Removing Remodeling Roadblocks – Common Design Dilemmas

Every home remodeling project has its challenges, from determining the perfect aesthetic to staying within budget. Harrell Remodeling Designer Barb Wingo, Allied ASID, UDCP dives into some of the most common dilemmas and offers solutions as to how to remove those remodeling roadblocks.

1. How do you decide on a style when homeowners have different design aesthetics from one another?

It’s not uncommon for homeowners to have differing ideas on style. This fundamental issue may feel like an insurmountable impasse, but it is possible to overcome this style standoff.

When faced with this challenge, Barb has each contributor provide inspirational images and a brief description of what aspects they like.

  • Do they appreciate an object or material’s shape, color, or texture?
  • Does the image spark a memory or evoke a feeling?
  • Does it fulfill a desired function, like a coffee or beverage bar?
  • Maybe it’s the ease of keeping the item clean, which is a priority.

It’s also helpful for homeowners to identify what they dislike.

It could be a color they don’t appreciate and wouldn’t want in their home, a style that is too simple and plain, or too busy and distracting.

Barb recalls a project with clients who were both physicians. One of their main preferences regarding color was avoiding specific green/blue shades that reminded them of the hospital where they worked.

Using this kind of specific information (whether in alignment, or not), an Interior Designer can identify common or complementary elements that tie differing design aesthetics together. This results in a cohesive look and feel that is unique and reflects the different style preferences of the homeowners.

2. Where do I start — Contractor, Architect, or Interior Designer?

Knowing the respective roles of each professional remodeling resource and who to start with can be confusing. So, let’s start with who does what.

A General Contractor coordinates and supervises every aspect of implementing the physical construction of a remodeling project.

An Interior Designer concentrates on proactive problem-solving by making indoor spaces functional, safe, and beautiful by determining space requirements and by selecting essential and decorative items, such as colors, lighting, materials, and fixtures. An interior designer can create a whole set of drawings for a residential remodel. They will need to enlist a structural engineer if structural changes will be made.

An Architect is responsible for drawing up the detailed plans for a structure and developing final construction plans to include electrical and HVAC, plumbing, roof framing, etc. An architect would also have to enlist a structural engineer for final floor plans.

Whether you start with a contractor, architect, or Interior Designer, it’s essential to ask questions to ensure you understand who will be responsible for which aspects of your remodel and how they will collaborate to complete your project.

  • Will you be selecting door and window styles with the architect or the contractor?
  • Will the Interior Designer provide a drawing of the bathroom tile pattern, or will the contractor lay it out when installing the tile?
  • Who will oversee securing the required permits?

Even while working separately, these experts will need to collaborate to ensure the remodel – and any challenges that arise, are addressed effectively and efficiently.

For instance, the contractor can provide practical and valuable insight into the home’s existing conditions, which informs smart design choices. Architects, contractors, and experienced Interior Designers can offer guidance on whether a wall between a kitchen and dining room wall is load-bearing and how it can be successfully removed and rebuilt to open up the space.

Instead of hiring all of these professionals separately, another option is Design + Build.

Think of Design + Build process like an all-inclusive resort, providing everything you need from start to finish. In-house specialists and reliable tradespeople handle every aspect of a home remodel or addition, including feasibility studies, code verification, design, structural engineering, permitting, and construction. Everything is under one roof, so there’s no need to determine which professional to work with first.

3. How can undesirable structural or functional elements be attractively incorporated?

A little creative thinking often leads to innovative solutions. Just because something “has always been there” doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reengineered.

Discussing function, aesthetics, and pros and cons with an Interior Designer can help identify the best way to solve a less-than-desirable existing condition.

Here are just a few common dilemmas and how to overcome them.

  • You need a space for kitty’s litter box but don’t want to see (or smell) it. Incorporate it into cabinetry in a laundry room or bathroom. A cat door cut-out gives kitty access, while a functioning cabinet door allows you easy access to clean.
  • There’s a heat vent right where you plan to put your new bathroom vanity. Ducting from your furnace can be redirected to the toe kick of your cabinet.
  • You want to include elements of Universal Design to allow safely and comfortably age-in-place in your home. “Integrating future-proofing Universal Design features during a remodel is a smart, forward-thinking decision,” Barb acknowledges. “Often, homeowners want to be able to add in grab bars in a bathroom later. During the remodel, plywood blocking can be installed in walls, providing an anchor point for securing grab bars in the future.”

4. Which is best, an open-concept kitchen or cabinets and countertop space?

Kitchens are the heart of the home, making them an essential space for preparing meals and, for many homeowners, entertaining.

An open-concept kitchen layout offers more spaciousness, better sightlines, more natural light, and easier entertaining. What may be lost when walls come down are much-needed storage cabinets and countertop space.

Barb serves up these solutions to this prevalent design dilemma:

  • A kitchen island or peninsula offers storage and a countertop for prep and extra seating.
  • Drawer versions of microwaves, refrigerators, and dishwashers save space and allow the appliance placement in various locations to better suit your workflow.
  • Full height cabinets with pullouts maximizes storage.
  • Areas that lack the standard full depth for base cabinets and countertops can still serve as built-in beverage stations or family organization zones.

5. How do I achieve my remodeling goals without overspending on my budget?

During your home improvement project, keep in mind the motto: good, better, best!

An Interior Designer can help you identify your “must-haves” and your “nice to have” goals for your remodel. Barb stresses the importance of clarifying what is critical to achieve and what secondary items would be fantastic to include if you have wiggle room in your budget.

An experienced Interior Designer learns about your lifestyle. By listening to and understanding your needs and wants, they can provide options to help achieve your “must-haves” while keeping your budget in mind.

This process allows you to invest more “best” in your primary bathroom suite, if that is your priority, and opt for “good” cabinetry, flooring, and tile in your laundry room.

Barb’s ultimate remodeling goal litmus test is having clients envision the project as complete and asking, “What would make you say, ‘I’m glad we did … ?’”

6. Is it better to remodel sections of my home or do it all at once?

The decision to undertake a remodeling project in full or in phases depends on the homeowner. As a guide, homeowners should consider three things:

  1. Their timeline for starting and completing the work. What is driving the decision to remodel? Is there a life event or specific time frame driving completion of the work? When can they start? How long will design and construction take?
  2. Their budget. Do the homeowners have the financial resources to complete the entire remodel at once, or does it make sense to break it into multiple phases? Will there be economies of time and cost to completing all the work at once?
  3. Convenience. The result of a remodel can be life-changing and improve the function and pleasure you get from your home. However, while work is underway, a remodel can be disruptive to everyday life. Some things to consider about your remodel:
    • Do you plan to stay in your home during the remodel?
    • Do you have areas, like a second bathroom, that can be used while others are being remodeled?
    • Does it make sense to phase the construction by areas?

A recent client of Barb’s chose to stay in their home during the remodeling of all four of their bathrooms. Phase 1 included the primary bathroom (and laundry), and two other guest bathrooms. The clients still had use of a full bathroom near their family room, which was then remodeled during Phase 2 once all other bathrooms were complete.

Wondering how you can overcome your home’s design dilemmas to be everything you wanted and more?

Harrell Remodeling is here to help. We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced Designers.

As a single source from conception through construction, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality. Our collaborative Design + Build team can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit your unique lifestyle.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Home is Where Your Health Is: Creating Healthy Homes

“Our homes, both the location and the building itself, influence almost every aspect of our lives-from how well we sleep, how often we see friends, to how safe and secure we feel. If we want to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, there can hardly be a more important place to start than the home: it is where most people spend most of their lives.”

2016 report from the U.K. Green Building Council

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, most of which is spent in our homes.

Considerable research has shown that sustainable, well-designed homes are paramount to the health of their inhabitants and, as an added benefit, also keep the planet and our communities healthier.

Creating a holistically healthy living environment involves taking the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of inhabitants into account. When undertaking an addition or remodel, elements of a healthy home are achieved through design, materials, air, light, and color, to name just a few.


A healthy home begins with a thoughtful design. Creating an interior environment adapted to the occupants rather than the occupants adapting to the environment is the cornerstone of good design.

Instrumental to the physical and emotional security of the residents, a well-thought-out design mitigates stress and maximizes comfort and relaxation.

“A floor plan that is safe and suited to the lifestyle and abilities of its residents is vital,” says Harrell Remodeling’s resident “medical-doctor-turned-designer,” Yolanda Ng. “A healthy home has open paths of travel, workflows, and rooms that make sense for how the residents live.”

With sleep quality and duration correlated to other aspects of health, Yolanda stresses the importance of bedrooms that promote restorative sleep. Studies have demonstrated people sleep more soundly when light and noise levels, temperature, and comfort are optimized.

Yolanda recommends that those who like to sleep later avoid having their bedroom with east-facing windows – these windows of course let the morning sun stream in, at perhaps a too-early time of day.


Materials play a vital role in the health of our homes. From trapping dust to emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs), material choices impact the health of the planet, fabricators, builders, and residents.

The EPA states that “A growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.”

Building materials like insulation, sealants, adhesives, and paint emit chemicals that pollute the air in our homes and have adverse health effects on fabricators and builders. Other textiles, like carpet, trap dust and pet dander and contribute to ongoing indoor air pollution.

“Material choice is important for the health of the planet as much as the health of homeowners,” acknowledges Yolanda. In addition to picking low or no-VOC products, she recommends choosing materials that are recycled, sustainably grown or produced, or manufactured locally.

Materials that are non-toxic, ethical, and sustainable are just part of a healthy home environment. The American Lung Association (ALA) stresses that “Homes need to breathe.” Dirty, polluted air needs to be removed and replaced with clean air. Proper ventilation eliminates indoor impurities like dust, dander, chemicals, moisture, and gases.

What occurs during construction has long-term outcomes on the health of a home. Keeping a job site clean, removing debris, properly managing removal of asbestos and mold abatement, and vacuuming dust from inside walls before insulating promotes a better living environment.

Air Temperature, Quality & Ventilation

Ventilation is an essential element of thermal comfort, restorative sleep, and productive work and play. It also plays a vital role in the durability and longevity of a building.

As homes become more airtight, energy efficiency increases, making the ambient temperature more consistent and our living spaces more comfortable. The downside is the potential for increased indoor air pollution if a home isn’t properly ventilated.

Proper ventilation brings fresh air in from outside to replace ‘dirty’ indoor air. This process also dilutes and removes occupant-generated pollutants (carbon dioxide, humidity from cooking and bathing) and material-generated pollutants (e.g., volatile organic compounds).

Yolanda stresses having a sound, a well-maintained HVAC system that keeps indoor temperatures consistent, that filters and removes airborne particles, and maintains humidity levels between 30% and 50% go a long way to achieving a healthy home.

Natural Light & Views to the Outdoors

Windows let in natural light and fresh air and provide views of nature. These aspects positively contribute to our health and wellbeing, boosting our sense of security, and our ability to relax and unwind.

Research has shown a direct correlation between sunlight and emotions. Having a dwelling filled with natural light improves our emotional wellbeing, and keeps our home from feeling dark, closed off, and stifling.

Humans also have a deep connection to nature. Windows allow the outdoors in, providing vistas of greenery and blue skies that positively enhance mood and induce feelings of safety.


Color plays a significant role in physical and emotional wellbeing. It impacts behavior, energy levels, creativity, appetite, memory, and relationships.

“When I worked in healthcare, I witnessed how the color of a room would enhance a patient’s recovery. Choosing colors for our home environment can have a powerful effect on our mental and emotional health,” shares Yolanda.

Though color preferences are very individual, some garner more positive effects, including green, white, blue, and gray. According to WebMD, studies show blue has the most significant impact on our 24-hour cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral patterns.

Evidence-Based Design

Working in healthcare and hospitals, Yolanda saw firsthand the application of evidence-based design and its influence on patients’ health.

Evidence-based design is constructing a building or physical environment based on scientific research to achieve the best possible outcomes for the people who occupy the space, whether a hospital, office building, school, or residence. This crossover of science and design was the catalyst for Yolanda to pursue a career in design.

“It’s empowering to be able to use science and research to improve people’s homes and health,” notes Yolanda.

LEED Certified Construction

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings.

The goal of LEED is to maximize the benefits to human health and wellness while minimizing the impact on the environment and precious resources.

There are numerous green building requirements in California that minimize waste production, encourage recycling, and minimize water usage. Through the permitting process, a significant level of green requirements in homes is already factored in.

Whether actual certification is achieved, aspects of LEED can be integrated into any addition or remodel, elevating the dwelling’s health for its inhabitants. To learn more about LEED, read LEED Certification: Its Role in Residential Remodeling.

Whether constructing an entirely new home, adding square footage, or remodeling existing spaces, it is worthwhile to incorporate green design aspects to create a healthy home. After all, it’s where you’ll spend most of your time.

Harrell Remodeling is here to help. We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced Designers.

As a single source from conception through construction, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality. Working as a team, our Design + Build process can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

The 4-1-1 on Flooring Options

5 Steps to Mitigating Supply Chain Issues During a Remodel

What to Consider When Remodeling a Bathroom

Harrell Remodeling Designer Sheila Ward Hesting has updated a bathroom or two in her time. As a designer, she asks a lot of questions, diving deep to gain clarity around how her clients live and use the spaces in their homes.

“One of the things I say most is, ‘Tell me more about that,’” Sheila confides. Getting granular about the details is a core competency of any design professional. “I always talk function first, then move to the materials, colors, and plumbing fixtures.”

Jumping straight into the aesthetic aspect of a remodel is exciting but digging into the functional details is the first step that informs the result.

In this article, Sheila shares the primary things to consider when undertaking a bathroom remodel.

Who will be using the bathroom?

Sheila says the first item to consider is who will be the primary user(s) of the new bathroom.

Will it be children, and, if so, how many at a time? Is it the main bathroom to be used by the primary homeowners? Are you planning the new space for guest use? Will the redesign be for seniors or for those with different ability levels? Along with who will be using the updated bathroom, accessibility should be taken into account.

“A bathroom may be used by young children today, but in a few years when they are older, individual privacy will be in high demand,” Sheila shares, noting that how a bathroom will be used today may very well have different design and functional concerns in the future.

How do you want the new bathroom to function?

Will the bathroom serve as a powder room only (a toilet and sink), or does it need to include bathing facilities? Depending upon the individual users, will those people want (and use) a shower, a shower/tub combination, or a separate spacious shower and separate jetted bathtub?

Many homeowners believe that having a spa tub in the main bath is a must for future resale or that installing a luxurious bathtub will encourage them to use it, even if they aren’t typically bath takers.
But in reality, says Sheila, that is not the case. Sheila recalls hearing in one of her design classes, that the actual number of times a homeowner uses an indoor spa bathtub is only seven(!) in the course of their ownership! Think carefully whether you really need and will use a spa bathtub.

“I have discovered after interviewing some clients that an outdoor hot tub can be a much better (and more fun!) option for a family than a jetted spa tub inside the bathroom.”

Another important consideration is whether the functionality that homeowners desire in their remodeled bathroom can be achieved in the existing space. If not, can the components be reconfigured or will additional square footage be needed?

Lighting and Ventilation

The different times of day family members or guests will use the bathroom also comes into play. Some homeowners are up early, getting ready before the sun rises. Others like to bathe in the evening.

Dimmable lights create a relaxing retreat. Lighting that minimizes shadows at a mirror is ideal for grooming and applying makeup. Toe kick lighting, placed in the recess at the base of the cabinets, provides a subtle glow that is great for late-night bathroom visits.

Natural light and ventilation are other significant considerations. Window size and placement should also be considered. Large, low windows can reduce privacy, especially at night. Some homes offer lovely views and privacy, but many homes have nearby neighbors. One solution to this issue could be installing electrically activated “smart glass” that becomes frosted with the flick of a switch.

“We can achieve a well-lit bathroom by placing windows up high or by using opaque glass.” Sheila explains that talking through the details with homeowners helps her arrive at the best option to fit their family’s lifestyle.

There are also many lighted mirrors on the market today that function as mirror and lighting in one product. Additionally, there are products with an integrated TV in the mirror that can eliminate the need for a wall-mounted television.

Storage & Security

Each person has distinct needs when it comes to how they use a space. Storage plays a prominent role for most homeowners. Walking through each person’s use of grooming appliances such as electric razors, hair driers, flat irons, and electric toothbrushes is a guide toward designing a storage solution that meets their needs.

Security is another aspect of storage that homeowners often need but may not know the available options. Medicine cabinets with internal lock boxes (and refrigerator function) and cabinets with locking drawers keep medications secure and out of the reach of small children.

Advanced High-Tech Plumbing Fixtures

There are also a plethora of advanced plumbing fixtures to consider. Electronic keypads can control the elements of water, steam, lighting, and music to provide a multi-sensory showering experience. Customized selections such as rain heads, body sprays, and spa-like hydrotherapy to music speakers, steam, and chromatherapy are controlled by a simple touchscreen interface. Many toilet manufacturers offer washlet, or “bidet-type” toilet seats with controls for water spray, heated seating, and even sensors for raising the toilet seat, or turning on a night light. At the vanity sink, touchless faucets are becoming more normal in the home. Be sure to inquire about the many advancements in bathroom technology available today.


People have very different requirements for the desired warmth of a bathroom, so heating plays a critical role in designing an updated space. “Some like it hot,” while others prefer a cooler environment. Heating needs will also vary by season.

Radiant heated flooring (which can be electric or hydraulic) is a luxurious way to warm a bathroom however other homeowners may prefer a combination light/heater exhaust fan.

Sheila stresses that only after she has a detailed understanding of the new bathroom’s who, when and how, does the conversation turns to aesthetics.

There is a lot to consider when undertaking a bathroom remodel. Let Harrell Remodeling’s award-winning designers unearth all the essential details that play into creating your beautifully functional space.

We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced designers.

Or attend one of our virtual workshops to learn more about the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build experience.

As a single source from conception through construction, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality. Working as a team, our Design + Build process can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

gazebo outdoor seating and pool daytime

Questions to Ask a Landscape Designer Before Embarking on an Outdoor Project

Creating a livable, fun, and functional outdoor space has become more essential than ever before. Whether you desire dining, relaxing, entertaining, playing, or a blend of these activities, designing such a space takes a talented team.

Before you embark on your outdoor design endeavor, here are some questions to ask a landscape designer to ensure that you get the outdoor living space of your dreams.

Does your company only do design, or are you a full-service Design + Build?

Some landscape designers, like some architects, will create a conceptual, or schematic, design. Once the design is complete, the client has to hire a contractor for the “construction” of the project. If you prefer to work with a single company, consider a full-service firm that offers Design + Build.

Do you charge for an initial meeting?

Some designers may charge a fee, but many don’t. At Harrell Remodeling, the first appointment with potential clients is a free fact-finding mission to discover more about the clients, their needs, their budget, and to see the property in person. It’s also an opportunity to see if both parties are the right fit for one another.

Are you certified by the APLD?

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers certification program is an industry standard that ensures those holding an APLD designation have met certain criteria and have passed a rigorous review of their work. APLDs are also committed to continuing education and must maintain ongoing continuing education units (CEUs).

Do you have a website where I can see previous work?

Being able to see a designer’s work offers insight into their ability to design a variety of outdoor spaces.

Do you have client reviews on Yelp, Houzz, or Google?

Independent reviews from past clients, rather than curated references, provide real-life experiences. Not only can reviews share what went well, but if there were any challenges or unforeseen obstacles, they can provide insights as to how the designer worked with the homeowner to overcome any issues.

Can you help us understand the pros and cons of what we want and need?

An expert landscape designer should help a homeowner understand the pros and cons of their choices, such as what types of stone will work best in their environment and which species of plants will thrive in their microclimate. An expert landscape designer will also ask in-depth questions about the activities, and the people who will use the areas. Determining the best options for each unique project is part of the design process.

Lisa Parramore, Harrell Remodeling’s APLD Landscape Designer, shares this example: “A potential client wanted shade over an attached deck. They initially were thinking of a pergola. I provided three different options: the pergola, shade sails, or a retractable awning. By providing three-dimensional renderings that allowed them to visualize the space, they quickly discovered that the awning was the best fit; when the awning is retracted, they can see the deck and the backyard from their second story balcony. They didn’t realize this was important to them until they could see the space.”

How does the design process work?

Understanding how a designer works enables homeowners to better grasp the creative process. Inquire how many initial design concepts you can expect and if the process is a collaborative one.

What if we don’t like the design?

Most designers understand that creating a design is not a “one and done” endeavor. Lisa explains that clients can provide reactions to and feedback about multiple design concepts to arrive at a final design that meets their approval and budget.

Can you work within my budget?

Landscape designers will need to understand your project budget and list of requirements to determine if the two align. A professional should give potential clients an idea of what is possible for the funding available and offer alternatives to bring the wish list and budget inline if necessary.

What is the average cost of an outdoor project?

An experienced landscape designer should be able to provide a ballpark estimate for your project. The cost of creating an outdoor space is relative to the current market value of your home. Lisa says as a rule of thumb, homeowners can expect the following:

5% of home value: basic landscaping with plants and a specimen tree, irrigation, a patio, and a pathway.

10% of home value: The above plus built structures such as pergolas, arbors, fountains, simple BBQ island, and larger trees.

15% of home value (or more): Custom features including an outdoor kitchen with plumbing, electrical, and appliances, swimming pool, vineyards, plus the above.

Do swimming pools add value to my home?

Pools are rising in popularity, especially during the pandemic when people wanted a yard filled with entertainment and exercise options. Whether a pool adds value to your home depends on many factors, Lisa explains. Real estate agents are a good source of information as to whether a pool increases your home’s value in a particular neighborhood. For those who have no intention of moving, it makes sense to evaluate how much you and your family will use and enjoy a pool, regardless of its impact on resale value.

Will permits be necessary for my outdoor project?

Permits are in place to ensure the safety of, and functionality for, the homeowners. Any design aspects that require professional installation by a licensed plumber or electrician will require permits. This includes outdoor kitchens with gas or electric appliances and running water. Swimming pools will also require permits.

As part of each of Harrell Remodeling’s projects, we conduct thorough research. The resulting feasibility study helps determine necessary permits.

Will you handle obtaining all of the necessary permits for my project?

Knowing whether your landscape designer works for a firm that will apply for and pull any required permits is good to know upfront. Homeowners who opt to apply for permits themselves should understand that it can take quite a bit of legwork to ensure that the plans contain all of the information that a building department requires. Conceptual drawings from an independent landscape designer may not be sufficient. As a Design + Build firm, Harrell Remodeling applies for and pulls all required permits on behalf of the homeowners.

How do we pick out materials?

Be sure to inquire if your landscape designer will assist in helping you choose materials for your outdoor project. If they do, ask more about how that process works. Will they bring samples to your home, send you links to websites, or meet you at a local showroom – or maybe do a combination of all three?

Can outdoor tech features be integrated into my existing smart home technology?

There are all kinds of technology that can be incorporated into outdoor living spaces. If tech is a must for you, ask your designer if they can integrate it into your project.

Can you help us design a garden or outdoor space that’s low maintenance?

A landscape designer should be able to meet the needs of their clients, including creating a space that is attractive and functional but low maintenance. Lisa suggests inquiring about drought-tolerant plants, durable materials that require minimal upkeep, and automated irrigation systems. A good designer will review all the options and help homeowners find the “sweet spot” that best fits their lifestyle needs.

How long until construction on my project begins?

An independent landscape designer may not be able to give you start dates, especially if you need to secure a contractor to perform the work. They should be able to provide you with an idea of how long the design process could take.

How long until our project is complete?

Most homeowners want to know generally how long their project will take. Design + Build firms can provide a basic timeline from design to completion. It’s important to note that the city planning/building, and permitting timeframes are outside the control of any designer, contractor, or Design + Build firm.

How do you manage lead times?

If a designer provides the conceptual drawings only, they may not deal with material lead times; this will fall to the contractor. Full-service firms should have a process in place to minimize lead times of materials.

Will you help oversee the installation of structures, plants, etc.?

Some landscape designers will be more involved with installation than others. If you prefer professional placement of plants, shrubs, and trees and someone who will be available to oversee the installation of critical components, Lisa recommends asking this question to designers you interview.
A member of the Harrell Remodeling team is on-site daily at each of our projects, and our designers review essential elements of the project.

What is your warranty?

An independent designer may or may not provide any warranty, but full-service Design + Build firms typically have a workmanship warranty. For outdoor living projects, plants may be covered by a limited warranty; pre-fab structures, materials, and appliances typically have manufacturer’s warranties. Inquire what is covered and by whom. Ask how to make claims and if warranties will be transferred to you once the project is complete.

As a single source from conception through construction, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality. Working as a team, our Design + Build process can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Are you dreaming of ways to reimagine your outdoor spaces? We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced APLD-Certified Landscape Designers.

Or attend one of our virtual workshops to learn more about the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build experience.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Workers remodeling inside of a house

Five Considerations to Help You Determine if You Should Move or Remodel

Over the years we have met many potential clients who ask the remodeling conundrum: Should I move or remodel? It’s a valid question homeowners are urged to ponder and investigate before deciding the best path to achieve a home that suits them and serves their desired functions best.

So, how do you know what’s the best option for your family? Here are five things to consider before making this important financial decision.

1. Location

The city, town, and neighborhood in which you live are important. There is a saying in the world of real estate: “Location, location, location.” This concept is a critical factor in deciding whether to stay where you are and remodel your home, or find another property.

Location is permanent; a structure can be altered and improved. If you love your neighborhood, your community, and the local school district, that checks the box for remodeling.

On the other hand, if you aren’t enamored with where you live — whatever the reason – that is an indicator that moving might be a better option. Even if you remodel your home, the location stays the same. Ultimately, you should love your location because that is one thing a remodel can’t solve.

2. Longevity

How long do you plan to live in your current home? If you’re in a “starter home” and planning to “move up,” or if your existing home is too big for your lifestyle and downsizing makes sense, moving may be the way to go.

But, if you plan to stay put for a while and want your home to better align with your lifestyle and needs, remodeling is worth exploring.

3. Space/Property

Another consideration is whether it’s feasibly possible for you to remodel or add onto your current home. Each city and county have unique restrictions for maximum lot coverage and floor area ratio (FAR), both of which impact additions and remodels.

Lot coverage is defined as the percentage of your property covered by buildings and structures and, in some jurisdictions, impermeable surfaces. For example, houses (only the enclosed ground floor area), garages, accessory buildings, gazebos, swimming pools, driveways, and covered patios can all count as part of lot coverage.

On the other hand, floor area ratio (FAR) is the aggregate area of all floors of your home and accessory dwelling units as a percentage of your total lot. Some cities and counties also include covered front porches, basements, and portions of attics as part of FAR. Garages and sheds are not included as part of floor area ratio.

These two factors limit adding square footage for some homes, but, says Harrell Remodeling Senior Designer Sheila Ward Hesting, that doesn’t mean you can’t remodel within your home’s existing footprint.

“One of our clients thought they wanted to add onto their home, but that wasn’t feasible, so instead, we created new flow and function by relocating rooms, knocking down walls, and designing a fresh new floor plan. Their home became a space that finally worked for their lifestyle without having to add square footage,” elaborates Sheila.

She also stresses that conducting thorough research in advance is essential. “Not only does an in-depth feasibility study fully outline the city or county building requirements, but it also informs the design and helps determine the project budget.”

4. Price

Depending on the size and scope of the project, an addition or remodel can be a significant financial investment. But, often, buying a new home involves a sizable increase in property taxes, especially if you’ve been living in your current home for a long while. Also, the Bay Area housing market is competitive, with many homes going well over the asking price. Increased property taxes and mortgage payments, not to mention an aggressive buyer’s market, can make moving financially unappealing.

Although adding onto or remodeling your home does involve monetary outlay, and your property tax basis will be readjusted (if certain rooms are added), the total cost is frequently equal to or less than what will be incurred by relocating.

5. Functionality

Sheila concedes that all of the above-mentioned factors are essential considerations, but she reminds clients that finding another home that meets their specific wants and needs, both now and in the future, is slim to none.

Remodeling creates a space designed exclusively for your distinctive lifestyle: a skilled designer crafts and curates your home’s flow and functionality around how you live.

For example:

Do you enjoy entertaining indoors and out?

Is cooking or baking a passion for one or more family members?

What storage and organization solutions can be incorporated?

Is there a need or desire to include elements of Universal Design?

Do you have pets and want to design a unique space just for them?

Sheila shares the story of a remodeling project where the owners were cat lovers. With six felines in the house, they had a problem finding discrete locations for the numerous litter boxes. What they did have was a large laundry room. Sheila took advantage of the space, designing unique built-in cabinetry with separate cubbies for each litter box and a remote, motion sensor activated exhaust fan that wouldn’t frighten the cats, and keeps odors at bay. She also installed exterior shed doors behind the cabinetry that allow the owners to access the litter boxes from the outside, making an easy, no-mess cleanup.

“These homeowners would never have found another home that met this particular requirement,” Sheila points out. “Finding ‘the’ perfect home isn’t a reality. That is one of the biggest benefits of remodeling — your home is designed just for you.”

Answering these five questions can narrow down whether it makes more sense for you to move or remodel.

And, if you’re still unsure, seeking professional advice about the potential of your existing home can be illuminating. Sheila emphasizes, “Homeowners frequently can’t see their home’s possibilities. An accomplished designer can show you what your home can become.”

Harrell Remodeling Inc. provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality from conception through construction. The Harrell Design + Build team can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Are you dreaming of ways to reimagine your home? We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced Designers.

Or attend one of our virtual workshops to learn more about the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build experience.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

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The Importance of Permits: What are They and When are They Required?

Whether you’re considering renovating your kitchen or bathroom, expanding your home’s living space, or adding a new addition to your home, having the proper building permits is essential.

There are times homeowners undertake improvement projects without pulling a permit. Some aren’t aware that a building permit is needed, and others may not want to wait for approval or pay the permit fees. While some minor home improvements don’t require a permit, many others do. The bottom line is, conducting a remodeling job without the necessary permits can spell trouble down the line.

What is a Permit?

A permit is an official approval issued by the local Building Department that guarantees that the work being performed to a home adheres to state and local code requirements. Permitting ensures the future occupants’ health and safety along with the building’s structural integrity.

A complete set of construction documents must be submitted to the Building Department to obtain the permits necessary to begin a remodel or addition.

Depending upon the project’s complexity, the permitting process can be straightforward or require multiple agencies to review and approve the plans before being approved for a permit.

These agencies may include:

  • City or County Planning Department
  • Public Works
  • Fire Department
  • Environmental Department

Larger projects such as additions may require structural engineering plans, soils reports, property surveys, energy compliance reports, and arborist reports as individual requirements based on the complexity of design or special site conditions. Harrell Remodeling’s Design team works with team consultants and specialists early in the design process to address these requirements before submitting project plans for permit approval.

The Role of Green Building

CALGreen, California’s green building code, also impacts the permitting process. Created to improve public health, safety, and general welfare, CALGreen targets five key areas:

  • Planning and design
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water efficiency and conservation
  • Material conservation and resource efficiency
  • Environmental quality

Based on project size and scope, aspects of CALGreen must be addressed to obtain permits.

What Home Improvements Require a Permit?

Most home upgrades will require a permit. Aesthetic improvements such as painting, carpeting, tile, adding baseboards or crown molding, replacing interior doors, replacing lighting or plumbing fixtures (in existing locations) don’t require pulling permits.

Other improvements that don’t require permits include:

  • A shed or small separate building 120 square feet or less without electrical, plumbing, or mechanical services
  • Neighbor fences 6 feet high or less
  • Roof repairs of 100 square feet or less
  • Retaining walls 4 feet or less measured from the footing (below the ground)
  • Replacing existing light switches and outlets in their current location
  • Level 1 EV chargers

When it comes to adding on to your home, building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) or undertaking a major kitchen and bathroom remodel, permits are required.

When altering, removing, or adding to any electrical, plumbing, mechanical, or structural aspects of a home, getting the proper permit is a must because these crucial systems directly impact the homeowner’s health and safety.

The Role of Research

Knowing what’s involved in your city’s permitting process before embarking on the design process saves time, money, and frustration.

Understanding each project’s unique requirements at the outset is essential, which is why Rafael Gomez, Harrell Remodeling Designer and Code Specialist, launches a thorough analysis of every client project.

“This feasibility study not only helps inform our designers, but it also better defines each project’s permit process based on scope, and helps minimize or eliminate surprises,” Rafael elaborates.

This thorough research process determines which principal building codes apply to the proposed remodel or addition. It also outlines the project’s permitting process and provides an idea of the timeframe for permitting, construction, and budget.

Harrell Remodeling always obtains the proper permits for every one of our projects. Rafael stresses that it’s wise to work with a Design + Build firm, architect, or contractor who has experience in your city, understands the varied codes and permitting requirements, and will help you apply for and obtain the necessary permits.

Permits Maximize Home Value

The goal of a remodel, improvement, or addition is to improve a home’s livability, its residents’ lifestyle, and ultimately increase a home’s value.

Unpermitted work can negatively influence home value and can end up costing considerable time and money. Homeowner’s insurance covers permitted projects. If an insurance claim ever needs to be filed, the insurance company may deny unpermitted improvements. Should local taxing authorities eventually discover work has been conducted without permits, the homeowner may be liable for significant back taxes, fees, and penalties.

As an example, suppose a Building Department official realizes no permits have been pulled for a project that’s already underway. In that case, explains Rafael, they will most likely red tag the job, resulting in an immediate “stop work” order that involves going through the proper channels to obtain the necessary permits. This avoidable scenario entails considerable lost time and penalties, and meanwhile your home will remain a “construction zone.”

Rafael cautions that the violation will not disappear unless the homeowners work directly with building officials to remedy the permit situation. If the work is discovered after completion, officials could order the project to be brought to code, potentially involving a partial tear-down of the home and a costly rebuild.

And should you decide to sell your home in the future, potential buyers may ask to see permits. Some buyers steer clear of unpermitted improvements altogether, while other buyers may request that the affected areas be brought up to code or might request a reduced sales price.

In the long run, doing it right at the outset by meeting state and code requirements and obtaining the necessary permits saves time, money, and many homeowner headaches.

Permit Requirements Constantly Evolve

State and local codes are updated every three years, which leads to a more intricate permitting process.

“Staying in front of the information and knowing all of the parameters leads to a better Design + Build process,” Rafael stresses. “Although obtaining permits can be a rigorous process, local city and municipal Building Departments want to help create beautiful, healthy, safe homes.”

Remodeling or adding on to your home is equal parts exciting and overwhelming. At Harrell Remodeling, our goal is to provide a seamless full-service Design + Build experience, which includes initial project research and managing the permitting process.

To learn more about the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build experience, we invite you to attend one of our complimentary workshops or meet with a Designer to explore your home remodeling needs.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.