Case Study: 640 Maple Street, Part 2

Construction Progress

By Marie Barron, Designer, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

 

In our last blog post we discussed the design process for our conversion of the Shroeder sheet metal shop into a home (here is the link if you missed it).  Deep into construction now, we wanted to revisit it and give you some progress snapshots.

Here is a photo of the exterior from Maple Street, as you approach towards Middlefield Road.  The iconic “Shroeder Sheet Metal” sign will return once exterior finishes are complete, respecting the building’s history dating back to the 1920’s.

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Great care was taken by the contractor to reuse as many of the old building’s wooden studs as possible, reinforcing with new supplemental studs where needed.  Posts and metal shear walls were added in as well, to support the lofts on either end of the home.

Three of the original trusses were kept as well, webbing across the central double height space as seen in the following photo.

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Last, a look at the roof’s progress from the deck off one of the loft bedroom suites.

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Look out for finished photos on our website soon!

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Case Study: 640 Maple Street, Part 1

The Vision and Design Process

By Marie Barron, Designer, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

The Kastrop Group prides itself on “designing for your reality,”–helping our clients envision the beautiful and boundless potential they can experience in their built environment.  The following is a short case study of a project that exemplifies this standard, and is now under construction near the heart of downtown Redwood City.

It was an old sheet metal shop, believed to date back to sometime around the 1920’s.  Worn, corrugated sheet metal provided a thin cover to its bare wood studs, and its interior was filled with workshop tables and left-behind supplies.  The client came to us with a strong vision and saw great potential in this old warehouse that many could easily have discarded or overlooked.  He saw his future home.

Once he came to our firm for guidance on the design and permitting process, we began by looking into the parcel map and had a survey conducted to locate the lot’s property lines.  We found that there were actually 2 buildings on the site – the sheet metal shop warehouse, along with a small residence next to it.  We would need to apply for a Use Permit to transform this into a completely residential lot, along with an Architectural Permit presentation of the aesthetic and design logic in order to obtain the City’s planning department support.  A constant dialogue between ourselves, the client, and the city, was fused into the final design.

By retaining the existing building’s footprint and perimeter walls, we could stay within the 0-ft setback lines that existed on this already-small lot.  The design challenge then became how to take this warehouse and turn it into a functional, comfortable living space, designing from the outside-in. Taking advantage of the high ceilings, two bedroom suite lofts were created on either end, opening up to meet at the airy, double-height central living space that showcases the building’s beautiful existing wood trusses.

The design embraces the industrial look and history of the site, with metal siding and plates of corten steel wrapping its sides, capped with a standing seam metal roof.  This industrial aesthetic carries on into the home, with exposed ducts and pipes threading along the high ceiling of its central space.  A touch of warmth for its residential turn was brought in with weathered wood siding covering the inner residential courtyard walls, tucked away from the street, as well as a recessed living wall proposed on the opposite side. A careful selection of refined interior finishes will also contribute to the softening of the home’s interior.

640 Maple - progress

This home is currently under construction.  Stay tuned for some progress photos as we near completion!

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Subcontractors and skilled trades: we need young people to enter the construction industry!

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

 

You want your son or daughter to go to college, get a degree and enter the workforce with a high-paying job.  But what if they enjoy hands-on activities and are not motivated by classroom work?  Can they still enter the workforce with a high-paying job?  The answer is yes.

The construction industry lacks incoming apprentice workers in all of the skilled trades, including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, framers, heavy equipment operators, masons, glaziers, solar system installers, and so on.  I’m not a representative of the trade unions, but I have heard that they are trying to attract young people to their ranks.  These jobs are skilled work, and usually are highly paid.

Many construction companies would like to hire young people with computer skills.  Millennials are comfortable working with mobile information technology platforms, such as laptops and tablets, and are adept at using computers for many daily activities.  In a similar way, most firms now use cloud computing and digital files instead of huge sets of paper drawings (or blueprints for those of us old enough to remember).  Sophisticated software is in use for the design and construction team on projects of all sizes.  Young tradespeople can combine their computer skills with their hands-on skills to become the top subcontractors of the future.

I’m a little bit outside my area of expertise here, because we are an architectural firm, not a construction firm.  But the need is apparent to us when our projects go out to bid, and we know that the excellent general contractors that we work with are always looking for new employees willing to join the construction industry and be trained in the highly technical building trades of the future.  For the employees in the skilled trades there is great satisfaction in seeing your work come to life in the physical world.  The sense of accomplishment in creating something and watching others use and enjoy it is something many office jobs cannot provide.

We encourage young people to consider the building industry when looking at possibilities for the future.  There are good jobs for skilled tradespeople in all areas of the country.  If the work interests you, go for it!  Here is a useful list of construction trades:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_construction_trades with links to more specifics.

 

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Build it now or later? What are the considerations?

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

 

So, you’ve missed the window for doing your construction project when everything was a lot less expensive (due to the recession).  But now you have your financing together and you are ready to move ahead.  What are your choices?  Right now in the Bay Area there is still a building boom occurring.  Some materials require long lead times, the top contractors have their schedules full (usually until winter or later), and some consultants (structural and geotechnical engineers, surveyors, etc.) are difficult to schedule as well.  Subcontractors who are in great demand have raised their prices accordingly.  Should you wait until things cool down before moving ahead?

For small projects especially, kitchen or bath remodels for example, the cost per square foot may be out of proportion for the size of the project.  In the past a $300 per square foot rough ballpark figure was reasonable for small remodeling projects.  Now none of the bids are coming in at that range.  We are telling some of our clients that they may be better off to wait on construction, at least until the winter, but there are other considerations.  In some cases, you may not want to wait for prices to come down.

Here’s the problem:  if you get a building permit, you can’t get the permit extended forever.  Most jurisdictions want you to start construction within 6 months of getting your building permit.  They will let you extend a permit for 6 more months for a relatively small administrative fee.  So, that’s a one-year period.  Sometimes they will not give a further extension than that.  Occasionally they will give you an additional 6 months if you talk to the Building Department and make a convincing case for your delay, but as a rule, you don’t want to pull the permit if you can’t start building within a year.  If you don’t start building, and you can’t get a further extension, you will have to go back through the permitting process, including paying plan review fees, and architectural fees for the resubmittal.  So, if you want to wait more than a year for a better construction window, don’t get your permit yet.

Here’s the important caveat—if your architect has your plans ready, or nearly ready, you don’t want to wait past December 2016 to get your permit!

The new California Building Code will go into effect on January 1, 2017.  This new code will have requirements that did not apply before, and your plans must be revised to meet the new code if you submit for a building permit after January 1st.  Therefore, if you are in the design process now, you should try to be on target to submit before the end of the year to avoid unnecessary redesign costs.

We are in the process of scheduling our current clients for submittal before year-end.  If you are trying to figure out when to get started on your project, we recommend that you talk to your architect right away about this timing issue.

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Check out our updated website!

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

 

As more and more people have become accustomed to finding what they need on the internet, we are getting more of our clients from online referrals as well as in-person networking.  In the past, I used to say that you don’t hire a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, or an architect by looking at an ad.  Usually for these highly skilled and licensed professions, you wanted to get a referral from someone you really trust.  Perhaps you knew these professionals personally through your professional or technical associations, service groups, or faith community.  Now, I’ve changed my tune.  More and more, people just click online to find someone and they trust review sites for referrals.  That’s the reality of our current high-tech culture, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As a result, we take pride in our online presence and reputation.  We have put a lot of thought into our website.  We don’t just post pretty pictures of completed projects.  We don’t just buy online ads or create “click bait”.  Anyone can do that, regardless of their knowledge and skill.  Instead, our approach is to let you know our level of professionalism by giving you information, as well as examples, so that you can become an educated consumer in the world of design and construction.

We recently completed a redesign of our website, not really for cosmetic reasons, but instead to make it easier to navigate and find the information you need quickly.  We also want you to be able to communicate with us more easily.  Here are a few of the changes that we’ve made:

  • more Testimonials displayed, with the addition of an online form for past clients to use for posting
  • work page & work samples reformatted, including 6 showcase projects for each of our design categories (Residential, Commercial, Public) with their story and tons of new photos to explore for each, along with new Before & After transformation slideshows
  • more frequent Twitter posts to share information from other online design resources.
  • home page slideshow updated
  • minor formatting changes to the Home and Contact pages for convenience

 

Check out the updated website at www.kastropgroup.com.  If there is something that you would really like to know, feel free to send us a message via our “Contact” page.  We promise to respond promptly.  I always like to receive suggestions or questions for blog articles!  Thank you for taking the time to read our blog, and we hope that you will refer us to your online communities.

 

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The Importance of a Preliminary Construction Estimate

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

One of the services we provide to our clients is to obtain a Preliminary Construction Estimate (PCE) from a trusted General Contractor (GC) as soon as we complete the preliminary design phase and before starting design development and construction documents.  Why do we consider this step so important?  We have learned from long experience that what people want to build and what they can afford to build might be two different things.  We hear stories from people who have paid for complete construction document drawings, obtained planning department approval and maybe even a building permit before getting their contractor bids and finding out that they can’t afford the project as permitted.  This means that they literally have to “go back to the drawing board”.  It’s a big waste of time and money.

Instead, we encourage all of our clients to take an extra step when the preliminary design is complete enough for a good general contractor to give it a “ballpark price”.  This is not a bid, and it is not a binding estimate.  But it gives the architect and the client reassurance that the project is generally in the expected price range.  If the PCE is within the project’s construction cost budget, we immediately move ahead into the design development and construction document phases.

If the PCE is way beyond the budget, we can discuss options with the client.  Some of these options include downsizing the project, considering alternate materials and finishes, or taking a phased approach to construction.  These are just a few of the cost-saving possibilities, and the GC may suggest others.  All of these design considerations are relatively easy and inexpensive to do in the early stages of a project without having wasted a lot of the client’s time and money going down the wrong path.

Preliminary Construction Estimates take time and expertise.  Even though the client is not in any way required to use the general contractor who provided the PCE, we encourage the client to at least consider that contractor strongly when they get to the bidding stage.  It gives the GC an inside track for the project and makes it worth their time to help us in the preliminary stage.  (By the way, we don’t always request a PCE from the same GC, we choose from among several GC’s that we have worked with, based on the contractor’s experience with the type and size of project.)

The PCE also could highlight areas of concern, when a contractor tells us that something specific in the design may trigger a higher cost or require more lead time than is typical.

No matter what type of construction project you are considering, always ask your architect to obtain a Preliminary Construction Estimate for you as early as is practical in the design process, so that you don’t get stuck paying to redesign the project after the construction documents are complete.

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Difficult Times for Small Projects: Contractor Bids per square foot way over average

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

We are seeing a disturbing trend when getting contractor bids for small residential projects in the Bay Area.  We want to raise awareness for those who may be considering a small project for their own home.  This is an example:  A 162 square foot residential bedroom addition, with 3 walls, 3 doors, 3 windows and a simple gable roof.  There is very little electrical and plumbing (just a few outlets and a hose bib).  No kitchen or bathroom work is involved in this remodel.  It really doesn’t get much easier than that for a residential addition. How much do you think it would cost to build?

Normally, we would tell the client to expect bids around $50,000 or around $300 per square foot.  That’s what we’ve been seeing in this robust Bay Area construction market.  But a few things have changed lately.  As we get into summer the contractors are very busy.  The market doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  The subcontractors are in high demand and are pricing themselves accordingly.  Lastly, contractors have less interest in multiple small jobs when they can get better efficiency by doing fewer, but larger, projects.

So, what bids did we actually receive for this small bedroom addition?  One contractor that we know is usually on the low end gave a $75,000 bid, or $463 per S.F.  Another contractor gave an itemized bid that was a total of over $106,000 or more than $658 per S.F.  Holy cow!  That bid was enormous for what they were building.  This isn’t the Taj Mahal!

Digging a little deeper we found that this general contractor charges 12% overhead, and another 10% profit on the subtotal of the subcontractors’ bids.  That is higher than we expected.  In the past, overhead and profit (combined) ran in the 10-15% range.  This is a double-whammy for the client.  The overhead/profit percentage is higher than usual and the more the subs charge, the higher the number that percentage is based on.

Keep in mind that the construction industry suffered a heavy blow during the recession and some contractors are making up for lost wages and profits.  Some people even left the industry or left the Bay Area during that difficult time.  The aftermath is that general contractors have to make an extra effort to attract skilled framers, plumbers, electricians, etc. to the smaller jobs.

What can a homeowner on a budget do to control these skyrocketing costs?  The most important thing is timing.  The rule of supply and demand is in play.  Wait until the demand drops off.  That means starting construction in the fall, or even the winter.  Yes, you may have to deal with weather issues, but it will save you a bundle of money.  People build in Seattle all year around, we Californians have it easy by comparison.  A little rain is not the end of the world and reliable contractors know how to tent and protect their construction zone.  So, waiting until contractors are a little less busy will lead to more competitive bids.

Secondly, remember to check with your architect for the contractors that they know will bid lower than others—either because they have lower overhead, are willing to take a bit less profit, or because they have created efficiencies by combining several jobs in the same general vicinity.

Lastly, and this is important, do not be in a hurry.  Some contractors are willing to give you a great price if you are willing to be patient while they work on other jobs and they try to fit your small job in when they have freed up their sub-contractors from other projects.  The caveat to this strategy is that you need to negotiate a final deadline, so that the contractor doesn’t drag on forever and try your patience in the process.

We hope that this spike in construction costs is temporary and that they will normalize soon.  We are not trying to scare you off from doing the project that you need and want.  We believe that it is important for folks to understand what to expect in this hot market period.

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