Why you should consider solar panels and a home battery for your home

With the demand for renewable energy on the rise and projected to continue to increase in the future, solar energy is something you should consider when remodeling your home. Solar energy is a great way for you to participate in the production of renewable energy that benefits both yourself and your surrounding community.

While it is true that the upfront investment of solar panels is quite steep, around ($19,000 – $24,000 for a 10KW system) the benefits that follow with solar panels should definitely be taken into account. The major factors in which solar panels are beneficial are:

-Your home value goes up

-Solar panels will pay for themselves after about 7 years

-Last up to 30 years

-With a home battery you can store solar energy for emergencies

-You will be saving a lot of money each year

In the Bay Area solar panels on a 10KW system will allow you to save on average $2,700 annually from your electric bill. With all of your savings from drawing solar power, the average time for solar panels to break even is 7 years. Basically, you would have spent the same amount of money after 7 years of relying on energy from the grid. Here is a link to calculate your savings and payback period for your own home: https://www.solar.com/.

Most solar panels will stay efficient for about 30 years, so after you have gotten your return on investment, you will continue to save money for years to come. Homes that have solar panels will increase in value by approximately $15,000. Not only will you recoup the money you spent on the solar panels, but you will also find it easier to sell your house in the future.

In addition to installing solar panels, adding a home battery will help you save even more money and prepare your home for power outages and other natural disasters. With a home battery you will not rely on the grid as much.   Because you have energy saved at your home that you collected with your solar panels, you will still have power for some time if there is a power outage.  Home batteries will allow you save money because you can draw from the battery during peak hours to avoid the high energy rates from the grid. Most home battery systems currently cost between $8,000-$10,000 per battery and will last up to 15 years. The payback time for a battery is around 11 years, so you will still see a return on your investment.

With solar panels and a home battery, you are able to maximize both investments. From power outages to high electricity costs, you are doing yourself a favor by switching to solar and a home battery. If you have a family member at home who is attached to a medical device, it is very important to always have energy for that person. Solar energy is something you won’t have to think about once installed and it will passively save you money.


By Robert Rochel, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects









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The Kastrop Group has moved our office!

As of April 1, 2019, our architectural office moved to a new location.  We are still in Redwood City, now in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood within walking distance of our wonderful downtown.  We have reserved parking at our new place, and that’s a benefit to employees and clients alike.  The new office has such great natural light that electrical lights are mostly unnecessary.  There are walking paths and mature oak trees nearby and even a picnic table under a tree next to the building.

We did have to downsize a bit to fit in the new space.  And rents have gone up a lot since we signed our prior lease 8 years ago.  Nevertheless, we think this move has worked out for the best.  We are still working with the cable company to get an upgrade to fiber optic high-speed service at our new building, which is the last piece of the puzzle.  We have almost finished unpacking and finding the right space for various supplies, wall hangings and office equipment.


For any business owner who is facing a big move, either because of or after construction, here are a few lessons learned:

  1. Change the address associated with your credit card to the new location early. Then change all of your recurring charges to use the new address.  There were a few vendors that did not process the change of address quickly, causing the charges to be denied by the card company when the wrong zip code was used.
  2. Give utility companies as much notice as possible of the turn-off date at your old location and the turn-on date at the new one. Some companies require lead time to handle this, especially if equipment, like modems and telephones, have to be relocated.
  3. Get your IT people working on the set up at the new location right away. They may need permission from the new landlord/outgoing tenant to go in and see where the internet connection(s) will be, where the server will go, set up the firewall and wifi, etc.
  4. Line up regular service providers like janitorial service and delivery companies to understand that they will be shifting to a new location and make sure they know where it is and have access keys/codes.
  5. Talk to the mail carrier (in person) at your old location and your new location. They will smooth the transition so that your mail catches up to you quickly.
  6. Have your employees figure out the best configuration for furniture and computers at the new location. They have good suggestions to consider since you will be able to start with a blank slate.
  7. Order signage, new business cards, letterhead, return address labels, etc. Change the templates on soft copies of invoices, letterhead, contracts, etc.  (It took more time than I expected to track down all the documents that needed to be updated.)
  8. Update your address on all of your social media sites.
  9. Tell your clients and consultants in person or by telephone if possible. We found that sending an email is not enough.
  10. Update your address on all of your insurance policies, banking information, business licenses, professional licenses, and tax agencies.
  11. Hire a good moving company. Have cash on hand to give tips to the movers.  Check to see if leased equipment must be moved by the leasing company or a specially-authorized service.
  12. Assess any furniture and supplies that need to be ordered for the new location—kitchen appliances, restroom items, walk-in mats, fans, air filters, water filters, etc. Any eco-friendly or accessibility modifications should be considered before the move.
  13. Start boxing non-essentials early if they are going to be moved. Label the boxes clearly.
  14. Prioritize time for scanning documents to avoid moving them. (Hopefully you already have most of your essential files in the cloud.)
  15. Recycle paperwork that is not moving and shred any sensitive documents. Contact an e-waste recycling company if you are not taking all of your old equipment with you.  Contact a local charity, incubator start-up non-profit, church, or school to see if they can use any office furniture that you are not moving.
  16. Make sure all of the mapping services know how to locate your new location. It turns out that Google and Bing both had wrong directions to our new office because it faces a one-way street and some landscaping blocks entry at one end of our parking lot.  We were able to submit corrections to update their driving directions.
  17. Contact all of your business associations and membership organizations.
  18. If you still receive hard copy mailings such as newspapers and magazines, check the procedure for processing change of address. The U.S. Postal Service only allows forwarding for a short time on 3rd class or bulk mail.

I hope this checklist is helpful.  Moving is difficult and stressful, especially on short notice.  If you keep a record of what you have done and what you have left to do you can work your way through the list systematically without jeopardizing your business or your peace of mind.

If you are one of our Bay Area clients or colleagues, please visit us at our new location:  160 Birch Street, Suite B, Redwood City, CA  94062.


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Approved or Permitted: What’s the Difference?

Recently one of our clients ran into a problem with his General Contractor.  He told the contractor that the project was permitted.  The Contractor mobilized and scheduled his subcontractors to get to the site to start work.  Unfortunately, when the GC went to City Hall to pick up the permit, it was not ready.  Why?  Because the project had been approved, but not permitted.  The GC wasn’t happy.

Projects go through an approval process that often includes a few City/County departments, including Planning, Building, Public Works, Engineering, Health, Fire, Historical Review, etc.  Once all of departments have approved the project, the Architect and Project Applicant are notified of the approval.  At that time the Applicant typically must pay building permit fees.  Other steps before the permit is available can include items such as obtaining a receipt for payment of the school impact fees, getting a waiver with the jurisdiction for cutting open the sidewalk for utilities, paying bonds, verification of tree protection measures, and filing deed restrictions.

After fees have been paid and other miscellaneous items completed, then the permit is prepared and available for pickup.  That’s when it is OK to tell the General Contractor that the project is “permitted”.  The miscellaneous items vary per jurisdiction and also the scope of the project.

In our office we are careful not to use the terms “approved” and “permitted” interchangeably, but not all Planning & Building Departments make the distinction.  That leads to confusion for our clients, the Project Applicants.

As a rule, when we are told that a project is “permitted” we ask if that means the permit is ready to be picked up.  Sometimes we are told, “Yes, if such-and-such fees are paid.”  So, in reality, the answer is—No, it isn’t ready to be picked up.  The fees must be paid first and only then will the permit be ready for pickup.

If time is of the essence, and your project is in the permitting process, please discuss with your General Contractor and Architect about your availability to pay the permit fees in person, so that the permit can be “pulled” (obtained or picked up) from the permitting agency.  In many cases, your Architect can find out in advance what the fees will be, and you can prepare checks to be given to the School District and the permitting agency.  If you will be unavailable, or out-of-town, when the project is approved, you may wish to make arrangements to have your Architect pay the fees on your behalf and then bill you back.

No matter who is handling the permit fees, coordination and communication between the Architect, Project Owner, and General Contractor is important.  That way, no one will be left hanging if the project is “approved”, but not “permitted”.

Thank you for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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10 Sure-fire Ways to Connect with an Architect

The Bay Area has been in a construction boom ever since the recession ended (even a bit before!).  During the recession, the American Institute of Architects reported that 40% of the licensed architects in the U.S. were without work or underemployed.  How times have changed.  Now you might have trouble getting an architect to return your call.  How can you get your desired architect’s attention?  Here are our suggestions, based on personal experience.

  1. Be friendly. Architects know that they will have a relationship with their clients lasting months, or even years.  They want to know that the client will be a fair-minded and nice person.
  2. Be honest. Tell your potential architect about the scope (size and complexity) of your project, your budget and your timeline.  It is frustrating to have to probe for this information, which is critical to the architect’s work schedule and project estimate.  If you have a relatively small project, your willingness to wait a while to get slotted into a busy schedule will be taken into consideration.
  3. Be patient. Rush projects are a red flag to a busy architectural office. All our clients are anxious to get under construction.  It is frustrating when a potential client wants to jump ahead of the line.  If you are red-tagged for starting construction without a permit, have code compliance or other legalization issues, we are even more reluctant.
  4. Do some research. Know what jurisdiction you are in, i.e., within the City limits, or unincorporated?  Use a search engine to get your property information from your local agency’s GIS system.  (For example, type “yourcityname GIS” into your browser, then search information by your street address.)   Do you have a slope on your property?  Is it in a flood zone?  We will have to search for this information before we can give you an estimate.  If you provide this information up front, it saves us time and helps get the conversation started.
  5. Get referrals. Check on other recent projects in your area for an architect, a civil engineer, a general contractor, an arborist, and any other services you may need.  The time you invest in this research will pay off in the long run!  Some of these folks may have a long lead time for their services.  (Don’t worry, if you don’t have any referrals to these services, your architect will be able to help you.)
  6. Drop names. If you have done research and have lined up contractors or engineers, mention them to your desired architect.  Working with people we know is one of the best paths to a successful project, and we are eager to find out if the proposed team is a good one.  Also let us know if you have spoken to one of our past clients.
  7. Respond promptly. If we send you an email, or a proposal, please respond to it.  It is OK if the response is “I’ll get back to you by next week”.  Formal proposals/estimates take hours of staff time to prepare.  We have made a significant investment in giving that paperwork to you.  Even if you are not ready to sign on the dotted line, please respond to us.  The lack of response leads us to believe that you are just shopping, and not serious about the project.  If you have questions about the proposal, or concerns about the estimate, get right back to us with the questions and we will be happy to answer.  It helps if you are willing to use email rather than playing “phone tag”.
  8. Stay local. It is very helpful if you hire an architect and general contractor that have experience doing similar projects in your local area.  Familiarity with local codes and ordinances, not to mention relationships with Planning and Building Departments, can make a big difference in whether a project goes smoothly.  You can check for licensed architects on your local state architectural license board website, or aia.org, or the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.
  9. Know your project type. Is this a single-family residential project, multi-family residential, commercial/retail, commercial/restaurant, commercial/office, industrial, high-rise, faith community, etc.?  Find an architect (and general contractor) who has experience with that type of project.  Architects and contractors that have only worked on residential projects might have to do a lot of extra research on applicable building codes for a commercial or public project.
  10. Build relationships. This is good advice no matter what you want to accomplish, but it is especially important in the construction industry.  If you talk to neighbors, business colleagues and politically active friends, you will find out information that will help you get the inside track with your local agencies and construction professionals.

Thank you for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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Case Study: 640 Maple Street, Part 3

Now Complete!

In case you missed them, here’s the two preceding parts to this blog series. 

Part 1: The Vision and Design Process

Part 2: Construction Progress

Our extensive remodel project converting the old Schroeder Sheet Metal shop into a modern home is finally complete!  We’d like to share some of the finished photos with you, along with some further reflection. 

The Exterior – Then and Now


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The Schroeder sign returned towards the end of construction, this time with a modified backdrop of stamped sheet metal, corten steel, and wood siding that developed from countless 3D rendering studies.  The original stamped sheet metal was removed, repaired and painted before being re-installed.  The wood siding repurposed the original flooring of the sheet metal shop, a beautiful and sustainable idea from our client.  

Taking a Look Inside



And After: 

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Lightening the walls and adding a few well-placed skylights and windows transformed the space.  The building footprint did not change, yet the interior feels much more spacious.  The interior designer – Keith Higgins – did a wonderful job selecting the interior finishes as well, seamlessly mixing the cooler industrial elements with much warmer rustic details and pieces. 

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All the steel work was provided by Tom Roy and Alex Gonzalez.  Details throughout the home, such as the railing corner above, are subtle tributes to the Schroder Sheet Metal building’s prior life.  The client, interior designer, and metal fabricators came up with this alternate metal design that is unique and timeless.  

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With a footprint of just 1,500 square feet and a pitched roof that carves out a large portion of the available second story, Principal Architect D. Michael Kastrop, A.I.A. designed with a mind toward efficient use of space.  The final design has two spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, a master bedroom/bathroom suite, a home office and a powder room tucked in next to the kitchen and full laundry room.  The kitchenette shown above was designed by Mr. Kastrop to make use of the under-stair ”dead” space. 

Back Outside – The Living Wall

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The living wall was designed and installed by Habitat for Horticulture.  “The Fu Manchu face” was the inspiration provided by our client.  Can you spot the mustache?  We’re looking forward to watching it grow out as we pass by regularly.

Closing Words

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This project took time and attention to all of the details, and we are pleased to have the chance to share the stunning outcome with you.  The project transformed a dilapidated industrial building into a beautiful living space with historical character.  We have a page featuring this project on our website with many more photos, if you are interested.  Click here to see the image spread!

Look out for future blog posts from our firm Vice President, Lorianna Kastrop.  The blog provides some useful tidbits and reflects on trends that our architectural office experiences first-hand.  With that said, I’d like to honor her blog-closer and say thanks for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”

By Marie Barron, Design Associate, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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Skipping architectural design can be penny-wise, pound foolish

“I already have a design, I just need the plans drawn up.”  This is a statement that makes architects cringe.  In some cases, it will cause the architect to turn down your project.  What someone thinks is a “design” could have a lot of missing pieces.  Even when people use design software to draw up a floor plan, their idea typically hasn’t taken into consideration the building code requirements, local ordinances, structural issues, cost of construction, best use of space and other important factors.  By saying they have a completed design, the client has boxed the architect into a corner.  The client will get a lower quality outcome as a result.

We certainly want our clients to come to us with ideas, sketches, photos, and examples of what they like.  They can bring us their version of the design.  We will work closely with the client to incorporate their ideas, needs and desires into the final design.  We don’t expect a blank slate.  But we want the latitude to utilize our expertise and experience to come up with the best possible design within the client’s budget.  We will then draw it up into a set of construction documents (plans and specifications).  If the client thinks that they have already completed the design, they will only want to pay for the documents.  They will be unwilling to engage in (and pay for) the creative thought process and design steps that are necessary for an optimal project.

If you have clear ideas about what you would like to achieve, and you like to dabble in design, even use a home version of design software, that’s great!  Just don’t assume that you’ve done the architect’s job.   Bring us your ideas and we will use those as a starting point for the design.

Licensed architects not only have to complete a college degree in architecture, they must work years of apprenticeship training and pass a battery of rigorous examinations.  The amount of time it takes to get an architectural license in the U.S. currently averages 12.5 years!  https://www.ncarb.org/press/2017-time-to-architecture-license   It takes not only artistic and creative abilities, it also takes geometric and mathematical skills and a strong understanding of physics.  An architectural license is a matter of public health and safety, since we all spend much of our lives inside buildings.  It’s not something you can learn by buying off-the-shelf software.

Here is an example that we encountered recently.  A retail store owner wanted to remodel his store.  He thought it was an easy project and he paid an interior designer to draw up a “design” based on his ideas.  The interior designer is not a licensed architect, and although the drawings looked legitimate, they didn’t comply with building codes and accessibility requirements.  The store owner hired a contractor friend, who started to work on the changes.  The next thing he knew, the County slapped him with a stop work order.  He came to us to create the permit drawings.  (He didn’t want a new design.)  We wanted to help him—we are customers of his store.  But we couldn’t figure out an easy way to rescue the project (as it was currently laid out) to make it compliant.  Basically, he would have to start from the beginning with a new design to fix the deficiencies.  He felt that he couldn’t afford to do that because he had already spent money on it.  We had to turn down the project.  We are not sure how he will resolve the problem.  The remedy will doubtless be much more expensive than what he saved with his do-it-yourself design.

On the other hand, we currently have a client who is an interior designer herself.  She works on huge hotel projects, but the project she brought to us is the remodel of her home.  Obviously, she knows how to design and draft, but she understands that she’s not a specialist in residential projects.  She felt that she could use the guidance of an architect who has done a lot of residential work.  This creates an ideal situation, where we have great ideas coming from the client who relies on our expertise to make sure that the project is designed properly, and the permitting process goes smoothly.

So, don’t be penny-wise, pound foolish.  Hire an architect to go through the design process with you.  It will save you money, time and aggravation in the long run.  Thanks for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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Residential Design: Include your pets in your plans

We consider the needs of children, possibly aging parents/in-laws, and our client’s tastes and desires when designing or remodeling homes.  But what about the furry family members?  Pets are a big part of our lives and making homes comfortable, secure and convenient for pets can improve the livability of our homes.


Our office dog, Mafi.

Thinking of the daily activities of our pets will lead to features that are not difficult to design in a well-planned residential environment.  Where will the food & water bowls be?  Are they in a spot that can easily be cleaned and is not in a part of the room where they will be kicked or tripped over?  Where will the cat’s litter box be located?  Is there adequate storage nearby for large litter containers, scoops, refuse bags? Where is the storage for dog food, harnesses, leashes, brushes, toys?  Will a pet door be needed?  Those should all be considered in the design process.

If there is room in the budget, other conveniences are possible.  In a laundry room or mud room, a pet washing station might be a great idea.  Here is an article for reference:  Dedicated Dog Showers Are A Hot Trend In Home Design

Maybe you’d like to build in a climbing station/scratching post for your cats.  Cats like to be up high.  Do your furnishings, shelves, and window sills offer safe vantage points for the cat to climb up and rest or look outside?  Will any valuables be in danger of being knocked off?  Here are some ideas for cat-friendly features:  Cat Furniture Creations Take Over the House

Think about the durability and cleaning requirements of flooring materials, rugs, and window treatments when you have pets.  Beautiful finishes can become stained or tattered if subjected to daily rubbing or pawing by pets.

If you have a bird, think about where the cage will be.  Does the area have the proper lighting and temperature, away from drafts or direct sunlight?  Some birds like hearing the television, and some birds do not.  Be sure that the cage is in an area that allows some quiet time for the bird.  Will the flooring be protected from falling seeds, etc.?

Tanks or cages with fish, turtles, hamsters, rabbits, rats, gerbils, snakes, and so on all pose issues.  Do you need a dedicated outlet for a heat lamp or a circulating pump that runs constantly?  Where will the cords be?  Do you have a secure shelf?  Is there adequate height for the cage and air circulation around it?  Is it close to a source of water to replenish the water bowl?  Again, think about the windows in the room to avoid direct sunlight or drafts.

Where in the yard will your dog be playing, or pooping?  Do you have the appropriate landscaping for those activities?  What will be your normal door to use when going out for walks?  Is there a good spot for the dog to clean-up inside before running back into the house with muddy feet?  Is that door in a safe area if you must let the dog out at night?  Is there a trip hazard near the door if you are sleepy?  Do you need to add a gate or motion-activated lighting or any additional security measures?

Taking the time to think about your daily interactions with your pets and sharing that information with your architect is a worthwhile exercise and may even add value to your home.  It will certainly create a more pleasant environment for both you and your pets.

Thanks for reading, and as always, we are Designing for Your Reality.

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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