Flooring Choices and Where to Use Them

When it comes to Bay Area home remodels, flooring options can affect the look, feel and sound of any room in the home. Some types are more environmentally-friendly than others. While flooring choices are nearly endless, here are four popular choices in Bay Area remodeling.

Marmoleum is a type of linoleum made by Forbo Flooring Systems. Its roots are in the phrase “marbleized linoleum.” Marmoleum is anti-static, anti-microbial, is easy to keep dust-free and is ideal for people with allergies. It’s a solid choice for kitchens and bathrooms because of its naturally clean features and lasts between 25 and 40 years. Vibrant color and pattern choices are diverse, separating it from its stereotypical ancestry of linoleum. This green material is not based in petroleum, but in linseed oil. It is one of the greenest flooring materials on the market today.

Vinyl flooring has long been a popular choice in flooring for any room in the house. From kitchens to living rooms to hallways to bedrooms, Amtico flooring is a popular choice for remodeling projects. Manufactured by a British company, this is a higher line vinyl floor known for use with accents, designs and patterns. It discolors with high heat, and protective floor guards will keep it from getting scratched by furniture. An Amtico floor dressing will provide added protection from scuffs, spills and scratches.

Cork flooring is a sustainable material that comes in as many as 40 different shades of color and a variety of patterns. It is comfortable to walk on in bare feet and is an excellent choice as a noise barrier. Use it for upstairs floors or for rooms where quiet is appreciated. Although it is insect-resistant and can last for years, it is susceptible to scratches and dents from furniture, sharp objects and high heels. Cork flooring is practical for people with allergies, but fades under constant light and warps with high humidity. Use it in any room in the house except the bathroom and laundry room.

Hardwood floors are durable, ranging in color from blond to black. Exotic and domestic woods offer high-quality. They blend well with any decor and will last for years when sealed. Medium shades show less dirt than dark or light hardwoods, and placing mats by high traffic exterior doors is wise. Hardwood flooring lasts more than 100 years and can be refinished or repurposed to extend its life. Hardwood floors are good for people with allergies and are easy to keep clean.

wood stairs

Spruce Up Your Deck For Spring

Spring is right around the corner. This is a good time to take an inventory of your deck. Look at the structure and decide whether you need any outdoor remodeling or repairs to make it safe and attractive for the upcoming season. Go beyond a simple cleaning. If your wood looks drab or splintered, your deck may need a facelift.

If your deck isn’t a place you like to spend time, think about why it’s not. Is it the weather, or is it that you don’t feel comfortable using it? This is also a good time to think about what elements you can add to make it more inviting. From outdoor furniture to shade to music and lighting, the possibilities are endless. Whether you want to enjoy the sunshine or curl up in a shady corner with your laptop or a good book, add in some more function to make it a haven.

Any warped flooring or supporting structures should be replaced. Make sure that there is just enough space in between your wood slats to allow air to circulate. This will minimize problems with mold or moisture. Check the framing and make sure that it is safely and sturdily attached to the home’s structure.

Treated wood and natural stone materials are sturdy and attractive materials that can change the look of your deck. Be sure that flooring is intact and not slippery. If it is an uneven surface, decide whether that might create difficulties in balance or mobility.

Stain Versus Paint
If you have a wood surface, you may wonder whether you should paint or stain. Surfaces that have already been stained but look drab can be re-stained and sealed. As a general rule of thumb, stain handles foot traffic and weathering better than paint. Paint tends to chip, crack and peel.

Once you have decided the type of work your deck needs, determine whether it’s something you that requires help from a professional. At Harrell Remodeling, we not only do design and build remodeling projects for decks, we also offer handyman services for Bay area homes. Contact our office today at 650-230-2900 to discuss your needs with our staff.

Home Remodeling Projects: Closets and Organization

One of the latest trends in home remodeling is creating functional closet space. The idea is to bring organization and functionality to your bedroom closet. Ideally, you should be able to go into your closet and see all of your choices, from head to toe. Create functional space that let you walk around, rather than standing at the door and guessing what gems are hidden away inside. When doing a home remodeling project, especially a whole home remodel or one that involves bedrooms, take the time to consider what you love and hate about your clothes closets now. Maybe you like having two levels of clothing racks, or perhaps your can’t see or reach hats, ties or other accessories. Join forces with your design and build remodeling contractor to create a space that works for you and each person in your household. Here are a few points to consider.

Lighting should be easy to turn on and off. Either use a sensor that automatically turns on your lights when you enter, or make sure that the switch is easily accessible. Lighting should be bright enough so that you can see all of the items in your closet. Keep in mind that the type of lighting can change the appearance of some colors and materials.

Space and Organization
It seems that there is never enough closet space. Layout is important, as it keeps things organized. If you can’t see what you have, you need more space and a better design. Don’t forget to save room for things that don’t need to be on hangers.

Once you have chosen some items to wear, you’ll need to see how they look. Placing a full-length mirror in your closet as well as in the bedroom may make selections easier before you try on your clothes.

Shoe selection can make or break an outfit. Keeping footwear close to the floor can be helpful when envisioning an outfit. However, if reaching down to try on shoes is challenging, raising the shoe space probably makes more sense.

Coordinated Separates
When considering your closet design in a home remodeling project, decide whether you need more space for shorter coordinating separates or for longer pieces, like dresses and long coats. Coordinating pants and tops may be easier when the choices are above and below each other.

Accessories are usually the last element chosen when putting together an outfit. Be sure to leave space for them where they can be seen and appreciated.

5 Universal Design Concepts in Bay Area Home Remodeling

One of the growing trends for home remodeling projects in the Bay area is universal design. The basic idea is that various elements make it easier for people of any age to live in the home comfortably and safely. From toddlers to senior citizens, universal design creates a non-restrictive environment that is convenient in day-to-day living and life-enhancing for those with physical restrictions. Here are 5 universal design concepts to consider for your next Bay area home remodeling project.

1. Elevators – Home elevators and vertical lifts are common choices for improved transportation and safety. An alternative or addition to stairwells, they are useful for family members using wheelchairs and walkers. They are also helpful for people of all ages with unsteady balance or sore muscles. Residential elevator design is far from what you see in office buildings. They can be custom designed for nearly any shape or size and are made from many different materials, from clear tubes to elegant wooden or gated metal structures. Elevators can provide transport from floor to floor or in shorter distances from level to level, as in a sunken living room.

2. Wide Doorways – Trying to roll a wheelchair down the hall, whether it’s a child with a broken leg or an aging parent, can be challenging with older architectural width standards. Many older houses have narrow doorways and hallways which restrict passage from one room to the next or one part of the house to another for anyone in a wheelchair or walker. This can be remedied in your next home remodeling project.

3. Open Spaces – Open spaces make mobility easier. Passing from one room to another means negotiating walls by going around them. Minimizing walls not only improves pathways, it also allows for a better line of sight for parents keeping an eye on young children.

4. Bathroom – A Bay area bathroom remodeling project is a prime place for universal design. Showers with no threshold and built-in bench seating remove tripping hazards and improve comfort while bathing. Toilets that are 17 inches high instead of the former standard of 14 are easier to negotiate, especially for family members with sore backs and bad hips. Non-slip flooring and handrails improve footing and balance.

5. Storage – From bedroom closets to kitchen cabinets, storage design plays a significant role in most Bay area remodels. D-shaped handles are easier to use, requiring a lighter hand grip and less dexterity. Overhead compartments and placement of shelves close to the floor can be minimized or automated.

When you’re planning a home remodeling project, our experienced Design + Build team can help you discover a variety of universal design concepts that will enhance your quality of life in the present and for the future.

Warm Flooring Offers Cozy Options For Cold Feet

If you’ve ever walked across a cold floor barefoot, you’ve probably wished for a warmer surface. You can change that with your next remodeling project. There are a variety of floor heating systems, each a little different but all with the same purpose – warmth and coziness. Flat heating mats typically offer electric radiant heat. Loose heating cable systems are another option. Hydronic radiant heat pumps warm water through flooring pipes. Air-heated floors are similar to hydronics, using air tubes instead. All warm flooring heating elements are installed underneath the floor and are invisible from above. Depending on the type, they can be used to heat the floor or the whole room with a minimum installation area of about 20 square feet.

Where to Use Warm Floors
If you’re primarily interested in foot comfort, consider putting them in the hallway, kitchen, bathroom, living room or bedroom. Hydronic systems are also used to heat swimming pools and outdoor living spaces from below.

The Basics
Mats and loose cabling are powered by low voltage electrical wiring and affect the immediate area. Hydronics are designed much like the loose cabling method, snaking through the space in a carefully planned configuration. Regardless of the method of heat used, your floor typically needs to be removed and replaced during installation. This is one reason why installing warm floors as part of a remodeling project is a frequent choice among Bay area homeowners. Another option is to use a warm floor system that installs underneath the floor joists. This allows you to keep your existing floor if the joists are easily accessible from the ceiling below.

Flooring Surfaces
Radiant flooring can be used under a variety of surfaces, but are most effective under marble, tile and natural stone, creating floor temperatures into the mid-90s if desired. They are less effective with carpet, hardwoods and vinyl. There are also some systems specifically designed for concrete floors.

Scalability Options
While incorporating a warm floor in your bathroom remodeling project is a popular choice for cold feet, there are multiple alternatives. Choose from floors only to whole rooms to whole-home heating. Radiant underfloor heating is cleaner, quieter and more energy efficient than using forced air, although certain systems are more energy-efficient than others. If you are incorporating soundproof rooms into your home and you’re concerned about unwanted noise generated by forced-air heating systems, warm floors are a quiet alternative. Hydronic heating is a strong solution for whole-home heating. Installation involves multiple zones which are controlled with programmable thermostats for your family’s lifestyle.

There are several alternatives in warm flooring, depending on your needs. The design + build professionals at Harrell Remodeling can help you to choose the one that works best for your Bay area home.

Prioritizing Energy Upgrades

When people who own older homes think about green remodeling and reducing their energy bill, quite often the first thing they think of is adding solar panels (aka PhotoVoltaics or PV).  This isn’t a bad thing, because how could generating clean power from the sun be a bad thing?  However, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to making cost-effective energy upgrades and taking the time to dig a little deeper into the particulars of a given home may reveal that solar panels should actually be installed further down the line.

The new mantra in energy upgrading is “reduce before you produce”, because the most cost effective energy dollar is the one you don’t have to spend.  In most homes, particularly those built in the 70’s or before, there are numerous opportunities to reduce energy losses, instead of generating unnecessary power to compensate for them.

Depending on where the home is located and the climate involved, to save money, one course of action might be to get a home energy audit.  In many communities, these detailed performance tests and the recommendations for improvements that come from them are often subsidized by local and state governments and utilities, which further reduces the overall cost of upgrading.

One study in one area suggested the following priority for the particular home involved:

  1. Windows
  2. Wall insulation
  3. HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning)
  4. Roof insulation
  5. Solar

The recommended improvements for the house next door could be completely different, depending on improvements or remodeling that may have already occurred.

So if you want to make the most of your energy upgrade dollars, consider hiring a professional firm who can guide you through the process, looking for ways to “reduce, before you produce!”

It’s not just a shower… it’s an experience

“Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” – Nolan Bushnell

These shower drains may not help you become the next great innovator, but they will inspire you. Everyone loves to luxuriant in the shower, and what better way to enhance the beauty of your water oasis than with a stylish and highly functional drain?  These drains are not only decorative, they can melt into the tile floor with ease, or light the way, should you desire an escape from the daily glare of overhead lighting.  How relaxing to shower with only the soft glow of the LED to light the way!

Quartz Aco is a linear drain system that offers artistic solutions to shower drainage; there are several decorative grate styles and optional LED water activated drain lighting that adds chroma-therapy to your bathing experience.  Also, you can run the linear drain at the base of the shower wall allowing the shower floor to slope in one direction, creating less complex draining angle configurations and easier to install popular large-format tiles right on into the shower.

See link to website below:


You Never Know, Unless You Ask

One of our top business goals for several years has been to increase our Employee Owners’ job satisfaction.  Why?  Well who doesn’t like the idea of being happier?  The other reason?  Southwest Airlines has been known to provide some of the best service in the Air Travel Industry, and like them, we’ve learned that happy employees create happy clients.

Based on the kinds of things we’ve said and heard around Harrell Remodeling for years, we have had a hunch that people here are pretty happy.  While it was validating to be among the “Inc. Magazine/Winning Workplaces Top 50 Places to Work” winners, we’ve know that there had to be a way to actually measure and improve that happiness and satisfaction.

We just completed our fourth annual Employee Owner Survey and our Employee Ownership Committee is tabulating and analyzing the results to share with our team at our Full Staff Meeting in April.  Our survey was carefully designed to get a snapshot across multiple areas including customer service, communication, teamwork, trust, employee benefits and more.  This anonymous survey provides a means of not only quantifying our performance in these areas but also makes it possible for employee owners to share comments that help us understand how we’re doing in greater detail.

We’re fortunate to have a project manager on staff who loves statistics and she can slice and dice the data in a multitude of ways.  This creates some interesting perspective, but I think the most useful report she creates is one that ranks scores from highest to lowest for all four years, along with an aggregate score for each year.

Its rewarding to see that overall we have improved each year since we started measuring, but fascinating to see how some areas have gone up or down from one year to the next.  Obviously, seeing the results is only part of the goal.  Highlighting the areas that need the most improvement and creating a strategy to address them is where we make the biggest impact.

Our company mission statement is:

  •  To provide the finest full-service Design+Build residential remodeling in our area.  We strive to be our clients’ “contractor for life” and,
  • To foster a safe, stable, challenging and growth-oriented environment for our Employee Owners.

Our survey and the changes we make as a result of it help us to achieve this mission in a very proactive way.  And I think it’s a very worthy company goal.


Creative storage solutions by Lisa Sten

Over time, many homeowners become “real estate challenged” and find that their home doesn’t provide room for everything in their busy lives. With the high cost of property in the Bay Area, the thought of moving to a larger residence is frequently discarded in favor of remodeling an existing home to maximize its potential space. Beyond obvious living space though, people often forget that every attic, crawlspace, closet, nook and cranny holds potential for creative storage solutions. Professional design/builders are experts in identifying and exploiting unused spaces for higher capacity storage throughout the home.

Kitchen Space

These days, kitchens contain much more than a fridge, a range, dishes and cookware. As the social center of most homes, kitchens today accommodate a number of conveniences – multiple appliances, specialty cookware, pull-out bins for trash and recycling, homes with fold-down computers, spacious pantries, laundry appliances and display shelves, to name just a few. It’s easy to see that the heart of every home needs to face many challenges with clever design in order to keep pace with today’s busy family.

In a remodeling project completed by our company, the original kitchen was woefully lacking in storage. There were no cupboards on the walls and only a few base cabinets among them, several were useless and inaccessible corner cabinets that hid hard-to-reach and, thus, forgotten cookware. Additionally, a center island housed a sink and dishwasher but provided little counter space for the large area it occupied.

Determined to find more room for the family, Harrell Remodeling designers created a kitchen layout that makes food preparation a breeze. Cookware, utensils and pantry goods are now conveniently accessed in the numerous cabinets, drawers and pullouts. A generous, sweeping peninsula provides plenty of counter space and enables the homeowners to prepare meals together while visiting with their guests. Ironically, the new peninsula layout created the possibility of a dead, unusable space in the sleek new walnut buffet, but the designer was not deterred. Instead, an ingenious pullout wine cabinet was installed to make use of the 30-degree angle created by the new peninsula.

In another kitchen located in Los Altos, a leak above the kitchen inspired the client to correct an inefficient room layout and improve storage in every available corner.

With little room to spare, every precious square inch was carefully considered for function and storage in this redesigned kitchen. The cramped under-stair storage area was opened up to the room, creating space for the owner’s new rustic table. The walls in the alcove were lined with shallow shelving for practical storage and display of collectibles. The existing stacked washer and dryer now reside in custom built-in cabinetry that cleverly conceals the appliances behind new flipper doors. The space now has a more open and organized feel to it that is brought together by the seamless blending of the warm, distressed-finish cabinets throughout the kitchen.

Laundry Space

In Portola Valley, a homeowner needed a solution for their laundry area. The original location was adjacent to their living room and they needed to find a more appropriate place for their noisy laundry. After careful scrutiny of the upstairs spaces, a wonderful solution was found.

An existing hall closet and the attic storage area located behind it were combined to create a spacious laundry room. Now suitably located near the second floor bedrooms, this small feat was achieved with only a modest amount of structural work. And, to ensure everyone’s comfort, sound isolation detailing and vibration specialty work was integrated to limit appliance noise and vibration from impacting family members in the adjacent rooms. Outfitted with crisp, white cabinetry, every compartment in this tidy area was detailed to the homeowners’ needs. Plenty of hamper baskets kept sorted laundry handy. Spacious countertops and a fold-down ironing board got clean clothes organized in a snap. A new skylight combined with a colorful (and quiet) floor made this a very cheerful and well-illuminated room!

Bathroom Space

With today’s hectic lifestyle, a bathroom needs to be correctly designed to make the space truly relaxing and luxurious. Excellent illumination and good ventilation are just a few of the details to consider in a space that may include a jetted tub, a shower or steam shower a private toilet area and mirrored lavatories. Of course, the need for appropriate storage within a bathroom has expanded. In addition to storage for linens, other space-saving built-in features may include hampers, makeup lighting, recessed mirrored

medicine cabinets with electrical outlets (for razors and toothbrushes), and plenty of drawers for toiletries.

Bedroom Space

Bedrooms and family rooms can also be designed for maximum efficiency to store just about anything. Details often include customized clothing storage (adjustable hanging roods, bins and trays, shoe shelves, tie racks, pull-out roods for garment bags and dry cleaning), dressing areas, entertainment systems and library shelving.

Thoughtful storage solutions can make the most of any space. One lovelyPortolaValleyhome lacked a playroom for the children and needed a guest bedroom for the frequent out-of-town family guests. Searching the home, the large unused attic above the garage provided the perfect solution to both space problems at once.

The generously vaulted room has plenty of space for the homeowner’s three children to read, play games, do homework and run around. A built-in desk, a TV cabinet and abundant storage systems house the many books, toys, games and videos for the children, as well as the linens (for the new full bath) and space for guest’s personal effects.

Displaying a chameleon charm, when company arrives, it easily transforms from a playroom into a luxurious guest suite. Visitors will find a comfortable room with plenty of natural lighting, a generous seating area, and a pull-down Murphy bed hidden inside the wall storage system and a desk area.

Imaginative storage solutions can be created in every home. Even the smallest of houses have hidden space that can be better exploited so that the home will function more efficiently for the family. So think bigger, get outside of your obvious floor plan area, and get into storage.

home remodeling - featured project

Sound Control in the Home

While discussing remodeling projects with our clients, we are often asked what can be done to “soundproof” certain areas or aspects of the home.  Our first and necessary response is to ask our own series of questions to determine how and where the objectionable sound (noise) is generated and where it is perceived, as the ultimate solution can be very different depending on the situation.   One distinction we try to make early on is the difference between “soundproofing” and “sound control”, because in the typical home, it is very challenging to reduce some noises to an imperceptible level.

Some situations we frequently encounter are:

  • Water noise in piping from an upstairs bathroom
  • TV noise finding its way into adjacent bedrooms
  • Footsteps on the floor above
  • Traffic noise from the street
  • Home theater acoustics
  • Home offices adjacent to bedrooms or family rooms

Each of these situations requires different treatments, and the range of treatments and associated costs vary depending on how intent our clients are on reducing the noise.

Sound is transmitted from one area to another in three ways: Airborne, Impact and Flanking

  • In airborne transmission the sound of a phone ringing travels through the air, for example, around a loose-fitting door, or through the cavities in an un-insulated wall, or through heating ducts.
  • In impact transmission, the impact of an object on one surface of the floor or wall is transferred to the other side, such as footsteps on the floor above, or a ball bouncing off of an exterior wall.
  • Flanking transmission passes the sound vibrations into the building materials themselves such as pipes rigidly attached to framing, with the framing carrying the noise to other places in the home.

Another question we ask is whether the concern is sound coming into a space (traffic noise through living room windows) or sound getting out (your son’s rock band practicing in the garage and disturbing the neighbors).

Sound control is a complex issue and must be factored in to the home as a system.  One way to reduce airborne noise is to make the room as air tight as possible, with insulation, caulking, and gasketing –  but then what about ventilation so you can breathe?  Speaking of ventilation, if the room is very quiet due to sound control measures, will the sounds that used to be masked, say air rushing from a heat register, suddenly become more apparent?

Another way to control sound is to introduce mass as a separation, for example a cast iron drain pipe instead of ABS plastic, or special sound board or double layers of drywall to a wall assembly.

Isolation is yet another tool, and for example, drywall can be attached to the wall with resilient metal channel to decouple the wallboard from the framing, thereby interrupting the sound path.

In highly specialized spaces such as a media room, home theater or home recording studio, you may want to consider hiring an acoustical engineer because just as important as reducing incoming noise, factors such as the shape and dimensions of the room, finish materials, location of components and other features can have a more dramatic affect on sound quality than the expensive speakers or other sound equipment you might use.

As you can see (or hear), with sound control, there is no “one right answer”.  While some sound issues can be quite challenging to deal with, others might be addressed satisfactorily using some fairly common, if not standard, building practices.  Our advice?  As with any remodeling project, find a designer or contractor you can trust, who will ask the right questions before they propose an answer!