WANDERING through any of today's huge home improvements centers, especially ones that are brand new, is like a trip to a Fantasyland just for do-it-yourselfers.
The wonders you'll see. Gorgeous kitchen cabinets, set up so you can see how a kitchen might look. Aisles of ceramic tile, some of them with intricate, hand-painted designs. Acres of carpets and other floor finishings. Two dozen different shower heads. Rows upon rows of brightly shining light fixtures and ceiling fans ... the list goes on and on.
Maybe it's the influence of Martha Stewart -- we wouldn't be a bit surprised -- or the fact that more foreign travel and a surge of recent immigration is making Americans more sophisticated in all their tastes, but it seems that cheap and tacky are out, and stylish and relatively inexpensive are in.
Karol spent a couple of hours recently in one of these giant emporiums, which had been open only a week. Everything was beautiful, from the rugs (less than $1,300 for a stunning 8-by-10 foot needlepoint and less than $500 for an 8-by-10 foot sisal with a lovely linen border) to the light fixtures ($24 for a simple dome ceiling fixture with an antique-white metal rim and a glass bowl incised with roses). There were gorgeous bird feeders (about $40 for a tall, pointed-roof feeder with clear plastic sides and hand-painted wood-cutout birch trees on the front).
Wonderful as it all is, it's something of a trap for the unwary remodeler. Before you fall in love with (and spend your money on) the finishing touches, you need to keep in mind that there's a sequence to the process, and you need to be aware of how one thing will affect another. The more you think your project through to the end before you go too far in building it, the fewer problems you will have.
You can start thinking about finishes once the mechanical and electrical systems are laid out. Some of the choices you make will affect what has to be done during the mechanical-electrical rough-in stage.
For example, if you want to have ceramic tile in the bathroom, you will need to install underlayment (at least half-inch plywood) over the subfloor to support it. The combined thickness of the underlayment and the tile will be from three-quarters to an inch higher than the subfloor. The plumber will need to know the final measurement when the toilet flange is set in during the rough-in stage of the plumbing.
A common mistake
If you are installing ceramic tile in the kitchen, a common mistake is to install the cabinets before the underlayment and tile, then when you try to install the dishwasher, it won't fit under the counter because the floor is too high.
The electrician will need to know such things as cabinet heights in the kitchen and bathrooms so outlet boxes will not interfere with the counter-top installation, and the width of the door casings might affect where switches are placed.
Ron always walks through the job with his client and his electrician and plumber at the rough-in stage to verify placement of fixtures and devices.
Things often get changed somewhat from the original plan when you can see the walls and ceilings in place. Minor changes in the location of things at this stage costs nothing; changing things after they are installed can be very expensive.
The floor finishes you choose will have an impact on how the doors and baseboard are installed. If you are installing hardwood floors, you would want to allow for the thickness; otherwise you will be shortening the height of the baseboard. If you are installing carpet, the baseboard and door frames should be installed a half-inch off the floor to allow for the carpet to be tucked under it. (This will also avoid having to cut the bottom off the door after the carpet is installed, another common mistake.)
It also is a good idea to determine where bath hardware, railings and wall cabinets will be located so wood blocking can be placed in the walls where they need to be attached.
So when you head for one of these improvement-project paradises, take a list you of what you have to buy, and try to stay out of the aisles where there's nothing you need.
Although Karol did buy that light fixture for her new bathroom, she doesn't know yet where the walls will be. She's pretty sure, however, there will be a ceiling, and it's really a great fixture.
Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 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.