JD Designs, Residential Design and Construction Experts
Jennifer Davis, author of this blog, has over 25 years experience in the residential design and construction industry. With nearly 800 projects completed in her career so far, Jennifer provides expert tips, advice and commentary about the residential construction trades.
Please visit her website at: www.jddesigns.net
How much do I need and how do I
know if I have enough?
The most important
factor in effective insulation is to create an “envelope” which includes floor,
walls and ceiling areas. In order of importance; #1 the ceiling, #2the floor
and last #3 are the walls. If
one of these areas is under insulated or not insulated, the effectiveness of
the envelope system is breached.
Most people overlook the floor as a critical
space to insulate properly. Cold air is dense and warm air is lighter, therefore
cold air comes up through the floor and pushes out the warmer air through the ceiling
and out of the building.
is measured in an “R-value”. The R refers to the amount of thermal
resistance in the material. The bigger the number, the more (or higher)
insulative properties it has. Bigger is better here.
of insulation (R-Value) depends on the climate zone of where you live. Click here
to view the recommended Energy Star map of which you can then determine your
climate zone. These R-values are a minimum and can always be increased as you
so desire and as space allows.
of insulation are available?
generally 4 types of insulation:
(fluffy blanket type)
BATTS are the most common. These are
usually fiberglass batts that are rolled out like a blanket, are flexible and
can be installed in all 3 building surfaces (walls, floor, and ceiling). This
is also the most cost effective.
RIGID FOAM boards are dense and typically used
in cases where you need a higher R-value and very little space to do it in. For
example; on a vaulted ceiling you may need an R-38 and have a 2x10 rafter to
work with. A fiberglass batt of R-38 will be approximately 12” thick and a 2x10
is actually 9” deep. You are now 3” short of your goal. TIP: You should never
compress a fiberglass batt into a smaller space as you will reduce the R-value
that it is designed for. Rigid foam is more expensive than batts and requires
more labor to install. If installing between framing members, every piece must
be cut individually.
BLOWN-IN insulation is on the lower end of the
cost spectrum, similar to batts, and can be cost effective if installed in an
open attic area in terms of labor. However, because of the nature of the
application, the material can shift or compress over time and become uneven in
open spaces (attics) and slide down wall cavities resulting in a reduced
R-value. It is also really annoying if you have to dig through gobs of the
stuff to service something in your attic and breathe the resulting dust fibers
as well as being terribly itchy. For obvious reasons, it cannot be installed in
raised wood floor applications.
EXPANDING FOAM is a product that must be
installed/applied by a professional. It is NOT a DIY kind of project. This is a
newer type of material that starts out being a liquid and when it hits the air,
it expands and hardens in place. It typically has a much higher R-value per
inch than most other types of insulation because of its density. It is similar
to the cans of spray foam that you use to seal cracks, but applied on a much
larger scale. It is the most expensive material on the market by far. However,
it has advantages such as sealing the entire space (wall/ceiling/floor cavity) and
no drafts or critters. Some products are approved for use in non-ventilated
areas such as vaulted ceilings (or cantilevered floors) and therefor you are
not required to provide a 1” air gap between insulation and roof sheathing, giving
you a higher R-value in the end. Products that are “closed-cell” are minimal
expanding and won’t damage your framing if over applied.
some disadvantages of expanding foam insulation. It is flammable and will
release deadly, toxic fumes when it burns. If you read the manufacturer’s fine
print, it cannot be left exposed and it must be covered with a fire rated
material such as ½” cement or fire rated gypsum board. Some forms of this
insulation even contain hazardous chemicals that can cause you to suffer from
lung cancer or skin-related problems. Check with the vendor of the product for
compliance with LEEDS and low VOC content.
Allowances are common in construction bids. The purpose is
to plug in a $ amount into the bid for finish items such as tile, flooring or
fixtures. Usually these items have not been selected or specified at the time
of bidding and therefore an allowance is used.
Allowance items (in terms of your contract) are dollar
numbers that can go up or down depending on the final selection of the items.
Almost always they GO UP and here is where the OUCH comes in. Unfortunately,
this is also where unscrupulous contractors will play money games with their bottom
line bid numbers and most consumers will not even realize it until they are
under contract and it’s a bit too late.
With the current tight economic times, it is understandable
that people on both sides of the table are pinching pennies. The consumer wants
the best price and the contractor wants the job. Most often, contractors will
plug in unrealistic allowance numbers (too low) to make their overall bid cost
attractive to their potential client and hopefully win the bid. The consumer
then, unwittingly thinks that they are getting the same product for a cheaper
price. NOT SO!
What the contractor just did was play a slight of hand. You (the consumer) are thinking you are
getting a brushed nickel faucet when the contractor figured the cost of a
plastic one. Later on during construction when you realize that the allowance
dollars are used up and you still have many more items to acquire, you will be coming
up with the overage out of your own pocket beyond the contract price. Once you accept and sign your contract, you
are legally bound by it and it is very difficult to get out from under it later
on and the fight begins.
The best way to avoid these sneaky allowance items is to do
your homework early during the design phase and select everything ahead of time,
from light fixtures to door knobs.. You don’t have to actually buy the items,
just make the selection. Make a list of the item, manufacturer, part number,
color/finish, price and vendor. Work with your design professional, sales
person or contractor to figure the quantity (linear feet, square feet, square
yard, etc) and do the math. Keep a note book with you while you are shopping
and jot down the information. Draw some sketches (like for tile designs and
layout) or even take a picture of the showroom example. An ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure! Spend the time and do the footwork of making all of
your selections ahead of time and save yourself the grief later of unexpected
cost overruns and battles with your contractor.
When you send out your plans for bids, make sure you include
a copy of your specification list of all these items with the plans as well. Also
reference this specification list in your final contract and make it clear in
your contract as to whom will be providing (buying) these items and who will be
installing them as well.
Another way to handle allowance items is to state, “Owner to
provide (you buy it)…….contractor to install”. This approach will allow you to have more control over
expenses, however you will be taking on the responsibility of acquiring and
providing the materials to the contractor.
Colorado State Article 22
Signed into law on 6/6/2012 Roofing Services - Residential Property
State Title 6-22-101. Legislative declaration.
(1) THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY HEREBY DECLARES THAT THE PURPOSE OF ENACTING THIS ARTICLE IS TO PROTECT COLORADO CONSUMERS BY:
(a) REQUIRING ROOFING CONTRACTORS OFFERING TO PERFORM ROOFING WORK ON RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY IN THIS STATE TO SIGN A WRITTEN CONTRACT WITH PROPERTY OWNERS DETAILING THE SCOPE AND COST OF THE ROOFING WORK AND CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE ROOFING CONTRACTOR;
(b) REQUIRING ROOFING CONTRACTORS TO PERMIT PROPERTY OWNERS TO RESCINDA CONTRACT FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF ROOFING WORK AND OBTAIN A REFUND OF ANY DEPOSIT PAID TO THE ROOFING CONTRACTOR; AND
(c) PROHIBITING ROOFING CONTRACTORS FROM PAYING, WAIVING, REBATING, OR PROMISING TO PAY, WAIVE, OR REBATE ALL OR PART OF ANY INSURANCE DEDUCTIBLE APPLICABLE TO AN INSURANCE CLAIM MADE TO THE PROPERTY OWNER'S PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURER FOR PAYMENT FOR ROOFING WORK ON THE RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY COVERED BY A PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE POLICY.
Design/Build is a team approach to building. The team consists of 3 primary players; Owner, Design Professional and Contractor, all of which are equally important. Just think of a 3-legged stool. All 3 legs are required in order for the stool to function. If one leg is weaker than the others, or is removed, the entire stool collapses and ceases to function.
Traditional Hard Bid Approach
Most homeowners who approach a building project hire someone to draw a set of plans and then solicit multiple bids from multiple contractors with those same set of plans. This is the most common approach and has been done for decades. Here’s the problem……… when using this approach you are assuming that all contractors have the same level of expertise, same level of competence and will use the same quality materials and the only difference is going to be the price. THIS IS THE FURTHEST THING FROM REALITY!
It’s almost as if you decide to buy a particular car (your project) and you just go from dealer to dealer (the contractor) to get the best price. This process is usually fine since all cars are built on an assembly line, in a controlled environment and the materials and quality are controlled by the same manufacturer. With the exception of a few ‘lemons’ here and there, the end product is rather predictable, therefor PRICE is the only thing that is negotiable at that point.
Construction, however, is completely the opposite. The end product is hand made by fallible humans with different levels of expertise, different business practices and with different motivations, hence a different end product than you think you are going to get when you started out.
Design/Build is a Negotiated Bid
In a Design/Build approach to building, the owner selects their “team” (design professional and builder) from the beginning. Referring back to the 3-legged stool, the owner communicates their needs to the designer who interprets those needs into a preliminary design and then the contractor runs a preliminary cost analysis based on the preliminary design. If the costs are outside of the budget (and it usually is on the first draft, it’s a matter of how much over), the designer, contractor and owner work together to design the project to the budget and not the budget conforming to the design. This is the negotiation part of the process. It’s NOT about negotiating profit margins, but rather negotiating the aspects of the design, identifying the costly portions and developing creative design solutions to bring the costs down. During this process, it is the design professional’s job is to ensure the integrity of the design solution, the contractor acts as a consultant for projected cost purposes and the owner steers the direction of the decision making process. All three are equally important.
Once a final design solution (including construction costs) is arrived at, final construction documents are completed by the design professional, permits are obtained by the contractor and construction begins. The advantage of having the contractor involved during the design process is that by the time you are building, all parties are fully versed of the expectations of the project and a working relationship between the owner, design professional and contractor is already established before a shovel of dirt is ever turned. A dialog and working relationship has already been established. This will prove invaluable during the actual construction when something goes awry (and it will) and issues can be headed off before it becomes a major problem.
Throughout my entire 25 year career of designing nearly 800 projects, I can say that the most successful projects have been the ones that were done in a design/build approach. My definition of ‘successful’ is when all the parties are still talking to each other by the end of the project!
In my travels and experience over the past 25 years, I have observed numerous building code violations that most homeowners aren’t even aware of. These are common “mistakes” that are made, not on purpose, but due to a lack of knowledge and just simply not being aware.
I would like to share the most common, routine violations in the hopes that people can be more aware of their surroundings and live safer in their homes.
The following references (written in bold below) are taken from the IRC (International Residential Code) with is the building code in force throughout the United States EXCEPT for California, which uses the CBC (California Building Code). Both codes are very similar with only slight variations between them.
Smoke Detectors: (IRC- R313.1) …to be located in hallways adjacent to sleeping rooms, inside each sleeping room, top of stairwells and in basements.
Note that these can be battery operated if placed in existing construction. If new construction, they must be ‘hard wired’ with a battery back-up and interconnected. The purpose of smoke detectors is to wake you up if there is a fire so that you can respond appropriately. Some people incorrectly install them in kitchens. It is NOT meant to be your ‘dinner bell’! Try not to locate them near bathrooms as the steam from showers can inadvertently set them off.
Carbon Monoxide detectors, although not required by the building code, may be required in certain regions of the country. Please check your local building department or government agency for requirements.
Although not required by code, I recommend installing a smoke detector in the garage for extra protection. Most house fires actually start in the garage.
Water Heater/Furnace (gas only) located in Garage: (G2408.2)…If located in a garage, must be installed on a minimum 18” high platform.
The purpose of this requirement is for Fire Safety. The pilot light (which is located near the bottom of the unit) can ignite combustible fumes and gases stored in the garage. These sources include the gas tank of your car, lawn mower and other items such as solvents and paints that are typically stored in your garage.
Interior Garage Doors: (R310.1)….Openings between garages and residence shall have solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8” in thickness or honeycomb steel doors not less than 1- 3/8” thick or 20 minute fire-rated door.
Many times I have seen homeowners replace these doors with Patio doors, doors with a window in them or even cut ‘doggie doors’ into these types of doors. This is NOT allowed. Once altered, these doors do not provide the proper fire separation between your garage and house and will cause fire to rapidly spread between areas. Remember, most house fires start in the garage!
Dryer Vents: (M1501.1)….Dryer vents must terminate to the EXTERIOR of the building.
Most often, dryer vents are vented directly into the garage. Weather the appliance is located inside the garage or inside a utility room, the venting of these units must be routed directly to the exterior of the building. I have seen these units vented directly under the house in crawl spaces, directly into the attic and even directly into the garage. The lint build up is amazing! So much so, that it’s like walking on a mattress. Not only does this condition add more moisture to these areas, hence accelerated rotting and insect infestations, but creates a fire hazard with the buildup of lint.
Guardrails (R312.1)….required where walking surfaces are greater than 30” from grade. Guardrails must be a minimum of 36” high and have openings less than 4” in diameter.
This code requirement applies to decks, porches, balconies, patios and any areas directly connected to the dwelling in which this code is being applied. It does not apply to landscaping or other hard scape areas of a yard that are secondary to the dwelling (ex. Terraced landscaping, driveways, walkways).
Many times I have seen front porches that are in total violation of this code. If you have more than 3 steps up to a porch or landing, then more than likely you are required to have guardrails encompassing the porch. It is also possible you may be required to have handrails on the open sides of the stairway as well.
The requirement of less than 4” diameter is so that a child’s head or body cannot get through the openings, get caught in the openings or completely fall through and off the surface. The actual wording is: “….so that a 4” sphere cannot pass through”.
Electrical Plugs in Kitchens (E3802.6), Bathrooms (E3802.1) and Garages (E3802.2) must be GFI.
GFI refers to ‘Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt’. These are the type of outlets that have a reset button located in the middle of the plug so that you can test the circuit. It is designed to shut off the circuit (or ‘pop’ off) if it detects an imbalance of electrical current which would cause electrical shock and possible electrocution. This is required where electrical outlets are located near water and protects the user from being shocked.
You can test these outlets yourself by using a “Circuit Tester”. You can purchase these handy devices at any local hardware or home improvement store in the electrical department. This small device can be plugged into the electrical receptacle and colored lights will tell you if the circuit is protected, there’s reverse polarity, open ground, hot and ground reversed etc. If you suspect an issue, contact a licensed electrician to trouble shoot or repair the problem.
Minimum Light and Ventilation: R303.1….all habitable spaces (except kitchens and bathrooms) are required to maintain a minimum of 8% light and 4% ventilation of floor area of the room they service. Bathrooms may have a mechanical means of ventilation (exhaust fan in lieu of a window) with .35 air changes per hour.
This pertains to the minimum size of windows (light) and open able area (ventilation) in your house. I have often seen this part of the building code in severe violation when homeowners replace their existing windows either by modifying the original opening or changing the style/operation of the window itself. Many times, homeowners decide to change the type of window when they replace them. For example, changing from a casement window (crank out type) to a single hung (slide up and down) style of window. This change might not seem like a big deal, but you just reduced the ventilation by 50% and may not have even known it! Another inadvertent violation is when a homeowner decides to put ‘picture windows’ (fixed glass) in a room with a nice view. Well, you might have just removed ALL of the ventilation in that space and not realized it.
Don’t depend on your window salesman to know what is appropriate for your house. They may not have even been to your house or don’t want to bother measuring the rooms for compliance. Often times the salesman will have fine print in their contract stating that they are not responsible for code compliance. READ YOUR CONTRACT, be an informed and wise consumer!
EGRESS: R310.1…..Sleeping rooms must have at least 1 means of egress.
Egress is defined as a means of emergency escape. You must be able to climb out of an opening (door or window) from a bedroom if there is a fire. This also applies to habitable basements. The MINIMUM requirements of this opening is as follows: R310.1.1 – 310.1.4
·Maximum sill height is 44” from the floor.
·Minimum height of opening is 24” clear
·Minimum width of opening is 20” clear
·Minimum CLEAR opening must be at least 5.7 sq.ft. * (grade floor openings can be 5 sq.ft.)
*NOTE: if you multiply the min. width x height, you will be LESS THAN the minimum 5.7 sq.ft. required. Therefore, only ONE dimension (width OR height) will qualify. The other dimension must be greater!
According to the 2009 IRC (International Residential Code) Section R105.1, “Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit”. (You should always check with your local building department to verify which building code version is in effect as different jurisdictions may be different.)
So what does this mean in laymen’s terms? Let’s use a kitchen remodel for example. If you are planning to remodel your kitchen, you need a building permit. Even if you ARE NOT planning to relocate any appliances or fixtures, you still need a permit. Typically in a kitchen remodel, you will probably be upgrading electrical items such as adding more plugs, installing hot water dispensers, adding more lighting or installing or upgrading an exhaust vent over the stove.
In this case, for example, the electrical code requires a minimum distance apart for the location of convenience electrical receptacles (plugs at your countertops) and that some or all must be GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) protected for your safety. All of the work required to install these types of items must be inspected by the local building authority for safety reasons. The same applies for other items such as gas shut off valves (for gas stoves), plumbing air gap installed for dishwashers, proper mechanical venting for exhaust vents over cooktops. Most newer electrical codes also require that certain appliances have dedicated circuits, such as built-in microwaves. Your current kitchen electrical loads may not be adequate for this and therefore electrical upgrades to your main electrical panel or sub-panel may be triggered. All this work must be inspected, hence the permit requirement.
If you are merely re-facing your cabinets or replacing countertops, a permit is NOT required.
Even if you replace your water heater, a permit is required in order to inspect the gas line connection, TP valve and other issues. As soon as you touch an electrical, plumbing or mechanical item, a permit IS required.
What could/would happen if I don’t get a permit?
Well, here’s where it gets interesting. Several things can and will happen if you do work and do not secure the proper permits.
§Disclosures: If you do work without a permit, it must be disclosed at the time of listing of the sale of the property. If you do not disclose this information, you can be held civilly liable to the buyers to correct such work or even be requested to obtain permits AFTER THE FACT by the potential buyers. You may even loose the prospective sale of the property if it is significant enough. If you disclose the non-permitted work and the buyer accepts it, then the buyer accepts all responsibility.
§Insurance: Insurance companies are very picky about this kind of issue. If it is NOT PERMITTED, IT DOESN’T EXIST. If it doesn’t exist, then it is not insured and therefore they will NOT pay out on any losses, PERIOD! Fire, flood or act of God – it doesn’t matter.
§Red Tag or Stop Work Order: This can be issued directly by the building official. Fines and penalties can be issued by the local building authority against the contractor or building owner for violating the requirement to obtain the necessary permits. There’s nothing worse than getting on the building official’s bad side, especially when he/she has the power to approve or fail your inspections.
A few of my own personal experiences might convince you pursue the proper permits when embarking on your own projects.
A past client of mine remodeled their kitchen a year prior to hiring me to design a family room addition off their newly remodeled kitchen. They hired the proper subcontractors and did all the work correctly to the code at the time. There were no major changes to the layout, just new cabinets, countertops, lighting etc. The owners decided that since they “weren’t making any major changes, we don’t need a permit”. Oh boy, did this decision cost them later. What they didn’t realize was that the codes change every few years and they always get more stringent and not any easier. In this particular case the electrical code had changed and now required the countertop plugs to be spaced closer together and also required a plug in the island.
Since they didn’t get any permits, the work that was done a year prior (as per the code in effect at that time) officially ‘did not exist’ and was not able to be ‘grandfathered in’. Therefore, all the electrical had to be re-done to the current code now in effect in order to get ‘as-built’ permits approved on the new kitchen and the green light to proceed to do the new room addition that I was hired to do. This meant that all the granite slab back splashes had to be ripped off the walls and thrown in the dumpster, electrical re-routed in the walls, cabinets drilled and new back splashes fabricated. The granite back splash was never able to be matched with the countertops at that point. A very sad and costly learning lesson for these owners and less money in the budget that could have been spent on the new family room addition.
On the bright side, there are actually some types of building projects that are EXEMPT from permits (as per 2009 IRC). They include:
§1-story detached accessory structures not exceeding 200 sq.ft. in area.
§Fences not over 6 feet in height
§Retaining walls not over 4 feet in height (unless supporting a surcharge).
§Concrete flatwork (sidewalks, driveways etc.)
§Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, countertops and similar finish work.
§Prefabricated swimming pools less than 24 inches deep.
§Playground equipment accessory to 1 or 2 family dwelling.
§Window awnings supported by exterior wall that do not project more than 54 inches.
I always suggest that when in doubt, contact a design professional for guidance. They can help you save a lot of money and headaches in the future and provide you with a professionally thought out end result that you can be proud of.