowing when the supplier is open or closed is important because some companies are now furloughing employees during slow times as a cost cutting measure.

With your list of materials, pictures, questions, and sketch visit several retailers that provide the same products. Request product catalogues and pricelists and ask about upcoming sales and discounts.

Determine whether the supplier sells to the public or contractors only. Be forthright about the fact that you are shopping and looking for the best service, quality, and price.

Start making primary and secondary choices for the various materials involved in your project. For example, your first choice for the kitchen cabinet counter top may be Corian®, but you might also consider a plastic laminate.

Request a demonstration and record the name of the manufacturer, the model number of the product, options, and the price from one supplier to the next. Keep project related materials in a 3-ring, 3-inch binder [or plastic milk crate] for organization and easy access.

All material decisions should be made before the construction phase of the project begins – not during – if you expect to have any chance of controlling costs and delays.

Contact the utility companies for the gas, electrical, telephone, and cable TV requirements. Prepare a list of questions to determine, at minimum, the cost of relocating or extending the utilities, when (time of the year) and who does the work, and the payee.

With this new information and prior research in hand, you should now have a good and clear sense of what your project will involve.

If your initial research suggests at this point that the project is beyond your reach and budget, go no further. You probably have not invested much beyond your time, and you may have learned a great deal along the way.

If the project seems feasible or requires compromise, go for it. Be aware, however, that the next major milestone, designs, means spending money. Once passed, backing out could be costly.

There are several ways to handle the design for your project. You can hire an architect, designer, or a contractor. According to the Massachusetts Building Code, you must hire an architect for any project equal to or greater than 35,000 cubic feet. Residential remodeling and new home projects generally do not meet this requirement.

Whereas anyone in Massachusetts can be a designer, only a person who has graduated from an accredited college or university with a degree in architecture and has also passed a state examination can become a registered architect.

Although some designers may have a degree in architecture and other professional credentials [such as membership in ASID], there are no educational, technical, or registration requirements in the Commonwealth in order to qualify as one.

Contractors may have a practical knowledge of design and experience in executing many of them. In all cases, the resulting blueprints must meet Massachusetts building code.

Locating an architect or designer is easy: look in the Yellow Pages under "Architects" and scan the columns. Both are listed. Alternatively, network amongst friends or others who have recently undertaken remodeling projects [or use an online service provider site].

Your minimum design requirements for an addition will include a floor plan at ¼” scale (with or without a wiring schematic or door and window schedules), exterior elevations, a cross section of the structure, structural details, and the floor and roof framing.

You may additionally request interior elevations, a site plan, or a furniture schematic, usually at an extra charge, or have a watercolor of the designs rendered or a model built.

In some instances, you may require the services of a structural engineer to size beams, for example, and stamp the drawings.

Regardless of which professional you hire for your project, prepare a checklist of the services you may need and several questions to ask before conducting an interview.

At the top of the list undoubtedly will be a question regarding costs. Most design professionals charge by the hour for the specific services they provide. Hourly rates typically range from $45 to $75 with no real rate difference between architects and designers. Many contractors charge their customers directly for the designs or include them in the cost of the work in the event they get the job.

Interview at least three to five design professionals and make it clear to them that the meeting is strictly an interview, not a design session. Ask for a brochure and a resume, which should indicate the individual’s educational background, degree, specialty within that degree, registration, if any, and experience.

Ask to see a portfolio, and qualify the professional’s experience and interests as residential or commercial and then as traditional or modern. Check on the availability of computerized drawings, as their use is an enormous time saver.

Inquire about the individual’s design philosophy. Does he or she believe in designing into the project your every wish or working within the limitations you provide? Is he or she a specialist, for example, in solar design?

Most important, ask how long it will take from the final design meeting to the point where the blueprints are ready for submission to your Building Department.

Lastly, request a written proposal detailing the specific services requested, their individual costs and estimated number of hours, any optional services and related charges, a list of references, and a sample contract.

Identify for the design professional any information you are willing to provide that may save time, such as your material lists or the results of your research at the library or building department.

Thereafter, compile the proposals and compare the cost of services from one professional to another. Pay careful attention to the hours and hourly rate. Never fail to check references and be prepared to ask more questions before signing a contract.

Now the decision as to which design professional you hire can be based on three fundamental factors: Personality, Profile, and Price. In the overwhelming majority of cases, hiring decisions are made according to emotion. By using the Three P’s, you introduce an element of objectivity, which certainly beats instincts alone.

Once you decide, it would be a courtesy to inform the other design professionals that they have not been awarded the design contract. Send a brief [email], if you feel awkward about calling.

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