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When budgeting for a home improvement project, hiring an experienced designer or trade will simply help you do it right the first time and save you so much money in the end. Here’s how we are trying to avoid being penny wise and pound foolish with my Mom’s sunroom project.

I cannot thank you enough for your so helpful contribution and comments regarding my Mom’s sunroom projectlast week, now we know what to do, I am so grateful!

What I didn’t mention last week, was my Mom also wants to add a front entry or at the very least a portico.

So, after we read all your advice on what to do with her sunroom,(thank you for helping us think through the options!), we realized that to do BOTH properly would cost more than her budget will allow, so we have adjusted the sunroom plans.

Now, we need your help with what to do with the front entrance (photo further down).

So first, here’s what we learned about solariums or sunrooms:

You MUST have a proper foundation (in other words, NOT what we have).

All that glass will be a lot of maintenance and my Mom is a clean freak so that will drive her nuts. My Mom and Sister’s family live really close to a chicken farm and the crows pick up chicken parts and sit on her roof and eat them and she’s constantly finding beaks and feet on her deck (I know so gross) which would now end up on the glass roof instead.

Keeping it to the rather tight dimensions of the existing deck as planned totally limits the possibilities. Many commenters said that was NOT a place to build from because inevitably we would want it to be bigger, and you’re totally right.

Keeping the threshold the same as the inside was also a really good point regarding aging in place. Someone said her Mom was no longer able to go into her sunroom because of the steps going down into it.

Heat is NOT as big of an issue here in the West coast because we get a lot of rain, but when it is sunny, because my Mom’s deck faces West, it does get HOT.

I cannot tell you how grateful we are for all your generous advice.

A new home improvement project plan

What we’ve decided to do now is remove the old deck, build one that is at the same level as the inside and make it bigger. We will then put a roof on it very similar to the one on my house (below) for shade and shelter.

Mine has plastic panels in front of the windows and then its metal where we don’t need the light.

My deck was existing when we moved in, obviously it could be more fabulous, but, as I’ve said, my garden was a much higher priority. And it’s very practical and we get so much use out of it in the warmer months. I work out here all summer with my laptop and enjoy the garden view.

I think this is what my Mom really needs, a sheltered space to relax outdoors. Right now, because her deck has no cover, it’s like she lives in an apartment because it’s basically unusable.

My patio | See the latest photos here

Okay so here’s the front of my Mom’s carriage house (below). This was taken right after it was built but it’s the best photo I have:

For those who are wondering, a carriage house is technically a home where there’s a garage underneath and the living space is all on the second floor. We cheated a little and Mom’s kitchen, sitting area is on the first floor.

We chose white siding because my Sister’s house (below right) is white. Our valley really is so pretty in the summer.
When you walk into this house, there’s literally no entry. You are standing at the bottom of the stairs that go up to the second floor, and she does not have an official coat closet either. Her coats go into a closet that was technically designated as a ‘pantry’ right past her kitchen.
Because of the West coast rain, she can’t leave her shoes outside, but having no mudroom is challenging because the gravel from the driveway gets tracked into the house.
Some kind of portico to soften the transition is needed.

There are many options, starting with less expensive portico similar to this:

Anne Decker

Moving up to one with columns:

Georgia Front Porch

Here’s another idea that would incorporate a pergola over the garage. But what we really need, is someone with vision and someone who can come up with a drawing for the best solution that suits Mom’s budget.


And if we go all out and do it right the first time, this kind of space for a mudroom/entry would be so great (below).

Brookwood Hills

Budgeting for Home Improvement Projects

There are so many things to consider when tackling a project like this. And often labour takes the lion’s share of the budget. My Mom also thinks that she would save money on both these projects if she hired a carpenter who charged by the hour instead of giving her a flat rate quote.

Her retirement savings has certainly dropped by 30% (like the rest of us) and she’s worried the world is coming to an end and it’ll never recover.

Ever been Penny Wise and Pound Foolish in Your home improvements?

However, the bottom line is, and I have learned this personally by experience and from working with thousands of clients over the years, that for most things in life”You get what you pay for.”

Shouldn’t we pretty much say that this applies to EVERYTHING? I’m trying to remember a situation when I actually got something amazing for a bargain basement price. It’s extremely rare.

The most obvious way to lose money and end up unhappy, is when you buy furniture or finishes without a plan.

Recently, I helped a couple choose colours for their renovation. They had already bought the subway tile before choosing anything else and it turned out to be the wrong white for the countertop they wanted so at that point they had two choices. Scrap the non-refundable tile or choose Plan B instead of Plan A.
By the way, that mistake is pretty much the cost of my fee right?

Now that is NOT the worst example since they called me BEFORE a bunch of other decisions had been made as well.

This happens often. You choose everything, cross your fingers, hope it works out, and then when everything is installed you call the decorator hoping that the right paint colours can fix your mistakes.

I really wanted to mention this here (to help my Mom) because I would also love it if you’d post comments about a time when you hired someone you thought was going to save you money and instead cost you countless hundreds or thousands later when you had to fix the botched job that was done by the ‘cheap’ labour or the cheapest ‘quote’.

I’ll never forget talking to a painter who said there are all kinds of ways to make a painting quote ‘cheaper’. For example, painting the siding with a roller without using a paint brush to get the sides. The paint job might  ‘look complete’ but it’s definitely not. You get what you pay for.

The experienced designer or the experienced trade/company will simply help you do it right the first time and save you so much money in the end. Besides, it’s best to decide on a price at the outset, and not have the cost snowball. Or worse, languish in some annoying unfinished state because of a casual commitment on the part of a part time contractor.

Always create a home improvement plan

One thing that is certain, is that it makes the most sense to have a really well thought out plan at the outset of any project. So I want to thank you in advance for your thoughts and insights. It will really help us examine all the angles and help my Mom get the most out of her budget.

And if you are someone with vision that could help us create the best plan, perhaps we could do something virtually? Email me here.

Related posts:

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or a Necessity?

Don’t Hire a Designer the Same Way you Buy Oranges

Danger: Free Advice will Sabotage your Expensive Renovation

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  • Tara Dillard says:

    Great, super GREAT title.

  • Adeline Rozak says:

    My father had arthritis, knee and hip issues and could no longer go upstairs to their bedroom so they we converted a main floor storage room, in their large, poorly insulated 1910 house, into a bedroom so that my parents could sleep in a bed in privacy and built a ramp up to the back door to be able to leave/enter their home. We have qualified tradesmen and lots of manual labour helpers in the family and top quality work was completed. New walls, new up-to-code insulation, upgraded electrical, solid base for the ramp, pressure treated lumber, main floor laundry and much more. The ramp was built over 30 years ago and is still solid and level today and my Mom, who is 89 yrs old, is still happily living at home.
    On a side note: Your Mom currently has to go up a flight of stairs every day. Can the carriage house be retro fitted with a chair lift to bring her upstairs and back down again. Getting a sun room on the same level to accommodate ageing in place may be a moot point with this carriage house if the main stair issue cannot be addressed.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes it’s true, and yes it could be retro-fitted with a chair lift when the time comes! Thanks for your comment! Maria

  • Sandra says:

    Maria – love the expanded porch with a roof like yours for your Mom’s ‘sunroom’.
    What about a small porch out front, as well? Would your landscaper have a referral, perhaps?
    My ‘get what you pay for’ story is: we’re in our new home in LA and it’s our first experience with a tree trimming service for a dozen huge trees on the property. What we got from the lowest of three bids: scary, scalped, lollipop tree forms. I cried every time I drove up to our house. Although we had to wait a couple of years so the trees could grow out, we hired someone highly recommended as the “leonardo” of trees. He respected trees and gave our trees new life and form. That person isn’t around so I’m looking for that quality – hard to find these days.
    Good luck – I’m sure your Mom’s project will have a terrific resolution because you’re the project leader !

  • Ciara says:

    Hi Maria,

    If you need renderings for your mom’s reno check out Su Casa Design’s exterior makeover e-design service. They do fabulous work.


  • Andrea says:

    Echoing the need for a comprehensive project plan, not only for cohesive design but also sequence of service & install. Currently I am stymied from getting my preferred lighting on a new courtyard because it was not installed before the hard surfaces. There are workarounds, but it is would have been better easier to know the plan ahead of time.

  • BillP says:

    I would be concerned about spending too much on the property. Is the carriage house like an ADU that is on your sister’s property? Improved ADUs do not necessarily add value to the overall property. I would set a construction budget based upon those values, then back into the improvement budget. Neither scenario that you suggest is easy. The carriage house is unlike any of the examples you presented because of the carriage house’s low roofline. The proposed improvements front and rear will involve the existing roof and gutters which will add to the expense. I have two initial observations, the existing deck would not meet building regulations in my community with no railing. Your mother and her friends are at risk of falling over backwards onto the lawn, or stepping over the edge if not lit properly. The second observation is that the proportions of the front door and windows are all off. The front elevation doesn’t give the impression that it was “designed.” The Ann Decker portico solution could balance the front proportions as long as it is not centered over the door but centered on the house. A larger entrance step is necessary and as your mother is aging hand rails should be installed. You might consider a door with a larger window light (existing doors can be modified) which would be more attractive and bring light into the hallway. If budget allows, I’d do a roof over a new, larger rear deck, but please add a railing. Then, if budget allows, consider an enclosed front portico, be concerned about entry stairs and railings. Consider larger entry lanterns on each side of the doorway and some container plants or foundation plantings to soften the look. Have fun!

    • Maria Killam says:

      Bill, OMG I didn’t think about that. Same height as the current threshold and now we need a railing. Ack! Thanks for your comment, much appreciated! Maria

  • Renee Marr says:

    Two thoughts: (1) I am also a “plant person”. Your mom may very much enjoy a freestanding greenhouse. They can be quite reasonable compared to an attached solarium. In some ways it is superior to a sunroom because she can REALLY garden out there – start seeds and greens in the winter, propagate, have a glass of wine, etc.

    And (2) Will the garage remain functional? If so, there is not much room so the portico would be quite small if centered over the door. I had a small one on a previous house and I can’t say it was so useful that I would pay to have it constructed. Ideally I think a porch across the front of the house (except for the garage) would be much more useful but it would be a larger budget. Alternatively, she could just use the beautiful new deck area as her “new” front entrance – if it’s covered she’ll have a place for shoes, etc. Just dress up the front door with your beautiful decorating and gardening and install a walkway around to the deck. I know many people who don’t use their front doors. Your mom is lucky to have a daughter with your talents!!

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Renee, My Mom does have a greenhouse in the back of the property. And she does not use the garage for her car and never will (too much stuff 🙂 Thanks for your suggestions! Maria

  • Joanne says:

    This post is why I follow (and trust) you. You weren’t afraid to solicit input on a project that was beyond your considerably expertise. What is most gratifying is that you are a huge help to those of us who have to consider a budget. Sometimes we have to forego our dream for what is realistic.

    I was in a very similar position when I remodeled the rancher I inherited. I had visions of a gorgeous patio, but with the slope behind our house it would have cost a fortune to do it. So, I went with a deck that extends along the back of our home ( with NO step down!). I chose high end materials, beautiful lighting along the railing – and that slope makes it feel like we are looking out over the property. You and your family are so close, I know you will spend a lot of time gathered on that deck. When your post came in today, I was relaxing there with my hubs enjoying the day.

    Do not use cheap electricians. Do not use people you know (unless they are well respected in field). Many years ago, money was tight and we hired a young man who lived in our neighborhood and was just starting up. He installed under cabinet lighting. What a disaster!!!! They didn’t stay mounted, they flickered, etc. We didn’t ask him to fix them because we thought he might burn the house down. Revise your plans, but don’t skimp on materials or workmanship.

  • Carole says:

    We built our own house in the 1980s. My husband cut the trees for the lumber and we worked together to plan the steps/jobs to complete our first house. We subbed out the jobs we couldn’t do ourselves. The electrician we hired charged by the hour, not by the job. We chose him because he estimated a short time frame and a low price. Big mistake! To wire the house should have taken about 2 weeks at the cost of about $600 labor. This guy completed the job in 5 1/2 weeks and our cost was nearly $1400! On top of that I noticed the bedroom wall plugs were all at varying heights. Hourly jobs depend on WHO you hire. I recommend always getting 3 quotes and go with a contractor who has done jobs by people you know. Best price quote is not always the best.

  • I know some kind soul will have the perfect solution. I can add – get a flat fee for the job from a seasoned professional, yes a carpenter, but not hourly. Things come up and when the job requires more time a professional quote will have that built in because that person will know to plan for contingencies. Hourly can drag on, get pricey and there can be tension instead of joy at a new back patio and lovely front portico. What about extending the pergola in the other direction over the windows on the left and adding a little front porch? And the foyer/mud space seems like a necessary luxury, expecally with the sweet grandsons coming over with gravel on thier sneakers. Can’t wait to see what you build! xoxo!

  • Jane Nares says:

    Maria, as you’ve stated in a number of your posts, hire a designer! And I would recommend someone who has experience/training with Aging in Place so the reno will work for your mom on an ongoing basis. If you hire someone who can come up with working drawings for you, they’ll be no confusion when it’s handed over to a carpenter. And definitely don’t go cheap on the carpenter; I’ve paid the price, so to speak, by doing this in the past.

    • Maria Killam says:

      That’s exactly what I’m trying to do here. . . I don’t know anyone who can do this kind of job which is why I’m asking. Thanks for your comment, Maria

  • Nikki says:

    Hi Maria and Mom,

    A few thoughts to consider: I took care of my Mother who wanted to “age in place” but never bothered to discuss it with us until she started to have health issues. If your Mom wants to “age in place” a few thoughts on how to spend your money or budget your renovations so they make sense for the future

    I’ve never seen an elderly person who can climb stairs easily. I would elect to spend more on an addition to the house where the deck is to create a small bedroom and a handicap accessible bathroom. The room should be on level with her living area/kitchen, it can look very “sunroomy” with windows and be heated & cooled (perhaps a split room would work in your climate). You can save up for that or spend your money there now (she would have a lovely place to read etc until she needs to be on one floor) and do just a basic front porch in the future. I think she’d get a lot more use out of the room than the porch so that is where I’d spend my money. I see that she has 2 steps to the house – know that on the future you’ll need to add a ramp and plan the front porch accordingly. As we age, even one step treacherous if you have bad knees and hips. The upstairs will be perfect if she ever needs some live-in help or if someone needs to be there with her.

    I never thought of these things before I took care of my Mom – but now I do. I am in the process of selling my 2 story dream home that I built 22 years ago. Wish I knew then what I know now -I’d have spent my money with an eye to the future instead of what I wanted in the “here and now”.

    My remarks are predicated on the thought that she wants to stay in her house as long as possible. If she has other plans then the deck/front porch would give her everything she wants now.

    Hope this gives you and Mom some food for thought and an open and real discussion on what life may hold 10 years from now. Wishing Mom good health and happiness!

  • JoAnn says:

    I try to hire professionals for not only what they do, but also what they know and can teach me. As you do Maria, they should be able to explain the “why” to me. I also believe in using the very best materials one can afford or which are budget appropriate. It usually costs the same whether your pro installs the cheapest or the best. Do it once and cry only once, as they say.

  • Shawna says:

    Growing up we had a vestibule rather than a portico. The roof was solid with glass walls and a glass door that could convert to a screen door in summer and was built on a concrete slab. It was an extra barrier to the cold in the winter and you could leave your boots out there if needed. When you were unloading groceries in the rain or snow you could make all your trips from the car to the vestibule where they’d stay dry. Then you could shed all your wet layers and transfer everything to the kitchen. It wasn’t really a mudroom but it could function like one because it was enclosed. A vestibule might be the middle ground between a portico and a mudroom. It doesn’t need to be heated because you retain the front door, but you can still use it to hang coats and store footwear. In my current house, I have an unheated enclosed breezeway that’s my route into the house and it’s where all the coats and footwear live. When it’s really cold in the winter I will grab my coat and boots and bring them in the house 20 min before I leave to warm them up.

  • Kay says:

    Dear Maria,
    You have sown generously with your advice over the years, and now you are reaping!

    Most of the work we’ve had done on our house has been excellent. A roofer came to our door who had done a lot of nearby houses and had abundant references, so we checked him out and hired him, and that went very well for a reasonable price. Perhaps we were lucky? Our contractor did a fabulous job with all our house renovations, and currently we have someone doing work outside, again found because he was working for others in our neighborhood. Thus far, he is doing a very good job. Our only problem was with the electrician we had to hire for our expanded living room because our capable contractor isn’t licensed in the city. The electrician we hired cost us $2000, which seemed a lot, but he wasn’t very bright and I had to watch him carefully to prevent mistakes.

    The problems I’ve had are mostly with trimming our large bushes. We have a tree service that does an excellent job with everything high up, but no one seems to properly trim bushes by cutting out branches from ground level. So I do it, with my husband’s help when the chainsaw is needed. Since we’ve been trimming the long row of burning bushes, they have looked wonderful. The worst thing you can do to them is lop off branches—you end up with a mess instead of graceful arches.

  • I love your metaphor. I always like to say to clients who are trying to find a way to save a buck, “You are stepping over dimes to save pennies.”

  • Diane says:

    I would suggest you contact one of your local designers for a referral. My DIL is a designer and she has several tradesmen that she keeps busy with remodel projects of various sizes. Her reputation depends on them doing a good job at a reasonable price.

  • Barbara says:

    Expensive or cheap builders/contractors, the results can go either way. Not necessarily best result to hire the most expensive.
    We bought a brand new house with a walk out lower level that was unfinished. All the houses we looked at, new or newish, I didn’t like the way they had finished the lower part.
    We asked the one-man builder of our home to give us a quote on it, after doing the design plans our self. It was a bit over $30,000 and didn’t cover all the area, but was of the same quality finishing as upstairs. We couldn’t afford that.
    It was 2002 and builders were very busy. We got a guy from a newspaper ad to do the framing. We liked him, so kept adding things for him to do. Next the drywall, which included a long curved wall. Then the finishing. Then the flooring and tile work. Each part he estimated and quoted as he went along, I think that really helped keep costs down.
    We got an electrician from the newspaper ad, as well. The framer guy said the electrician was very cheap, it was $25 per plug and outlet. Both did brilliant jobs and our cost with a full bathroom and electric fireplace (it was costly back then) was about $17,000. I did all the painting and hubby and I sourced all the carpet and flooring and bought all the paint. Only thing I would change now is to put the more expensive 8 inch baseboards and casings in the visible areas.

  • Heather says:

    Just a quick comment on your mums porch. If an enclosed/mud room porch does not fit the budget right now, at least make the open porch able to be enclosed at a later date and make it a generous size so that at least 2 or 3 people can take off coats comfortably in the space.

    We had a deck around our raised home which was a seemingly generous 8 ft wide but once you put some chairs or dining setting on it, you quickly had no room to move around or past it. (We have just put a massive extension on it) I say this with vision to your mums rear deck. Again I think build a generous covered space, especially depth wise, that is able to be enclosed later. In the mean time, you might look at enclosing the space with PVC or shade cloth blinds if bright sun or wind is an issue.

  • Liz in Oregon says:

    Maria, I’m going to jump on the aging in place bandwagon and strongly encourage you and your sisters to have this conversation with your Mom before you do any construction. Your Mom strikes me as someone who is very mobile still and independent…but that can change in an instant. It’s much easier to build with a plan for that possibility than have to figure out modifications later. Like your Mom, I’m in my 70’s, but less mobile due to back issues, so this subject is important to me. If there is any way to incorporate the suggestions you’ve received into what your Mom wants, she will thank you later (if not now 🙂 ). I’m attaching a link to one of the many websites discussing “aging in place” considerations. Your Mom strikes me as very practical, so I suspect she will be open to some of these ideas. I’m sure you all will come up with something she enjoys. And please hire someone qualified, not a local hourly carpenter!

  • S. says:

    I’m a huge fan of approaching a large project in phases. First do some research, figure out how to articulate what you like and don’t like, and gather photos and samples. Set your budget. Second, hire a design specialist and arm her with your now-coherent and pared-down descriptions of the look you are trying to achieve. Third, hire a single contractor to execute the approved plan. I have to confess, I’ve never remodeled, or had the privilege of picking finishes for a new build home. But, like Maria, I love gardens and flowers. I spent my first 15 married years going to the nursery with no plan in mind, spending big bucks on plants that struggled or died, or sprang up like giants in the night smothering everything near them. I cannot tell you how many lovely flowers I bought that looked so creamy or vibrant at the store, only to look washed out or puny or lost when I planted them next to other items that clashed or overtook. At one point, I attempted to tell myself that I was trying for the “English cottage garden look”, all untamed and de-architected… only to finally admit that even a cottage garden has a very distinct, though subtle, plan. For my retirement home I took the phased project approach, and I’m completely sold. The path of the sun and shade across the yard was optimized for our hot muggy summers, the selection of plants was optimized for adult size, similar water requirements, and a heliotrope and scarlet palette. The one calculated risk we took was doing the construction in July and August, when no Texan in their right mind would plant anything due to the heat; taking that risk gave us a sweet deal on the labor cost, since landscaping jobs were scarce at the end of the summer. I’m also a big fan of the fixed-price bid. That allows the contractor to work most efficiently, leveraging his skilled people across several jobs and reducing his cost, while protecting your bank account. It eliminates delays caused by one contractor arguing about what a previous contractor did. And it maintains a tight schedule, because there are no “gaps” while you wait to bubble to the top of each individual contractor’s schedule. The 15-year no-plan effort cost approx. $45K, was never “done”, and yielded no usable yard. The forever home planned landscaping project cost around $25K, was done in 4 weeks, and has been a joy to sit in every morning and every evening as we watch hawks and hummingbirds and the non-stop revolving colors. Good luck on your project!

  • Charlotte says:

    Have you considered adding not only a porch to the front of the house but extending that addition all the way to the left corner which could then become a small sunroom with a regular roof (I.e. not glass). Yes, I understand it would diminish the light in the room behind that smaller window but if that’s a concern, the wall could be removed making the downstairs larger. In time if your Mom can’t use the stairs, her living room could be converted to a bedroom and the sun room would be her new living room/sitting area. At that time or any time, the upper portion of the house could become potential rental space (to help with the reno cost maybe), caregiver space or ‘grandson’ space. Your Mom’s potential needs should be considered if she plans to age in her carriage home. My parents, aged 93 and 97, still live in their own home, on one level, in a rancher style house. (Yes, I know, my siblings and I are very lucky to still have our parents!). The only major change made was to combine two bedrooms into one larger bedroom with an en-suite and same floor laundry room and that was done about 35 years ago. Only minor adjustments have been made since, mainly adding safety hand rails, converting a tub into a walk-in shower and an outside ramp added last year to the back entrance. I’m very grateful during the Covid-19 crises that they’ve been able to self-isolate in their own home versus assisted living. Also wondering, have you considered using any of the garage space for closet/entry space?

  • marina says:

    Hi Maria,

    Bravo!! 👏🏻😍 I love so much your decision to install a deck!! ❤️️ The deck is a super solution for those who love nature and at the same need to extend their house .. 😍🌳🌸🌷🌺🏡 It’s a perfect place to leave clothes, shoes and gardening tools .. 👢👒☂⛏ as well as a great sleeping place for warm summer nights or when you large family get together .. 👌🎉 😚😚😚 Besides, this is a huge space for creativity, where your mom could make flower compositions and arrange the area in her fave style: marine, floral, woody, glass and mirrors, stones and so on.. 🎍🌿🌹Of course, if your mom wishes to achieve this all from the project, she will need to consult the designers’ advice, read articles on the internet and watch youtube .. ✌😍💻

  • Diana says:

    Maria = I love to read articles about you and your family I am righteously envious.
    I like the standing seam roof in one example, however, my concern is how does it drain the rain. A downpour would put the rain over the standing seam border and on to the guest from American Publishers Clearing House with the big $1,000,000 check. I know this certainly wasn’t detailed but a suggestion of look, however, when the real thing happens, always think of drainage when adding anything on to a home.
    I have done many many renovations in my life plus new builds. Very detailed plans are first, send it to 3 contractors who have come highly recommended. Then wait to hear from each of them. You may only receive one bid back, don’t stop looking and please see their work and clients prior to selecting them to even bid on the job.
    I never ever pay anyone by the hour, you could go broke that way. It will always take more time than you thought.
    My husband would add a clause, if finished, by a particular date, there would be a bonus of $__________. Seem to work for him.
    Know the products you want and stick with it. If you have picked a $10.00 a sq ft. item and then change your mind to a $20.00 a sq. ft. item, the contractor usually increases his % as the risk is higher if it gets broken and he has to replace it.
    Wishing you and your family good health and love.

  • Michelle says:

    No. No. No to charging by the hour. Lawyers charge by the hour. Then a case can take months or even years to complete. Just no. Any contractor who knows what he’s doing will give you a flat rate for labor and materials. They should do a thorough inspection of existing structures to see exactly what they’re dealing with when adjoining new to old. Sure, they may come across some unforeseen issues once they begin diving into the older construction, like termites, dry rot, electrical not to code…who knows. But then the homeowner is made aware and an additional fee may be negotiated then.

    Maybe solicit a few student architects or design graduates to give you some ideas, then advertise the ‘winner’ on your website. At that point, it’s a win-win…you get trend-setting designs at a bargain price and they get a much needed project on their resume. Then find a contractor who can make it happen!

  • Joanne Burns says:

    I love your ideas of doing a covered deck on the back. The front updated covered porch or mud room would be a great addition too. There is a potential issue I see with the ideas you have for these projects. To put a roof on a porch or deck you have to tie that roof line into the existing roof line. The examples of the front porches you are showing are being placed on houses that have no existing roof over the porch on the before picture.

    It looks like your mother’s home has an existing over hanging roof on the lower story. The new roof for the porch or the deck has to be tied into the house framing and the existing roof either removed or extended out to become the new roof. I don’t see an easy way to add the style porches you are looking at to the existing roof line in the front of the house.

    Something to try to see what I’m saying is to try just photoshopping the new porch on to the picture of your mother’s house. What happens with the existing roof when you do this? The same for the back deck. It looks like the existing roof has a pretty steep pitch that would not allow it to just be extended over a new deck without making a really low ceiling say 10′ out from the house.

    It’s not impossible to change this but it may get expensive. It looks like you need a good designer or architect to draw up some plans. If you just hire someone to start doing construction you could end up with a expensive mess.

    I would not get bids without a good detailed plan of what you want. We just remodeled a media room. We had the contractor bid the job based on some Interior Designer doing some concept drawings. When the contractor started flushing out the details with us on how to construct this idea we found out the drawings were totally not workable for the room. By time we made the modifications to the drawings the whole thing was simplified and I think we over paid for the fixed bid job because the original work was not clearly specified.

    I also would not do it by the hour. We are doing some work this summer and some of it will be by the hour. But we know the contractor and trust that he will work steady and not pad the bill.

    By the hour is only good for the contractor. They take no risk then. Here’s our story of never again by the hour…

    We hired a contractor to install a new window. The window was a warranty repair since the window failed. We got bids and thought they were too high. We got a recommendation from the developer who we purchased our land from for building our house. We trusted him at that point. But it turns out that was a misplaced trust for many reasons!

    The guys he recommended and that we hired said that they could do the install for about $3000 but they wanted to do it by the hour so they could give us the very best deal. Everyone else was biding about $5000 for the job. Now this was just for labor. The window was free from the warranty. But we have a stucco house and repairing the stucco is an expensive job. So we thought we could save a couple of grand and they came highly recommended so we did it. We got to $5000 in bills from their hourly billing and we fired them and the job was no where near done. They were billing us to run to the store a couple of times a day because they couldn’t plan for the right materials. The round trip drive time to the store was 1 hour in itself from where we live. We had to hire someone to finish the job so we ended up spending a couple of thousand more than the $5000 the other people had bid.

    The worse part is that a couple of years later we started having more leaking problems with the new window. When we had the rep from the company out again he said it looked like the window was probably twisted while it was being lifted into place which caused the seals to fail between the big picture window and the side casement windows. They would not cover contractor error. So we had to purchase a new window and have that installed at a cost of $5000. Why the original bids were $5000 for just labor before and now we found someone to do it and the cost of the new window for $5000?

    We were new to this town when we built our house and by the time we had to install the second window we had developed more relationships that helped us find better less expensive people. Also we built our house in 2003-4 during a building boom where everything was inflated in price since everyone was busy. When we did the second window we were in the down turn around 2008.

    Contractors around us are getting busy again. But we are no where near the boom building of the early 2k’s. But I’ve heard prices are going up in some areas where people were really busy. I don’t know how this whole COVID shut down will affect the cost of the project. Contractors around us still seem to be booking jobs. Last year some areas of the US were having trouble even finding subs like electricians, plumbers and painters to do projects. Kitchen and Bath firms were finding it difficult to do remodels for homeowners on a schedule because of this. I heard they could find subs but they wouldn’t want the ones that were available to do the work because of potential problems. It reminds me of our experience with our window install.

    So even getting 3 bids in a booming market can be problematic. It takes some good digging into references. Also check to see how long they have had their current business name. The contractors around us go bankrupt because of lawsuits over bad work and then reappear with a new name. We had no idea this was going on until we got burned by it. The general who built our custom house was one of these contractors. We checked references. Saw his work. We thought this all looks good. He had just changed his name when we were negotiating the contract. We thought nothing of it. We didn’t see any homes that were very old come to think of it. While he was building our house the people we had seen as references started having problems with their windows leaking. We didn’t hear about the details until after our house was built. Our house was the last house he ever built. He became a massage therapist after a 20 year career in building.

    We not only replaced that 1 window but we had to reinstall almost every window and door in our house because they were done wrong. One window in our son’s room started leaking during a rain storm where water poured in through the bottom of the wall creating a puddle of water 5′ into the room. The studs had rotted in less than 5 years to the point where they were going to compromise the structure of the wall. Our builder was out of business so we couldn’t sue him.

    So many horror stories of building our current home it will make you not want to tackle another project!

    Best of luck with your project!

  • Anne-Marie says:

    All the porch suggestions you show seem difficult to implement on your mum’s house because of the continuous roofline across the front of the house. So here’s a different thought: if your mum doesn’t use the garage for a car, could you enclose it and create a room with French doors? That would give your mum more indoor living space to replace the solarium, and also create the opportunity to redo the front of the house with a porch or portico.

    I’ve had good luck with contractors, maybe because I’ve only ever used ones that came recommended by people I knew and with whom I felt enough rapport to trust that we’d be able to talk if/when problems arose. But the penny wise, pound foolish caution has a counterpart for DIY jobs, in my experience: “minute wise, hour foolish.” As a colleague of my husband’s once said, “I didn’t take the time to do it right, so now I have to make the time to do it over.”

  • Cyndi J says:

    As the daughter of an architect, I would think the first step would be to hire one.

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