The Cons of DIY Renovation


DIY’ing your full home renovation is tempting. But should you really do this?

the cons of DIY

This is a do-it-yourself, do-it-all maker culture. Fueled by enough YouTube videos, a homeowner can feel emboldened to take on anything—even a DIY home renovation.

It’s natural to be undecided about whether you want to do that full home renovation by yourself or hire professionals. Doing it yourself can mean acting as your own project manager or it can mean doing it all by hand, completely or partially. In any case, the prospect of cost savings is the tempting carrot at the end of the stick.

But there is a counter-argument—the cons of DIY. Is that DIY full home renovation really in your best interests? Examining the cons of DIY isn’t a scare story or a money pit narrative. Instead, it’s a window onto the scale and complexity of DIY full house renovation. Below, Sweeten outlines a chance to make an informed decision.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Completion time

Home renovations require time and the attention to make both small and key decisions. Depending on the scope, part of your home may be covered in plastic protection or kitchens and bathrooms will be unusable. What you want is a full home renovation that operates on a compact, predictable schedule.

You have a life. Career, kids, relationships, friends, leisure: All of these have priority. This narrows down the amount of time that you have available to work on your house.

Professionals compress the schedule and complete the project much faster than if you had done it by yourself. Professionals are contractually bound to a completion timeframe. Plus, they have a vested interest in finishing on time since yours is likely one in a queue of other projects on their books.

Keeping on schedule

When you install your own laminate floor or paint your own bathroom, timing is easy. You have three or four minor milestones to hit, and it’s simple to keep them in order.

But when the project is as multi-layered as a full home renovation, it’s like playing multi-dimensional chess. Each project—floor, walls, windows, plumbing, and more—has its own set of milestones. Each of those projects is a milestone and must weave in with other projects. And, to make it even more interesting, you sometimes need to bounce back and forth between projects. Coordinating subcontractors within that system can get bewildering.

By contrast, contractors know how to keep scheduling straight; it’s their stock in trade. They’ll keep all of the projects running as consistently as possible. And they’ll seamlessly coordinate the movements of the subcontractors.

Quality of work

Unless you have tiled a shower before, you first need to learn how to tile a shower. The worst classroom for learning how to tile is in your own house. You do not want your house to be a proving ground for your fledgling tiling, wiring, flooring, or plumbing skills.

Professionals do this work all the time. With training, apprenticeships, and experience in the field, they have already worked out the kinks. Professionals generally turn out professional quality work.

Codes and permits

A vast amount of full home renovation work touches on building codes and permits. Structural work, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and even water heaters require permits in most municipalities. All permit work must be done according to code. And just because you aren’t required to pull a permit for a certain project doesn’t mean that building code isn’t applicable.

Code-compliant work may suffer at the hands of DIYers. The pros know code and are professionally bound to turn out work that complies with the latest codes. Contractors, subcontractors, designers, and architects stay abreast on the latest changes in their field.

Finding subcontractors

Subcontractors are skilled tradespeople who do projects like plumbing, electrician, drywall, painting, or flooring.

Even if you’ve decided to DIY your home renovation by hand, you still might end up hiring pros for select projects such as whole-house wiring, solid wood or engineered wood floor installation, drywall installation, tiling a shower, or blowing or rolling insulation into an attic.

Finding and lining up good subcontractors can be a challenge. Using a contractor can take that chore off of your plate since the contractor has ready access to a pool of trusted subs.

Renovating safely

Homeowners taking on full DIY home renovations risk injury in many ways. Old paint might be lead-based or those floor tiles might have asbestos. Black mold is common in ceilings, attics, and walls. Falls—the most common type of household injury—can occur even when you are on a ladder painting crown molding.

When you hire professionals to do the job, they have the know-how, safety gear, and materials to keep themselves and you safe. Safety is second nature to them; their livelihood and health depend on it.

Are you really saving money?

One reason often mentioned for doing a DIY full home renovation is that it saves money. As long as you can keep the renovation moving and on-target, with no wasted time or materials, you just might save some money.

But there is also the distinct possibility that you may lose this bet. If your project isn’t clearing inspections, you need to do it over until you get it right. That costs money. If you decide to do a hands-on renovation, you may need to purchase tools that are used only once: a wet tile saw, a full set of drywall tools, a paint sprayer.

When you hire a professional to do your full home renovation, you might save money in a number of ways. Savings might come in the form of wholesale discounts, bulk discounts, or special perks granted by a supplier since the professional is a regular buyer. Or from years of experience, the professional may have a keen eye for finding materials that are still high-quality but less expensive.

Is a DIY home renovation the right choice?

No solution applies to everyone in all situations. A DIY home renovation might be perfect if you are hungry to learn new skills. For anyone who is interested in the process as well as the product, DIY renovation is an eye-opener. Finally, if you are short on money but long on time, a DIY renovation might be right for you.

Hiring professionals to do your whole-house renovation helps you hit those critical timing marks that keep you on schedule. The work will be done to professional quality, safely and cleanly, in accordance with local building codes. Peace of mind and the assurance that the job will be done right—and not hanging over your head for months—are just a few of the benefits of using pros to do your full house renovation.

Here’s what Sweeten homeowners took part in during their renovation and what their general contractors handled.

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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Sweeten’s Splurge vs. Save Renovation Guide: A Breakdown by Room


Want to get more value out of each room in your home? Know where to invest (splurge) vs. hold back (save) in a renovation.

Your house needs a few improvements and you have the urge to do them all immediately. Every project seems to announce itself with equal priority. Unless you’re awash in money and time, you cannot address all at once. You need to sift through your priorities—starting with knowing where to splurge vs. save during a renovation. 

Below, Sweeten helps you understand where to splurge vs. save so you can define your priorities. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

What does splurging mean?

Splurging doesn’t mean overspending. It can mean shifting money from one project to another. Or placing one project higher on the to-do list than other projects. Splurge on things that you touch or see often. Splurge on things that are meaningful to you or which make you happy. 

What does saving mean?

Saving doesn’t mean to skip or ignore. It means that you can safely put it on the back burner for now. Or if you want to do it, you can dial down on the cost a bit. Many times, after the project has been on the back burner long enough, you might see it in a clearer light.

Once you think in terms of splurge vs. save during a renovation, all of these home projects fall into an order that makes perfect sense.

Splurge vs. Save: Kitchens

Splurge: Kitchen Countertops

Every day, you touch, see, and use your kitchen countertops. Whether you choose quartz, solid surface, natural stone, laminate, or wood, your countertop choice is semi-permanent. After the design, fabrication, and installation, changing out your countertop shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you want a certain type of quartz countertop, but choose a shade or pattern that you don’t feel strongly about, ask yourself: How will I feel about this in a year? 

Save: Kitchen Appliances

Kitchen appliances are better designed than ever. The rising tide of improved kitchen technology lifts all boats—even for lower-priced appliances. With research, you can find lower-cost refrigerators, dishwashers, cooktops, and ranges that fit your needs. These appliances often match or exceed the quality of higher-priced versions from only a few years ago. 

Splurge vs. Save: Bathrooms

Splurge: Bathroom Fixtures

Bathroom fixtures are more than just mechanical devices. They aren’t just knobs and levers that start and stop the water. Fixtures are ornaments that complement a beautiful shower, tub, or sink. Spend more to splurge vs. save for bathroom fixtures that make you happy.

Save: Bathroom Technology

Technology has entered all parts of our lives, so why not the bathroom, too? IoT, or the Internet of Things, is a concept that describes how common things within our life are now Internet-equipped. Bathroom technology and IoT are not gimmicks! IoT devices can track water usage, regulate heating, and allow the bathroom to better adapt to your needs. Bathroom technology has its place, and it is the future. But for now, you can limit your bathroom smart devices or put them on the back burner.

Splurge vs. Save: Living rooms

Splurge: Paint

That designer paint that you’ve been eyeing? Now it can be yours. You can easily justify spending more on the premium paint that you want in the living room. That’s because the living room gets so much facetime, and it’s so public. Poor quality paint may flake, chip, or fade over time, costing more in the end. When you decide to splurge instead of save on your desired paint, you’ll be happier in the long run.

Save: Lighting

Living room lighting, while necessary, does not need to be expensive. Prioritize the shape and the finish of the lighting fixture over the brand name. One trick of designers is to over-scale lighting fixtures for a dramatic look. Just make sure that all of the in-wall wiring for sconces and ceiling lights is complete first!

Splurge vs. Save: Bedrooms

Splurge: Bedroom Closet systems

An unfinished closet is an empty box waiting for your stuff. However, that stuff has no place to go unless you create a system. Gone are the days of the closet rod with one shelf above it. Closet storage systems belong in all closets now. 

Reach-in closets benefit from a shoe fence or shoe cubby, two or three drawers, and plenty of open shelving, plus a closet rod. Walk-in closets should be outfitted with the same and more: additional shelves and drawers, pull-out baskets, multiple hanging areas, and lighting.

Save: Millwork and trim

Custom millwork and trim are the finishing touches for homes. If yours is a home of architectural significance, custom trim throughout is practically required. But if you want to save money, you can ease back on the fancy millwork in the private areas of the home. Save the ceiling medallions, crown molding, chair rails, dentils, batten, and picture rails for the dining and living areas.

Splurge vs. Save: Basements

Splurge: Basement Flooring

Moisture is usually the deciding factor when you consider whether or not to finish your basement. Prevalent moisture can turn an expensive basement remodel into an uninhabitable area best used for storage. 

An attractive, moisture-shedding floor covering and a subfloor system can make a world of difference. Begin with the subfloor system, interlocking 24-inch squares that elevate your floor covering about 1-inch. Then, choose a basement-ready floor covering that you love, whether ceramic or porcelain tile, luxury vinyl planks, engineered wood flooring, or laminate flooring.

Save: Guest bedrooms

Building out a guest bedroom in your basement is a wise move when you know that it will get frequent use, either by friends and family or as a rental unit. But if you want a guest bedroom in your basement only for the occasional visitor, you’re taking up valuable space best used for other activities.

Splurge vs. Save: Attics

Splurge: Built-in storage

Built-in storage doesn’t often rank high in priority in other parts of the house, but this is not the case for attics. Attics are starved for space to begin with. Once you add furniture, you have even less storage room. Knee walls are the short walls that extend from the floor to the rafters. Knee walls that have built-in storage should be built during the remodeling process, not later.

Save: Full bathrooms

Full bathrooms—toilet, sink, and shower or shower/tub—are a rarity in attics unless the intent is to build out an entire suite with living quarters. Otherwise, attics used as offices or children’s play areas work well with just a half-bathroom.

Splurge vs Save: Decks

Splurge: Deck Flooring

Your choice of deck flooring can easily make or break how much you end up using—and loving or avoiding—your deck. With that in mind, you’ll want to prioritize decking.

For the best in looks and maximum strength, choose a premium wood such as ipe or mahogany. Both are long-lasting, easy to maintain, and they return maximum resale value. Composite wood—a mixture of wood fibers and plastics—is smooth, splinter-free underfoot, and looks remarkably like wood.

Save: Deck Built-ins

Built-ins such as benches, tables, and planters are wonderful additions to decks. Built-in benches are especially valuable because they tuck away to the side, opening up more space in the center of the deck. Yet one way to pare down your deck-building budget is to save the built-ins for a later day. The same builder (or a different one) can always come back and create those built-ins that your heart desires.

Splurge vs. Save in a Renovation: Conclusion

Almost every room in a home would gladly use a piece of the budget. Knowing what projects can wait until a later date, or what may or may not maximize the full breadth of the room, can help guide on where to splurge vs. save in your renovation.

Here’s how to minimize the mess during a renovation and how to clean up after it’s finished.

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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Measure for Bathroom Tile Accurately: Tips & What You’ll Need


How to measure for bathroom tile correctly—and get the quantity and type tile that’s just right for your bathroom

measure for bathroom tile(Above) Mitzie + Jenifer’s Sweeten renovation

Numbers are stable facts that control our world. So, to measure for bathroom tile on floors or the walls, it would seem that everything is clear-cut, with nothing left open for interpretation. Right?

In this guide, Sweeten outlines how to measure space for bathroom tile, so that in the end, you will have a measurement that lets you purchase the correct quantity of tile. You’ll also calculate for enough extra to make the installation smoother. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

When measuring bathroom dimensions and matching numbers to a physical product—tile—questions will come up.

  • Overage is required, but how much?
  • Should you tile under large bathroom components (like tubs and vanity cabinets)?
  • Does tile seam width change the purchase amount?
  • For wall tile, how far up does the tile go?

What you will measure: 

  1. You will begin with one set of measurements: those that cannot be changed.
  2. Next, you tighten up that set of numbers by taking variables into account.

What you will need to measure for bathroom tile:

Begin with a tape measure, preferably one with a metal blade 1-inch wide or more for rigidity. Do not use a vinyl measuring tape of the type used for clothing and other fabrics. A laser measuring device is a great add-on but is not necessary.

You will also need a simple way to jot down numbers. Pen and paper work best, but if you are working with an app or program, you can use that. Having an extra hand, too, eases the process and produces more accurate numbers.

Getting the fixed dimensions

Certain dimensions in a bathroom are fixed; meaning, they cannot be changed. Begin there.

To measure the bathroom floor tile:

  • Measure the dimensions of the entire bathroom. Measure from one wall to the opposite wall. Then, measure the other walls from side to side. If the room has alcoves or areas in addition to that larger floor space, measure those separately as if they were separate rooms.
  • Measure the available floor space that will be tiled. Measure only the floor area that will be tiled. Rather than subtracting non-tiled areas (such as bathtubs) from the overall dimensions of the room, measure the floor space on its own.

To measure the bathroom wall tile:

  • Full-wall tile runs from the floor to the ceiling. Areas near showers and bathtubs often receive tile from floor to ceiling.

What is a tile wainscot?

  • Tile wainscot is a tile field that runs partially up the bathroom wall. Forty-two inches is a common wainscot height for a bathroom with a 7-foot or 8-foot ceiling. Even better, measure the height of the ceiling, then divide by one-third and use that as your wainscot height.

black and white shower tile

(Above) Jessica + Jessie’s Sweeten renovation

To measure the shower wall and floor tile:

  • Measure all shower walls from side to side and top to bottom. Do not account for the shower pan or shower curb.
  • For the shower pan, measure from side to side in both directions to produce the area measurement.
  • If the curb or threshold will be tiled, assume a height on both sides of at least 2 inches and width of at least 2 inches. Shower curbs may not rise more than 9 inches.

Tips to control for variables:

  • The tape measure will sag, so keep it as straight and level as possible. This is the benefit of having an assistant: to keep the tape measure tight. A laser measuring tool is helpful for distances over 8 to 10 feet, as it produces a straight line.
  • Ignore baseboards, as tile overlaps baseboards. Be sure to measure from wall to wall, not from baseboard to baseboard.
  • Subtract cutouts down to the square foot. Items less than a square foot, such as the toilet flange or shower drain, should not be subtracted.
  • If the sink cabinet will stay in place and you are certain that the bathroom layout will never change, do not tile under the cabinet. Subtract the cabinet from the flooring area.
  • If you think that you will change the bathroom layout in the future, tile underneath the sink cabinet.
  • Tile usually does not run under the shower or bathtub. Do not figure shower or tub floor space into your measurements.
  • Interior tile grout widths range from 1/16-inch to 1/4-inch. Unless this is an unusually large bathroom, do not use grout widths as a variable when measuring for bathroom tile.
  • Site-built showers do not always need tiled shower pans and curbs. You may subtract this quantity of tile if you expect to use a prefabricated shower pan.

Using your measurements to purchase bathroom tile

Once you have a solid set of numbers in hand, it is time to buy the bathroom tile. You will need to consider a few issues before you make the final purchase.

Tile overage: How much extra bathroom tile should I buy?

After you adjust the fixed quantity of tiles with the control variables, you now have the total amount of tile required—almost! The last step is to plan for a standard overage amount of 10% or more.

For example, a 100 square foot bathroom with 10% overage results in a purchase of 110 square feet of tile.

Products may arrive damaged or otherwise unusable. Too many unusable products must be returned, but a broken tile or two may not be worth the effort. More importantly, it is nearly impossible to order exactly the amount of tiles that will be laid down. Field tile edges are typically cut to fit the space. While tile installers strive to recycle cut pieces in other areas of the project, some pieces cannot be used. Boxed tile, too, often ends up with extra tiles left in the box.

Special-shape or unique-size tiles and layout designs

Most tiles are square or rectangular, and most layouts are grid or brick patterns. What happens if you vary the tile size or layout?

Unique tile shapes and sizes require that you purchase more tile. If the tile cannot produce a straight edge when laid, increase the overage to 20% or more.

Layouts that differ from grid or brick patterns also require more tile. Diagonal, herringbone, or chevron patterns, for example, result in cut pieces in a variety of triangular sizes. Some triangles can be used elsewhere, but most cannot.

Other factors for measuring bathroom tile

The ease with which you can return the tiles is an important factor in measuring bathroom tile. A brick-and-mortar store may accept sealed, full-box returns for full value or for full value minus a stocking fee. Online tile suppliers may require you to pay to ship back unused tile.

Having some extra tile on hand has its benefits. Over time, installed tile may crack and need to be replaced. Or you may wish to use the tile for smaller applications within the bathroom, such as for a sink backsplash.

Best tile and applications for bathroom flooring

All bathroom flooring tiles should be specified as such by the manufacturer in the product description or in the technical specifications. Wall-only tile cannot be used for floors, as it is too thin for foot traffic and often too slippery.

Another clue is the COF (or coefficient of friction) slip ratings published by tile manufacturers. For foot traffic, higher numbers are better than lower numbers. Look for a COF rating of 0.50 or more for your floor tile.

Grout seams are necessary between floor tiles. Wide seams impart more friction, thus a safer floor. More seams, too, give the foot friction. This is one reason why mosaic tiles are so popular for floor tiles: the increased proportion of grout to tiles.

Best tile and applications for bathroom walls

Like floor tile, manufacturers often label bathroom wall tile. However, in most cases, you can use bathroom floor tiles for bathroom walls.

One exception is with showers, bathtubs, and other high-moisture areas. Look for tiles with a water absorption rate of 0.5 percent or lower. Tiles labeled specifically with the name “porcelain,” as certified by the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA), are guaranteed to fall under the absorption rate range.

Given the visibility of bathroom wall tile, it is often best practice to keep tile seams narrower, to use more routine layouts, and to use tiles with less complex visuals. Highly ornate tiles are acceptable, but are best limited to use in borders or for smaller applications, like backsplashes.

Having a shortage of tile will cause delays, while ordering too much tile affects your budget. Use this guide to measure for bathroom tile accurately and you’ll get even closer to the exact tile quantity you need!

Two ways to keep a renovation project on track and save money: avoid order and delivery hiccups. Read more here.

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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Remodeling a Garage into Living Space in Nashville


How to remodel your garage into living space, a rental studio, or even a gym

garage remodel nashville

If you are like many homeowners, you may be looking in all directions to increase living space. Looking upward means building a second story. Looking toward the back translates to a house addition. But one direction that is often overlooked is to the side or front: the garage. Sweeten outlines how a garage remodel in Nashville could be your solution amid several home addition options. 

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Types of garage remodels

  • Living rooms or family rooms

Garages are often remodeled to provide supplemental living or family room space. The garage is insulated, wired, painted, and flooring is installed. Sometimes, a small powder room, with only a toilet and sink, is added. The powder room eliminates trips to the main part of the house.

  • Living quarters for renters

Some homeowners choose to install a self-contained apartment for renters. This arrangement can give the homeowner a source of passive income. Over the long term, it may defray the cost of the garage remodel. 

Living quarters typically include a bedroom, full bathroom, and a kitchen. A lockable pass-through to the main part of the home is usually included. With this, homeowners can lock the door on their side to prevent the renters from entering. Most remodels of this nature include a separate exterior door so that renters can enter their apartment without going through the main house.

  • Living quarters for self or family

Garages are often remodeled to provide living quarters for elderly parents, friends, or children. In many cases, this apartment has the same facilities as does an apartment for renters. 

  • Dedicated entertainment or work area

Your garage remodel may create a single room or multiple rooms for a specific purpose. The remodeled garage may become an entertainment room, home movie theater, gym, office, workshop, or studio.

Garage remodel costs in Nashville

Garage remodel permits alone can cost $1,000 to $1,500. For a simple living-room space that does not include plumbing, the cost will begin in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. Most of this cost is devoted to outfitting the space with a floor and filling in the garage door.

More often, though, garage remodels intended as living quarters begin at $20,000 and rise sharply.

Garage remodel process and timeline

  1. Before you speak to a contractor, decide on the primary function for the remodel. A basic family or living room can be a relatively simple project since plumbing may not be involved. A full-scale rental apartment will be more expensive and will take several weeks or months.
  2. After you’ve received multiple estimates and chosen your contractor, discuss if any Nashville overlay and zoning issues need to be considered.
  3. You will meet with the contractor and an architect. The architect will draw up plans. The contractor applies for permits.
  4. After a roll-off dumpster is delivered to the property, workers demolish parts of the interior of the garage. The garage door is removed.
  5. Carpenters fill in the empty space where the garage door was located. Usually, this will be an exterior wall system, complete with insulation and perhaps even windows.
  6. Depending on the plan, workers may need to frame the floor with joists. This will raise the floor to the height of the main house’s floor.
  7. With the walls open, electricians and plumbers run wire and pipes through the walls.
  8. Carpenters frame the interior walls and the ceiling.
  9. Workers add a heating and cooling system.
  10. Drywall installers hang and finish the drywall.
  11. Floor installers add the floor covering of your choice on top of the subfloor.
  12. A painting team will paint the inside of the garage remodel. They will also paint areas outside of the garage, in front.
  13. Plumbers finish installing bathroom fixtures. Electricians complete the rest of the wiring.

How a garage remodel affects house value

One important consideration before starting a garage remodel is whether it will increase the value of your home.

If you are considering a garage remodel in Nashville, you might be thinking of immediate, personal needs. Your family may be increasing in size. Or you may have elderly parents who need housing. In either case, remodeling your garage may represent a lower net financial cost than building a separate structure or buying a new house.

On the other hand, if you do intend to eventually sell your home, consider how the garage remodel will affect your home’s value. Potential home buyers may view the lack of vehicle storage as a deficit. Other buyers may welcome the extra space.

Permits and restrictions

The City of Nashville requires a building permit for any new building or a modification of an existing structure. You must also have permits for individual tradework, such as for electrical, plumbing, or HVAC work. 

Nashville is a city of many historic structures. The Nashville Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission (MHZC) was formed to protect Nashville’s architectural styles and character. If your home is located in a historic preservation and historic landmark overlay, you must apply for a Preservation Permit.

MHZC permit applications require a full set of plans, elevations, photos, and more. After you submit the permit application, the MHZC will meet to consider your project. After a permit is approved, you must stick to the conditions of the permit. For example, the MHZC will impose penalties or injunctions if the garage siding does not match that of the rest of the house.

In Nashville and Davidson County, neighborhood leaders and government officials take a close look at Airbnb-type rentals. These types of rentals are called Short Term Rental Properties (STRPs). The Metro Codes Department must approve of your rental property before you list it as an STRP (but not before you build it).

Heat and cool your garage remodel in Nashville

With Nashville’s extremes of heat and cold, you should add a heating or cooling system to your garage remodel. Generally, there are three options:

  1. Continue with the main house’s HVAC system. Workers continue the ductwork from the main house into the garage. The main house’s HVAC system must be adequate to handle the increased loads. This option works well when remodeling a garage for a living or family room: one that will flow seamlessly from the main house.
  2. Install a separate HVAC system. This is the best option when remodeling a garage as living quarters. It is also the costliest option.
  3. The lowest cost installation option is heating in the form of baseboard or wall heaters. For cooling, install one or more window or wall unit air conditioners. Installation is less expensive but the cost of service is higher. This is because baseboard heaters, wall heaters, and window unit A/Cs are less efficient than HVAC systems.

Where to park your vehicles

When reviewing permit applications for garage remodels in Nashville, the city will want to know where the displaced vehicles will go. Like most large cities, Nashville wants to reduce the number of cars that are street-parked.

If you have a paved driveway, the solution can be as simple as moving the cars to the driveway instead of in the garage. This is the lowest cost solution, though your vehicles will be left out in the open.

If you have ample room in the front of your property, you may wish to build a carport or even a new garage. This will completely or partially protect the vehicles. It also may appeal to future buyers. Zoning issues may come into play since a 20-foot setback in front must be maintained. 

A garage remodel is a lower-cost alternative to building an addition but it is not low-cost. Think of a garage remodel as an investment in your home’s value and in your happiness.

Renovating in Nashville? Here’s a home remodeling cost guide for this city to get your budget in order.

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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Save Money While Remodeling: Avoid Order & Delivery Hiccups


Successful handling of orders & delivery is a simple way to save money while remodeling and keep the project on track

Every homeowner wants their home remodeling project to be finished by a specified date and on (or under) budget. For example, a basement remodel that is contractually expected to be finished by Christmas for visiting relatives, must be done by the specified date. Yet, it is not uncommon for homeowners to wonder why the project isn’t following the schedule or if the job will finish on time. How can homeowners (or contractors) keep a project on schedule, while also saving money during remodeling? 

Sweeten highlights one part of the process that both parties have relative control over to help keep the project on schedule. The logistics of ordering materials, including selection, payment, and delivery, is one area that both homeowners and contractors agree upon as being vital to that common goal. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Mythbuster: Contractors want a project to go on and on

One thing that might surprise homeowners starting a project is that the contractor is equally or even more anxious to keep the project on track. This is because a smoothly running project means that the contractor can keep the client happy and within budget. Plus, this allows the contractor to successfully manage concurrent projects or move onto the next project on time.

Who does the ordering: contractor or homeowner?

Before anything else happens, draw up a contract which both the homeowner and the contractor can sign. With this contract in place, a creative union with a common mission can begin: completing the project outlined in the contract. 

The logistics of ordering materials and their delivery is one factor that the homeowner can easily control in either direction to suit their style better.

When should the contractor order materials?

Generally, the contractor handles most of the supply chain of materials in a home improvement project. 

First, the contractor will order the materials specified for the project. Materials are typically paid out of an initial deposit made by the homeowner and by scheduled progress payments or draws. 

The contractor rarely orders all materials at the same time. In fact, it makes more sense to stagger orders according to when they will be installed in the home. This also benefits the homeowner, because materials are paid for on a rolling basis. 

The contractor or a representative takes delivery of the items and holds them either at an off-site storage location or on the building site. When it’s time to install the item, the contractor’s crew will shift the item to the building site.

However, the contractor is not the only person responsible for managing the selection of building materials. Except for raw building materials like drywall and two-by-four studs, other materials are the homeowner’s choice. The contractor and the homeowner will sit down together and select materials that match the homeowner’s taste and budget and satisfy the project specifications.

When should the homeowner order materials? 

Occasionally, the homeowner and contractor arrange for the homeowner to order materials. Once the homeowner consults with the contractor, the homeowner then controls all aspects of this supply chain.

The homeowner chooses the materials, pays for them directly, accepts delivery, inspects the items, and stores them. If any items are damaged or incorrect, it is the responsibility of the homeowner to arrange for replacement or refund.

The secret: handling logistics and specs issues

Contractors understand why homeowners want to be on top of the managing of their own materials—it’s their dream space. However, a mix weighted on the side of the contractor handling most logistics often works best. 

Reasons why homeowners may want contractors to handle the logistics:  

  1. Homeowners often focus on showpiece items such as frameless shower enclosures, natural imported stone, and one-of-a-kind sinks or cabinets. These pieces often require special parts or unique installation packages.
  2. Homeowners who order their own items often lose sight of the bigger picture. By focusing on particular items, they may lose sight of how the components fit within the project as a whole. Spacing is crucial, with components fitting within code-required spatial areas.
  3. Delivery acceptance can be a hang-up for many homeowners, both due to size and quantity of materials. Large slabs of granite, countertops, assembled cabinets, doors, and bathtubs are often delivered curbside. Plans must then be made to immediately move these items to a secure location. Large-quantity items, such as the numerous boxes of flooring that arrive on pallets, are equally important. These, too, must be moved to a dry, secure area.
  4. Delivery timing can be difficult for busy homeowners to manage. While small items might arrive on a no-signature basis, most home-related items require that a person accept delivery and sign for it. For instance, when taking delivery of countertop materials or windows, you don’t want your neighboring signing off on it. A qualified person must inspect and sign for these items. With tailgate delivery items, you typically have the opportunity to view the item before it is off-loaded. This is also not something you want your neighbor to do!
  5. As a homeowner who happens to be available to take delivery of materials, should you be doing this? Most homeowners do not know how to properly check for order amounts, damage, and missing pieces. Many fixtures come with very specific pieces and parts. For some items, if a tiny screw is missing from a particular piece, installation can be help up for days or weeks while the exact piece is reported, matched, and shipped.

Pros of letting professionals handle the logistics:

Pros:
  • Orders delivered on time
  • Correct lead line
  • Specifications controlled by the contractor
  • All parts correctly ordered
  • Delivery acceptance and storage
  • Contractor expertise with materials
  • Trade discounts possible

How to save time and money while remodeling 

According to many contractors and veteran homeowner-remodelers, the easiest way to save time and money while remodeling is to master the logistics.

To do this, you must ensure that you purchase the correct items on time, in the right order. Materials purchased too early may sit in storage for too long, or might be unreturnable later on if they cannot be used. 

Even worse, materials bought too late slow down the project or bring it to a complete stop. When the project stops, the subcontractors go off to other projects. The contractor may direct his or her attention to other clients. Completed work, particularly exterior work, may become damaged.

How the homeowner can be involved:

This is your home, your renovation project. You want to help manage the project, especially in the area of materials ordering and logistics (and certainly if it’ll help you to save money while remodeling!) What’s the best way to do this?  

Communicate with each other

Establish a healthy flow of communication and information between you and your contractor. Phone, e-mail, video chat, and text each other on a regular basis over logistics matters; this is a best practice to follow which sets the tone for the renovation as it progresses.

Establish clear responsibilities

Establish an agreement between the two of you as to who is responsible for which part of the logistics. 

Aim for completion

Conclude with a complete list of responsibilities. Be sure to spell out every aspect in writing.

These options are open for you and your contractor to discuss. Take stock of how much you want to personally be involved in the logistics and what feels right to reach your dream space.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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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Ways to Renovate Your Home for Extreme Heat in Dallas


How to keep your Dallas house cool and comfortable while saving money during the hottest days of summer

Dallas extreme heat reno

Anyone who lives in Dallas knows about its legendary heat. March and April’s fair days in the 70s are nice but they never continue. Average maximum temperatures in Dallas in July and August hit a whopping 96 degrees F. Your air-conditioner is the largest contributor to your energy bill in the summer. While your own house will rely on that on the hottest days, Sweeten presents plenty of other ways to keep your house cool and supplement the A/C.

All of these changes will help you prepare your home from Dallas’ extreme heat. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Install a whole-house fan to keep cool

One way to assist your air-conditioner or even replace its operation on less intense days is with a whole-house fan.

In your house, the lower areas below the attic are artificially conditioned to a set temperature, often in the low 70s F. As the day progresses, your unconditioned attic builds up heat. By the end of the day, it is at its hottest.

Even though your attic may be insulated, a tremendous amount of heat has built up. The lower areas’ air-conditioning is working overtime to fight against it.

A whole-house fan draws air through open windows and pushes it out through the roof. The attic is completely ventilated, as well. Many whole-house fans have an air exchange rate of up to six times the volume of the house.

Speak with your contractor about the possibility of modifying the existing ducts of your HVAC system to provide whole-house cooling.

Paint your home with lighter colors

Most of us learned in school that lighter colors absorb less heat than do dark colors. To a limited degree, the same idea applies to your home.

The U.S. Department of Energy has found that dark-colored homes absorb up to 70- to 90-percent of the radiant energy that strikes the house from the sun. Heat on the outside of the house can transfer to the inside, resulting in heat gain.

Does this mean that you should paint your house white? If you wish to, you should do so. But any type of lighter colored paint or siding color will considerably reduce heat absorption. These are creams and ivories, light tans, beiges, blues, and pastels such as peaches, lavenders, and greens. 

Choose cooler roofing materials

Roofs bear the brunt of the Dallas sun. Selecting the right type of roof can reduce heat. Up to one-third of the heat that builds up in a house comes through the roof.

One common misconception is that selecting a lighter-colored roof will do the trick. Not so: a study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that even white composite shingles absorbed 70-percent of the solar radiation. Essentially, the roof is blasted with so much solar radiation, that the selection of color alone will do little.

One lower-cost solution is to have a coating applied to the shingles. Containing glass fibers and aluminium particles, this coating ward off radiant energy to a degree that lighter colored shingles cannot.

More effective, though, is to choose a type of roof material that is less thermally reactive. Terra cotta and ceramic tiles, concrete tiles, and slab concrete are good choices.

Even metal roofs are good choices due to their built-in dead-air space. This space acts as a thermal barrier to block heat transference to the house below.

Choose a siding that beats the heat

The better insulated your home is against the heat, the cooler it will be inside. While in-wall and ceiling insulation are important, siding also will prepare your home from Dallas’ extreme heat.

Vinyl siding typically leaves a space between the siding and the house. Insulated vinyl siding fills that hollow space with a rigid foam plastic insulation. This insulation is permanently attached to the back of the siding. All insulated vinyl siding products must have an R-value of 2.0 or more. R-value is a unit of measurement for thermal resistance. Higher R-value numbers mean greater insulating efficiency.

Masonry siding products such as brick and veneer stone help protect your home from the heat. Fiber-cement siding contains a great quantity of mineral materials, too. 

Add continuous exterior insulation

You cannot have enough insulation when battling the heat. While walls have been insulated internally for decades, a newer form of insulation adds even more of that much-needed R-value.

By itself, continuous insulation falls mid-range in terms of R-values—8.5 is considered typical for 2-inch thick continuous insulation. By comparison, standard two-by-four wall systems usually receive R-13 insulation.

But the real benefit lies in its name: continuous. Continuous insulation severs those thermal bridges that draw hot air into the home. Wall studs or any materials that extend from the outside to the inside through the walls can act as thermal bridges.

It only takes one view through a thermal imaging camera while standing outside on a hot day. Before continuous insulation, telltale blue ribs indicate the stud thermal bridges. After continuous exterior insulation, those blue lines disappear and your cool air stays inside your house.

Buy the best windows for Dallas’ heat

Wall systems that are fully insulated are always the best way to prepare your home from Dallas’ extreme heat. But no one wants to live in a house with no windows. Instead, buy the best possible window for that wall opening:

  • Double-paned windows are standard, no matter where you live. For maximum heat protection, choose triple-paned windows.
  • Look for windows filled with Argon gas.
  • Choosing low-e (low emissivity) glass is considered a must in hot climates. Low-e is a coating that blocks much for the ultraviolet and infrared light from the sun. By controlling these two types of light, you control the passage of heat into the house.
  • Get your numbers straight. For hot climates, keep an eye on three numbers listed on the window’s sticker: U-Factor, SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient), and VT (Visible Transmittance). You will want a low U-Factor number, a low SHGC number, and a high VT number.

Install and maintain roof vents

A whole-house fan pulls hot air from the entire house, including the attic, and expels it. Roof vents expel only air from the attic.

Ventilated attics can be as much as 30 degrees F cooler than unventilated attics. Chances are good that your home already is ventilated, and most newer homes are. The question is whether those vents are adequate for your needs.

For homeowners, calculating the number and size of needed roof vents can be difficult. Factors such as the presence of a vapor barrier, roof slope, type of roof, insulation, and more come into play. A qualified professional such as a roofing contractor can help with calculations and with installing the roof vents.

If your home has a vaulted or cathedral style ceiling or a flat roof, you will have no attic. With these types of roofs, ventilation works differently: the open plenum is within the roof itself. 

More ways to keep your house cool in extreme heat

  • Install exterior awnings over windows that receive the brunt of the sun during the hottest part of the day
  • Install ceiling fans in each room. Note that ceiling fans rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise. During the summer, you will want the ceiling fan to turn counter-clockwise.
  • Have your yard landscaped to add trees and shrubbery on the sunny side of your house
  • Add thick thermal draperies to your windows

There are many ways to keep your house cool in extreme heat, from changes to the house siding and windows and the attic. Whether upgrading your whole house or adding some supportive cooling elements, taking action will endure your summers are comfortable for years to come.

A good place to start your remodel is by setting a realistic budget. Our home renovation cost guide for Dallas can help you.

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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How to Conduct a Virtual Site Visit


Meeting your contractor over video can help you renovate safely during COVID-19. 

renovate safely during COVID-19 with a virtual site visit

With COVID-19 quarantines and shelter-in-place orders, it can be difficult to move ahead with home improvement and building projects. Social distancing practices are vital to everyone’s health and safety. Many states and cities have halted all construction they consider non-essential. Luckily, there is an important virtual solution to help homeowners renovate safely during COVID-19. 

At Sweeten, we’ve worked with our community of contractors to create the following guidelines for conducting virtual site visits. Sweeten is a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects. We’re in the business of taking the complication and uncertainty out of the renovation process.

What is a virtual site visit?

Homeowners preparing for a renovation or new construction must meet with a general contractor for a thorough review of the property. Traditionally, the general contractor looks at the property in-person to understand the existing site conditions, take measurements, review documents, and discuss the project with the homeowner. 

A virtual site visit is the same process, conducted by video call. This allows for both parties to safely review the renovation project virtually, without meeting in person. 

A virtual site visit gives the contractor the same visual information as an in-person visit. It also has similar limitations; don’t expect to resolve everything in one visit. Lingering questions can always be resolved during a later visit, over video, or in-person.

A streaming video conference replaces both the general contractor’s walk-through of the property and the face-to-face conference between contractor and homeowner. 

If done effectively, a virtual site visit usually gives the contractor enough information to begin drawing up an estimate.

I truly believe a virtual site meeting for most projects will be enough to send an estimate for the labor cost,” says Long Island-based Sweeten general contractor Robi. “The one item that is held up is the material selection process.” However, if you’ve hired a design-build firm that is assisting you with design and materials, “then even the design process can be done virtually in order to get the price of material selections.” 

One important limitation: an estimate based on the virtual site visit will be considered “best-effort” or “commercially reasonable.” It may require adjustments after the contractor makes their own measurements. 

How do I prepare for a virtual site visit? 

Think of it more as a formal interview than as a chat with friends or family. It’s important to be well prepared. Make sure you’ve organized your brief and any supplementary papers, your measurements, and your questions and talking points (see “Post your project + prepare background information,” below). 

Step 1: Prepare your video technology

You and the general contractor must use the same video chat app, which means agreeing on it in advance. Many contractors favor Zoom or Facetime. If one or both parties use an Android, you won’t be able to use Facetime. Zoom, Google Duo, Facebook Messenger, and Skype work on both operating systems. 

Download any necessary software ahead of time, and try using it with a friend or family member. Make sure your signal is strong enough to let you chat while walking through the worksite. This will all cut down on time spent fiddling with technology during the virtual visit.

Your video camera cannot be anchored to a desktop computer or laptop. Phones and tablets are the best tools for walk-throughs.

Decide on a backup plan, in case your video quality breaks down during the call. Will you move to a regular phone call? Or, if you think you can resolve the connection problems, will you reschedule a video call? 

Step 2: Post your project + prepare background information

The Sweeten contractors you meet with will need background information and a thorough project description to supplement the visuals. Post your project on Sweeten where the contractors can review this information before the video call. 

Here’s what to include in your project post:

  • A clear description of all work you would like done
  • Length, depth, and height measurements of each room being worked on
  • A simple floor plan. This is optional and can be obtained from a property closing or an online realtor site like StreetEasy.
  • Age of the property
  • Prior renovation work
  • Homeowners association covenants applicable to the project
  • Entry access such as stairs or elevator
  • Parking availability

Take photos: Prepare three or four well-lit still photos of the project area that convey a sense of scale. 

Step 2a: One-page briefs

If you are not in our service area, the local contractors you meet will still need this information. 

Create a one-page brief that includes the bullet points above, including the still photos.

To prevent information overload, keep the brief truly brief—ideally, keep it to one page. E-mail the brief and the photos to the general contractor at least a few days before your virtual site visit. Keep your copies with you during the visit, for reference.

Step 3: Prepare your talking points

Site visits typically begin with a walkthrough, followed by a sit-down discussion of the project. Prepare a list of topics that you would like to discuss. 

Important points to cover:

  • Whether particular spaces will or will not be available for a certain amount of time
  • What materials and fixtures will be recycled and reused
  • How the non-remodel parts of the house will be protected during the renovation

Step 4: Prepare your house

As with an in-person site visit, you need to prepare the area before the virtual walkthrough.

  • Remove any clutter and any furniture that could block important views
  • Maximize the light by uncovering all windows and turning on the lights
  • Prepare to close off the area from wandering pets or children

Tip: you can make your virtual walkthrough more productive by conducting a practice run with a friend. 

What can I expect during my virtual site visit?

A virtual site visit usually has three phases: introduction, walkthrough, and a sit-down conference.

Introductions

This is your opportunity for a casual hello, and a stand-in for a handshake. You get to see each other’s faces. You may also want to discuss what time you’ll end the call.

Virtual renovation site walkthrough

Let your contractor play an active role. As you move through the space, make sure you’re showing them what they need to see. They may ask you to double back or move in closer to something, and may ask you to pause at certain points so they can take screenshots. 

Unless the general contractor requests otherwise, walk through the space in this order, always moving the camera slowly:

  1. Establish the general environment directly beyond the intended work area. If this is a bathroom remodel, for example, show the rooms and the hallways just outside the bathroom.
  2. Move into the work area through its main entrance.
  3. In the work area itself, stand at the center and turn the camera slowly, 360-degrees.
  4. Standing at various points along the perimeter, pan the camera slowly across the space.
  5. Move the camera from the ceiling to the floor.
  6. Highlight key sections. In the bathroom remodel example, the shower or bathtub would be a section to highlight. Direct the contractor’s attention with a “show-and-tell” technique; hold the phone in one hand and point with the other. Make sure you can see your pointing hand on your own screen, and that it’s clear what you’re pointing to. virtual renovation site visit in bathroom
  7. Show a few close-ups. For example, in a bathroom renovation, show a close-up view of the shower walls, open up the vanity doors to show the valves under the sink, and show where the toilet valve is located.
  8. As long as you can maintain a video signal, move to the outermost part of your property such as the exterior door, sidewalk, driveway, and street to give the contractor a sense of access. The contractor doesn’t need to see your face as you’re walking through the home. They just need to see the space.

Sit-down conference

Move to a table or desk. Turn the camera back around to your face. Discuss the walkthrough, the contractor’s questions, and the talking points that you prepared earlier.

What comes after my virtual site visit?

E-mail your contractor. After the formalities of thanking the contractor for the visit, document in writing your common understandings of the project, particularly anything not covered in the brief.

First, clarify the project’s status. Do you want the project to move ahead, which means asking the contractor to submit an estimate? If so, state this clearly. Confirm with the contractor whether they are able to submit an estimate for your review.

Your contractor may come up with more questions while preparing the estimate, known in the industry as “Requests For Information.” Your email establishes a clear channel for these requests.

Be aware that your contractor’s estimate will be considered “commercially reasonable” but not ironclad. Contractors will not be able to account for every detail before they’ve done a physical site visit and made their own measurements.

When you’ve received estimates from all the contractors you’ve approached, it will be time to make your choice. Sweeten can help by “bid leveling,” which means translating all the estimates into equivalent terms so they can be directly compared.

A virtual site visit is a powerful tool for renovating safely during COVID-19. It will let you take important steps on your renovation, including booking a contractor, all while sheltering-in-place. When restrictions lift and the economy recovers, your preferred contractors will be much harder to book. We hope these guidelines will help you get a head start, and help you complete your renovation as quickly and safely as possible.

Turn your home into a space you love. Post your project and Sweeten will guide you all the way through.

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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What to Consider Before Building or Renovating an Outdoor Deck


Build a deck that fits your budget and extends your outdoor life throughout the seasons

(Above) Renovation by Sweeten general contractor Mike in Chicago

Your living space is not confined to the inside of your home. Beyond the walls and windows of your home lies a paradise of fresh air, natural light, plants, and flowers—your backyard or side yard. The best way to tie these two living spaces is with an outdoor deck. 

Think of a deck as the perfect segue from inside to outside. A deck elevates users from the ground and provides a unique vantage point to your property and beyond. Decks also can be a centerpiece of outdoor social life, a gathering place for barbecues, parties, or even restful solitude.

“Decks are a great way to add space to your property,” said Sweeten general contractor Chris. “By extending your outdoor living seasons, they basically make your home larger.” Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, explains what you need to know about building or renovating an outdoor deck.

Types of decks

Freestanding decks, also called floating or ground-level decks, hug closer to grade than do attached decks. This type of outdoor deck can be built alongside the house or anywhere within the yard.

In many municipalities, building permits aren’t required for outdoor deck designs less than a certain height above grade (often 30 inches) and not built over a basement or lower story. The deck area may not be part of an accessible route to either of these lower areas. The deck, though, should adhere to all applicable building codes.

  • Attached or fixed decks 

Attached, or fixed, decks are more elaborate structures than freestanding decks. They rise over a minimum height, require special footings, use guards and handrails, and are attached to the home with a ledger board. Due to the complexity of this deck design, most homeowners will hire a contractor or other professional to build an attached deck.

Attached decks better integrate with the home, too, than freestanding decks. Maxx, a designer for this Sweeten general contractor in Chicago, said that his company aims to blur the line between inside and outside. “We allow the exterior to be an extension of the indoors,” he said, “and we like to have the indoor flow to the outside so that it doesn’t feel like an appendage. We like to take the whole-house approach.”

Fiberglass outdoor deck remodel by Sweeten contractor Chris

(Above) Fiberglass deck remodel by Sweeten contractor Chris in New Jersey

The steps to building or renovating a deck

Building a new outdoor deck will involve all of the following steps, while renovating a deck may require only part of the process. Usually, it takes between one and three weeks to build a new deck, though preliminary steps (such as digging holes for the footers) may have occurred earlier.

  1. The homeowner meets with the deck builder to discuss their vision for the deck. The builder will help advise the homeowner on appropriate styles and designs.
  2. A detailed blueprint is drawn up and materials are priced out so that the homeowner has a solid cost estimate.
  3. Deck plans are submitted by the builder to the building department. Technicians visit to mark the site for underground services.
  4. The site is prepared by staking out string around the outline of the deck. Any necessary sod is removed.
  5. After the position of the piers and footers is established, holes are dug and the piers and footers are set. The ledger board is installed on the house. Support posts are installed, followed by beams and joists.
  6. With the general structure established, decking boards are nailed in place and then trimmed.
  7. Additional features such as stairs and railing are added. 
  8. If needed, the deck is stained and sealed for durability.

deck, patio(Above) Outdoor kitchen by Sweeten contractor John in Long Island, New York

Decking materials

The lower, structural part of the deck is determined by code requirements and is usually made of pressure-treated lumber. However, there are several options available for the top deck. Removing old deck materials from an existing deck and replacing them is one way to renovate a deck. This reduces costs since the entire outdoor deck structure does not need to be rebuilt.

  1. Composites: Wood composites are created from recycled plastics and wood fibers. They are favored due to their softness underfoot and durability. Wood composite decks do not need staining or sealing, either initially or at any point in their lifespan. Composites’ colors can fade over time, especially in sunnier areas. While composites are low-maintenance, they are not maintenance-free. Like other decking materials, they must periodically be cleaned of moss, mold, and mildew, especially if the deck is shaded.
  2. Fiberglass: “Fiberglass deck material is very popular now,” said Chris. “It can be painted or stained and it lasts forever.” Slip-resistant fiberglass panels overlap to form a continuous solid surface, making it especially good when decking over a lower area that needs to stay dry. Fiberglass deck panels do not rot, rust, or harbor mildew; which makes fiberglass decking ideal for high-moisture conditions.
  3. Tropical hardwoods: Ipe and tigerwood are but two of the many species of tropical hardwoods commonly used as decking materials. These dense woods are difficult to cut and drill, but this density also means that the deck’s longevity will surpass that of pressure-treated wood, redwood, and cedar. Despite being expensive, tropical hardwoods help both the deck and the home maintain value over the years, even into resale.
  4. Redwood and cedar: Redwood and cedar are softwoods sourced mainly from western states. These materials offer a good compromise between expensive tropical hardwoods and pressure-treated wood. Imbued with natural tannins and oils, redwood and cedar do not require chemical preservatives.
  5. Pressure-treated wood: The most economical choice is pressure-treated wood, usually southern yellow pine that is pressure-injected with chemicals that help the wood resist rot and wood-boring insects. One disadvantage to pressure-treated wood decking is that the wood splinters easily and isn’t safe for walking on with bare feet. Pressure-treated deck materials should always be coated on top to extend their durability. Sweeten contractor Chris stated that, because of these issues, pressure-treated wood has largely fallen by the wayside for upper deck materials, though it is always used for the lower structure.

The best time to build or renovate a deck

Inclement weather offers few advantages to any type of building project. Tarping the deck during precipitation may improve conditions during construction, but crews usually work without a cover. Frozen ground can slow digging of the holes for the footers. While late spring to mid-fall is the most comfortable time to build or renovate, most deck builders work year-round. The trick to working through all seasons, said Chris, is to dig the holes for the footers in advance—before the ground freezes.

outdoor deck hamptons(Above) Renovation in Bridgehampton, NY by Sweeten general contractor John

Average sizes and costs of decks

The average national cost for a deck addition is $14,360, according to Remodeling’s Cost vs Value. Premium decks with full-service amenities similar to all-purpose outdoor entertainment areas range up to 2,000 square feet in suburban areas north of downtown Chicago but generally remain between 200 and 400 square feet. Deck sizes in downtown Chicago tend to be smaller but higher and multi-level averaging between 70 to 120 square feet. Costs range from $40,000 to $60,000, and near $100,000 to $150,000 when the deck sprawls and includes larger amenities, like a swimming pool.

For general contractor Chris, average deck size is in the range of 25 feet by 14 feet, resulting in total square footage of 250 square feet. Deck-building costs are highly variable, said Facini, depending on factors such as decking materials, condition of the site, grade, number of decks and height, along with special items like glass railings. Generally, expect decking material costs around $20 to $30 per square foot for composites or tropical hardwoods like teak. Overall costs generally range from $25,000 to $30,000.

Regardless of how much outdoor space you have, a deck brings the joy of expanding your living and entertaining area. Understand the costs, timing, and material choices, and you’ll be one step closer to your own patch of nature.

Here are five tips on renovating your backyard from materials to what goes into planning your outdoor space.

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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What’s Better? Kitchen Peninsulas or Islands?


A home cook’s biggest helper, from benefits and costs to space requirements

Walnut live end countertop on kitchen peninsula(Above) A black walnut-topped island seats three

One can never have too much work room or storage space in the kitchen. Yet both always seem to be in short supply. Kitchen countertops, already forced to share space with the sink, refrigerator, and cooktop or stove, further become cluttered with small appliances and the detritus of everyday life. Cabinet space brims with regular-use dishes and cookware, as well as with additional small appliances and storage containers. 

Sweeten, a free renovation platform connecting homeowners with vetted general contractors, offers a breakdown of what these two types of furniture can bring to the activities of daily life.

On top of that, islands and peninsulas provide extra storage room, plus the chance to add optional amenities such as second sinks, cooktops, dishwashers, or wine coolers.

Brooklyn kitchen, renovation, remodel, peninsula (Above) Nydia’s peninsula in her 250-square-foot renovated Sweeten kitchen

Basics of kitchen islands and peninsulas

  • Kitchen islands are detached from the main section of counters and cabinets. Homeowners sometimes supplement this main section with mobile kitchen islands or carts, but true, cook-ready kitchen islands are permanently secured to the floor. This means that the kitchen island becomes a part of the kitchen itselfan enhancement that helps the home’s overall resale value. 
  • Kitchen peninsulas offer storage and countertop room roughly similar in size to kitchen islands. Peninsulas are secured to the floor for functionality and safety, with one end attached either to the wall or to existing cabinets. 
  • In most cases, the peninsula stylistically matches the main counters/cabinets. One popular kitchen peninsula layout is to attach the peninsula to the end of an L-shaped kitchen countertop, effectively turning it into a U-shaped kitchen.

Benefits of kitchen islands

  • Flexible spacing: Kitchen islands should remain within basic spacing parameters. But within those parameters is a degree of flexibility that allows you to nudge the island to the spot that works best for you.
  • Instant social space: People always love to gather at kitchen islands. If you host parties or dinners, or if you just want to draw family members closer, a kitchen island is a people magnet.
  • Easy to mix styles: Kitchen islands often stylistically match the main cabinets and counters. But if you choose to incorporate a slightly different style, this is possible. The physical separation from the main area means that dissimilar cabinets and counters are less noticeable.

(Above) Mitzie + Jenifer’s waterfall island, a two-seat island holds a full-size oven, and a marble overhang seats three in Sara + Mike’s ’30s Tudor

Benefits of kitchen peninsulas

  • Continuous countertops: Peninsulas typically continue countertops from the main section onto the peninsula. Quartz and solid surface countertop technicians employ seaming methods that erase the line between the two, effectively transforming them into a single countertop.
  • Better workflow: Continuous counters and cabinets tend to encourage more frequent usage than separate work centers.
  • Easier to place utilities: Natural gas, electricity, and water supply, and drainage lines that originate in the main counter/cabinet area can be continued into the peninsula since the two areas are attached.

Should you choose an island or peninsula?

Is increasing kitchen storage an overriding concern? If so, a kitchen island may be your best choice since the peninsula has a 90-degree cabinet angle creating a type of dead zone called a blind cabinet. While this space can be used, it is difficult for most people to access. 

By contrast, the kitchen island provides unimpeded storage area under the countertops. If you think that you will want to eventually change or expand your kitchen, you may wish to go in the direction of a kitchen island since it is easier to remove without affecting the main counter/cabinet section.

If you have a small-to-medium-size kitchen, you may want to choose a peninsula over an island since it is more efficient with space. Also, if you think that the kitchen island’s detachment from the main area may deter use, then you should consider installing a kitchen peninsula.

(Above) Jessica and Jessie’s blue peninsula fits toe-kick storage and a wine fridge, Dawn and David prep, bake, and chat at their peninsula, Melissa’s peninsula pulls up three barstools

Requirements of kitchen islands and peninsulas

Island and peninsula spacing and placement are, above all, predicated on the size and layout of your kitchen. Adequate space between work centers must be maintained both for workflow and for safety. You must be able to open cabinet doors without obstruction. You must also be able to freely access amenities such as sinks and cooktops.

The industry group National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends that you should always keep 42 inches of space between the edge of an island or peninsula and any other counters, work centers, appliances, or walls. Increase that width to 48 inches if you expect to have more than one cook regularly working in the kitchen.

Walkways that are not work aisles (pass-throughs behind an island, for instance) should be no less than 36 inches wide.

Whether for an island or a peninsula, think in terms of an imaginary “kitchen triangle” created by three points: sink, refrigerator, and stove or cooktop. The three legs of the triangle should total no more than 26 feet, with no leg measuring less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet.

Sweeten general contractor Zak notes that homeowners and designers need to keep in mind “the issue of functionality and how you want them used, like bar-heights versus other functional (prep) heights.” Standard countertops rise 36 inches above floor level. If either the peninsula or island is intended to be a breakfast bar, that height may be raised to 42 inches (though it would then be used exclusively for eating, not for food preparation).

Electrical receptacles servicing all counter areas should be GFCI-protected (ground fault circuit interrupter).

East Hampton open concept kitchen with island(Above) Alex and Jennifer’s beach house kitchen island features a cooktop, wine fridge, and seating

Cost considerations

The cost of adding a kitchen island or peninsula is highly malleable. Since countertop materials tend to be so pricey, Sweeten general contractor Claud said that homeowners need to think about whether they want the island or peninsula to have enough countertop overhang to serve as an eating area. 

“What many people don’t realize,” said Claud, “is that where you live is just as important in determining the cost. A detached single-family home will be different from a condo or townhouse, where costs can skyrocket.” He noted that HOAs often require that remodel plans be drawn up by an architect, even in the case of islands and peninsulas.

Claud estimated that a 5-foot long, 36-inch high peninsula or island using semi-custom cabinets and quartz or solid surface countertops and with no amenities will cost no less than $2,500 to $3,000. Amenities such as a sink or dishwasher further drive up the cost. 

As for the cost difference between islands and peninsulas? Costs run about the same, though islands might cost slightly less, he said. Peninsulas often demand more patching and wall work than islands.

Design professionals rarely consider either an island or a peninsula to be inherently better than the other. Instead, it is a matter of your home, the available space within the kitchen, and your taste and desires. Either way, you’ll be gaining the kitchen’s most efficient workhorse in workspace and storage.

If you’re planning on renovating your kitchen, see how long it can take and set your calendar.

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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