You’ve seen the TV shows. There are lots of them. A husband-and-wife team, or twin brothers, or industry experts or a smiley host oozing with personality shows you how to do everything from sprucing up your patio area to knocking down walls and ceilings and completely remaking your home. The final reveal is usually accompanied by oohs and aahs, and sometimes a few tears of joy just happen to be caught on camera too.
No matter what the formula — every show has its angle — one thing comes through loud and clear: If a person’s home is their castle, the castle has to be just right. Remodeling and renovation are as popular as ever, and the sky’s the limit — it seems like anything is possible if you have the vision and know-how.
So if you’re thinking of remodeling or renovating your home in the Puget Sound area, you can be sure you’re not alone. Whether you’re in Seattle, Redmond, Woodinville, Bothell, Edmonds, Mukilteo or Everett, what are some factors to consider if you’re planning to take on such a project?
Will you need a permit to do the work? Most likely; it all depends on the nature and scope of the job. It’s always a good idea to check with city and state offices, but the following information may be helpful.
In Washington, if you are remodeling or adding onto a building — whether it’s a single-family, multifamily, commercial or industrial building — you need a construction addition/alteration permit. A new, free-standing structure that is an accessory to an existing house, such as a backyard cottage, is considered an addition. Also, any change to the outside of a building — including adding more floor space — is considered an addition. Changes made to a building’s interior (remodeling), such as moving non-supporting walls, are termed alterations. The permit fee is based on the total cost/value of the project. After the application and necessary documentation are submitted, the permit is usually issued in 2-3 weeks. Permits for complex projects can take up to 8 weeks.
For some small projects that meet certain criteria, you can get a subject-to-field inspection permit. Since these projects are simpler in nature, not as many plans and documents need to be submitted. Examples of this type of project are building a detached garage, remodeling an interior portion of a house, building a small single-story addition, adding a dormer, building a deck, repairing a foundation and constructing a small shed. Once again, the fee is based on the total cost/value of the project. If you apply in person, you can usually get the permit that same day. If applying online, you’ll get it in a few days.
Not all projects, of course, require a permit. Again, it’s important to check with local offices, but a few examples of projects that don’t require a permit in Seattle are: pouring a concrete slab for a patio, painting the exterior of a building, repairing a chimney, repairing or replacing a roof or siding, installing kitchen cabinets, installing insulation, building a small retaining wall or rockery, building a fence or building an open-framed structure such as a greenhouse or arbor.
Keep in mind that any new construction must comply with Washington building code requirements, and the local city or town may have additional requirements. Existing parts of a house that are not being remodeled do not need to be brought up to code.
Using a Contractor
Unfortunately, construction contractors have a reputation that is somewhere between that of a used car salesman and personal injury lawyers. It’s hard to find a good, reliable contractor who will show up to work every day, complete the job in the time he promised, do it for the price he quoted and respect your home and property while he’s doing the work. Delays and added costs seem to be an integral part of the business, and it can be a very frustrating experience for a homeowner.
So how can you find a good contractor? Of course, every company will tell you it’s the best in the business, but how do you know for sure? Good companies are out there, but you have to do your homework. Here are a few steps you can take:
If you have friends or family in the area around Puget Sound, ask them. Have they had any work done on their homes? Whom did they use? Were they happy with the results? Would they hire the contractor again? If the person simply says, “Yeah, they did a good job,” ask questions. What did they like and dislike about the company and the work they did? Did they show up on time each day? Were they respectful of the person’s home and property? Was the work completed on time? Did the original estimate match the final cost of the project?
Talk to several contractors before you hire one. Look at it as a job interview, and you’re the one hiring. And remember, you’re not just looking for the lowest price. Each company has its own approach, personality and methods. You need to find a company you feel comfortable with.
Be sure to inquire about availability. This is an important factor, as some companies may be booked weeks or even months in advance. Now, you may be willing to wait, and that’s fine. But if you want to start your project soon, a contractor’s busy schedule may be the deciding factor, and you’ll have to keep looking.
Ask for references, and be sure to check them. Of course, a contractor isn’t going to give you a list of unhappy, unsatisfied customers. Even so, speaking with former customers — and looking at the work that was done, if they allow you to — can be very helpful in choosing a contractor.
Do It Yourself
There are tons of videos online dealing with just about every aspect of home construction and renovation. If you’re handy enough to do some or all of the work yourself, it may be an enjoyable and memorable project for you and your family. Depending on the scope of the project, you can check home improvement stores for the materials you’ll need, or you may need to go to a contractor’s supply company. And don’t forget to find out what permits you need and obtain them before you begin any work.
With a few great ideas and the right expertise, your “castle” in the Puget Sound area can be the home you always dreamed of!