Another recently completed project, this one in West Seattle. The main goals in this project were to open up the main floor spaces (Kitchen/Dining/Living/Entry) to each other and to the outdoors, to renovate the Kitchen and main floor bathrooms, and to make the basement more functional. The existing fireplace was opened up on all sides, and re-clad, and has become the real highlight of the remodel.
I’m posting here some before and after photos of our Queen Anne House remodel. The house is a turn of the century (last century!) Tudor that a previous owner had sullied by adding a large bathroom between the living and dining rooms. This project’s main goal was to remove this bathroom, open the main rooms back up to one another, and insert a new smaller and less conspicuous powder room on the other side of the house, between the kitchen and stairs to the basement. This is the first project I’ve done that actually made the kitchen smaller! – the powder room had to be placed in part of the existing kitchen footprint. The kitchen had to be completely remodeled, but in the end, due to a more efficient design, they didn’t lose any workspace, and actually gained usable storage space. A new lift & slide door to the backyard adds a lot of natural light, and will access the new back yard patio, with an outdoor kitchen and fireplace, that’s just starting construction.
The Dining Room was opened up to both the Living Room and Kitchen, and the existing bookcases were rebuilt and expanded, in a more elegant design that respects the style of the house.
The new powder room is very compact, but efficient, and a beautiful combination of modern fixtures and traditional decorative elements.
This is the project where we added a roof terrace, and did quite a bit of interior remodeling, including opening up the south west Living Room windows to the view of Elliott Bay. I just got additional photos, from the owner, of the corner windows from the inside (she was waiting for a nice sunny day!). The before photo shows how the optimal view was completely blocked by the solid corner, unless you got out of your chair and leaned against the window to get a peek-a-boo view. With this fairly easy gesture we greatly improved the view, the feel, and the natural light in the space.
The Ballard Addition project is closed in, and the owners spent the weekend helping with some of the interior work. Highlights of this project, adding a 285 s.f. family room out the back, are the Panoramic folding-glass door wall, giving easy access to the new back yard patio; the steel stairs (fabricated by the owner’s father) with thick Fir treads; the vertical grain oak kitchen cabinets, with an island on casters, and an eating bar overlooking the new room below; the new roof deck; and the standing-seam metal siding. Note the flashed blocking on the exterior, for the roof deck railing posts, and the exterior lights. Incidentally the Panoramic doors are similar to Nanawall, except the individual door leaves are not connected to one another.
After a slow start, the Backyard Cottage project at Northgate is proceeding apace. This 499 s.f. structure is intended for an au pair for the homeowners’ new baby. It includes a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath. Its shed roof slopes up to the south, to draw more natural light into the spaces, and has an upturned butterfly roof over the living room, with a deeper overhang there to allow use of the patio on drizzly days.
I often work with potential homebuyers, and their realtors, to do an analysis of homes they’re considering, exploring the feasibilty of additions or other improvements. For several clients I’ve looked at the possibility of adding a DADU (Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit, or Mother-in-Law apartment) to an existing lot.
For a small amount of work – often only 2 1/2 to 3 hours – I can visit the site, measure the lot and the exterior of the house, do a bit of online research, sketch up a quick site plan, and show the potential homebuyers options for the property. Specifically I’ll look at things such as Code-required setbacks, limits on lot coverage, etc., and indicate on a site plan the amount of “buildable area” they could locate a DADU, or addition within. Based on this analysis they have a much better understanding of the potential value of the property for their needs.
In some instances, for example if the site has a lot of outbuildings, or a strange lot configuration, or elements that may or may not contribute to “lot coverage”, I may need to visit the City to review the property with a land use planner. If clients want to look at the feasibility of a major remodel to the existing house, I can do a more involved analysis, creating as-built drawings (or using realtor-supplied floor plans, which often are available), and doing some quick design studies.
In probably 25% of cases clients learn, in a cost-effective way, that they can’t do what they want with a property, and they continue their home search. But in the other 75% of cases, it’s determined that what they want to do is feasible, and they can comfortably proceed to make an offer on the house if they choose to do so. Often they then become clients I work with to bring their plans to fruition.
Here are progress photos of a new DADU (Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit) under construction in North Seattle. This is a 499 s.f. cottage, intended for a live-in Au Pair in the short term, and possibly for in-laws in the future. It’s a very efficient one-bedroom unit, with a light-filled main room, galley kitchen, and a surprisingly gracious bathroom. It has a shed roof sloping up to the south, to capture some extra sunlight through transom windows on that side, and a butterfly roof over the living room. The DADU replaces a run-down garage / shed structure that sat in roughly the same location, so the new cottage fits very comfortably into the backyard
This project added a full second story to an existing one-story house with basement, in the Ravenna neighborhood in Seattle. Some features: a new covered entry, updated kitchen, 3 new bedrooms and 2 baths upstairs, a roof deck over the garage, a large lift-and-slide door to the backyard, and a modernized exterior with rain-screen siding. All of the west-facing windows have automated exterior shades, to reduce unwanted heat gain in the late afternoon. A big feature inside is the white-oak vertical screen at the stairwell.
It’s a very difficult house to get exterior photos of, given its shallow front yard. I’m in the process of getting it professionally photographed, but in the meantime I’ll include a few more shots.
The City of Seattle has issued a final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) on its proposed revisions to the Land Use Code, making it even easier to create additional living units (Attached or Detached Accessory Dwelling Units – also known as Backyard Cottages, or Mother-in-Law Apartments) in Single-Family neighborhoods. The changes include:
- Now allowing up to two ADUs on one lot (these can be 2 AADUs, or 1 AADU & 1 DADU);
- Removing the off-street parking requirement for ADUs;
- Removing the owner-occupancy requirement (while still requiring one year of ownership when creating a second ADU);
- Reducing the minimum lot size for adding an ADU;
- Upping the allowable area of a DADU to 1000 s.f.;
- Revisions to other regulations on size, height, and location of DADUs.
In addition, the proposed revisions set new limits on the maximum size of new single-family dwellings, one based on an F.A.R. (Floor Area Ratio) of .5. For example, on a typical 5000 s.f. lot, the maximum single-family home allowed would be 2500 s.f.
The Seattle City Council will now decide whether to implement the proposed changes. We support these changes, as a way to make housing more affordable and equitable, and increase livability in Seattle.
Here are progress photos of a new project in Ballard, adding a 285 s.f. family room out the back. The addition is halfway between the main floor and the basement, to set it at grade with the backyard. It will include a large folding-glass wall, new access to the basement (allowing us the remove the existing basement stairs, and add that space back into the remodeled kitchen), and a roof deck accessed from the second floor.
A major element in any building project is the Permit. The permitting process ensures that a project is conforming to local, state and other codes, such as the Seattle Land-Use Code, the State Energy Code, and the IBC (International Building Code).
A standard permit set provides a site plan showing the scope of new work, building plans, exterior elevations, a building section and wall section, window/door schedules, architectural details, and structural plans and details. For a full review project (see below) there’s an initial cycle of reviews, typically by an Ordinance/Structural reviewer, a Land-Use reviewer, an Energy Code reviewer, perhaps a Geo/Soils reviewer if there’s significant proposed groundwork, and others depending on the project. After the initial cycle the various reviewers return “corrections” to the architect. “Corrections” is an unfortunate term, really a misnomer – in general these comments are not pointing out mistakes but asking for clarifications, requesting that references be updated to reflect the current addition of the various codes, etc. When these “corrections” are addressed, returned to the assorted reviewers, and then approved, the permit is issued.
It’s very important to take permit lead-times into account in planning a project. In Seattle, especially, the process can be very lengthy. There are several steps in the process:
- Determine if your project qualifies for an over-the-counter STFI (Subject To Field Inspection) permit. For small projects this is a good option, with reduced review time and cost;
- For all other projects the first step is to submit a Preliminary Application Form, with a site plan. Once the City reviews this and approves it, you’re issued a project number.
- With that project number, you can now schedule a permit intake appointment.
- On or before 7:00 am on the day of your intake appointment, you need to submit online your plan set, required forms, structural calculations, etc.
If you’re going the full-review route, get ready for long delays. Obtaining a project number used to be a one or two-day process once the Preliminary Application Form was submitted. But since the City rolled out their new website this Spring it’s become another weeks-long process. When you do finally receive your project number and attempt to schedule a permit submittal, you’ll find that available dates are three months or more out. Then, once you’ve (hopefully) successfully submitted your permit documents on your appointed date, the review period will average 8-10 weeks.
In other words, once you begin a project, it may be 6 months or more before you have a permit in hand.
Often, with a few simple gestures, a drab old house can become beautiful, and get a new lease on life. These improvements can range from a second-story addition, which completely changes the look of the house both inside and out, to a very simple and cost-effective “facelift”. Following are some examples, which show before and after photos, and describe the scope.
This project in Magnolia rebuilt a wing of an existing one-story house, creating a two-story addition with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a new laundry room up, and a remodeled kitchen, family room, bathroom and mechanical room down:
This project in the Ravenna neighborhood maintained the traditional appearance of the house from the street, but added a very modern box in the rear:
This project, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, took a boring flat roof box and dramatically updated it. The only addition was the 70 s.f. penthouse, to access the new full roof deck. The interior was completely reconfigured, and the exterior was re-designed to draw attention to the new solar array on top:
This project in Ballard was a full second-story addition, adding 3 bedrooms and 2 baths up, opening up the main floor to create a spacious, light-filled open plan, and raising the house 18″ to create a usable lower floor:
Another second story addition, in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood, this project minimized the work to the existing portions of the house, to stay within a limited budget:
This is a second story addition in Queen Anne that maintained the footprint of the existing house – while taking some cues from the original house (e.g. the stone facing), it’s a strong modern departure from the original traditional structure:
This is an update of a post I did some years ago, mostly to update numbers – due to inflation, and because of how hot the remodeling and construction market has become, costs have risen significantly since my initial post.
Budgeting is an important concern on any project. By starting out with reasonable goals, understanding what you want from the project, keeping some important ideas in mind, and developing realistic cost estimates from the start (and revisiting these as the design progresses), you should be OK.
First of all, think through your reasons for taking on the project. Are you adding needed square footage? Increasing functionality? Making aesthetic improvements? Wanting to add value to home? Understanding your own goals can help make decisions about budgeting easier.
What is the smallest or less involved project that will achieve your goals? Ask yourself what project will have the most value to you – i.e. give you what you want in the most cost-effective manner. Is it a minor remodel (mostly cosmetic improvements)? Is it a major remodel (involving opening up floor plan, new kitchen, etc.)? Is it an addition, perhaps as part of a remodel? Or is it a total tear-down (or I should say, deconstruction) and new building?
Think through what your budget is, and remember to consider not just Construction Cost but Project Cost. The Project Cost includes professional fees (architect, consultants etc.), permit fees, bank fees, insurance, in addition to the cost of construction.
Be realistic – account for reasonable costs to estimate your budget. I once had a potential client who came to me wanting to do a full second story addition for $40K – and wanted to have it completed (designed, permitted & built) in 4 months!
Some homeowners try to hide (low-ball) their true budget from a contractor, thinking this strategy will lead to a lower cost estimate. I believe it’s better to be up front from the start about what the actual budget is, and then develop a team that works together to respect (and meet) that budget.
It’s always wise to include a contingency in your budget (5-10%). This is especially true in a remodel, where you often don’t discover issues until the existing walls are opened up. A contingency has the benefit of making you feel more at ease entering into a project, and can allow you to splurge on some things further into the project.
Rarely does a client’s initial budget equal the initial construction cost estimate. And guess what? – usually the former is lower than the latter. On most projects there is some juggling of the elements of the project – the budget, scope, or schedule. For example, often the clients have to raise their budget to achieve their goals and program, or if their budget is set in stone, the scope has to be reduced.
Ballpark S.F. Costs
To estimate construction cost early on in a project, the easiest way is to apply typical square foot costs. Numbers I often use are:
- New construction = $300-350/s.f.;
- Major remodel = $250-300+/s.f;
- Minor remodel = $150-200/s.f.
Remember that the smaller a house is the more these numbers will tend to rise – economy of scale. On an addition project, remember to account not just for the new construction, but also the cost of work to the existing parts of the project. For example, in a full second story addition, don’t assume the construction cost only includes the area of the addition, times the new construction factor. There will be significant costs to the existing portions of the house too, where the structure to support the new second story needs to come through to reach the foundation, to connect new to existing plumbing, electrical, mechanical systems etc, in addition to elements such as stairs to reach the new second floor.
Strategies to Control Costs
- Think small – the best way to control budget is by reducing the size and scope of your project. Often rooms can be combined to serve more than one function – an office can act as a spare bedroom when needed, or the laundry can be located in a mudroom or powder room. Is a separate living room really needed?
- If you’re planning a teardown and new house, consider a remodel of the existing structure. This is not always a cheaper option – it depends on the project.
- Keep the floor plan simple. Keep the design simple. Use straightforward vs. complicated elements and details – there can be beauty in the simple expression of natural materials that don’t need elaborate trimwork to “spruce it up”.
- Prioritize your program and concentrate on highest value goals. Save the splurging for the parts of the project that will have the most impact, or mean the most to you. This might be in the areas guests will see, the areas you’ll spend the most time in, or it may be in the master bath – every project, and every client is different.
- Phase work within a master plan – sometimes it makes sense to break the project up into pieces, and implement them over time as budget allows.
Other Strategies to Control Costs
- An open plan makes a house feel larger.
- Limit moving of structural components.
- Limit mechanical/plumbing/electrical work.
- Limit extent of house affected.
- Be creative with materials and finishes – sometimes the imaginative use of off-the-shelf materials can have more of an impact than expensive “fancy” materials and finishes.
- Let components of the architecture do “double-duty” – for example an exposed (perhaps colored?) concrete slab in the basement acts as both the structure and the finish floor.
- Do some of the work yourself. Some clients act as their own General Contractor (G.C.), which can save contractor overhead and profit costs, and sales tax on the project. There are risks associated with this approach, so be careful.
- Research and source building materials and finishes yourself.
- On some projects the owners can stay in the house during construction, and save rental costs during the course of the project. There may be higher construction costs associated with this approach, however (for example the cost of taking more care every day to protect the inhabited portion from construction dust etc.), that may partially offset the savings.
If you don’t have one already, shop around for contractors – interview 2 or 3 to get a range of cost estimates. And don’t always opt for the lowest bidder!
Select a contractor early in the design process, and get their input about constructability, schedule and construction cost as the design progresses.
Understand the timeline needed to design and permit a project. In Seattle it can take at least 6 months to get a project permitted, so remember to factor this into your plans.
Do multiple cost estimates as the design is refined.
Keep long term costs in mind – for example, upgrading to a more efficient heating system can be a big up-front cost, but will pay for itself over time in reduced energy costs.
Consider adding an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit), or Backyard Cottage. This can be rented out, and provide income to offset its construction cost.
If you have a too-short, substandard basement, consider raising the house a couple of feet to turn it into a fully functional new space.
Consider recycling an old house! A client several years ago bought a house for $1.00 from a builder who was going to have it demolished. We deconstructed the existing dilapidated house on his lot, and had the house he’d bought moved to the site and installed on a new foundation/basement: http://www.seattlepi.com/default/article/Imagine-paying-just-1-for-a-home-plus-moving-1242517.php
And lastly, I recommend not making decisions based on some theoretical future home buyer. Unless you’ll be selling your house within a year or two, it’s better to make decisions based on your own goals and preferences.
Another nearly completed project, in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, was an interesting one in a few ways. The house is a turn of the century (last century!) Tudor that a previous owner had sullied by adding a large bathroom between the living and dining rooms. This project’s main goal was to remove this bathroom, open the main rooms back up to one another, and insert a new smaller and less conspicuous powder room on the other side of the house, between the kitchen and stairs to the basement. This is the first project I’ve done that actually made the kitchen smaller! – the powder room had to be placed in part of the existing kitchen footprint.
Of course the kitchen had to be completely remodeled, but in the end, due to a more efficient design, they didn’t lose any workspace, and actually gained usable storage space. A new lift and slide door to the backyard (soon to be remodeled in phase 2) adds a lot of natural light. The new powder room is very compact, but a beautiful combination of modern fixtures and traditional decorative elements.
In this almost completed project a rear-yard extension adds 450 s.f. to an existing 1550 s.f. house. On the main floor the addition contains a dining room and a deck. On the lower floor a new master suite is added. A large part of the existing house is remodeled as well, including a full kitchen update.
The remodel gives them much more space, a bigger and more efficient kitchen, more open space and natural light throughout, and a spacious new deck to enjoy their territorial view!
Some sketches from a recent trip to New York City
A recently completed project, in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, extensively remodeled the main floor, added a third bedroom, a second bathroom, and remodeled the master bath. An earlier remodel had updated the kitchen. A large goal of this phase of the project was to open up the house, both inside and out, to its amazing views of downtown and Elliott Bay. To this end a wrap-around corner window was added at the Living Room, and a roof terrace was added on top.
This latter part of the project proved quite challenging. A (very vague) covenant dating from 1920 limited the height of any part of the house to 17’ above grade. Given the existing main floor elevation, the existing tall ceiling, the depth of structure needed to support the deck load, and the extra depth needed to properly drain and detail the roof deck assembly, this didn’t leave us room for the code minimum 36” high handrails!
So, we didn’t provide handrails at all! – instead we built a 36” deep, 18” tall barrier around the perimeter of the deck. In the end this gave the homeowners completely unobstructed views.
This is a good example of how what may seem at first to be an impossible obstacle, can lead in the end to an even better solution.
Photos by Kayako Sareen
I wanted to do a quick post to show the value of SketchUp in helping to make design decisions, in this case regarding siding options. This is a recently completed project in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle, and at this late stage we were making a decision on the exterior materials and colors.
In the end the darker green color was chosen. Incidentally before this we had also reviewed several options on siding material choices, i.e. wood vs. cement-board vs. metal etc. And before that the roof was configured differently, and being able to see their project in 3D led the homeowners to decide to revise it, to become a simple shed.
After this we went through a similar exercise to choose a front door color:
Here the red option was chosen, which complements very well (IMHO) the green cement-board, and cedar wood siding. You’ll notice we decided to extend the use of wood siding onto the garage too. After this we also used SketchUp to tweak the design of a very complex interior oak stair railing/screen.
I’m arranging now to have this project professionally photographed, and will follow up this post with one showing the completed project.