Moisture Damage Prompts Remodel

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.

July 31, 2007
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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.

Moisture Repair Expertise

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.

Hassle-Reduction Quotient

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

 

Products List

Appliances: GE Appliances, Jenn-Air, Wolf Faucets: Delta Fireplace: Heat-N-Glo Housewrap: DuPont Tyvek Insulation: Owens Corning, Foam Enterprises Light fixtures: Hinkley Locksets: Schlage Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore, Hirshfield's Porcelain tile: Ariana Roofing: CertainTeed Security: Prowire Siding: Owens Corning, James Hardie Sinks: Elkay Windows: Marvin


The Financials

The four-season porch becomes an extension of the kitchen and provides an open-entertainment area with spectacular views to the river valley.

College City Remodeling normally uses a six-draw schedule, but General Manager Bjorn Freudenthal broke with the standard for the Remme project, allowing the homeowners to combine several draws in one large payment at final walkthrough. "We were playing with the way their funding was coming through" from the insurance company, he says. Having worked closely with the Remmes during project planning, he explains, "we had a level of relationship that made us feel comfortable doing this."

Gross profit on the job slipped 1.9 points, to 20.1 percent. Though relatively small, such slippage "usually does not happen for us," says Freudenthal. "We recognize a margin gain on a yearly basis on all our projects. Our planning process up front is extremely elaborate," he explains. "Product selections and plans are signed off on before construction starts, so we don't have to put the fluff factor into our pricing. That helps us stay competitive, but sometimes it bites us." A few factors, including slightly underestimating the moisture damage under the deck, having to reinstall the porch windows at a lower height, and repairing the great room carpet, nibbled at gross profits on the Remme project.

Budget History

For complete budget information, see the August issue.

Company Snapshot

College City Remodeling (a division of College City Homes)
Owners: Daren, David, and Dale Pavek
Location: Lakeville, Minn.
2006 volume: $2,684,353
Projected 2007 volume: $3,882,704
Biggest challenge: Providing a hassle-free remodeling experience for clients when almost every room would be affected
Web site: www.collegecityremodeling.com

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