Five-Year Plan: Garage Addition to a Whole-House Remodel

Sometimes remodeling projects come about because a family needs more room. Other times because a homeowner wants a new look. But in the case of remodeler Michael Pollard's home, it all started because of a driveway dispute with his neighbor. While Pollard and his wife were away from home, his new neighbor tore up timbers that ran along the driveway, stacking them on the edge and blocking entran...

December 31, 2006

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The Financials

Architect Gary Steiner designed the dining room addition to take advantage of natural light and the garden view.  Photography courtesy of Mike Pollard

Sometimes remodeling projects come about because a family needs more room. Other times because a homeowner wants a new look. But in the case of remodeler Michael Pollard's home, it all started because of a driveway dispute with his neighbor.

While Pollard and his wife were away from home, his new neighbor tore up timbers that ran along the driveway, stacking them on the edge and blocking entrance to the garage. Then he built a new cedar fence (with the ugly side facing Pollard's home) along the edge of the driveway and property.

Pollard decided he had to sleep on it before doing anything drastic. Early the next morning, as he looked over the property survey, he found his solution.

"I realized we could just move the driveway to the other side of the house and build a new three-car detached garage," he said.

Once he made that decision, the rest became a whole-house remodel. He converted the existing attached garage into a family room; added a new dining area; remodeled the old, cramped kitchen; updated the wiring and plumbing; built a new gazebo in the backyard; and redesigned the landscaping in the front yard. The project ended up taking almost five years before finally being completed in 2006.

When his neighbor built a cedar fence that restricted access to his garage, Pollard decided to move his driveway to the other side of the house and build a new, detached three-car garage.

The first step was pouring the new driveway and building the new garage so the old driveway could be demolished as soon as possible. The driveway was 6-inch thick concrete with 6 by 6 wire mesh and rebar to provide reinforcement for Chicago's harsh cold conditions and increase its lifespan.

Although he planned for a detached garage, Pollard, owner of Pollard Construction Co. in River Forest, Ill., still wanted it to match the appearance of his brick, colonial-style home. He couldn't find a brick similar enough to the 68-year-old exterior, so he used brick salvaged from the remodeling project. As part of the conversion of the existing garage to a family room he had planned to add more windows. So he made sure the brick was carefully removed from the walls where the windows were being added, then cut each brick to make tiles that he mounted to the exterior of the garage.

"The split-faced brick made the garage look like it belonged," Pollard says. "We didn't want it to stand out."

The last step before the old driveway could be removed was pouring the footings for the addition.

"We had to squeeze the concrete truck into the narrow space between the house and the neighbors' new fence," Pollard says. "It was tight, but we made it work."

Throughout this entire process, the neighbors filed complaints to the city and so the building inspector became a regular visitor to the job site. Pollard was never found to be in violation and there were no serious delays caused by the reports, but it did become a nuisance and further deteriorated the relationship with the neighbor, he says.

Luckily, while the remodel was underway, the neighbor moved. Pollard's new neighbors turned out to be a former classmate and his wife. He worked with them on designing and building a new fence that they both liked.

Bringing the Outside In

Pollard transformed the cramped kitchen and breadfast nook into a modern kitchen with new high-end appliances, granite countertops and hardwood floors.

Although it was the driveway and garage that prompted the project, the kitchen and dining room became the centerpiece of the remodel. Pollard and his wife had been unhappy with their small kitchen and attached breakfast nook for years. The area was cramped, the passageways were narrow, and there simply wasn't enough room for them to use it in the way they wanted.

"We couldn't be working in here at the same time," Pollard says. "We were constantly tripping over each other trying to maneuver between these two little rooms."

Pollard created the new kitchen from the two existing rooms and a small portion of the addition. Pollard removed the wall and pass-through dividing the rooms, essentially rebuilding the kitchen from the ground up. He added an island, replaced the floors with hardwood, installed Marvin windows, used granite countertops and select high-end Viking and Sub-Zero appliances.

The new dining room is Pollard's favorite part of the remodel. With its vaulted ceilings and walls of windows, it's a place where he can sit and relax while looking at his wife's gardens in the backyard.

"Despite any problems we had along the way, this made it worth it," he says. "This room is, to me, the best part of the project."

Pollard credits architect Gary Steiner, his longtime design partner, for his ability to make a room that is so different from the rest of the house look like it belongs.

"Even on the outside, it matches," he says. "Even though it's not brick, it still looks like it's part of this colonial house and could easily have been there for years."

The Client At Home

Pollard built a gazebo next to the garage to house the relocated hot tub and planters for his wife's flowers.

Keeping a client happy during any remodeling project can be a challenge. When that client is sitting across the breakfast table every morning it adds a whole new dimension to the problem.

"My wife knew what we were getting into going in," Pollard says. "We didn't disagree too much, but it was a little frustrating at times that it wasn't getting done sooner."

With the housing market booming, Pollard had plenty of opportunities to work for other people during the five years he remodeled his home. Pollard's 30 years in the business allow him to pick and choose his clients. He only tackles a handful of jobs each year, but those jobs can take a year or more to complete.

"We decided we had to make some money while the market was doing so well, so we'd look at other jobs as they came along," Pollard says. "If I found something I liked, we'd drop this and go focus on that job for a while, then we'd come back to ours."

Communication is the key to making any remodeling project go smoothly, but it's doubly important when doing work on your own home, Pollard says. Even with good communication, Pollard's wife became frustrated by the lack of progress a few years into the project.

"I remember it was a Sunday afternoon, I was just sitting down to watch the Cubs game when my wife came in and saw me sitting there," Pollard says. "She just looked at me and said, 'It's time to finish our house now.'"

That led to a flurry of activity that got the house completed after five long years. If he could have done anything differently, Pollard says he would have taken on less outside work and gotten his own home done more quickly.

"I really should have told more people 'No,' but when you hit it off with a client and they have an interesting project, it's tough to do that," he says.


He also says he should have treated it more like a project for an outside client, with a budget, plans and schedule in place before he started.

"Even if things come along and you can't stay to a schedule, at least you have a reference point that you can share with your spouse," he says.

Despite the headaches along the way, Pollard says he'd definitely do it again and, his wife agrees. With plans to eventually sell their home now that their children are away, they've discussed what they'll be looking for in their next house.

"I wasn't sure she'd ever want to go through it again, but she recently said to me 'Maybe we should buy another place and remodel it,' so I guess it couldn't have been that bad."


Products List
Appliances: Sub-Zero, Viking  Doors: Marvin  Faucets: Kohler, Moen  Lighting fixtures: Halo  Sinks: Elkay, Kohler  Windows: Marvin

The Financials

Although Pollard didn't have a concrete budget in place when the project started, he still ended up spending more than he had initially planned on the house. Originally budgeted at $300,000, it ended up costing $365,000, due mostly to upgrading the windows and having to use a different roof than he planned.

During the project, he switched to Marvin Infinity windows, because of their appearance, energy efficiency and ease of use. The change cost $18,000 but was well worth it, Pollard says.

"The windows are probably the best feature in the whole house," he says. "The windows are so important to the design that making the right choice was crucial."

Pollard didn't change the roof shingles just because he changed his mind (or on a whim). Originally, he had intended to use a manufactured shingle that replicated a natural slate look. However, the manufacturer discontinued the product after quality problems arose, so Pollard had to switch to natural slate, adding about $25,000 to the job. While he was glad to not have to deal with the quality issues, it did mean higher installation and product costs.

There were other minor changes and costs for both his materials and subcontractor labor also increased over the five years Pollard remodeled his home.

On this project, Pollard estimated he would have had only a 23 percent gross profit margin, which is well below what he normally would make. His usual margin ranges from 32 percent for large jobs up to 50 percent for smaller projects.

"I take on only a handful of projects a year, so they have to be profitable and they have to be enjoyable," he says.

Budget History can be found on page 30 in the January issue.



Michael Pollard
Pollard Construction Co.
Location: River Forest, Ill.
Type of company: Design-build
Years in business: 28
2006 sales volume: $1 million
Projected 2007 sales volume: $1 million
Annual jobs: 2 to 5
The project: A remodel of Pollard's own home, prompted by a dispute with the next-door neighbor
Biggest challenge: Integrating the remodel into the schedule of the company's projects while dealing with continuing problems with the neighbor.

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