Remodeling project advances, but not without surprises


IT'S BEEN a month now, and things are going great with Dick and Nancy Councill's two-story addition and remodeling project.

Well, as great as things ever go on a construction site.

The framing is complete, the roof is being installed and the

weather has been cooperative.

There are, however, always a few surprises on any project. Ron likes to say that Murphy's Law prevails: Whatever can go wrong, will.

This is a complicated project, involving turning former living space, former garage space and some brand new space into a kitchen-breakfast room, family room-study and second-story master bedroom suite. The house dates to the 1950s and the Councills are only the second owners; the building is in pretty good shape.

Structural integrity

Not a lot of things have gone wrong at this point, but -- as is often the case -- some adjustments had to be made.

In the original plan, the existing brick-and-block walls of the garage and family room were to remain and be incorporated into the new addition. There were several openings to be cut into the existing walls for doors and windows. The walls appeared to be structurally sound, even after the roof had been removed. However, once a few openings had been cut, the structural integrity of the existing walls became questionable. Ron had to make a decision.

Normally, such a decision would not be made without consulting the owner. In this case, shoring up the masonry walls would have meant studding them out on the inside for insulation and Sheetrock, and furring them on the outside for siding. That would have resulted in finished walls that were about 13 inches thick, which would require jamb extensions on all the first-floor windows and doors.

Hidden window

It turned out to be better to simply tear down the old masonry walls and replace them with new framed walls: Eliminating extra framing and jamb extensions was the same as the cost of building new first-floor walls. Ron figured the Councills would happily vote for a better structure for the same price, so he went ahead.

The next adjustment came when demolition of the breezeway wall (which used to be the back kitchen wall), revealed, in an adjoining wall, a window that had been covered up in an earlier remodeling project.

This was a problem because, as luck (or Murphy) would have it, one end of a wood support beam was supposed to rest in exactly the spot there the window gap was revealed. So Ron's crew had to install a steel beam across the span where the window used to be, so the wood beam could rest on that. It sounds complicated, but it wasn't too hard to fix (or too expensive), and it improved the layout for the breakfast counter.

A few other things presented problems. There was no footing or foundation wall under where the garage door had been.

Dick believed that Ron should have anticipated this. Ron's position was that these days it is common practice to run the foundation wall under the garage door. But when this house was built, the builder didn't do that. Without digging, there was no way to tell if it was there or not. Therefore, it should fall into the unforeseen condition category, as did the hidden window. Of course, there was no choice but to do the digging and install the footer.

Adjusting walls

Another issue arose when it was discovered that the footing for the new part of the addition was installed six inches farther out than it was supposed to be (Murphy again). This, along with eliminating the masonry walls (thicker than framing), created more space for the addition, which had to be delegated to different rooms inside.

There are support walls that had to stay where they are, and walls that could be adjusted. This was definitely a problem that had to be worked out in consultation with the Councills. A mechanical space became a closet, and laundry room space was improved, among other things. Some compromises and adjustments had to be made, but the basic layout remained the same.

Other minor issues arose, over extending a dormer on the back and changes to the roof that affected tying it in to the existing roof. As Ron points out, you never get bored in the remodeling business.

Extra costs

In general, most problems that arise during a remodeling project happen in the demolition and framing stages. The scope of things that Ron and the Councills had to deal with are not unusual for a project of this size, especially when existing construction is involved. But the job can still go smoothly if the changes are addressed in a timely manner and are documented in writing, so there is no misunderstanding of how they will be handled.

If extra costs are involved, it's important for the homeowner to know what the cost will be before proceeding with the work. Sometimes you may be asked to make a decision about something on the spur of the moment. There are five carpenters standing in your yard waiting for an answer. In a case like this, you can ask for at least an approximation of the cost. It's TC important to know how much changes are going to cost, so you know what you are spending as you go along.

As the Councills found out, once the framing begins, it becomes easier to visualize the finished space -- and sometimes things look different than they did on paper. Almost inevitably, some changes will have to be made -- and some opportunities will present themselves.

This is the time to think about placing furniture, about fixtures and about such things as window treatments. If you do want to change something, it is easier and less costly to do so at this point than it will be when the room is finished.

Throughout the process, the most important thing of all is to keep an open line of communication between contractor and client. Because, when there's money involved, nobody likes surprises.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Renovation checklist: Dec. 20 update

- Stake out/excavate

- Pour footing

- Demolish roof

- Install drain tile

- Foundation walls

- Pour slabs

- Framing

Install windows

Exterior doors

Shingle roof


Gutters and downspouts

Rough HVAC *

Rough plumbing

Rough electrical



Interior doors

Interior trim

Paint interior


Ceramic tile

Install bath hardware

Finish HVAC

Finish electrical

Finish plumbing

Install hardwood floors


Clean up

Final inspections


4 * Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning systems

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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