Fit and Finish

Being in the design to build business, I have a keen eye for when construction or design is not done “right.” This means that I catch a lot of details that most homeowners don’t. For example, I can see when a run of cabinets is out of level or square by even a small fraction of an inch. It’s also very clear to me when sections of wall are not square.

To illustrate, I’ll share an example here of what I call “Fit and Finish.”

Today, I visited a home that is less than 10 years old and located in a fairly pricey neighborhood. The people who live in this home have great style and taste, and they keep their home spotlessly clean. I love that. But I get so mad when I see how this newer home, like many others in its age range, are detailed. Disclaimer: I have every sympathy with an older home that shows bumps and rolls because of its age, but I have none for a new home that shows poor workmanship. There’s just no excuse for it. And if the walls aren’t square or the cabinets not straight, what about the other non-glamorous stuff in the building, like the roof or insulation? How good will they be? How long will this home and its components last? How will they perform?

If stock kitchen cabinets will be used in a newer home like this, the walls that contain these cabinet runs must be built plumb, level and square. The cabinet runs and rough ins must also be centered and allow for use of spacers at each end so the result will be “fitted.” In the case of this house, not enough room was provided for the cabinet run during the framing layout and plumbing and electrical rough ins. The result was that cabinet spacers were not used properly, so cabinet doors and drawers were not given adequate space to function properly.

In this kitchen, the very top of the line fridge was also supposed to be “fitted” into a small enclosure. But because the framing here was not properly done, the fridge and complementary cabinetry did not fit properly and were not symetrical when they should have been. So this very expensive fridge was not level and stood out to my eye.

Most people know that when you buy an article of clothing off the rack, you will probably have to take it to the tailor to have it fitted to your shape. A great tailor can make even an inexpensive article of clothing look great.

It’s the same with housing components like cabinets and appliances. It’s the job of the designer and carpenters to make sure these stock items fit a home properly. If they don’t, it’s a lot like bad tailoring.

Examples of Unsafe Renos We See

Many homeowners have no idea that their kitchen or bathroom is a dangerous place — and could even potentially kill them or their loved ones. But we see bad renovations that create serious fire hazards quite often. Typically, what we find is that the finishes look just fine, but behind the scenes, there is danger lurking from lazy building practices.

To understand this point, take a look at this photo of a kitchen we’re currently renovating. This is an example of dangerous and illegal electrical work. This outlet is not a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, even though it is within 3 feet of a sink and dishwasher. We also think the range outlet was jumped to serve a light fixture in the basement, which is an illegal junction. The range should have its own circuit, instead of sharing it with lighting.

You can also see in the photo that the wood flooring does not extend all the way to the wall. This means the range will be hard to pull out for cleaning or service. It will also be hard to level, so it may wobble and cause the cakes baked in it to be lopsided. The range’s feet can also break easily when you try to move it.

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Construction Details that Fail

On my recent warm getaway to Florida’s Amelia Island, I noticed some exterior elements that had not been well detailed on the house where we stayed. As you can see from the images, poorly executed details will fail. They can then become home to other residents you may not want in your home — like termites, carpenter ants, mold, mildew and, of course, little lizards!

This house was well designed and built in the late 1970s. Most of the building technology in the house still worked well for being of that vintage. But this house was a rental, so the maintenance and repairs done on it were of the lowest quality and price.

Note the following “fails”:

– The flashing on the new roof wasn’t installed well, so the painter had to over-caulk it.

– The newer fascia board replacements were too thin and of cheap, knotted materials, so they cupped and twisted, causing gaps that the lizards found.

– The stucco patches and painting were in front of the fascia board in places.

– Tar paper was used as a capping material for a block wall. This is not the proper use of this material.

The result? The repairs didn’t last even a few years, and the property owners wasted their money. Insects and mold had entered the house in places. This house, which is for sale at $300K, will no doubt be harder to sell and pass inspection. Then, the seller will have to pay again to have these elements repaired. Yet another fail.

Avoiding “Remuddles” Will Preserve Your Home’s Value

I recently surveyed this home in a nice leafy area of the city, very close to Jenkintown.

Like many homes in Philadelphia, you can see this house has great bones. This center-hall Colonial was built in the 1910s of great materials and craftsmanship. This is one of the most efficient floor plans of homes you can find.

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Anti-Vinyl, And Proud of It

One of the things that distinguishes a higher-end remodeling project from a lower-end one is the products that are used.

Typically, a less-expensive project will use cheaper products. Many times, these cheaper products will not last as a long as higher-priced ones. If you think about it, you can purchase cheaper products two or three times over within the same time frame that a more expensive product would last.

Another thing to remember is that cheaper products will typically pollute more than more expensive ones. An example of this is vinyl siding. The case against vinyl siding is illustrated nicely in this video clip from the documentary Blue Vinyl.

Vinyl siding is not recyclable. It pollutes when it’s made — and later when it’s removed and goes to the dump. No one else will tell you this. The guy selling vinyl siding door-to-door in your neighborhood is certainly not going to tell you this. He will tell you it’s a green product that insulates your home. He wants to sell vinyl siding, a lot of it.

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Alarming Electrical Hazards Hidden in DIY Home Renos

We are working on a “new” home built in the 1960’s. Its a 2 story ranch in decent shape for its age.

The homeowners who just bought the house, asked us to come in for a lot of projects all over. In particular, we are focusing on a great paint job, refreshing hardwood floors, tweak an existing kitchen, rework a laundry powder room, and a gut remodel of the master bedroom suite.

While working in the kitchen it was discovered that the electrical wiring in the kitchen was really dangerous. It was a surprise that no fires had been started. Many hidden splices were found and illegal junction boxes. You should know that junction boxes must be accessable, and covered to be legal. There were not enough lines to the various outlets either. Our electricians corrected all these problems. But encountering them set a tone for us. We were going to remain on the look out for further dangerous conditions!

Sure enough when we opened up the existing master bathroom, last renovated at about the same time as the kitchen, the same types of electrical issues were found! Our electricians had some new splice connectors worth showing you. These allow us to make legal splices without junction boxes.

If you look at the last photo you can see the HUGE hornet’s nest that was found in the corner of a small office closet floor space. What a noise that next must have made in summer!

Unsafe Decks: Things to Look For

I looked at a home for sale yesterday. The door to the deck off the kitchen was marked with a “Do Not Enter” sign, and “DANGER” was written large on that sign.

The deck and under it looked like this. Can you see why this deck is unsafe?

Keep in mind dozens of people are killed in the US each and hundreds injured year by unsafe decks!

In general because it is a structural renovation, decks are not a homeowner DIY project and they do require permits and inspections.

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Bad Renovations – A House Tour

Many folks have caught the “house as investment” bug. They might be homeowners, flippers, or investors. Some folks make money at it; many do not.

Many readers may not know that I do property investment and property-investment consulting, and I’m one of the ones who actually makes money doing it. Never trust an investment consultant who doesn’t profit from practicing what they preach.

Today, I did a walk-through on an interesting house. It was a large, impressive home on a nice lot overlooking a golf course in an affluent neighborhood. It’s been in real estate owned (REO) status for about 300 days, and is currently listed at $499K. That’s a great price, given the neighborhood, and it should have sold. But it didn’t. Why not?

Let’s take a look at the photo gallery of this house to find the answer. These pictures provide a good illustration of something I consistently tell homeowners: renovating without a good plan or a reasonable budget is a waste of money.

You can see from the images that this is a challenging house. It’s got a “Miami Vice” architect/designer thumbprint based primarily on what seems to be The Triangle. But don’t let an interesting design stump you. This house would have had an eager buyer/owner if the renovations made to it over the years were done properly.

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