Older Home Renovations in Boston On a Budget


How to take on older home renovations in Boston (on a budget) for energy efficiency and function

Boston old house remodel

With a 250-year-old history, the Boston housing stock is flush in centuries-old buildings. Here, Colonial, Federal, and Victorian styles are among the many that enrich the residential landscape. While many exteriors tend to be well-preserved, interiors commonly need to be updated.

Sweeten offers an outline on what to know before starting older home renovations in Boston (plus, which rooms get the most bang for the buck!) Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Upgrading electrical in Boston homes

What makes us comfortable in our homes? What will most improve the layout and/or function? Before you start with the obvious, consider what’s not visible, but is still very impactful. 

No matter what the scope of your remodeling is—the whole house or just a kitchen and/or baths—electrical service may need a boost. One 100 amp circuit box may not be enough. For a 2,000-square-foot home, 200 amps are optimal. It’s better to go bigger, allowing for add-ons in the future, since it’s more cost-effective. A professional electrical audit helps determine what needs upgrading (like adding GCFIs where there is water, in kitchens, baths, laundry rooms, for example).

Older home renovation “Must”: Bring the HVAC up to speed

Depending on the age of the heating and cooling systems, you may want to replace units for more efficiency. Newer systems have been designed to work better. Sizing is calculated according to square footage; sometimes two or more furnaces and air conditioners are needed. Make sure ducts are insulated. Zoning spaces also is smart, so that you can shut down areas of the house that may not be used all the time. 

Note that AC units manufactured before 2010 contain Freon. That R-22 material has been banned by the EPA (as of this year) because it’s ozone-depleting. It’s still available, but much more costly. Eventually, those air conditioners will need to be retrofitted for a new refrigerant or replaced as supplies run out. 

Hot water heaters generally have a shelf life of seven years. If you need to replace one, consider high-efficiency tankless heaters. They supply hot water on demand.

Improve window efficiency

Even the best HVAC system won’t work optimally if you have leaky windows. Single-pane glass common in older homes often is a source of heat loss. Consider replacing windows with Energy Star-qualified ones. Options include all-wood, vinyl, aluminum-clad with wood inside, and fiberglass. 

Features to look for:

• Low-E, or Low-Emissivity, with metallic coatings that allow windows to reflect rather than absorb heat

• Double or triple panes

• Gas-filled (argon or krypton gas) between glazed layers to improve heat insulation and slow heat transfer

How to preserve the best elements of your older Boston home

One blessing of older homes is inheriting original features. Hardwood floors, crown moldings, and wood built-ins add warmth and character. If the materials are generally in good shape, it’s best to restore. Even if repairs are in order, costs usually are far less than replacement. Lifting up wall-to-wall carpeting may reveal intact hardwood. Sand out tack holes and refinish the floors. Yellowed boards can also be fixed with sanding. Stain, or leave the floors natural, topped with non-yellowing polyurethane. And relocating a built-in can save thousands of dollars. It’s possible, for example, to repurpose a kitchen cabinet as a linen closet.

Make a master plan

Once you’ve brought electrical and mechanicals up-to-date, you’re ready to dive into room remodels. Create a wish list in order of your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Sweeten gets you started with a renovation cost guide for the interiors in Boston here. One way to keep the costs down is to maintain the existing floor plan. Add about 10 percent more to your final budget for contingencies. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of permits and dumpsters. 

The kitchen: the hub of the historic (and modern) home

For most, remodeling the kitchen is the biggest game-changer. It’s at the core of today’s living—no matter what your lifestyle. For those who love entertaining, it’s even more pivotal. 

The price tag for a kitchen remodel, of course, is affected by materials and appliance choices. You may want to splurge on a dual fuel range and choose a more modest dishwasher or refrigerator. Once you start comparing prices, you can play the balancing act. Decide what’s most important for your lifestyle. Ultimately, there are a few key kitchen renovations you can do (on a budget!) for an older home in Boston.

In a minimal remodel, it’s more cost-efficient to keep the plumbing in place. Re-piping or relocating pipes for remodeling adds between $5,400 and $7,000 (based on 1,500 square feet). Amping up the supply line from the main sewer to your home will assure a good flow of water throughout the home. If your water pressure needs help, ask your contractor whether a booster might work. Obviously, an overall kitchen and bath plan for plumbing is ideal. Also be sure plumbers check for lead in pipes, valves, or faucets.

If the cabinets are in good shape, they may be candidates for a new stain or paint. Replacing the fronts with simple shaker-style wood panels is an easy facelift. New hardware also can raise the style quotient. For some, storage may be an issue. Reconfiguring interiors with slide-out shelves or adding deep drawers for cookware are one answer. 

Adding or extending an island also may improve its efficiency. The additional surface extends prep and eating space. Then, you can build in more storage below it. 

Create a functional layout for your older home

Floor plans in older homes may not work for today. Some are too small or have chopped up rooms. An addition may not be in your budget, but it may be possible to borrow space. Look at closets, small rooms, hallways, even a sunroom or porch. There may be enough space for a breakfast room. Creating a new layout may even net a family or a bedroom.

A powder room on the first floor is a must-have today. It also can provide a canvas for instant style. Since it doesn’t require a large footprint, you probably can find the square footage. Some have even tucked powder rooms under back stairs. Without a shower or tub, a powder room is less expensive than a bath. So you might feel more comfortable splurging on some materials.

Refreshing a master bath

A spa bath may be on your wish list but not in your budget. Still, there’s a lot you can do to get a more modern look. Replace the fixtures. Get a new vanity. Install light sconces as well as an overhead chandelier. You can give it all a luxury look with porcelain tile instead of marble or limestone. There are so many stone lookalikes at a fraction of the cost. A mid-range bath remodel recoups close to 59 percent of the job cost.

Even modest renovations to an older Boston home can be transformative! You’ll certainly realize there’s an upside: the more you live in your home, the more you’ll see its full potential with future renovation projects.

Doing renovations to an older home—in Boston or beyond—is crucial for protecting it from the winter cold from pipes and roof to masonry.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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Renovate an Outdoor Space in Chicago: Decks, Patios, Fences


Renovate your outdoor space in Chicago to maximize living on the porch, deck, or city roof decks

outdoor patio

Patio and garden of family home at summer

Spending time outdoors is a major craving. We see flowers blooming and trees greening up and we can’t resist the call. Soaking up a little sunshine, breathing in fresh air feels exhilarating. Without leaving home, that may mean stepping out onto a balcony less than 20 square feet. Or up to a spacious roof deck. Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors offering support through project completion, shows how to upgrade your outdoor space in Chicago.

The outdoor living trend is robust as ever. Furniture manufacturers are more in tune with the needs for small or larger scale furnishings. Lifestyle and outdoor spaces are the catalyst.

Most of these outdoor layouts include landscaping that frames the area, some with built-in fireplaces or firepits. Add to these al fresco trends another growing segment—that of outdoor kitchens. 

House decks and patios

Adding a deck is one of the most sought after remodels in Chicago. And it brings one of the highest ROI (return on investment)—72 percent for wood.

The prevailing design thought is to create a flow from indoors to out. That means designing a space in sync with your home’s architecture and interior decorating style. In most Chicago homes, the main living space often is at least four feet above grade. So an ideal location for a deck is just outside a family room. French patio doors or sliders are the perfect bridge to the outdoors. 

The overall deck size depends on the footage between the back of the house and the garage. Usually, that’s minimal, considering that an average city lot is 25’ x 125’. Garages are at least 20 feet deep. And steps leading outdoors eat up space. Or, you might opt for a smaller landing area at grade, with courtyard terrace in between house and garage. That affords some opportunities for green space—a small tree, perimeter planting, and/or containers. “With a fixed amount of land,” said Chicago-based Sweeten contractor David, “you have to make the most of what you have.”

Older single-family homes, like those in the northern fringes of the city, enjoy more sizeable backyards. Some have deeper lot sizes, while others may have side lots. Victorian houses often have porches, some that even wrap around. Patios are especially desirable, as they especially suit entertaining and grilling. Some of them are quite spacious. 

Outdoor space materials

Some options for patio materials include brick pavers and stone (bluestone is especially popular). Porcelain is gaining traction because there’s a wide variety of lookalikes including slate, stone, concrete, and wood. Concrete offers different looks, too: staining or painting in colors and stamping, which can mimic flagstones. Synthetic composite polymer decking is another popular choice.

For outdoor deck spaces, some designers like to continue the look of flooring inside to out. Wide plank hardwood, for example, can transition to a synthetic decking in a similar shade. Porcelain plank options resembling wood are authentic even down to the feeling of a grain. 

chicago outdoor patio(Above) Chicago renovation by Sweeten general contractor Brad. Photo: Bitter Jester Studios

Another outdoor material option is wood, like teak, the Brazilian ipe, or South American cumaru. Sweeten contractor David is a fan. Ipe is a very dense wood that will not decay, is resistant to termites, mold, and mildew.

“It’s a little more expensive,” he said, “but it doesn’t rot and has fire ratings better than steel.” For roof decks, he has installed cumaru as a 20” x 20” tile. Tiles pre-drilled to fit tile connectors allow draining and picking up sections for repairs, like leaks on the roof. “That’s the beauty of it,” he said.

Urban decks

Roof decks are particularly tricky outdoor Chicago spaces and there are city codes that must be implemented. For one, a garage with a roof deck requires a full foundation. That expenditure is between $12,000 and $19,000 for concrete alone for a typical 22’ x 24’ foot two-car garage.

“If you go within two feet of an adjacent building, the material has to have a one-hour fire rating. That’s two thicknesses of drywall before you get to the siding,” said David. “Also, a three-foot parapet wall is code. So is a membrane for the roof and a scupper, so water can drain off.”

In addition, if you have a grill, you need a fireproof landing. A slight pitching of the roof helps drainage. Contractors often coordinate with landscapers, who can create a system of planters with integrated irrigation. Most decks these days have built-in electrical outlets. They cover not only lighting but charging laptops, phones, or even installing ceiling fans in pergola-like structures.

Building a deck requires a permit. But it’s easier and takes less time to get than a typical building permit. Sweeten contractor David also has built porches on several levels at the back of homes. “We did one that was only about 7 x 8 feet, a third-floor walkout right off of the bedroom,” David described. “It had a roof, with sides open. They’re putting in a two-person hot tub. “

City outdoor living

Todd Haley, principal of the design firm, tmh, in Chicago, does most of his work in city highrise condos with balconies or private terraces. He has done outdoor kitchens, with grills, undercounter refrigerators, and wine coolers, with custom teak or ipe cabinets. One favorite quartz countertop wrapped around the ends in waterfall style—“a very clean look.” It’s applied over waterproof fiber board as a substrate.

“The big difference between doing something in the city versus the ‘burbs is that it’s like designing a yacht,” said Todd “Every inch matters. In the suburbs there’s more room to play around.”

“Also, if you want to build a pergola, for example, you have to go through the HOA (Homeowners Association), get your plan approved per condo rules,” he said. ‘That might be a lengthy process.”

Todd changes up paving materials according to the location. On balconies, he usually uses painted concrete slab; on terraces, wood plank flooring “floating above the slab for drainage.”

Fence aesthetic

For Sweeten contractor David, aesthetics are most important, and he doesn’t like additions to look tacked on. He always is sympathetic to architectural style. With fences, for example, he sees an opportunity to look at them as sculpture. “In wood-frame homes, I like (fences) to be more like a wall, to look like the house.” From that starting point, he said, you can create the hard spaces.

Connecting a home to an outdoor space

That sometimes is challenging when homeowners want a more direct connection to a roof deck. “In one location, we’re building a bridge from the second floor back porch directly to the garage,” said David. “That also adds a degree of security so nobody can just walk up to the deck.”

The general contractor also likes to create more gracious back entries. “Typically, we build a roof—not a flat roof, but one that complements the style of the house,” he explained. It also shelters from the elements “so you can stand there and not get soaked when it’s raining.” 

Building wide stairs

The other consideration is scale. A three-foot-wide set of stairs is hard to navigate with two bags of groceries, let alone kids. They are usually constructed five feet wide, ideally seven. It’s more welcoming, too. “On the landing, it maybe didn’t start out as a deck,” said David, “but because of the better scale, it’s more inviting. And you can put out some chairs, sit and have a drink.” Plus the shelter provides a comfortable spot without direct sunlight.

“Consider the architectural style of the house when you build exterior spaces,” David said. “You can look at the space 10 to 15 years later and say, ‘those were good choices.’ “

Investing in an outdoor space in Chicago increases the value of your home while expanding the footprint of your living accommodations. And the level of enjoying nature? Immeasurable.

Read our Chicago home renovation cost guide to help understand your budget.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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A Garage Becomes Living Space in a Southampton Home


This Southampton home renovation gets more room, an updated kitchen, and a refreshed exterior 

living room from Southampton home renovation

“After” photos by Lena Yaremenko for Sweeten

This New York homeowner had always owned property in Long Island’s Southhampton, even while working overseas for over 10 years. Upon returning to the United States, she wanted to live closer to the village. So she sold one property and bought the other while still living overseas.

The house, located steps outside of the village, was a modest two-bedroom, one-bath, 800-square-foot 1960’s ranch with yellow aluminum siding. It previously had been a summer residence for an older couple who hadn’t touched it since the 1980s.

Slider

 

A clear wishlist

Not surprisingly, the interiors were outdated, storage was lacking, and space was tight. Still, she lived in the home for a year to better understand what she would like to change or improve. “My vision was modern, functional, relaxed—and most importantly—timeless,” she said.

The beach community location inspired a relaxed vibe. “But I also wanted a cozy look that was inviting year-round for the cooler months.” said the homeowner. “The house is small and I wanted to keep it that way.” Larger entertaining space was critical while sleeping spaces weren’t as important. “I needed a bit more common space and modernization, including an open floor plan, natural light, and an indoor-outdoor connection,” she said. “Another bath and bedroom were also in the plans.”

With her Southamptom home renovation ideas and concerns in mind, she posted her project to Sweeten, a free platform connecting homeowners to vetted general contractors, and found this Sweeten contractor. She had three goals: a total renovation that included the kitchen; adding a third bedroom and second bath; and expanding the common living space by converting the garage. “I could afford two of the three, but not all three,” she said.      

My contractor was honest: ‘I can give you this and this, but this is not in your budget.’ So I was able to decide what really mattered and make a very informed decision that I can live with.

Refacing the kitchen cabinets

“The contractor and I talked through options and figured out how we could come closest to getting all three within my budget. Kitchens are expensive but I wouldn’t need to change the layout.”  The homeowner also couldn’t afford to replace all the cabinets. Instead, she painted the lower portion in a darker gray, which masked the door’s oak grain. She refaced the uppers and purchased new doors to change up the style slightly. They went from an arched to a simple raised panel that visually connects with the those below the counter. Hard-to-reach cabinets above the refrigerator were eliminated. All the upper cabinets were painted white, which made the space seem larger.

 

The existing brown kitchen floor tile was removed and red oak was installed to be consistent with the rest of the house, all stained in a honey hue. New hardware also refreshed the cabinet doors. The contractor also swapped out outdated tile for a feature mosaic under the range hood, and white subway tile on the remaining backsplash. New stainless steel appliances replaced a white refrigerator and dishwasher, as well as a black range, for a cohesive contemporary look. The room also received a new pull-down faucet, sink, and quartz countertop.

“With some creative problem solving, it does look, feel, and function like a totally new kitchen,” she said. Without changing the kitchen footprint, she still picked up additional space. She calls her new walk-in pantry “icing on the cake.” The walk-in pantry is located just off the main kitchen, in part of what was the garage. “Everyone told me a garage conversion for storage was not a good idea because the space was just too small,” she recalled.

Garage-turn-living room

A crucial step in the Southampton home renovation was to have the 14’ x 24’ garage gutted, creating a new living room. The new room features a vaulted ceiling and a shiplap fireplace, as well as that walk-in pantry. Converting the garage expanded the 800-square-foot home to 1,350 square feet of living space. The homeowner wanted the fireplace to be a focal point. “I chose shiplap, but the way it was executed was beyond my expectations,” the homeowner recalled. A shift in the spacing and a slightly larger scale made a huge difference. It was built up to the point of the vault and a thick slate mantle instead of a wood one made it a true statement piece. “My contractor designed and built it himself,” she said.

Additional storage, refrigeration, and less-used items moved into her new pantry. “I put my microwave and other small appliances behind closed doors,” she explained. “It’s still super convenient because it’s attached to the kitchen.” The exterior roofline did not change. “I didn’t want it to look like a garage conversion from the outside,” she said. “I built false carriage-style doors on the front exterior so it still looks like a garage.” 

Blue, white, and gray palette

She settled on a mostly white color palette with some gray accents, including new charcoal paint on the exterior façade. The gray carrying over in slate at the front steps, rear entrance door, fireplace mantel, and one bath floor. Blue is a key decor thread, from the outside in. The exterior cladding has a bold new face in blue. In the main living spaces, the furniture has different shades of blue: pale blue well-worn painted metal stools at the counter; chairs around the dining table; and comfy chairs by the fireplace.

newly tiled bathroom with privacy windows in Southampton home renovation

Updating the baths also made an enormous difference. “I happen to love transom windows for some reason,” she said, “but I placed them particularly in the bathrooms for maximum light with maximum privacy.” The master bath’s large walk-in shower are clad in 12’ x 24’ white stone-like Dolomite porcelain tile, with a dark gray porcelain tile grounding the floor. Another update features a stylish new furniture-like vanity in honey-colored wood with horizontal grain that sits on brass feet, paired with a brass faucet.

It all comes together

Her favorite part of her Southampton home renovation actually was the last third of the job. “Each day there was something new, so I could see actual material being installed and the end in sight, versus “behind-the-walls” work like plumbing, electrical, gas lines, and new joists,” she said. “I have windows—yay! I have stained wood floors—yay! As you get close to the end, you start to see your vision in real-time, with day-to-day progress. It makes all frustrations melt away, and you are a very happy person.”

One thing the homeowner appreciated was honesty and expertise. “My Sweeten contractor was very patient, accommodating, efficient, and professional. Most importantly, a problem solver. My budget was tight, but I was given solutions that did not break the bank,” she said. “My contractor was honest: ‘I can give you this and this, but this is not in your budget.’ So I was able to decide what really mattered and make a very informed decision that I can live with. I am grateful for this.”

window-flanked fireplace in Southampton home renovation

Hands down, her favorite feature is the fireplace. “And adding windows on either side,” she said. “It’s lovely to watch the changes in the season through the windows but have complete privacy.” The experience of a home renovation in Southampton has been positive.

She concluded, “It makes me calm and satiated, confirming that I made the right decisions and that it all turned out as I planned—I got my dream home with my finances intact.”

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KITCHEN RESOURCES: White countertops: Corian. Sink/faucet: Kohler. Fridge/Dishwasher/Stove from Professional Line: Frigidaire. Paint: Benjamin Moore. 

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Shower Tile: Kohler. Toiler:  Kohler. 

Homeowners love to share and enjoy outdoor spaces, like decks. Here’s what you need to know to build or remodel your own.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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2020 Costs for Home Renovation in Chicago


The costs to remodel in Chicago in 2020, including  kitchen, bath, and whole-home (plus outdoor budgets and permit tips!)

Chicago remodel home costs

After a long obsession with so many Pinterest and Instagram boards, you’re finally ready to move on from daydreaming to starting that reno of your kitchen, master bath, or even (gulp) whole house. First, set a budget. Be honest. What can you afford? Build in a little reserve. Think about ideal layouts, materials, the look, and style—but also consider everything that isn’t visible—the infrastructure—especially if it’s a gut job.

Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, has done some of the legwork, taking you through basic renovation costs in the Chicago area. This guide focuses on some of the major remodeling categories: whole house remodels, kitchen, bath, additions—as well as permits—so you can include a working numbers guide in your budget.

Here’s a breakdown of typical starting costs (including labor and materials) gathered from Sweeten contractors and Remodeling’s 2020 Cost vs Value guide:

  • Full-home renovation: From $100 per square foot (psf) with stock materials to $400+ psf for high-end materials
  • Lower-end bath remodel: $15,000—$20,000 (based on a bath 35 to 40 sq ft)
  • Major mid-range bath remodel: $21,000—$40,000 (based on a bath up to 200 sq ft)
  • High-end bath remodel: $40,000—$100,000 (based on a bath over 200 sq ft)
  • Lower-end kitchen remodel: $25,000  (based on a kitchen under 100 sq ft)
  • Major mid-range kitchen remodel: $40,000—$75,000 (based on a kitchen under 200 sq ft)
  • High-end kitchen remodel: $75,000+ (based on a kitchen over 200 sq ft)
  • Basement remodel: $40,000—$75,000

While these are reasonable guidelines, you’ll get a more precise estimate after you talk with a contractor, who will inspect the areas to be remodeled and discuss materials, appliances, and fixtures you want to use. There’s a wide range of variables here.

What a home remodel costs per square foot

Gut renovation versus non-gut renovation

Gutting a home is pretty much starting from scratch—taking everything down to the studs or framework and/or knocking down walls. A gut job starts at the higher end of the $100 to $200 psf range, while a remodel of the space within existing walls will be at the lower end. For example, remodeling a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom condo may range from $50,000 to $70,000, while a gut reno likely will exceed $100,000. The work usually involves running new plumbing pipes and wiring, moving doorways, and possibly installing new flooring.

For a full-home renovation, costs start at $100 per square foot. The scope includes demo, framing, insulation and drywall, wiring, plumbing, heating/cooling systems, millwork, paint, flooring, tile, light fixtures, electronics, and all finishes—except appliances, which can significantly boost your bottom line, depending on how high-end they are. According to Chicago-based Sweeten contractor Ryan, “A whole-house renovation—say, 3,000 square feet—would cost $200,000, at the low end, and start at $400,000 at the high end. It all depends on the materials chosen.”

Wet rooms (those connected to a water supply), such as bathrooms or kitchens—typically start at $250 psf. In the city, condo (or co-op) baths can be as small as 30 square feet, but in freestanding homes, they typically are larger than 5’ x 8’.  High-end (fully custom and luxury materials) renovations can cost upwards of $700 per square foot; architectural design and drawings, demolition, construction, materials, fixtures, lighting, and finishes are included in the fee.

Contractors build in overhead fees, allowing for the unexpected, usually 10 to 15 percent of the project (Sweeten recommends that the renovator reserve at least 10-15 percent above the bid as well). The beauty of using a general contractor is that it’s one-stop shopping, as it covers pretty much all the trades required for the job.

Chicago-based Sweeten contractor Brad recommends being realistic about how much you can spend. “You can’t buy a $100,000 ring on a $5,000 budget. Nail down your contractor first; they know pricing. And add 15 percent for unexpected conditions.”

Chicago remodel costs

Costs for a kitchen renovation

  • Low-end kitchen renovation—A typical starting point is $25,000 based on an under 100-square-foot kitchen. Cost vs Value has the average at $29,543 for less than 100 square feet. This translates to stock cabinets, economical tiles, and countertops, plus swapping out your dated appliances with newer and more energy-efficient models.
  • Major, mid-range kitchen renovation: For a kitchen under 200 square feet, expect to pay between $40,000$75,000. This includes custom lighting, updating 30 linear feet of semi-custom wood cabinets, new countertops, a 3′ x 5′ island, double-tub stainless steel sink with single-lever faucet, garbage disposal, built-in dishwasher, energy-efficient range, vented hood, built-in microwave, dishwasher, and new flooring.
  • High-end kitchen: Starting at  $75,000 for a kitchen over 200 square feet, expect top-flight custom cabinets with interior detailing like partitioned drawers, pullout shelves, pop up and down storage, stone, quartz or porcelain countertops, stone or imported tile backsplash. Also included are custom lighting, under-cabinet lighting, hardwood, stone or porcelain flooring, and typical high-end appliances.

Sweeten contractor Ryan has seen kitchens cost $50,000 for a gut remodel, and at the high end, closer to $100,000. “Those figures,” he says, “can vary greatly, as some cabinetry alone might cost $80,000.” 

Costs for a bathroom renovation

  • Lower-end bathroom: A starting point can be $15,000—$20,000 for a 5′ x 8′-space with budget-friendly finishes from big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Menards, and Lowe’s. As this is a wet space, it’s similar to a kitchen remodel in that plumbing, electrical insulation, and exhausts, as well as correcting misaligned walls and floors, are part of the job.
  • Major, mid-range bathroom: For a 36-square-foot space, a remodel will range from $21,000—$40,000. Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value report suggests an average of $27,480 for this type of project and includes a recessed medicine cabinet, standard toilet, solid-surface vanity counter, and a porcelain tub.
  • High-end bathroom: The typical cost can range from $40,000 to $100,000 with Cost vs Value citing an average of $81,857 for a high-end renovation, based on a bathroom over 200 square feet. Features include new ductwork, radiant heated floors, custom cabinetry, separate shower, freestanding tub, and custom lighting.

  Costs for a master suite addition

  • Mid-range master suite addition: Estimated costs are around $452 psf or  $173,708 for a 24′ x 16′ space, including double vanity, freestanding tub, separate shower, walk-in closet, dressing area, according to Cost v. Value’s report.  Whether it’s a ground-level addition, basement remodel, or second-floor addition, accessing rough-ins for plumbing will vary and affect pricing.
  • High-end master suite addition: For a 32′ x 20′ master suite with a separate sitting area and large master bath over a crawl space, costs are around $553 psf or $353,801. This kind of project includes custom shelving, built-in storage, as well as a walk-in closet and dressing area with windows.

Costs for a basement renovation

A starting budget for a basement is around $100 psf. At the low end, the cost averages $40,000 and includes a bathroom with a shower. Flooring options, which could be laminate, vinyl, engineered wood, porcelain tile, or stained concrete, can vary significantly. At the high end, a project for $75,000 may include a 5′ x 8′-foot bathroom with shower, a wet bar, and flooring in an overall space measuring 20′ x 30′.

Costs can be affected by the existing condition of the space, whether or not plumbing pipes need to be installed or moved, new water service is required, and whether bracing needs to be done to eliminate structural supports in the middle of a space. If you want to raise the ceiling (typically Chicago basements are 8 feet or less, as low as 6’7″), that requires digging out and underpinning the foundation. In addition, it’s necessary to assure a waterproof space. A perimeter drain tile system is installed (repaired or extended). Connecting it to a sump pump also is important to consider, and this cost can start at around $2,500.

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Costs for renovation permits

The permit process for renovating varies from Chicago to its suburbs, with each of the village’s or town’s governing bodies determining requirements and fees. In Chicago, permits are obtained through the Building Department. The issue in common is safety and compliance with building codes.

In Winnetka, remodeling permits cost $30 per $1,000 of construction; new construction is $1.30 per square foot of new gross area. There also are permit fees for plumbing, electrical service ($9,800 for 200 amp service; $21,000 for 400 amp service), furnace, and AC as well as roofing and pools. In Hinsdale, the permit fee for remodeling is calculated on two percent of the value of construction.  In addition, expect to pay permit fees for demolition ($3,000).

In Chicago, application for building permits must include architectural drawings and names of all licensed contractors—plumbers, electricians, HVAC contractors (usually supplied by the general contractor). There is no one size fits all. But expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 minimally for a whole house remodel, major kitchen, and/or bath. The larger the project, the more the fee, ranging to as high as $10,000.

There’s also an Easy Permit Program for small projects that do not require architectural drawings (usually available the same day). There are nominal costs (a few hundred dollars for plumbing and electrical permits), which usually are pulled by those contractors.

Renovating your home in Chicago? Sweeten can help!

Post your project on Sweeten and we’ll match you with multiple vetted general contractors to provide estimates for your renovation, then help you evaluate the estimates. Sweeten also checks in with you until the project is completed. When you brainstorm with your general contractor to develop an accurate budget, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the dream space you’ve always craved.

Have a good handle on HOA (Homeowners Association) fees before you purchase your condo, co-op, or detached house.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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A Harlem Kitchen Designed with Nostalgic Notes


Storage and lighting add to the home, sweet home quotient

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“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

Project: Refreshing an ineffective Harlem kitchen a family has outgrown

Before: When Andréa and her husband purchased an early 1900s four-story brownstone in Harlem, the plan was to rent the top two apartments and live in the 2-bedroom, 2 ½ bath duplex. For a long time, the place felt “soooo big.” That is, until the couple started their family. Now, with an 11-year-old son, a 9-year-old daughter, cat, Romeo, and her husband’s ever-growing record collection, Andréa said, “It started feeling claustrophobic.” 

Sweeten renovator, Sweeten home renovator

The first space in their Harlem home she wanted to tackle: the kitchen. “It’s where I spend a lot of time,” says Andréa. “It was so cluttered and dim. I didn’t enjoy cooking at all. I remember balancing pans on top of each other while making dinner.”

Storage was clearly an issue. “First of all, the shelves in our cabinets weren’t adjustable—so we couldn’t even store cereal boxes or olive oil or anything taller than about eight inches. So we just had a ton of stuff on the counters or on top of the fridge.”

before and after kitchen, kitchen renovation, Harlem kitchen renovation

Appliances ate into counter space as well. “We had this massive microwave that took up an entire baking station, so we lost workspace there, too.” And then there was the lighting. “We had this one dim light that didn’t even light up the area by the sink. We always felt like we were working in the dark. And our dishwasher was dying.”

The two had an unpleasant experience with a master bath reno 12 years ago (Andréa says the contractor took their money and disappeared). This time, they posted their Harlem kitchen renovation project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that connects homeowners with vetted contractors, and they were immediately impressed.

“I felt like the Sweeten contractor we chose offered the best price for the job,” she said. “His team is very efficient and punctual. It’s great to have someone show up when they say they will and finish on time!”

After: 

Although the same 450-square-footprint was retained, their Harlem kitchen was expanded a few feet by knocking down a wall and opening up space for a bar/counter and pantry. 

before and after kitchen, white kitchen, kitchen renovation, Harlem kitchen renovation

Besides improving storage and lighting, Andréa knew the look and style she wanted from their kitchen renovation. “I’m from California, and I miss it all the time—the weather, the sky, the ocean. So I picked colors that reminded me of my hometown of Morro Bay and also the Bay area, where I went to college,” she said. “I liked the idea of gray cabinets. My mom recently did her kitchen in all white, and after two years, it was already showing use. It seemed impractical with two kids.”

The gray stock cabinets reminded her of fog around the ocean (“a win-win”). And the paint, kind of a peach color, was like sunsets—“a soothing combination.”  Even the grout color between white subway tiles has a little peach in it. She felt a quartz countertop was a nice balance. 

before and after kitchen, white kitchen, kitchen renovation, Harlem kitchen renovation

Andréa loves tea, and she has some beautiful blue Fortnum and Mason (a brand based in London) tins, which also reinforced the blue accents. “It’s kind of Jamaica-meets-Miami-meets-Cali-meets-London,” she says.

Andréa says that their contractor’s wife, Suzy, also helped make sure everything went smoothly. “Suzy was a godsend,” says Andrea. “We had a pretty firm budget and I felt like she worked very hard to stay in it without pushing for more expensive stuff or using cheap things. It was a very nice middle ground.”

And the result? A huge success. “I love the whole feel of (the new space),” says Andréa. “The colors are really inviting, and the cabinets make it feel bigger, even though it’s basically the same square footage. Of course, the kitchen is so beautiful, now we want to update everything in the house!”

Bonus: “I love my undercabinet lighting,” she says. “It wasn’t originally in the plans. It was an addition during the reno that has made a huge difference. Also—my hidden recycling bins!”

Thank you, Andréa and your family, for sharing your new kitchen with us!

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Nickel Kitchen cabinets: Fabuwood. Sink/Faucet: Ruvati. Dishwasher: Bosch. Lighting: West Elm. Paint: Benjamin Moore.

WATCH VIDEO:

Check out Sweeten’s 2020 Kitchen Renovation Costs in NYC guide and start exploring for your future kitchen renovation.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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Why multi-family homes are perfect for Chicago


Turning a few apartments into a single-family dwelling

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If you’re searching for a single-family home, availability and price may be a stumbling block, especially in some parts of Chicago. But there is another option. Take a look at two or three-flats. Consider a deconversion where a multi-family building converts into a multistory single-family home. Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, offers an overview of what you should know about making this structure your very own.

In Avondale, Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Lakeview and Andersonville there is an abundance of multi-family housing stock, with a price range of just under $500,000 to just under $900,000. Many multi-family homes, typically built between 1900 and 1920, are brick or Greystone, and have two or three stories, with an apartment on each floor. There’s often a bay in the front and rear porch with exterior stairs on the back, and an unfinished basement or garden apartment.

What’s the advantage of deconverting a multi-family home?

The neighborhood is the main attraction. Potential homeowners may already rent there and like it or are attracted to schools, shopping and the overall architectural “feel” and mix of a streetscape or area.

What makes a good candidate for deconversion?

Generally speaking, says Sweeten general contractor Ryan, the bones of a two- or three-flat will be good for deconversion, especially in brick construction. Another advantage is that older buildings often have original woodwork, crown moldings, hardwood flooring, and features like fireplaces, in addition to plaster walls.

How long does it take?

Six months is an average time frame for deconverting a multi-family home. If there’s a garden apartment, some homeowners opt to live in it during the construction.

What’s involved and what’s an average cost?

That depends on the condition of the building. If you’re lucky, there’s little to do on the exterior—unless windows or skylights are being added, roof repaired or replaced. In the simplest deconversion, it’s a matter of reconfiguring space, some gutting, rerouting or adding in new plumbing and electrical.

“A typical multi-family deconversion project will include opening the first floor, building out a new kitchen, replacing the second-floor kitchen with a master suite,” says Ryan. The cost is similar to a whole-house remodel, so a mid-range two-flat deconversion is around $250,000. But for smaller buildings, say around 2,500 square feet, the work can be done for under $100,000.

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(Above) Wicker Park deconversion by Sweeten general contractor Ridas

Opening up the first floor

Standard Chicago city lots are 25 by 125 feet. Most two- and three-flats have a load-bearing wall that runs the length of the building, which chops up the layout and minimizes the size of rooms. Removing that wall to maximize space requires shoring up, which can be accomplished by several means, such as sistering floor joists.

“That’s not a disadvantage to scare you off of designing a home,” says Sweeten contractor Ryan. “And it’s not a significant cost when you’re talking about gaining more living space.” 

Expanding the kitchen

In most buildings, kitchens are in the back; so borrowing space from smaller rooms allows for expansion of the kitchen’s footprint. For example, some old buildings have enclosed back porches that can be opened up. Reorienting and combining spaces usually requires taking walls down to the studs and planning for updated appliances. 

Reconfiguring the second floor

Having a master bedroom suite, which includes a bath and a walk-in closet, is a top priority. There may also be an existing sitting room, which doubles as a family room. One large or two small bedrooms with a bath also suit the plan.

Moving stairs

If there are two separate entries, with two sets of stairs, one obviously needs to go. The other set might be retained—or rebuilt in a new location. Porch or fire stairs on the backside of the structure are often removed. If the foundation is good, that space might be incorporated into the first and second-floor plans. On the first floor, that could mean extra room for the kitchen, or perhaps a breakfast room. On the second level, extra square footage might translate into a master sitting room.

Finishing a basement

Although many basements in older buildings have a ceiling height under eight feet, the ceiling can be raised eight to 10 inches without underpinning; that is, excavating beneath the existing foundation and pouring new footings, which is a necessity when raising a foot or more. This usually is done by lowering the floor down to the footings—which can be as much as 12 inches—then pouring a new concrete floor. Buffing, staining, and polishing that concrete may be a more cost-effective solution than installing high luxury vinyl tile, carpeting, or engineered hardwood. 

Toxic materials

With older buildings, launching into any major alteration can result in unanticipated costs. Sometimes there are happy surprises—like finding beautiful pocket doors that have been buried in walls. But with any structure more than 50 years old, there may be toxic or health-threatening materials that are dangerous when not properly removed. Paint containing lead, for example, needs to be stripped carefully. Asbestos is another material that may be present in pre-1980 insulation and ceiling tiles as well as older linoleum flooring and vinyl tile backings. To remove it requires encapsulation (sealing the surface to prevent fibers from becoming airborne) according to EPA standards.

HVAC systems

With two or more apartments designed for multiple families, infrastructure is in place. There will be as many heating and/or cooling systems. Depending on age, they may need to be replaced to improve efficiency. Here are the average lifespans:

  • Furnaces: 15 – 20 years. Consider two furnaces that are zoned for efficiency and energy savings.
  • Central air conditioning units: 10 – 15 years
  • Hot water heaters: 7 – 10 years
  • Tankless water heaters: 20 years

Upgrading electrical and plumbing

Buildings more than 50 years old probably are candidates for upgrading mechanicals. If there’s not already a 200 amp service in place, this is an obvious upgrade. Depending on how high end the project is, and how many electrical systems, devices, smart lighting, and dimmers there are, you might consider a 400 amp service. Even if you didn’t need this much power, planning for the future—with a $3,000-$4,000 additional cost—may be more cost-effective. 

Plumbing may need to be upgraded with the addition of fixtures and new plumbing lines for a second sink or a second-floor tub or shower. New sewer and water systems can range between $15,000 and $25,000 but are necessary when adding fixtures and will also boost pressure. 

Adding insulation

“We try not to touch plaster walls,” says Ryan. “It’s a big expense. But plaster also is well-insulating in temperature and sound. Spray foam is used in areas where it’s undesirable to remove walls.”

Flooring

Original hardwood flooring can be sanded and re-stained, or damaged boards may be replaced; which is necessary to transition between rooms that have been eliminated. With standard 2 ½ inch-wide oak flooring, it’s pretty easy to match. Even maple, sometimes found in older properties, can be matched.

Deconverting a multi-family home into a single home is an undertaking that leads you to even more square footage of living. Understand and plan for all of the elements and be sure to have the right renovation team supporting your vision.

Purchasing a condo in Chicago means working with the Homeowners Association. Here’s a guide to walk you through it.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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