This post is about our 2015 home remodel. We started planning for the remodel in Spring 2014 with the intention of starting the remodel in October, and finishing in March 2015. However we spent more time in the planning process then we initially thought was needed, because we wanted to have a very solid execution plan before demolition began, to minimize the amount of time we would be without a kitchen.
We began working with an Architect (K. Price Design) and General Contractor (GC) Jim Watters in March 2014 developing plans to remodel our master bath and kitchen. One of the key design aspects of the kitchen remodel was to open up the kitchen more to the den, to make the two rooms “flow” better. To achieve this we hired a Structural Engineer Joshua Kardon to work with both the Architect and GC and developed a plan to remove an existing short wall between the kitchen and the den, remove the post that was at the island, replace the beam that ran across the kitchen about 2 feet below the ceiling, and install a sheer wall behind the new stove to address earthquake design criteria.
Here are plan drawings of the existing kitchen and master bathroom.
Here are plan design drawings for the new kitchen and master bathroom.
The bathroom remodel was more straightforward – we had a large bathroom but it was very outdated, including a sunken bathtub in early 80s purple tile. Our plan was to remove the false floor at the sunken bath, install a larger shower and standing bathtub, a vanity and extra storage. Once we had the structural design finalized for the kitchen we worked through the details for both rooms including cabinet layout, appliance and counter material selection, and worked with the GC to develop a cost estimate which we received in October 2014. Of course the estimated total cost of the job was much higher than we had budgeted – and we worried that this large investment would not be recovered when we sell the house. So we identified scope reductions but still the estimate was higher than we felt comfortable with. Ultimately we decided that I would be the GC, even though it would take longer with my rotational job in Kazakhstan.
When we decided to be owner/builder for our remodel of course wife Karen wanted to know when it would be done. I shared that we would start the physical work in mid-February and I was confident we would be complete by mid-November as it was our turn to host the annual family Thanksgiving dinner at our home in 2015. I believed we would be complete in June or July but just like all experienced Project Managers or General Contractors I did not want to initially share an optimistic schedule, particularly as I could not control the sub-contractor’s availability. Since Karen was OK with “done by Thanksgiving” that was the official completion date.
Mid-December 2014 / Mid-January 2015 Home Rotation
I arrived home on 16Dec2014 with two goals in mind – enjoy the Holidays with our family and obtain an approved building permit before I departed for my next work rotation. This would set us up to perform demolition the next home rotation. So we met with our Architect Katie Price and finalized the last details on the permit drawings, first going to the City of Orinda for planning sign-off on 22Dec. We needed to make a couple minor changes to the drawings and then brought them back to City of Orinda the morning of 23Dec; I walked out out with city planning approval that morning. I then went to the Contra Costa County Building Department that afternoon in Martinez expecting to drop off the drawings with the hope of getting approved building permit in 2-3 weeks, hopefully before I returned to Kazkahstan. Apparently because it was slow due to the Holidays the plan check engineer came out and reviewed our drawings and civil calculations, and approved on the spot. Excellent – fees paid and permit in hand – we are already ahead of schedule.
With the approved building permit, and detailed construction plans – our next step was to select sub-contractors and order materials. As we had a building permit two weeks earlier than expected I decided to arrange some work while I was in Tengiz on my next rotation, with the existing kitchen going out of service when I returned in mid-February. I had already made some contacts in November regarding subs but now we needed to select and schedule the civil / structural work (needed for both kitchen and bathroom modifications ). We bid out to 3 firms and selected Christensen Brothers Construction (Jesse and Josh). We awarded the work to Christensen Brothers just before I departed on 13Jan and arranged for them to begin the under house civil and structural work while I was away. Christensen Brothers held a kick-off meeting with the Architect and Structural Engineer the week after I left and began preparation for the concrete work. They received sign-off by a 3rd party inspector (Testing Engineers) on the epoxy dowel holes drilled into the existing concrete on 22Jan.
Late January / Early March 2015 Home Rotation
I was scheduled to return home on 12Feb but due to family issues (a blog post for another day) I returned home on 27Jan. The morning I returned the concrete forms had been signed off by the county inspector – the first county inspection. The concrete was poured on 02Feb, with the pour observed by Testing Engineers. The Christensen Brothers framing crew mobilized on 03Feb to begin the below house structural work. Since I was already home I decided to move the demolition up a week so the framing crew could move right into the kitchen and master bathroom once the below house work was completed.
Ramon (all crafts though his favorite is electrical), his brother Aristeo (plumbing) and son Jonathan Camacho (helper all crafts) mobilized the week of 02Feb and we began. First we installed a temporary kitchen in the downstairs family room, reusing some kitchen cabinets. We even relocated the dishwasher which made life a little easier for Karen (during the 1997 kitchen remodel in our Oakland house we (Karen) did dishes in the bathtub). Karen and I worked all week cleaning out the kitchen and our bedroom, setting ourselves up in Grant’s old bedroom for the remodel duration. 09Feb we pulled the sink and dishwasher and set them up downstairs – the official kitchen “out-of-service” milestone. The remodel clock is now ticking.
Realizing that I had another 4 full weeks before returning to Kazakhstan I decided to push the schedule and get all the framing complete (which is needed to measure for cabinet fabrication) plus all rough inspections signed off before I went back on 10Mar for my next rotation. Since the structural / framing work was Lump Sum, and the electrical and plumbing work was Time and Material, I worked these two crafts simultaneously with the framers, probably cutting about two weeks out of the schedule (but we did have some minor rework). The final cabinet measurement was performed on 04Mar, I signed off on the cabinet fabrication drawings on 06Mar, and the final rough inspection visit was completed on 09Mar. Christensen Brothers Construction exceeded my expectations completing all their work in six weeks. Some memories of this first phase of the remodel:
- Our new beam design utilized two massive glue-lamb members that are “sistered” together, and sit on two large posts just inside the exterior walls. It was a challenging installation as it took 8 guys to carry the beams into the house, through the recently removed kitchen sink window, and then two manual lifts to move them into the ceiling after the ceiling joists were cut. I was in my office during installation when a loud boom occurred, shaking the whole house. I quickly raced down the stairs to the kitchen to see the framing crew standing there. I said “Did you just make that noise?” “Yes.” “Was anyone hurt?” “No.” What happened?” “One of the lifts failed while lifting the beams.” These guys were professionals, they had installed cross members between the two temporary walls in case a lift failed, it would only drop the sistered beam a couple feet. So it was just a loud building shake, thankfully.
- The demolition of the main bathroom took a week, something that we originally thought would take 2 – 3 days. This was due to the massive amount of tile including the sunken bathtub. Once we got the demolition done we discovered extensive dry rot, water damage and a small amount of termite damage (we were expecting some water damage but it was more severe than anticipated). We decided to remove the small roof just outside the bathroom so we could get to the siding where this damage was located and make sure everything was repaired. Ramon and I knocked this out in half a day, which allowed the framing crew to replace siding and framing. We had the right people in place to make a quality repair.
- Ordered and received all the lighting fixtures – found a competitive internet store online (CansandFans.com) that had a great salesperson (Ryan) who helped me order and get it all shipped in a couple days.
- One of the key reasons we were able to meet this aggressive schedule is my friend Tony Lozoya came over two weekends in a row to sort out all the electrical circuits and run the wiring to the appliances, lighting, etc. Some of the circuit demo was done before I got home (or not paying attention when I was home) as we needed to move wiring / plumbing under the house to allow the new civil/structural work to progress. Ramon cut several wires which we had to trace hand-over-hand back to the sub-panel to make sure it all went back together as planned. Making the effort more difficult was the fact that circuit assignments changed significantly between the old and new kitchen, plus the existing sub-panel schedule was not current. Anyway, Tony was key in helping us figure it all out and make it work.
- Christensen Brothers installed the new window in the Kitchen and two new windows in the Bathroom during this period. I had worked with the GC and Architect on my previous rotation in Kazakhstan to get them on order and they arrived in time so the framers did not have to remobilize (and I did not have gaping holes to deal with in the middle of winter (though it is mild here in CA)).
- Tile design was approved, tile installer was selected, and tile quanties were finalized for the master bathroom and kitchen backsplash.
- Comcast came out and ran a new internet cable to the kitchen desk area, allowing us to cut over to the new line once the kitchen cabinets are installed.
- Before I departed Precision Cabinets did us a big favor by agreeing to shorten the cabinet fabrication time from six to five weeks by juggling other customer jobs, keeping us on schedule.
Early March / Early April Work Rotation
Ramon was left with a worklist when I departed on 10Mar. I typically called every couple days to check with Ramon how things were moving plus talked with Karen every day. No major issues arose while I was gone – Ramon kept things moving. The goal for this period was to be ready for cabinet installation the Monday after I returned.
During my rotation in Kazakhstan Ramon managed to oversee completion of the following: cleaned the ceilings in the dining room and bedroom to remove rodent droppings; replaced / reinstalled the insulation; sheetrocked the kitchen and master bath; repaired the exterior siding where the windows were installed: reinstalled the roof outside the bathroom; worked on plumbing and electrical punchlist items, and obtained county sign-off of Sheer Wall Nailing, Framing, Framing Insulation, Ceiling Insulation, Rough Mechanical and Drywall. We also ordered remaining tile and electrical materials, and arranged for the Tile Installer to begin.
Early April / Early May 2015 Home Rotation
I arrived home on 09Apr – Ramon had completed all priority punchlist items to be ready for cabinets. Mark Andreson, Tile Installer, had also mobilized and prepared the master bath shower for inspection. Karen had scheduled the County inspection and the day after I returned we obtained sign-off of Wet Wall and Shower Pan Leak Test in the bathroom, plus Gas Test of the new natural gas line to the stove. As we had just a short gas line run the County Inspector allowed just a bubble test. We now had all inspections complete except for Final. Excellent – all that was planned while I was gone was complete.
The goal for this rotation home was cabinet installation, kitchen counter top installation, master bathroom tile installation and ktichen wood floor installation – four different sub-contractors to work in the same 3 week period. If interested please see long reviews for each of these four sub-contractors, plus Christensen Brothers Construction, in individual posts; short reviews have been posted to Yelp. Here is what happened this rotation home.
Precision Cabinets On Saturday 11Apr a crew of 6 arrived – was a bit challenging to get their 24 foot box truck up the hill but they managed. In a couple hours they staged the kitchen cabinets in the den and the bathroom cabinets in the master bedroom, lifting them up through the outside deck. On Monday 13Apr a crew of five arrived. They set up work space on the deck and split up the cabinet installation into three simultaneous work fronts: one person in the bathroom, two guys working the main kitchen cabinets and two guys working the desk. We resolved a couple of issues:
- Microwave outlet was inadvertently sheetrocked over; found this just before the cabinet was about to be installed. Checking construction photos we quickly found the outlet, exposed it, and then had to relocate to the other side of the stud. Ramon handled the fix, only held up the microwave drawer cabinet install about 30 minutes.
- Desk did not fit as planned even though the dimensions had not changed from final cabinet measure. Precision had to cut some of the raised floor and the sheetrock at the kitchen table area post to make it fit – these modificatins will not be noticible.
- Gas line to new range was too low, was located at the base of the cabinet (per code there needs to be an accessible first valve before it transitions to the flexible tubing that routes to the gas range). Also realized the cabinet we had it going into was a drawer, not a door as I thought. We decided to relocate the gas line 180 degrees and have the first valve in the pantry. Ramon handled this as well, holding up the lower cabinet to the right of the range about 30 minutes.
Precision met all their commitments for this initial install – our good fortunate with schedule continued – we are now in week 10 and the cabinets are installed – right on track.
Quality Tile Mark Andresen mobilized in early April, and started work in earnest with two helpers on 13Apr (same day as the cabinet installation). All tile materials had arrived except the 3 x 6 field tile in the shower. This tile had been held up in Customs (demonstrates we have the same problems in USA and Kazakhstan trying to get materials for a job ) and ultimately was delivered on 14Apr. Mark was in and out my entire rotation home, primarily working on the bathroom. He is a one-man company (with helpers) and so sometimes pulls off the job to work for another customer. He worked long hours and weekends as needed to keep is on track – he paid attention to the overall status of our remodel and made sure his work did not hold anyone else up.
Victor Medina Granite We had lined up our Stone Counter Installer, Victor Medina, in late January – after we had selected the granite we wanted for the kitchen. Later we selected the quartz for the master bathroom and kitchen desk, all material selection was made well in advance. We had confirmed with Victor in early March that we would be ready for him to perform counter measurements on Wednesday 15Apr – at this point I believed the counter installation would be complete before I returned to Kazakhstan as Victor advised it would take 1-1/2 to 2 weeks from measurement to installation. Victor did get the bathroom vanity counter installed on 04May, the day before I departed, but did not finish the kitchen counters, including desk, until the week of 18May. Partial explanation is we decided we preferred honed granite counters vs. the polished granite slabs we purchased (an extra step in fabrication for Victor). I believe the primary reason for the delay was Victor was juggling customers and he was not dedicated to our job staring 15Apr as we had hoped. We are very pleased with the installation of the counters as the quality if very high but we lost 2+ weeks on schedule and communication regarding installation timing was very poor with Victor – it was difficult to get him to commit to a date (believed due to juggling other customers).
Floorscapes We received a couple of wood floor installation bids before I let in early Feb, and I advised Jeff Burlison of Floorscapes that we selected his firm to perform the work in late March. Jeff visited the house on 12Apr to make sure all was in order, and delivered the flooring material on 14Apr. He assigned Mike to perform the installation – kitchen wood flooring was completed 27 April. The nice touch was Floorscapes removed some floor planks in the Dining Room and installed new planks across the Dining Room / Kitchen threshold, tieing the two rooms together (another room flow trick). Wood floor was also installed in the pantry and under the spiral staircase; both required more cutouts than a typical room. The quality of the installation was excellent.
Carpentry/Electrical/Plumbing While the four sub-contractors were working Ramon and I with help of Aristeo made steady progress on carpentry (installed the pantry barn door), plumbing (relocated a water heater) and electrical (installed lighting trims and worked on undercabinet lighting). This rotation home we made steady progress but not as much as I hoped – the delay in counter installation delayed installation of upper cabinets, etc.
May Work Rotation
Of course I left Ramon with an updated work list as well as provided Karen a sequence of sub-contractor work that would occur while I was away. The work planned while I was away included:
- Kitchen / Den / Dining Room
- Install Granite Counters including Main Counter, Island and Desk (Victor Medina)
- Install Upper Cabinets at Main Counter and Desk (Precision Cabinets)
- Install Tile Backsplash (Quality Tile)
- Install Range Vent Hood duct cover (Ramon)
- Complete Finish Carpentry – trim kitchen window and dining room / kitchen doorway (Ramon)
- Refinish Hardwood Flooring in Kitchen and Den
- Master Bathroom / Master Bedroom
- Complete tile installation (Quality Tile)
- Install Shower Door (Diablo Glass)
- Install Bathroom Doors (purchased from Truitt & White) (Ramon)
- Trim Bathroom Doors and Windows (Ramon)
- Paint all rooms (Ramon and Ascension)
This rotation at work I called home almost every day, speaking both with Karen and Ramon as lots of work and lots of coordination occurred each day. Katie Price stopped by a couple times to see how things were progressing and so did my family, Joanne and Steve Claas.
Karen decided to hire a Interior Designer to help with paint selection – money well spent. We did change our mind on the paint colors; believe we painted almost every surface at least twice. But the end product looked great. I returned home on 04Jun with the goal of completing the remodel before I went back to Kazakhstan.
June Home Rotation
The wood flooring in the kitchen and den were refinished the day before I returned; now we could move into finish mode. Here is the summary of my punchlist I prepared the day after I got home:
- Install Refrigerator, Range and Dishwasher
- Finish Electrical (outlets, switches, etc)
- Finish Carpentry (install baseboards, trim out pantry shelves, etc)
- Complete cabinet trim now that wood flooring is complete
- Install cabinet knobs and pulls
- Reface Den Fireplace
- Obtain Country Final Permit signoff
- Move Back In
- Hold Remodel Celebration
All the above was completed before I returned to Kazakhstan on 30Jun; the country final permit was signed off on 25Jun, we began moving back into the into the Kitchen and Master Bedroom / Bath the next day, and held a Remodel Celebration on 28Jun, attended by our family, neighbors, Ramon, Aristeo, and Jonathan Camacho, Katie Price, Jessie and Josh Christensen, Tony Lozoya, and JP Trevisano AND their families.
It was a steady push this home rotation, but the day I arrived home I knew we would finish before I went back. We even had a family dinner in the new kitchen with all four kids on the Monday before I returned – it was nice to share a meal in the new kitchen.
Here are links to my Flickr account that has photo albums associated with our 2015 Remodel.
New Kitchen Photos
New Bathroom Photos
Before Remodel Photos
In Progress Remodel Photos
Remodel Celebration Photos