A By-the-Book Seaside Remodel

A Company Aces the Job of Remodeling Along A Regulation-Laden Seashore

May 31, 2009

Products List

Company Snapshot

The Financials

Vincent Averna got burned the first time he remodeled his Jersey Shore vacation house, and he was determined not to let it happen again. After he inherited the 1950s ranch house several years ago and began using it as a weekend getaway, the Virginia resident added a master bathroom and closet to the back. He went by the book, researching remodelers, requesting estimates and choosing the mid-priced contractor. But the job put him in the middle of a finger-pointing scenario between contractor and architect, and it took twice as long.


A cathedral ceiling, generous windows and sliding glass doors brighten the master bedroom and open it to breezes and views.

Later, when he decided to transform the home to a two-story beach house with water views and more space, he rewrote the book on selecting a remodeler. And his choice, Todd Miller of QMA Design+Build, could write a book himself about getting remodeling work done in the demanding construction environment of Absecom Island, N.J. Expert Sources

Having shepherded the bathroom addition through a headache-causing approvals process, Averna knew the permit officials and building inspectors in the island town of Longport all too well. Figuring that nobody knew remodelers in Longport better than those officials, he asked them for recommendations.

An inspector recommended QMA based on his work on other projects and gave the company high marks. So did the appraiser who had assessed the house for the first remodel. Another plus: because QMA is a design-build company, tension between designer and builder would not arise.

Averna checked around and found that QMA's good reputation was solid. Averna believed he could rely on QMA, an established local company, to maintain high standards. He bypassed the three-bids step and went straight to Todd Miller, telling him that if he came up with a concept he liked, he'd likely get the contract. He did.

The house sits on a finger of land between ocean and bay, so to capture views of the water on both sides, a second-floor pop-up design was essential. With its brick front and skimpy deck, the old house clearly needed a face-lift as well. Averna's wife had collected ideas on new exterior finishes, opting for crisp, white vinyl siding, but was even more inspired when Miller drove around the island with her, pointing out features on other houses. He suggested extending deep decks across both the first and second floors. The Avernas loved the idea. His proposal to unify the decks visually with columns "sold us," says Averna.


Once a modest, brick-fronted ranch, the house  now is a two-story beach property with crisp, white trim and gray siding, deep verandas on both floors and columns that tie the two stories together in a commanding facade.

With three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a combination living-dining-entry, the existing 1,333-square-foot house was tight quarters for the Avernas and their children and grandchildren who visited often. Miller's design called for a 140-square-foot extension to the first floor deck and a new second floor that encompasses 832 square feet of living space plus 651 square feet of wraparound deck. He found room for the stairway by converting the smallest bedroom on the first floor — a 10-by-10-foot space — into a bright, spacious stair hall. The Avernas would move into a new master bedroom and bathroom suite on the second floor where they could enjoy privacy and views. Guests would have the downstairs bedrooms. Miller designed another upstairs room as a cigar room, a retreat just for Averna. Interpreting the Regulations

The project began in late 2005. Phase 1 — all but the cigar room and its deck — was completed in about seven months. Because of FEMA code and budget issues, however, it was not until 2008 that Averna got his cigar room.

"Everything here is complicated to deal with in terms of shore construction," explains Miller. First there are the hurricane loads. Miller met these requirements by specifying windows with a DP (design pressure) upgrade package. Then there are the zoning ordinances. "The zoning departments in urban beach resort areas are very strict about building setbacks and heights," says Miller. The calculation of lot coverage by buildings and impervious surfaces is down to 1/10 of a percent, he says; the existing house was out of compliance. Miller set back the cigar room 40 inches to keep the addition within allowable setback limits without the need for a variance, while taking care to maintain a balanced composition for aesthetic appeal.




FEMA rules dictate what percentage of the building's value can be invested in improvements. Complying with FEMA rules is always a challenge, Miller says. "Every town in New Jersey interprets these FEMA rules differently," he says, and that interpretation often changes. "My policy is to go meet with the building inspector [during the project design phase] to make sure our interpretation of those codes agrees with theirs."

While the first phase of the Averna project was being planned, FEMA rules allowed 50 percent of the assessed property value to be invested in improvements. That, plus the client's desire to save some of the job cost until later, precluded construction of Averna's cigar room.

A year and a half after Phase 1, Averna was ready to try again for the cigar room. By then the local implementation of the FEMA codes had changed. Additions could amount to only 40 percent of the value of the structure itself, not including land, and the valuation had to be based strictly on tax assessed value. The assessment was so low, however, that the building officials allowed QMA to obtain a second valuation — this one by a state-certified appraiser based on depreciated replacement cost — and use that instead. Even with some subtractions due to six-year look-back requirements, the appraisal had gone up enough to make the project allowable. The $95,000 room addition would bring the property right to the building value.

Building at the Beach

Miller designed the house to celebrate the outdoors while minimizing maintenance in a saltwater setting. For light, breezes and a sense of lofty space, the new master bedroom has a cathedral ceiling plus large windows and glass doors on three sides. Deep decks on both floors offer plenty of space to sit and enjoy the views. Miller covered the first-floor concrete deck with durable, slip- and frost-resistant porcelain tile. The second-floor deck is built like a surfboard, with fiberglass mesh reinforced resin over two layers of ¾-inch PTS Marine grade plywood.

Adding the cigar room more than a year after Phase 1 introduced the challenge of blending finishes inside and outside the house. The specs for the new and 18-month-old siding matched, but the white was a shade off, says Project Manager Jason Zelinka. He hid the difference by running a j-channel at the inside corner where the two sidings meet. Inside the second floor, Zelinka's flooring subcontractor managed to duplicate the tone of the existing red oak strips, selecting pieces that were close in color and working with the oil-based polyurethane coating to match the new to the more seasoned "old."

Dealing with new and discarded materials required special planning, too. There was no room for a Dumpster or for storage, and building officials frowned upon Dumpsters in the street. Zelinka strategically scheduled deliveries to arrive the day materials were needed and asked his subcontractors to haul trash to other QMA trash bins.

Carting the trash away was inconvenient, but it also was an indicator that Zelinka goes by the same book as Miller. By arranging to dispose of the garbage off site, "I created a relationship with those guys in the building department," Zelinka says. When he needs a favor, he hopes they will remember.

Project Timeline

Phase 1  
June 12, 2005 Preliminary design and cost feasibility analysis signed
Aug. 19, 2005 Construction agreement signed
Sept. 28, 2005 Construction drawings completed
Nov. 3, 2005 Building permit issued
June 19, 2006 Construction completed
Phase 2
April 1, 2008 Preliminary design and cost feasibility analysis signed
May 2 Construction agreement signed
May 16 Construction drawings completed; materials for construction dry-in and cabinets ordered
June 16 Building permit issued
July 8 Roof removed, framing started
July 12 Framing completed; roofing, windows, doors, sheathing installed
July 19 Rough mechanicals completed
Aug. 15 Interior finishes completed
Aug. 22 Internal punch list completed; all inspections passed
Aug. 27 Construction completed


Products List

Acrylic block windows: Hy-Lite Bathroom cabinetry: Elmwood Kitchens Deck surface: Valspar Exterior doors and windows: Andersen Exterior trim boards: Azek Exterior porcelain tile: Edicoughi Faucets, shower controls, tub fillers: Moen Hardwood flooring: Clear oak Interior doors: CraftMaster Tub, toilet, bidet: Kohler Roofing: GAF Siding: CertainTeed

Company Snapshot

QMA Design+Build

Owner: Todd Allen Miller, AIA

Location: Ventnor, N.J.

2008 sales volume: $2 million

Projected 2009 sales volume: $1.9 million

Web site: QMAdesignbuild.com

Biggest challenge of the project: Moving forward with construction while reconciling plans with changing FEMA and building code requirements.

The Financials

When QMA Design+Build develops a preliminary design, the company also does a complete cost feasibility analysis that specifies all materials, establishes product allowances and presents a fixed-price construction contract. "There's a 2.5 percent fee for the design development," says Todd Miller. "It doesn't usually cover our design costs, but I'm looking for a commitment," and it accomplishes that.

To prepare the estimate, says Miller, the company uses an Excel spreadsheet checklist of 200–300 typical purchases for a project that follows a general construction sequence and includes general items such as insurance, management costs and portable toilets. "The list includes about 95 percent of everything that goes into a typical home," he says. The rest are items specific to a project. Every item has an account code that ties into QMA's accounting software.

"We use the software to write purchase orders and track expenses against estimates," says Miller. Nothing is contracted without a purchase order, including changes to trade contractor assignments.

Clients receive a schedule of construction phases and approximate costs so they can anticipate billings. But bills are not tied to production milestones. Instead, once work is under way, QMA submits monthly invoices that reflect what's been done.

Budget History

Phase 1  
Contract price $243,000
Change orders (replace rotted sill plate, allowance overage on bathroom cabinets, tile, plumbing fittings) $23,104
Final price of job $266,104
Phase 2
Contract price $95,000
Final price of job $95,000
Total project cost $361,104

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