|College City pulled the rotting deck off the back of the house and replaced it with a four-season porch and an adjoining deck. Clipped corners on the porch make room for extra windows.
Photos by Robert Church Photography
Keeping up with the neighbors took on a whole new meaning while Nan and Mark Remme prepared their wooded enclave outside Minneapolis for sale.
The homeowner had the 1993 house inspected, only to discover moisture damage behind the stucco siding. Alarmed, owners of neighboring 1993 stucco houses erected by the same builder hired a testing company to examine their houses. For many, the news was not good. The Remmes found moisture damage behind the stucco plus more under their deck that was so severe the framing would "rot away if not treated," says Mark. They sued the builder. After three years, they reached a legal settlement in 2005 that would cover some of their repair costs.
Not wanting to get burned again, Mark Remme carefully searched out three contractors with regional experience. "I spent a lot of time on the phone" with their past clients, he says. One company, College City Remodeling, "got clean reviews across the board." That, coupled with the company's willingness to work with the Remmes' schedule, sealed the deal to hire College City to fix their troubled house. The sales and design consultant Jeremy Hussey's non-pushy, consultative selling style, was a huge factor, too.
The project was well timed for the design-build firm, which had just established a business niche of repairing the area's all-too-common residential moisture intrusion problems. Codes in the early 1980s and 90s, explains Hussey, "had houses wrapped so tight that water could not get out. Builders were basically building Hefty bags."
|Faulty installation - not the stucco itself - can invite moisture intrusion problems, but the homeowners didn't want to take chances. To eliminate potential concerns about stucco at resale and to freshen the look, they chose fiber cement panels and stone facing for the front of the house.|
"Our job [in moisture intrusion projects] is to be efficient, professional, and to put the house back together with the least amount of hassle," says General Manager Bjorn Freudenthal. To explain the process, manage expectations and assure moisture repair clients that their work is in capable hands, College City gives them a professionally designed 21-step project outline. It identifies every step of the way and approximately how long each step takes — from initial contact by a clients' attorney through legal proceedings to remediation and retesting one year after completion of repairs. Estimated time for the remediation itself: 63 days.
In January 2005, Hussey and Production Manager Steve McDonald, a building science expert, assessed the Remme house, identifying about $100,000 in moisture damage. Some occurred around inadequately flashed windows and roofing joints; other damage hit areas where the stucco came in direct contact with the ground. In one situation, Hussey's team tore stucco off to have the sheathing come with it — the worst rotting occurred under the deck and the wall of the bedroom under it. The deck studs were rotted, and there was no vapor barrier between block and insulation in the bedroom wall.
The Remmes replaced all the siding, windows and roofing. They also upgraded to fiber cement siding and an eye-catching stone veneer front. Mark Remme says they wanted to get away from stucco because it affects resale value. And because the walls were being opened and College City offers design build services, the Remmes seized the opportunity to add a porch and new deck, update the kitchen and create a more open, integrated entertainment space.
|The remodeled kitchen features dark granite counters, an earth-tone tile backsplash, wood cabinets and wood flooring that meld with the home's location and complement the finishes in the porch and great room.|
Because the battle-weary Remmes occupied their house during the repair, the hassle-reduction quotient had to be especially high. To minimize intrusion, College City built the porch addition before breaking through the adjoining kitchen wall. "That was very much appreciated," says Mark Remme. Next they installed new vapor barriers, windows, siding, and flashing. During the kitchen remodel, the crew removed all debris via the addition and left parts of the kitchen functional whenever possible. Work on the lower level came after the main level was finished.
"Keeping the job site clean was our No. 1 concern," says Hussey. Plastic zip walls protected occupied rooms from dust and the elements. The crew put tarps over the furniture and replaced protective floor runners frequently. The site was always clean and free of tools at the end of the day, says Mark Remme. "They always left the job site secured and covered, assuming it might rain" — which it often did.
College City tailored its communication system to reduce client stress. The project superintendent kept the homeowners' informed. "We weren't surprised when the water or electricity was turned off," Mark Remme says. All questions were answered quickly; "We had [the superintendent's] cell phone number and he had our office numbers," and "everybody [who worked on the job] was courteous," says Mark Remme. "I never heard foul language."
As part of College City's standard service, staff designer Jennifer Murnan not only designed the project but also provided interior and site design guidance and problem solving along the way. She went to product showrooms with the Remmes, for example, and designed a lighting plan for the newly landscaped backyard.
It was Murnan who suggested the new three-sided fireplace near the entry be finished with stone to match the exterior. She also calculated the perfect height for the unit, assuring that the fireplace would be sufficiently elevated yet not obstruct views between the family room and kitchen. For code reasons the fireplace could not be vented straight out the back. Instead, College City ran the vent up through the roof inside a slim, stone-faced chase.
Smoothing the Way
Extensive planning up front precluded delays for product selection or subcontractor availability. All told, the job took about a month more than planned, mainly due to change orders. "They kept the project going as fast as they could," Mark Remme says.
Though subcontractors generally handle all College City production except the framing and finish carpentry, they function as members of a tight-knit team. That's because most have long-term relationships with College City and because they are managed as part of the company. "We know each other's operations inside and out," says Freudenthal. "We look at our subs as part of ourselves. All our subs come in for quarterly communications meetings to set our company goals and standards. It's the way we make sure they will meet our expectations."
College City advised the Remmes to choose neutral colors and finishes that wouldn't soon look dated. They preferred earth tones anyway, especially because of their home's wooded setting. Deer, fox, wild turkeys, eagles, coyotes and rabbits often wander into their backyard. Every year female turtles wind their way up from the river to a high point in the Remmes' back lawn to lay their eggs. During the remodel dismayed workers found turtles in their path and asked what they should do. "Work around them," said the Remmes. So they did. Sawhorses straddling their nests, the turtles survived.
|Date||Stage of Project|
|Jan. 7, 2005||Initial meeting|
|March 16, 2005||Budget estimate signed|
|May 16, 2005||Construction contract|
|May 19, 2005||Begin tear-off|
|June 10, 2005||Complete framing|
|July 1, 2005||Begin drywall|
|July 11, 2005||Begin deck|
|July 30, 2005||Complete siding|
|August 18, 2005||Final kitchen plumbing and electrical|
|Sept. 2, 2005||Exterior walk-through|
|Oct. 4, 2005||Interior walk-through|
|Dec. 12, 2005||Final payment|