The remodeling industry has a growing problem on its hands that must be addressed immediately.
Righting the ship
Prareit and Kavita Garg found Sandy McAdams, CGR, CAPS and owner of Sandy's Design & Remodeling, through her local home builders association's annual remodeled homes tour.
Prareit and Kavita Garg found Sandy McAdams, CGR, CAPS and owner of Sandy's Design & Remodeling, through her local home builders association's annual remodeled homes tour. They had seen her 2000 entry and not only were eager to have her company build an addition to their newly purchased 1950s house in Kirkland, Wash., but also volunteered the home as her entry in the 2002 tour.
They already had hired an architect to draw up the plans. Because he recommended McAdams and her initial meeting with the Gargs went well, they didn't seek other bids.
|The new kitchen, designed to keep traffic out of the work area, has two dishwashers, two sinks and gourmet appliances, including a warming drawer.|
The kitchen, oddly located at the home's main entry, would be moved to the back of the house, the site of the existing living room. This change would allow for a first-floor addition that would create a spacious great room featuring a cathedral ceiling and a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of Lake Washington on one side and the Gargs' woodsy yard on another.
As drawn, the project went over the Gargs' budget, so they and McAdams made cuts together. McAdams also made it clear that the job could not be finished before Kavita, who was pregnant, was due to give birth. They gave McAdams the go-ahead anyway and moved into the daylight basement, which had a separate entrance and a kitchen, for the duration of construction to save money.
McAdams turned the specifications over to her freelance estimator/scheduler, reviewed the estimate and then presented it to the Gargs. From the initial meeting to the contract signing in April 2001, the process took less than three weeks.
McAdams' average job is about $50,000 to $100,000, so this approximately $200,000 job hit the high end of the company's scale.
Oversights and overruns
The first red flag arose once selections began. When McAdams walked through the house with one of her lead carpenters, he noticed that building to the plans would mean that even people of average height would hit their head on the ceiling while walking up and down the stairs. Still, that was small compared with what came next: structural changes required by building inspectors.
In February 2001, an earthquake had rocked the Seattle area, causing at least $1 billion in damage. Tougher building regulations designed to minimize future earthquake damage had not been considered by the architect or caught by the estimator.
Before the earthquake, steel beams anchored in 24-inch cubes of concrete would have supported the floor of the addition. Now, however, the contractors had to dig a trench the length of the addition and fill it with concrete, and the steel beams had to extend to the roof line to provide as much stability as possible in case of another earthquake.
"The size of the steel beams and how they were going to get them into place had not been taken into account," McAdams says.
|The new slope of the roof could not accommodate the shed-style roof at the home's entrance, so project manager Johnathin Antis redesigned it, pushing the wall out 4 feet to create a new entrance with a peaked roof.|
The new building codes required shear walls inside the building as well as outside. That meant removing exterior siding to put plywood underneath and adding 1/2-inch plywood to the interior walls, neither of which was in the plans. "It affected all kinds of things, from windows to cabinetry," says McAdams. The problem was compounded when the lead carpenter forgot about the shear walls when ordering the windows, forcing him to make new liners after the windows arrived.
Once the design was changed to meet the new regulations and approved by the local building department, construction moved forward. But it halted just as framing was to begin.
"The lead carpenter called the office and said, 'We can't frame this the way it shows in the drawing,'" McAdams says. "We talked to the architect, and he insisted it would work. So we started framing it, but the lead carpenter was absolutely right. It wasn't working."
Part of the problem was that the complex roof structure was beyond the lead's abilities, which he didn't want to admit, says McAdams. When he went on vacation, she brought in Johnathin Antis, recently promoted from lead carpenter to project manager.
The design called for an exposed center beam supported only by two angled beams coming up from the sides, forming roughly the shape of a Dutch colonial roof but without the benefit of a solid beam running from wall to wall. Antis thought that if the roof were built as designed, it would not support its own weight, let alone withstand wind, rain or earthquakes. Antis talked to the architect again, but he insisted his design was workable if custom-made brackets were used.
So Antis consulted a steel fabricator. "He told me that no bracket would work with this design," Antis says. "The only thing that would work was to put a beam from wall to wall to support the weight. Then he could make brackets that would do the job."
McAdams agrees. "There were too many angles on the roof for it all to come together," she says. "It was a cathedral ceiling, too, so there was no place to hide all these odd angles. They were going to be right there in the room."
Antis decided to run a beam from outside wall to outside wall. McAdams hired an expert framer to help with the project. As McAdams predicted, the resulting structure was rather unsightly, so Antis covered it with drywall. "You can hardly see the beam," Antis says. "It's a beautiful ceiling."
Meanwhile, the problems and delays were taking a toll on the schedule and the budget as extra hours and materials added up.
|The new living room, which was expanded by 304 square feet, takes advantage of the view with large windows and a zero-clearance fireplace.|
McAdams and Antis explained the problems and resulting delays to the Gargs. Even as the costs mounted, the homeowners worked with McAdams as much as possible, even agreeing to pay part of the $6,400 overage despite the fixed-bid price she had given them.
"Many clients would have said, 'Nope. You bid this job based on the plans. You should have seen then that it wasn't going to work,'" McAdams says. In this case, she says, the Gargs felt that because some of the overruns were attributable to the architect they had hired and they didn't want to go back to him, they would split those extra costs with her. "They were tight on their budget and didn't have a huge amount to spend, but Prareit said that if I would be willing to wait for a while after the job was done, he'd be willing to help cover the cost overruns."
She still hasn't found a solution to working with an architect outside her regular circle of designers because rechecking everything on the plans also would cost time and money and mean the architect did not do the work for which he was paid.
"What really bothered me was that all this time and research cost so much money," Antis says. "If an architect has an idea, he should at least find out how it can be done. He needs to talk to the contractor and the homeowner to see if it can be done and how much it will cost. Then, if money is no object, they can go ahead. But that's hardly ever the way it turns out."
McAdams knows what she needs to do for Sandy's Design & Remodeling to survive and then thrive: "I realized we had to tighten up our operation, get rid of the dead weight and keep track of things. I joined Remodelor 20 in the middle of the project. We're getting the right people in place."