Archive for June, 2008

The first step in any major remodel is to evaluate your needs.  Ask yourself what I call the “Big Three” questions:

Q1) Why are you remodeling? Is it for resale purposes or longer-term lifestyle needs. This will help determine the scope of the project and the budget.

Q2) If the answer to #1 is for longer-term lifestyle needs, how do you use the current space and what would improve it based on how you use it?  Determine the must haves vs. wishes.  This applies to any remodel, whether it be a kitchen, bathroom, yard, closets, laundry room, floors, general living space…you get the idea.

Q3) What is a reasonable amount to spend on the project based on the answers to questions 1 & 2?  It’s easy to add extras as you go which can equal way over budget.  As you obtain estimates you’ll be given lots of additional ideas from each vendor.  Here’s where you have to go back to #2 and review your must have vs. wish list.  You have the best chance of staying within budget if you have your plan down in writing so you can review and remind yourself of the initial scope. 

If you don’t have an idea of what a ballpark number might be for the project, begin the bid process by sticking to only those needs you’ve identified in question 2.  Get at least three estimates and when additional ideas or suggestions come up along the way, have those ‘extras’ priced as separate line items.  You want to keep your bids as close to apples to apples as possible.  You should always ask for an itemized estimate anyway, that way you can see where your largest expenses reside. 

For example, the estimate for our recent landscape remodel was broken down into these categories and under each category was more detail (noted in parens below) with the actual amount and cost of each:

  • Inert material (landscape rock)
  • Demo and Removal (Breaking out concrete walkways/pad, removal of some lg cacti, grade for grass, remove portion of block wall)
  • Plants (new and transplanting of some existing)
  • Pavers (patio, walkway to side gate, steps to front walkway)
  • Hardscape (curbing, boulders, pillars & caps added to block wall)
  • Sod (St. Augustine grass, loam & sand prep material)
  • Irrigation (sprinkler system, valves, drip lines, emitters)
  • Misc (patch block wall, material deliveries, hauling & dumping)

With each estimate be sure to get a list of references.  Ask for 5 or more but request a mix of references who have used their services recently (in the past 3-6 months) and further back (9-12 months).  It’s good to talk to the longer term references to see how the workmanship is holding up and how well the vendor did on follow-up regarding any issues that arose after the work was completed.  The shorter term will tell you how timely they were in finishing the project and provide a more recent analysis of how the crews did in areas like cleanliness, timeliness & professionalism.

As you gather bids also find out:

  • who, specifically, will be doing the work.  Will the sales person be on site or will there be various crews and foremen?  If it’s the latter, who is the contact person and will s/he speak a language that enables you to communicate effectively. 
  • what is the timetable, start to finish, & what time will work start/end each day. 
  • how is the final punch list handled and with whom.
  • what is the warranty on the various work.
  • what is their clean-up policy & how do crews leave the job at the end of each day.
  • will they provide drawings of the project so you have a visual plan to follow. (this is provided after you choose your vendor, not during the bid stage)
  • will you be shown samples of materials or how will they be selected.
  • what happens if the vendor comes across unforseen issues in the project that were not bid appropriately ~ is the cost passed on to you or do they absorb it?  This is assuming you did not make a change to create the issue but instead one the vendor did not appropriately bid in the first place.

I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list but it’s a very good start.  We’re fresh off a remodel so I included questions we did and didn’t ask.  A few more words of advice before you actually begin your project: 

  • After you pick the vendor, make sure s/he is taking notes on your requests as you get in to the final design phase and make sure those notes show up in your drawings/contract.
  • Allow time for HOA approval if you live in a neighborhood with CC&Rs.  You’ll need approval for anything that changes the front landscape or elevation of your home.
  • Inform your neighbors of your remodel.  There may be cars and trucks parked in front of and around their home so it’s nice to let them know.
  • If at all possible, be home while the remodeling is taking place or, at the very least, at the start of each day so you get a run down of what’s to take place that day. We watched our remodel each day to make sure it was evolving as planned. There were many points along the way we had to do a time out to make sure we were all following the same plan and/or that issues were resolved before that part of the project was completely done.  It saved us and the vendor time and money. 
  • Collect pictures of what you want and share those at the bidding stage.  The idea I had in my mind of the landscape curbing and what they put in were completely different.  I freaked out as I watched the crew rapidly lay down concrete in a shape I had not envisioned.

In the next Blog I’ll break down the answers to our Big Three questions for the landscape remodel then break out our project start to finish.  Of course there will be before and after pictures and what we learned along the way! 


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We’ve been searching on and off for a nice patio set that will fit a round space in the backyard.  I wanted wood but he (as in my husband) wanted metal or resin.  The set will be out in the sun 24/7 and metal just gets too hot and holds the heat, often after the sun goes down.  His argument was that wood can’t take the heat. So, because we couldn’t agree we did nothing for what seemed like a very long time…..

Then we came across a used set of teak furniture on Craig’s List that was bleached out and faded but in great shape.  I did a little online research on the brand (Nauteak) and because of its history and durability was able to convince him that it would be a good choice, so we grabbed it.  A quick price comparison revealed that a similar set (one large round table complete with lazy susan and six chairs) would sell for about $3,000.  We snatched it all up for a mere $400.  You gotta love Craig’s List.  Apparently Nauteak is recognized world-wide as an innovative manufacturer of high quality teak furniture and it has these solid marine brass fittings that add such a finishing touch.  This stuff is nice.  But I digress…

The set was so faded and smooth from years of being exposed to the elements that it didn’t even require sanding, thank goodness.  I hate to sand and this stuff has so many slats and little spaces it would have been nearly impossible.  Instead I gave it a good hosing down on the jet setting using a hose attachment and let it dry for 24 hours. 

Next I used a dry nylon brush and sloughed off any remaining debris then picked up some teak oil at Lowe’s, settling on a brand called WATCO, which contains a UV and moisture resistant finish; that UV protection will come in handy since it will sit out in the sun all summer.  The oil was $8.20 for one pint.  You can get similar oil from Bali online but it’s about $21 for the same amount and reads the same so I chose the cheap stuff.  Be prepared for a strong odor, it’s pretty offensive and best to use in an open space.  Also, you can’t apply above 95 degrees (or below 50) so in Arizona that limits us to only certain months of the year to use this stuff.

Using a sponge brush I applied the oil liberally and allowed it to sit for 15 minutes then rubbed it in with a soft cloth.  The furniture was so thirsty it took three separate applications this way.  While the entire process took several hours and four pints of teak oil, it was well worth it.  It came out beautifully and will need a touch up every three months or so, depending on how it weathers.

We spent a total of $438 on the table, oil and brushes. Check out the before and after photos to see the transformation in the coloring.  It’s fun to see what a little patience and elbow grease can do! 



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