The Details That Matter

You may recognize this deck image from our Facebook and Instagram accounts last week. It was a popular post that generated a lot of questions and interest, so we thought we’d share the backstory with you.

We came up with this little railing detail maybe 20 years ago, and we now use it on all of our decks because it’s a superior solution. Here’s why.

When you work on older houses, you have to take things apart as a part of renovating. You see what worked and what did not, and how long it lasted. You see how the people who did a section of work maybe 10, 20, or even 100 years ago thought about how to put something together — and they set you up to be able to fix it easily when it finally wore out. We always notice this, and we think about those people, who may no longer be alive, but we hope they hear us thanking them.

You also see what didn’t last or work at all, like renovation “coverups.” Maybe an old plaster wall was peeling a little paint or had a crack in it, and instead of repairing it properly, workers just layered over some paper or paneling. Then that failed a few years later, and they added another layer of something. Finally, we come in and fill a dumpster with all of the layers we need to remove just to get back to the nice plaster so we can finally repair that little crack or missing section. It’s a wasteful use of resources and time.

Inferior materials and quick-fix solutions simply don’t last. We’ve had to pull out almost every 1980s kitchen or bathroom we’ve ever seen because the materials and construction methods were not of good quality during that time. The big box stock cabinets get wet, swell, and deteriorate very quickly — they don’t even get old enough to wear out. Meanwhile we see 100-year-old bathrooms still working. The wall tile might have a thin settling crack, or the lead drain may finally have given up, but for the most part, the fixtures and finishes are still working. That’s pretty remarkable.

In working on decks over the years, we’ve seen that simple 45-degree corners on railings always open up after a certain point. So we came up with our solution that is a combination of a butt joint and a mitered joint that has more attachment surfaces and less area to open up. It’s not much harder to do than a simple 45-degree joint, but it performs substantially better. It has since become a calling card of sorts for us.

Tamara and I want to be like the builders of those 100-year-old bathrooms. We want to build projects right the first time so they last. Sometime in the future, some other carpenter will come along to replace the worn out railing we put in, and they will thank us for making their job easier for them. And in the meantime, our clients will “spend once.” They won’t have to repair that capping anytime soon.

In the Works at Myers Constructs

In South Philadelphia, we’re busy working on a large-scale renovation creating a 3-story house with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms from an existing 2-bedroom, 1-bath, 2-story house. The plans call for adding a 3-story addition in the back as well as a 3rd floor master suite. The house is currently a shell, so it’s going to need everything, including a lot of masonry. Of course, the house is also vacant — which is a must with such a big project.

Northwest of the city, we’re also working on a high-end bedroom project in a lovely Lower Merion house. We’re turning what is now a simple, boxy bedroom into a luxe retreat featuring custom glass pendant fixtures, handmade wallpaper, custom furniture, upcycled large-scale hand-carved Asian doors for the closets, and many other rich textures and colors. All of the decor was selected by one of our interior design partners, Hannah Dee Interiors, with whom we’ve worked happily and successfully for many years.

With home sales in high gear, we’re also fielding calls for home renovations that people want to do before they move into their new-to-them homes. These projects include kitchens, baths, laundries, bedroom additions with storage spaces, decks, basement renovations, and resolution of various issues found by home inspectors.

Each of our projects presents unique challenges in light of COVID restrictions, but the solutions are mainly an extension of the core values we’ve always adhered to:

Prioritizing Safety — Our teams and homeowners all mask up when we are working in their homes or having meetings. We maintain strict compliance with standards for sanitizing work spaces and maintaining safe social distancing.

Encouraging Client Flexibility — Most homeowners understand our need to do more exploration of their project, budget, and time frame before we schedule time to meet in person — which keeps everyone a bit safer. When working in their homes, clients routinely offer us exclusive use of a bathroom and dedicated work site spaces.

Doing Our Homework — Every township has a different permitting process and requirements: some are online, some are in person with restrictions, and some are closed to new projects. We’re well versed in navigating this process, thanks to decades of experience in doing so.

Contingency Planning — Many materials — like plywood, pressure-treated wood, some plumbing items, flooring, and tiles — remain hard or impossible to get. Clients often happily provide us with second and third options so we can pivot and keep projects rolling. We also encourage adjusting contingency budgets up front for materials like lumber, which has seen a 20-40% price increase.

We’re thankful to be staying busy creating beautiful spaces that make people happy. We find that, as in all things in life, understanding and flexibility go a long way at this time.

Home Renovation Problems & Solutions in the Era of COVID-19

After general contractors were given the green light to resume home renovations in early May, the process has looked and felt a lot different, thanks to COVID-19 — not only for us, but for subcontractors, vendors, and homeowners, too. What does this mean for people who want and need work done on their homes right now? Having a well-organized design build general contractor with solid plans in place and great long-term relationships with their vendors and subs is essential to getting any project done right now.

As we navigate a host of challenges together, here is a top-level look at some of the most common issues we are all currently facing, and how our team is making the process as smooth as possible for our clients.

Problem: Supply chains are being disrupted.

Solution: Starting at the end of 2019, when the coronavirus pandemic hit China, we started seeing delays in products that were normally in stock, including everything from carpets to tile to hardware. Because these disruptions are continuing, we are implementing earlier order schedules and, when possible, “second choice” options so we might pivot in the case of longer delays.

Problem: Vendors are limiting service hours.

Solution: In order to protect their workers, many vendors are limiting their hours of service and discontinuing “walk in” service for the time being. We are working closely with our vendors to make the most efficient use of their time to keep projects moving along smoothly while also keeping a top priority on social distancing, safety, and cleaning measures.

Problem: Subcontractors are backlogged.

Solution: Our subs are working 6+ days per week to catch up on project backlogs. We’re communicating openly and proactively with both subs and homeowners so everyone has a clear picture of their project’s major milestones and completion dates.

Problem: Inspectors are backed up.

Solution: The City of Philadelphia is still closed, so new permits are currently stalled, and other township offices are either limiting hours or closed. We are working to have all paperwork as complete as possible on our end, so we are ready to hit the ground running when these offices reopen.

As a company, Myers Constructs has over 25 years in general contracting experience, with over 50 years combined experience between Tamara and Diane as owners who are personally involved in each of our projects every day. Please reach out to us to discuss your upcoming renovation plans. We’ll walk you through our process of keeping projects on an efficient timeline with a commitment to the highest quality outcomes, keeping you updated regularly so you rest easy and leave the worry to us.

Reflections on New Homeowner Realities in the COVID-19 Era

Wow, what a different world we live in now. After our first week of more normal working conditions, we thought we’d take a few minutes to reflect. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all been spending all of our time in our homes — working, cooking, and watching television — but now that the warmer weather is here, homeowners are finding other ways to unwind and enjoy their outdoor spaces. We have definitely noticed an increase in requests for new beautiful and transformational outside spaces.

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar to you?

  • You’re spending more time outdoors, but your porch, deck, or patio are in serious disrepair — or you need better equipped exterior cooking and entertaining spaces.
  • You have a grill outside but wish it was a more complete outdoor kitchen.
  • It’s almost swim season, and you need a cabana room or dedicated powder room and entryway to your pool area.
  • You need more outside storage or dedicated spaces for items related to outdoor hobbies and recreational equipment.

Myers Constructs has been around for a long time. For that reason, you can be assured that we know how to successfully navigate an array of design-to-build projects even during uncertain times, like those we’re currently experiencing. We have a deep bench of highly talented tradespeople that we’ve worked with for decades. So even though the pandemic creates supply chain challenges and complicates scheduling, we know how to manage these problems in order to get your project done efficiently, beautifully — and safely. Tamara and I both have completed our OSHA COVID-19 training as part of our commitment to creating safe environments for our work to continue.

The Wrong Hanger and Why Remodeling Is Very Different Than New Construction

Joist Hangers We are currently working on a split-level rancher in a friendly, quiet neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia near Pennypack Park. This house was inherited by the current owner, who wants to make it more hip and fun. This will involve remodeling the kitchen and three bathrooms, installing new HVAC, and adding lots of pretty mid-century touches.

In this house, the kitchen ceiling does double duty as the floor of the attic space above. The kitchen is about 20 feet long, and the ceiling was framed with 2×6’s that ran the length of the room. Because these joists are very undersized for that span, and they were overloaded with items stored in the attic, the ceiling in the kitchen had drooped quite a lot over time.

To cure this sagging problem, we jacked up the droopy joists, cut them at about midway, and inserted a double-laminated beam across the span. From this, we then hung the now shorter joists.

One of the ends of the new beam stands on a post we created. The other end will hang from another laminated beam we installed to run the span of the divide between the dining room and kitchen — where a wall is being removed to create a more open floor plan.

We ran into a problem when the lumber yard accidentally sent us a hidden fastener hanger for this end of the beam. Whoops!

The backstory on this mistake: Because this is construction in an existing building with walls and a roof already in place, we can’t set this hanger and then drop in the beam. Instead, we have to build the beam up in situ and then install the hanger. Our application calls for an exposed fastener hanger, one with the nailing flanges on the outside where we can get to them.

This is just one small example of how remodeling is very different from new construction. In new construction, things can go much faster because there are no existing conditions to work around — and elements are plumb, level, and square. In an old house, we have droops and sags and things out of level to either correct or work up to. We very often have to work backwards a bit to get things in good shape for the new items we will be installing. We enjoy the challenge that is unique to each remodel, and we find that the effort to find bespoke solutions for each project is always well worth it in the end.

Are You Emotionally Prepared for a Home Renovation?

Being on the brink of a new home improvement project is an exciting time of life. You’ve spent lots of time working with your design team to lay out plans and make product selections. You’re already envisioning what life will be like when the new space is finished. It’s a great feeling. But before you begin, it’s important to pause and do a few things to get emotionally ready for the experience. Even under the best circumstances, your life is about to get a little strained, and it’s best to be prepare up front.

Here are a few suggestions based on our many years of experience helping clients through the process:

Get comfortable with chaos (temporarily)

With any renovation, there is a certain level of stress, mess, and the unsettled feeling that comes with the disruption to your normal routines and rhythms of life. You’ll need to wrap your head around what’s to come. Consider planning extra time outside of the house doing things that you enjoy that help you recharge your batteries. Take a yoga class, reconnect with friends — or even plan a few days away if you can swing it. We have clients who plan long-term trips or temporarily live off-site so they can avoid the construction phase altogether, and it works out great because we’re in close contact throughout the process.

Edit down your belongings

Living in a home over a number of years, you naturally accumulate lots of “stuff.” While you don’t have to go overboard with purging belongings, it will give you a sense of control and will also be very helpful to the construction team if you “Marie Kondo” any extraneous clutter. Believe us, you’ll be happy you did.

Get in sync with your spouse/partner

It’s probably not a surprise that conflict between partners can be the biggest stress riser when it comes to any remodeling job. Discuss everything from budgets to contingency plans for unexpected events early and often to ensure that you’re both on the same page throughout the process.

Make a plan for pets

On any job site, pet safety should be a top priority. With workers coming in and out and lots of potential hazards lying around, you’ll want to alleviate your concerns by ensuring your pet has a safe place to hang out during the day — a crate or dedicated room is best.

Trust the process

A reputable and experienced design-build team will help you understand all of the steps involved in taking your project from demolition to finishing touches. Have faith that their experience and expertise will come together, and that you’ll be enjoying your new space before you know it.

Above all else, take comfort in the fact that the construction phase is a short span of time in the big scheme of things, and once it’s finished, you’ll get a payoff in terms of quality of life improvement and increased resale value at some point in the future.


Image credit: Dennis Jarvis

New Year, New Home Resolutions

While you’re likely busy preparing for holiday celebrations, festive entertaining, and winter travel, this is also the perfect time to take a closer look at your home and plan for the repairs, maintenance, and redesign projects that need to be tackled in the coming year.

We don’t know a better way to celebrate the fresh possibilities of a new year than to breathe new life into a space that you use every day. Instant quality-of-life improvement!

We’re grateful for the trust our clients place in us, and we make it our goal to exceed their expectations for reimagining the spaces they share with family and friends all year through.

Call us today to discuss your needs. We’ll be happy to create a 2019 plan for your home.

Behind the Scenes: What Our Customers Never See

Being a design build general contractor working any given day on a variety of projects throughout the Delaware Valley means that there’s never a dull moment around here. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities to find creative solutions — and that’s one of the things we love about this business!

At Myers Constructs, our clients’ projects receive the attention of both company owners: Tamara and me. At the outset, most of our clients understand that we will design their projects and also manage the construction, as well as the complex processes that are involved. What they don’t know is that when the need arises, Tamara and I go to the job site to personally handle some portion of a project ourselves to ensure great quality control for clients. In fact, there are important things we do on a daily basis that most clients never see. For example, Tamara could recently be found personally installing knobs and pulls in a kitchen and overseeing the project’s demanding tile installation. A month earlier, I was handling the framing and cabinet installation for the same kitchen because it was a tricky execution in a very small space, and our staff was fully scheduled during the peak of our busiest season.

Likewise, it’s not uncommon for either Tamara or I to have to run to a supplier to get a small item that arrives after a backorder and needs to be on site right away just to keep a job on schedule. Case in point: We recently personally rushed to Ambler to pick up a light fixture we needed to install in a Center City project. On yet another project, there was a 600-lb load of tile for two bathrooms in the back of my SUV that I unloaded myself.

We take a lot of personal pride in the results that come from this kind of attention to detail — and the happy reaction from customers when their projects are completed on time, on budget, and exceed their expectations. As the saying goes, “When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.”

In the Works: Glenside Colonial Goes Art Deco

One of our clients recently purchased this lovely large brick Colonial in the quaint and eclectic Philadelphia suburb of Glenside. His goal is to restore the home in a way that showcases his love for Art Deco styling, decor, and an extensive collection of art, ceramics, radios, and other electronics.

The home was built by a local developer in the 1920s, and it represents the best quality workmanship of its era — in fact, even the laundry room floor has the original aqua blue linoleum floor still in very good condition! However, the challenge presented by this home is that some of its previous owners made adjustments over the years that didn’t fit its style. For example, the large pantry and back hall, where you might carry in groceries from the rear parking area, was converted into a wine bar featuring faux stucco and brick accents applied to the plaster walls. The modest-sized kitchen had a dated pickled pink cabinet stain and a sandy-colored commercial tile floor. Throughout much of the house, wall-to-wall carpeting covered beautiful original fir and oak floors, and almost every room had heavy drapes keeping out the beautiful light coming through large multi-paned windows. Finally, updated bathrooms had vanities, tile, and accessories that didn’t mesh well with the home’s look and feel.

Our client, who has a very strong sense of aesthetics, called us in to restore the house to its 1920s style and include some of his preferred Art Deco finishes and selections, as well. In addition to helping him redesign a new kitchen to fit the house, we are helping him tease through what else needs to be changed and make a plan for updating the bathrooms, restoring the hardwood floors, installing new lighting and hardware, selecting new wall finishes, and even choosing window treatments and placing furniture — the “soft stuff,” as we call it in the business. Keeping the focus on his personal style preferences, we’ll also create solutions for displaying his collections.

We love projects like this whole house update that draw not only on our expertise in design build systems, but also on our unique understanding of art and style history.

Holistic Renovation: A Look at the Whole-House Tune Up

When it comes to renovating a home, our solutions are truly always greater when we look at the sum of the individual parts. It allows us and the clients to understand how they will work together over time in the context of an overall home design system. In an ideal scenario, any project we undertake involves looking at big-picture problem solving in a very holistic way. Depending on the project budget and the clients’ vision and needs, we can break projects up into logical sections so we can plan for future needs in the spaces we finish first. We are, in fact, doing this for several customers now. Here are a few examples:

  • A retired client recently purchased a beautiful, large brick Center Hall Colonial in Glenside that needs stylistic upgrades that match his preference for 1930s Art Deco-era styling. The first steps include removing carpets to expose the hardwood floors, updating bathrooms to period-correct fixtures and finishes, replacing some knob and tube wiring, and painting. Plans are in the works for a new kitchen.
  • An engaged couple purchased a newer rowhome in Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood. While the home was built in the 1980s and well maintained, it was never well planned, so lots of potential in terms of space and features were missed. We’re helping them develop the full potential of their house. For example, their basement level was not well laid out and ended up serving as a large mechanical room with no storage at all. With some good planning and problem-solving from Tamara, we were able to convert the space to include a new laundry room, a mechanical room, and two generously sized closets plus a media/TV room.
  • In addition, their existing modest eat-in kitchen needed some rethinking. The layout, function, and finishes were builder grade, and the kitchen soffit areas housed the HVAC ducting, so we could not change those. We redesigned the layout to include an island that will include a microwave drawer and seating for a new eat-in area, as well as better finishes for the counters and backsplashes. The clients chose a “tuxedo” color scheme of white cabinets on the walls and bases, and a pretty dark blue color on the island cabinets. The floor is a beautiful limed oak flooring that looks great with the color scheme selected. Future plans may include developing the interior master areas on the top floors of the home.
  • We just finished a smaller scale tune up in South Philly on a 2-story, 2-bed/1-bath rental house that was inefficiently renovated over many years. We gave the owners a new, level and sturdy bathroom (the old bathroom was 3” out of level!), new master bedroom closet, new drywall walls and ceilings, updated electrical work, and refinished existing flooring. They plan to continue renting the house as a family wealth-building asset, so the improvements we made will allow them to raise the rental fee, which will pay off for decades to come. Future projects in this home include a potential kitchen renovation and combined dining-living room space.
  • A repeat client of two decades called us to redesign her master bathroom. It’s a long, narrow room with an oversized dark wood vanity, dark blue walk-in shower, outdated tile bathroom floor, and a toilet stall. All of this makes for a tight, uncomfortable space that lacks natural light. We finished tuning up many other major spaces and elements of her Chestnut Hill home last year, so we are happy to return to execute new solutions for this troublesome master bath that mesh well with the ongoing renovations in the home.

Stay tuned to our website and social media for updates on all of these projects and more!

The Myers Constructs Team