For the diehards with a bigger vision and who insist they see a better layout than your home’s original footprint; we’re with you. If you have spent a lot of time discussing how to make existing things work in your home and have finally drawn up the ‘big plan’ filled with changes like ‘opening up that wall’ there are a couple of things you may want to consider first!
If you see a wall that simply makes no sense to you and are determined to tear it down by yourself, you better know the history on that wall!
Load bearing walls support your roof. Every exterior wall and some interior walls are load bearing.
Not that you cannot ever remove one, but, a support beam that meets your building code must take the place of that wall when it is moved. (At the same moment)
This is not a guessing matter. If you are sure you know, but have a tiny doubt you need to make a quick trip to your attic and check things out.
Up there it is very clear which walls are supporting the roof. Learn to love them or call a building contractor. If you fail to do this you will still be calling a contractor. It is much less expensive this way.
More than one homeowner looks at the placement of a wall and wonders what the heck was in the mind of this builder! It is more common than you might imagine.
Walls in your entry that separate your living area are almost never a load bearing wall.
However, in older homes where roofing trusses were not used, the kitchen is in the back of the house and the living area in the front; and you guessed it, a load bearing wall separates the two.
This is the wall most people want to move or eliminate to expand space.
Check with your county building department before making changes. An owner builder permit is inexpensive, allows you to hire sub contractors and gives you the benefit of the dreaded building inspector.
If you are dealing with a contractor or sub contractor who hates the inspector or frequently talks about getting around the code; you need to win this battle with your shoes and walk away.
The building inspector is on the scene to protect the occupants of the home or building. Anyone who wants to avoid the inspector is cutting corners and not meeting the safety code. These people are your FRIENDS, even when you don’t like what they say. Regardless, you will meet their guidelines or tear it out.
Recently I went through an open house in a very nice subdivision in south Florida.
The home had a large enclosed pool and had been built with a large lanai surrounding the pool.
Somebody who previously owned the home decided to add some square footage to the house by adding a wall across the lanai. Things were going really well as it showed nicely; until you opened the slider doors and found a 12 inch clearance before hitting the water in the pool!
I’m sure the home is going to be on the market for a long time. Even then, an appraiser will come when a new buyer attempts to get a loan and the added exterior wall will come tumbling down.
Staying within the guidelines of the building codes is a good idea. One way or another, you’re gonna do it!
Every community and state is different; for the most part you are safe making painting and interior changes that do not move walls, electrical, plumbing and most HVAC (heat and air) changes without the benefit of a permit.
You can landscape your lawn so long as you do not add plumbing (sprinklers, fountains or pools) all of which may require a permit.
Check your county building codes (posted online) or call the county building department. They are usually happy to tell you up front rather than be called out to make you remove something.
Guess who knows more about the contractors and sub contractors than anyone in your area? Yep, it’s the building inspector. He cannot recommend anyone but the expression on his face is very telling.
Better still, you can go to the board of professional licensing in your state and check the complaints that have been filed against any licensed individual.
You’re not helpless or a victim unless you choose to be.
Get bids; at least two unless you are sold on a particular contractor’s ideas and have seen their work. If that is the case you should negotiate to a price you both feel is fair.
Be present when the inspector comes. You can learn more than you wanted to know by his visit.
I have been on both sides of this coin, have remodeled homes, sold homes and built homes; I say this is so you will understand the next statement: once you have established a relationship with your contractor or sub contractor that you feel good about; get off their backs!
They are overloaded with ensuring that materials are delivered and people who work for them are on the job. They get paid when it is finished.
Anything you are paying prior to the end of the job is for materials and meeting the payroll on your job. Let them do their job. They desperately want to be paid for their work! I promise.
What to do if things aren’t going so smoothly? Stay calm. Schedule a meeting with your contractor and take notes. Write down your questions and the answers you are provided.
Ask them to review your notes to ensure that you have correctly taken the information. Date it, insert the location and time of the meeting, ask them to sign it for you and put it into your file.
You have correctly executed a legal document that can be assumed to be a part of your agreement with the contractor.
If things don’t improve and you have reasonably allowed the contractor to perform, call another contractor to look at the job. Unless it is terribly botched, a good contractor will not attack another contractor’s work.
He may point out things that could be different. If it is really as bad as you feared, you’re going to need a new person on the job anyway.
If you determine this to be the case show the new person the notes taken at your meeting.
I want to again caution you not to jump the gun and assume your contractor is worthless and ignorant because you don’t like the pace of the job.
They want to finish more than you want them to finish. If things are not moving along, try to rationally determine the reason for delays.
If something is beyond the control of your contractor due to back orders etc. it is also beyond your control.
Before you decide to make drastic changes to your home and it’s footprint, step away from the emotion in our decision and take a critical look at the home, the neighborhood and how your changes may alter the desirability of your home. It is highly unlikely that you will live there forever; even then, one day it will be sold by someone.
One day I brought a couple to see my brother who was a very successful general contractor, under contract to build their new home. The couple had a specific request regarding the dining room. They had purchased a table that seats 12 people and were determined to make the house fit that table!
As I said many times, anything is possible. As we sat around the table my brother looked for the best response to their concerns.
At last he said “Let’s add a bay area to the dining room.” This would add 5 feet of usable space if the table extended to the bay window. The bay area would cost an additional $4500.00. I thought that was a lot of added expense to accommodate a table.
The owner was insistent that she did not want a mere extension; her dining room was important!
At the end of this meeting, after a great deal of discussion, the owner decided to extend the entire front of their two storied home to accommodate the table. The cost was a walloping $30,000.00!
I personally thought this was foolish, it still bothers me today. I hope the table is a sturdy one that they will use for years to come at that price for the accommodation.
Use your head, not your heart when you are dealing with extensions or changes to your home. If you get caught up in the dream phase you will hit the ground with a resounding thump when reality meets you there!
Contractors can make anything happen that you can dream of. Don’t tread so far out into the water that you will need a tug boat to get back to dry ground!
Be reasonable, consider costs and the value added and then proceed.