Time to Renovate your home? Here are some things to consider when doing a renovation and addition

Time to Renovate your home? Here are some things to consider when doing a renovation and addition

I am hearing from a lot of people that are ready to renovate their homes. After being at home for months, many have figured out they want to improve life through some home modifications. It could be a gym addition, modification to allow for an open floor plan, outside gathering space, need for more interior space, upgraded kitchen, or just a place away from those pesky school kids that you are now teaching. Home modifications can be complicated if not planned well. They also disrupt life for 3-6 months, so having a comprehensive plan is key.

Here are 10 tips to make your home renovation and addition projects a success.

Custom Green Home
    1. Call an architect to discuss your plan and review your existing home (structural system, mechanical system, lot set backs….) to see if your goals are possible. This meeting does have some cost, but if you go through this you will reduce challenges in the end. I have seen too many start construction before a complete plan is done only to run into costly construction phase changes.
    2. Make sure your budget matches your program. An architect can help in the beginning with a big picture guess to renovation costs. However, you will need to bring a builder into the process during schematic design. This is called integrated design process. You pay the builder to price the renovation and addition as you go through the design process so when you get to the finish line there is no surprise. You hit the target and have made all of the decisions along the way. Architect and builder can be a strong team that saves you money in the long run as we each have our specialty.
    3. Pick special moments to spend a little extra to make the project truly unique for your lifestyle. Limit these special moments to what enhances the life you want to live while making all the spaces functional. This is the balance between program and budget that is worked out in design.
    4. Let the architect do a full design including overall layout, elevations, sections, but also a performance specification and structural system design. This complete package will save you money during construction.
    5. Work with a team that knows quality. I often give a list of builders that I work with on a regular basis. These builders are on my list because I know they deliver high quality and happy clients. In our industry, word of mouth is the most effective marketing strategy.
    6. It will cost more than it does on HGTV unless your project is also being filmed and you are getting donations in exchange for marketing to a national audience.
    7. Have a living plan in place for during construction. Will you rent a house in town, move into a RV, create a mobile kitchen in the basement, or go on an extended vacation for months? Having this plan in place and the associated costs if key to a successful project.
    8. Renovation and Additions require a lot of decisions, spending money, and people making noise. It can be stressful. Having a plan in place prior to construction is the best way to make this an enjoyable process.
    9. Ask for references from your architect and contractor. Hearing from others that have gone through the process is critical to making this very big decision. Don’t only ask them about the process, ask them about the results, how it is holding up, is it comfortable, does the design solution facilitate the life they hoped it would provide? I hear all to often that people had to make sacrifices because of surprises discovered during construction, this happens, but it happens a lot less when you have a good design before construction starts.
    10. Think holistically. A renovation or addition is a big step. Do research on your neighborhood – are you over building? Check on your long-term goals – how long will this change facilitate the life you want? What maintenance items can be taken care of during this process – are you electric bills too high, is there an uncomfortable room that needs to be insulated?

Remember, the design and construction process should be fun! You are creating your dream home and solving challenges that you have been living with. Hire a team that is excited to work through this process with you and have your priorities in mind when they are making decisions.

sunroom renovation

Feel free to call us to discuss before investing your hard earned money with a team. We are glad to offer guidance to help you understand the process.

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Bringing new life to a downtown jewel – plan now for your renovation / addition

Our downtown historic buildings make up the fabric of our community. A lot of work has been done to bring many of these structures back to life. Our firm was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on bringing new life to this downtown jewel a few years ago.

There had been a fire in the building and the first floor had already been renovated before we got started. Our task was to put back together a very rough structure that had not been loved in a long time. The renovation goal was to provide a variety of unit sizes to allow for a range of rents in our downtown. Each unit has a bit of a unique personality.


As the contractor started taking the building apart, we found out that there were a lot of mistakes made in the past. In particular, a plumber many years ago had cut the joists out of a large section of the structure. There is honestly no reason why that building was still standing as we continued to uncover damage done by years of changes. The building was put back together safe and beautiful. The project celebrates some of the original materials exposing brick walls and wood floors. The apartments in this structure range from small to generous and all have the perfect location in the heart of downtown.

83 south main apartments harrisonburg

We love the finished project. If you have a historic building that needs some love and a new vision give us a call. We can help with that task and would love to be part of your solution.

Renovation Project: Finding Treasures Inside Walls

Check out this cool find inside a wall on a renovation project

You never know what to expect in the walls of a renovation project. There are always things hiding from the construction process in the past. From coke bottles to beer bottles things get tossed inside of walls and sit there for years waiting to be exposed again. On a recent project in downtown Harrisonburg, this cool find was inside a wall. The date on the newspaper is April 18, 1973 about two months before I was born. The contractor found it as he was doing demo and it was just left on the floor in the pile of trash.


Green Term Defined: Renovation

Green Term Defined: Renovation


We know a lot about how to build a new building that is very energy-efficient, healthy, and durable. However, no matter how good we can build new structures, saving an existing building is almost always better for the environment. Unless the existing structural system is beyond repair or the existing building contains toxic elements.


Renovation is the act of repurposing / updating / remodeling of a building.

Mt Crawford Basement Renovation


There is no question, it is easier to build a new building to the highest standards than it is to take an old building to the same standard. However, the embodied energy is much lower when renovating a building vs building new. A National Trust study found it can take more than 10 years for a new energy-efficient building to overcome the negative climate change impacts caused during the construction process. There is a tremendous amount of energy in the existing building from footings, foundations, materials, energy to create new materials, transportation of those materials and on and on not to mention energy to demolish the existing building.

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Design for the future: Universal Design for Every Building

Proper planning for buildings reduce the need for future renovations, extend the service life of buildings, and make it possible for people of all abilities to have access and function. When designing for accessibility the results often focus on wheelchair use in a building. These are limiting strategies that don’t work for most people and even do not work for many in wheelchairs. Universal Design on the other hand has a more holistic approach that focuses on all abilities rather than specific disabilities. UD allows easy navigation by everyone, regardless of age, height, eyesight, mobility, and dexterity.


UD is encouraged by those wanting a home that lasts a lifetime. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey, 73% of adults 45 and older wish to stay in their current residence as long as possible. However, fewer than half have basic accommodations for universal design in their homes.

Good planning for Universal Design prior to construction incorporates many strategies into a home that will reduce future renovations. Strategies to focus on include:

Open Floor Plans – with fewer walls, there are fewer corners or narrow passageways to navigate.

Adjustable workspace heights – Conventional heights are simply done “because that is the way we always do it”. Having a variety of work surfaces allows for kids to work in the kitchen, someone in a wheelchair to comfortably make dinner, or someone taller than average to work without bending over.

No-step entryways – From the front door to room to room transitions, having a home with no steps allows easy transitions for moving in a stroller to a wheelchair.towel-grab bar

Doors with lever handles – Another strategy to make life easier. A lever handle will allow you to open a door with your elbow if your hands are full or with arthritis.

Roll in Shower – Having a shower that does not require a step to get into makes it safer to use on a daily basis.

merillat-universalbasetable_250x188__entry_mediumAlthough it is impossible to plan for every future possible, planning for easy access will make your building more livable for a lifetime. Here is a longer checklist of items to include (click here). In Virginia, there is a tax credit that helps with incorporating these strategies (click here).