Turning Up the Heat with Indoor & Outdoor Fireplaces

There is something special about a fireplace. With the New Year upon us and winter settling in, the cozy, intimate ambiance of fire is alluring, beckoning people to gather around its welcoming glow.

Harrell Remodeling’s award-winning Senior Designer/Design Coordinator, Sara Jorgensen, AKBD, CID, says that a fireplace makes the wish list for most homeowners. During a remodel is one of the best times to modernize your fireplace and make the most of this inviting and visually appealing element.

In November 2016, the Bay Area disallowed the installation of new wood-burning fireplaces. Since then, gas fireplaces (sometimes called “appliances”) have taken center stage, with advances in efficiency, technology, versatility, and aesthetics.

Manufacturers like Heat & Glo, Regency, and Ortal offer homeowners a fantastic array of fireplace options.

“With today’s innovative and imaginative designs, the sky is the limit when it comes to integrating a fireplace into a home environment,” Sara enthuses.

“Although there are electric fireplaces available, they do have their disadvantages,” Sara explains. “For homeowners who desire the warmth and cozy atmosphere of a real flame, a gas fireplace is the best option. Electric fireplaces, though they are improving, don’t offer that distinct ambiance just yet.”

Types of Contemporary Fireplaces

The sizes, shapes, and styles of today’s gas fireplaces are seemingly endless. Below are six of the most common. Some manufacturers offer interior lighting for select styles, illuminating and showcasing the unit even when it’s not in use.


These built-in linear fireplaces integrate beautifully into walls and can be accented with a variety of architectural elements. Flank them with built-ins, surround them with stucco, stone, tile, or concrete, or create a contemporary hearth and mantle. Sizes range from 16 inches, perfect for a cozy space, to an impressive 8 feet in length.


In sizes from 19 to 99 inches in length, corner fireplaces have a front-facing glass panel along with a pane of glass on either the right or left side. Two-sided units are an architectural feature, it’s almost like having two units, one on each corner of a wall.


These fireplaces have panes of glass on the front and both sides, offering an unobstructed view of the flame from multiple vantage points. Sleek and modern, they are a stand-out architectural element in any space. As with other units, lengths vary from 20 inches to 8 feet.


Two-way fireplaces provide visibility and emit warmth from both sides. Enclosed in walls or columns, they are a modern way of dividing living spaces while creating a contemporary open concept that also serves as a focal point of separation. These are ideal for uniting kitchen and dining rooms, main bedrooms and the main bathroom, and, when placed on an exterior wall, can serve as a dual indoor-outdoor fireplace. With lengths from 16 to 96 inches, see-through units can fit into intimate or expansive spaces.


When integrated into an existing firebox, an insert offers the classic fireplace charm with a safer, contemporary design. Inserts are available in standard sizes to fit snuggly into existing wood-burning fireplaces. Inserts are also available for use in outdoor fireplaces.

Stand Alone

These freestanding units can sit directly on the floor or be mounted onto a wall and vented sideways to the outdoors, avoiding the need for considerable construction. Some are sleek and contemporary, others are more traditional, and others still are Mid-Century modern.

Design, Style and Media

Each style of fireplace can also be customized with a collection of striking interior design “media.” The “media” in the fireplace is the pebbles (glass or stone typically) that are placed in the unit.  Homeowners can also choose materials for the back wall or panel of the unit as well as elements that accent the base.


Ceramic river rock, pebbles, and powder stone in black, white, red, and gray are a few options. River rock and stone have mineral speckling to achieve a realistic appearance. Stones and pebbles blend the natural and contemporary. Another option is black and gray “cannonballs,” which can also be used as a “base” from which the flames emanate. Cannonballs have a rustic yet modern appeal.

Fire Glass

Small, polished bits of glass are an incredibly chic interior media element, reflecting and enhancing the flames. Clear, obsidian, blue, and amber are just a few of the color choices available. As a high-tech add-on, some fireplaces offer multi-colored LED lighting, making for quite the artistic effect when used with the transparent glass media.

For an artistic effect, illuminate clear glass using interior LED lighting, which comes in many colors to match any desired mood.

Logs & Branches

For those who appreciate a rustic appearance inside their fireplace, several types of artificial ceramic logs, branches, kindling, and embers can be mixed and matched. Pine, elm, and oak are popular for homeowners who desire a natural appearance. Logs and branches have realistic, cracks, bark, and charring. Branches fashioned from black iron offer a modern twist.

Bricks and Panels at Rear and Side Walls

Traditional or herringbone brick in red or gray create a classic fireplace appearance. A reflective black panel makes the flame look more prominent and creates a next-level ambiance especially desirable in large spaces.

Cool Wall Technology

Since the invention of flat-screen televisions, mounting a TV above the fireplace has been a trend. One of the biggest obstacles is the required non-combustible zone, the area needed to ensure the TV’s electrical systems aren’t damaged by heat.

This restriction results in many televisions being placed at a height that is too high for proper viewing. “That’s one of the reasons I love Ortal products,” Sara shares. “Their Cool Wall Technology ensures the walls that surround the unit remain cool. It completely opens up the design possibilities. Now, a television or a work of art can be placed directly above the fireplace without concern.”

Smart Technology

Many modern fireplaces can be controlled with a remote or a smartphone app when connected to WiFi. Other units can be integrated with a centralized home automation system.

Bringing the Warmth Outdoors

Having a comfortable, private outdoor space to enjoy has become incredibly important, especially this year. Thanks to our favorable California climate, we can enjoy the outdoors year-round, especially in Silicon Valley.

As a focal point, an outdoor fireplace can be just as significant to the overall look and feel of an outdoor room as its indoor counterpart. American Fyre is one of several manufacturers that feature glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) units. These modular units are completely customizable to create an impressive look with a stylish surround or hearth, finished in stucco or stone to coordinate with the exterior of the home or other outdoor living amenities, such as an outdoor kitchen.

Also noteworthy is Isokern, manufactured in Virginia by Earthcore, which takes the outdoor fireplace to another level. Isokern products are made with volcanic materials from Iceland. They are lightweight and boast refractive properties not found in their GFRC counterparts.

Most manufacturers offer vent-free models, permitting an outdoor fireplace to be installed in a covered area.

While an outdoor fireplace creates a place to gather in front of, fire pits, fire bowls, and fire tables offer a place for everyone to sit around. These products, which are offered in both liquid propane and natural gas versions, add the allure of an open flame to backyard spaces.

Harrell Remodeling’s award-winning, certified landscape designer, Lisa Parramore, APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers), recommends outdoor fire bowls, pits, and tables from the following manufacturers.

Kindred offers a selection of pre-finished glass fiber reinforced concrete fire bowls, adding a “heightened level of design and elegance to any outdoor space.” Each unit has a powerful 65,000 BTU burner, a patent-pending burner system, and heavy-duty stainless steel construction. Backed by a 10-year warranty, Kindred’s fire pits, tables, and bowls produce brighter, taller flames using half the fuel.

“For homeowners who want a simple yet attractive solution, these are some of the best.” To enjoy the fire pit immediately, Lisa recommends choosing a unit that doesn’t require an additional finish, such as stucco or tile. She also suggests units with refillable/replaceable propane tanks. “The quality of burners is also essential, as they have a direct impact on the appearance of the flame.”

For homeowners who want a fire table or bowl that blends into the existing aesthetics of their yard, Warming Trends fire tables and fire pits are offered in a variety of shapes.

Warming Trends is also leading the industry with their precision-engineered CrossFire brass burner, a unique fire pit burner that “utilizes cutting-edge technology to produce a taller, brighter, fuller flame.”

Each of these units can be customized with different media, including ceramic and steel log sets, lava rock, and an array of colored fire glass. The exterior of the unit can be finished with stone, tile, or stucco.

Regardless of which type of outdoor fire feature you choose, you can enjoy a cozy gathering space for making smores, sipping a glass of wine, or staying warm while social distancing.

Inspired to update your fireplace, your home, or your outdoor living space? Schedule a complimentary consultation with a Harrell Remodeling Designer and let us ignite your imagination!

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 Maintenance: Cleanliness is Next to Costliness

In California, especially in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, homeowners don’t have to undertake as much home maintenance and repair as people who live in states that have harsh weather. But our mild weather shouldn’t cause us to be complacent when it comes to proper home upkeep. Like an annual health exam, maintaining our homes inside and out is an essential preventative measure and costs substantially less than neglecting an issue.

This year, we’ve all paid a lot more attention to the importance of cleaning and disinfecting our homes. Not only does it play a role in our personal health, but keeping a clean home can help uncover and mitigate a myriad of costly home repairs.

Being familiar with your home and how it appears when everything is in good condition helps homeowners understand when something isn’t right, explains HarrellCARE Program Manager Marshall Parker. He stresses the importance of knowing when something seems unusual, then analyzing it, and ultimately quickly fixing the issue.

With years of industry experience, Marshall has seen how ignoring small issues costs homeowners. Marshall shares a story about a couple whose small children would splash water on the floor during bath time. “They noticed the floor delaminating near the tub, which they knew meant water was getting under their inexpensive vinyl flooring. Not wanting to deal with a repair that would probably cost them between a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars, they put it off for a decade. Rot set in. When the flooring finally gave way, the damage had spread. The homeowners had to completely remodel the entire bathroom, including reframing the floor. Had they addressed the issue when they first noticed the weak spot in the floor years earlier, they would have saved themselves tens of thousands of dollars.”

Inside your home, the primary areas where issues will arise are in the kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms. Marshall recommends looking under and behind things as these are places where potential problems can lurk undiscovered. This includes peeking under and behind appliances, furniture, in closets, under sinks, and inside cabinets.

In bathrooms, moisture is the primary concern. Rot develops when a leak causes an area to remain wet or damp for an extended period. If there is a repeating pattern of something getting wet, drying out, and getting wet again, dry rot will form. Poor ventilation can cause mold and mildew to grow, and paint to peel or crack, which allows dampness to get into the drywall.

In and around showers and bathtubs, look for:

  • Missing or cracked grout and tiles
  • Missing or separated caulking around shower doors
  • Warped baseboards or moldings that are discolored or have pulled away from the wall
  • Soft spots or discolorations on the floor or walls

Marshall also recommends thoroughly checking under all bathroom sinks to look for any sign of water leaks. “It’s a pain to pull everything out from the cabinet, but it’s a much bigger pain to discover – too late – that your plumbing is leaking, and the cabinet (and often much more) is damaged.”

In the kitchen, check under sinks for signs of leaks and behind and under appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators. Clean up spills promptly on all surfaces, especially hot liquids on cabinets, which can remove or damage finishes. Just as in bathrooms, be on alert for cracked or missing grout, loose or missing backsplash or floor tiles, warped or discolored baseboards, and soft spots anywhere on the floor.

In laundry rooms, check around washers for leaks. Notice if any areas on the floor are soft or discolored. It’s also wise to check the vents in your dryer to ensure there is no built-up lint. A clear duct line reduces the chance for a fire. It’s wise to take a peek at your water heater, checking for water leaks or areas that appear to be or have been wet.

“Most water heaters need to be flushed to remove silt that has built up in the tank over time,” Marshall says. “How often varies depending on how hard your water is, but if you notice your hot water runs out faster than it used to, that’s an indicator to get your tank serviced. The anode rod, which helps protect the tank against erosion, also requires occasional replacement. Having your water heater serviced will cost you some money upfront but will extend the life of your water heater considerably as well as making it more energy-efficient.”

Your heating and air conditioning unit (HVAC) also requires regular maintenance. Replace filters in air returns regularly (even more so if the air quality has been poor or if there are furry pets living in the household). Have your system routinely serviced to ensure it is operating correctly. This boosts energy efficiency and, just as with your water heater, will prolong the life of the HVAC system, saving you thousands.

Marshall recommends checking these additional areas:

  • Windows: Look for leaks, condensation, or discoloration on window sills. Cracked or missing caulk or weatherstripping can let in unwanted air and moisture.
  • Doors: Check weatherstripping. When it’s dark, Marshall suggests shining a flashlight around the edges of all exterior doors. If any light can be seen on the other side, that indicates that drafts, moisture, and even insects can make their way inside.
  • Light fixtures & switches, registers, and ceiling fans: Hints of fine, ashy dust, or soot around these areas may mean that there is a ventilation issue in your home. Unwanted and often unhealthy particles are being drawn into your home through these areas.

It’s also important to check the exterior of your home. Clear leaves and debris from your roof and gutters and install gutter guards. Rake up leaves, trim back ivy, bushes, and shrubs to deter rodents from nesting. If you have an air conditioner, remove any bushes crowding the condenser to allow it to perform at maximum efficiency. Along your foundation, dig away any earth or mulch that is touching the stucco.

Do further investigation and undergo repairs if you notice any of the below issues outside of your home.

  • New cracks in stucco or paneling. Peeling, bubbling, or cracked paint
  • Dried or cracked caulking around windows
  • New cracks in concrete walkways or foundations
  • Damaged screens in foundation or roof eaves
  • Dented, bent, or damaged gutters or downspouts
  • On decks, check for loose railings, warped boards, and popped nails or screws
  • If you have a crawl space, look for damp areas that may indicate a water leak

All of this may seem like a lot. But that’s Marshall’s point about knowing your home and how cleanliness is next to costliness. “A clean house kept in good shape helps you discover potential issues before they become big problems,” he says. You don’t have to spend an entire day with a lengthy list in hand seeking out every issue at once. Know what to look for. When something looks wrong, don’t wait – investigate and fix it right away. For other things, like your HVAC or water heater, schedule annual or semi-annual reminders in your phone to have them serviced.

HarrellCARE’s Small Project Division can help with many of these home repairs. The HarrellCARE team will handle it all to minimize homeowners’ headaches while completing each project on time and on budget.

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.

Dawn to Dust: Cleaning & Disinfecting High-Touch Surfaces
 to Stay Safe, Maintain Finishes, and Keep Warranties Valid

Over the past six months, cleaning and disinfecting our homes has become of the utmost importance. Kelly Burnette, Harrell Remodeling Assistant Project Manager, did a deep dive into what it takes to both clean and disinfect surfaces properly.

“We all remember those aisles of empty shelves where the cleaning products should’ve been,” Kelly reflects. “People were, and many still are, disinfecting countertops, door hardware, and other frequently-touched surfaces in their homes. There is a correct way to clean plus correct ways to sanitize while also maintaining finishes and keeping warranties valid.”

The first and most crucial step is to clean before you disinfect. Get rid of dust, grease, and other build-up first. “Cleaning and sanitizing is not always a one-step process,” Kelly explains. “If a surface is visibly dirty, it is necessary to remove that dirt before disinfecting.”

Most appliances and materials, including countertops, have products the manufacturer recommends for cleaning along with others they warn against. Some cleaning products are too harsh or abrasive and can permanently damage the surface. Using those unapproved types of products will void any warranty provided by the manufacturer.

Once the high-touch surfaces in your home have been cleaned and are free of built-up dirt and grime following the specific manufacturers recommendations, you are ready for the more frequent, daily sanitizing procedures.

After considerable research, Kelly discovered a simple process and a highly effective solution that can be safely used to disinfect cleaned countertops, flooring, appliances, and other high-touch surfaces, while staying within the manufacturer’s guidelines for many different household surfaces.

Rather than purchasing several different disinfecting products, a mixture of 4 drops of Dawn dish soap, four Tablespoons of isopropyl alcohol, and one quart of water is an ideal solution for frequently sterilizing most surfaces.

“People have a misconception about bleach and how to use it,” Kelly shares. “Bleach is very caustic and shouldn’t be used on many materials in a home. This diluted solution of dish soap and alcohol is powerful without being overly harsh. It is also incredibly cost-effective.”

Thanks to its ideal pH, Dawn excels at removing dirt, grease, and grime without etching, discoloring, or otherwise damaging surfaces. Isopropyl alcohol is the sanitizing agent. When appropriately applied, this mixture provides 24-hours of disinfectant protection. The Dawn solution does have a shelf life, so only mix what you will use within five to seven days.

Disinfecting Process

  1. Use clean paper towels or non-abrasive microfiber cloths
  2. Spray the mixture onto the surface for the initial cleaning
  3. Wipe off thoroughly, ensuring no dirt or other residue remains
  4. Thoroughly saturate the surface with the solution and let sit for one minute
  5. Using fresh cloths or paper towels, wipe down the area completely

When cleaning light switches, the one-minute wet saturation isn’t feasible. Instead, apply the solution to the cloth instead of spraying it directly onto the surface and wipe down a few times a day. This process should also be used for door and cabinet hardware, cell phones, tablets, television remotes, and even computer keyboards and your computer mouse.

As you go through your home disinfecting, change the paper towels or cloths frequently. Continuing to use the same towel will only move dirt and germs from one location to another. Friction can also wear away an object’s finish, so it is vital to use a soft, non-abrasive cloth and avoid the same motion every time.

Kelly does advise caution when cleaning “living finishes.” Living finishes such as copper, bronze, brass, bamboo, and teak are subject to outside elements like weather, water, and air. The patina can be worn away or discolored by certain cleaning solutions; thus, it is best to use products expressly recommended by the manufacturer.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling, Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and the mid-Peninsula since 1985. The Harrell Remodeling Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out. To discover the lifestyle possibilities of your home, we invite you to reach out to one of our talented designers for a complimentary consultation or join us for one of our virtual workshops.

Repurpose Interior Spaces to Meet Your Lifestyle

After almost six months of spending a lot of time in our homes, many of us have discovered that our interior spaces may not be fully functional. We could use a dedicated office, a quiet area for our children to do schoolwork, a place other than the kitchen table for our 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. You might want to repurpose interior spaces in your home to better meet your needs.

“Families normally don’t spend such an extended period in their homes,” shares Harrell Remodeling CEO and Senior Designer, Lisa Sten. “Now is the perfect time to walk through your home with a fresh perspective to determine how you can reimagine and repurpose interior spaces.”

Lisa highly recommends starting this “room reimagining” at the curb. “We are all feeling disconnected from everyone outside of our immediate household and are searching for ways to socialize safely. Having a connection to others and the outdoors is something many of us are seeking.” For many homeowners, that means people-watching or holding physically distanced gatherings in their front yard. Front yards are an underused space ripe for repurposing. (We will be exploring repurposing front yards in an upcoming blog!)

Once inside your home, look with fresh eyes and analyze every room, every niche, nook, and storage space. Think about your lifestyle needs: how could these various big and small spaces be reimagined to meet those needs? Maybe those lifestyle changes are short-term, like an area for children to attend school online, while others, like dedicated game rooms, might be ones that your family will enjoy for years to come.

Living rooms are an excellent example of an area that many families don’t utilize frequently. Consider dividing large rectangular rooms into two sections, such as a seating area and game or study space. Rearranging the layout or adding multi-functional pieces of furniture can result in a quick transformation. Get creative – clear off that sofa table and use it as a desk. If your family is all about game night, turn your living room into a “tricked out” game room with areas to work on puzzles, play and store board games, engage in a round of foosball, pool, or other favorites.

Many newly-constructed homes don’t have a formal dining room, but if you have one in your home, seriously consider how often you use it. Do you plan to entertain often, and, if so, are they sit down meals or more informal occasions that occur around a kitchen island or in the backyard? Formal dining rooms can easily be transformed into a game area, play or study space, or a hobby, craft or music room. Installing glass or barn doors is a simple way to provide a barrier against sound or create privacy.

There are many wellness services that we’ve been unable to enjoy over the past six months. Getting a haircut or massage, enjoying a workout at our favorite local fitness center, going to a spa for some self-care, all of these are wellness luxuries we’ve gone without for a while. If you’d like to have these personal care services close at hand, you could remodel your master bath to include a steam shower, soaking tub, sauna, or a dedicated hairstyling space. “Harrell has a longtime client who has a specially designed location in her home where she has her hair cut and styled,” Lisa shares. “Many others love creating a spa-like experience in their master bathrooms or designing a dedicated space for yoga, lifting weights, or cardio fitness.”

What spaces or locations in your home could be revitalized? Consider all areas, large and small.

  • Living rooms
  • Formal dining rooms
  • Guest bedrooms
  • Under-stair or other storage spaces
  • Walk-in or large closets
  • Landings
  • Lofts
  • Open niches or nooks
  • Flex spaces
  • Large entry or hallways
  • Great rooms
  • Backyard sheds

One client’s airy great room was reinvented simply by adding doors. “The open space was ideal for keeping an eye on her young children, but when they got older, everyone wanted more privacy. Dividing the great room with artful frosted glass doors created a sense of separation between the kitchen and seating areas without diminishing the home’s natural light or overall flow.” 

There are many ways to breathe new life into your home, meeting your entire family’s needs, hobbies, and lifestyle. Some creative spaces include:

  • Game room
  • Home theatre
  • Hobby or craft space
  • School/study space
  • Playroom
  • Home office
  • Home gym/yoga studio
  • Meditation room
  • Music room
  • Art studio
  • Home library
  • Wine room

There are many opportunities to recreate under-utilized areas in your home. An open landing may be just the right spot for playing board games or a reading nook, and a guest bedroom can double as a home gym. Under-stairway spaces can become wine cellars or quiet study areas for distance learning or fun, cozy play areas for younger children. Spacious walk-in closets may have enough room for clothes as well as a home office set-up.

When deciding on the new purpose of a room or space, Lisa recommends considering the room’s lighting, size, and shape, and the privacy required. How many people will use it? What type and size of furniture are needed? Is natural light a necessity, or will other light sources suffice? Do you need visual or sound privacy?

There are numerous ways to reinvent and reclaim your home and repurpose interior spaces. Rearranging furniture, flipping a room’s purpose, and reimagining a space can breathe new life into your lifestyle. If none of these ideas work for your residence, consider constructing an ADU, an addition, or remodel. The Harrell Remodeling Design + Build Team is always here to help you reimagine your Silicon Valley or mid-Peninsula home inside and out.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and mid-Peninsula since 1985. We invite you to attend one of our virtual workshops or schedule a complimentary appointment with a Harrell Remodeling designer to learn more about how we can help you achieve your perfect lifestyle.

Does Your Home Electrical System Need a Check Up?

The power provided by electricity is an absolute necessity and one upon which all homeowners rely.

These days, with people working from home, students attending school online, and with the myriad of increasingly smart devices and über-modern appliances, electricity is integral to a home’s operation and is essential to enjoy our modern lifestyles.

Do you know the health of your home’s electrical system?

Harrell Remodeling’s Production Team Manager, Gary Gray, recommends inspecting and evaluating the items below to determine if your home is due for an electrical “wellness check.”

How old is your house?

If your home is newer construction, was built after 2008, or recently underwent a major remodel, odds are your electrical system is probably up-to-date. For houses constructed before 1970, the codes have changed considerably – as well as the amount of energy today’s homeowners demand. Homes of this age, especially with original electrical systems, should be checked for safety.

What type of electrical wiring does your home have?

Historically the two most common types of residential wiring have been 1.) Romex, and 2.) Knob and Tube. Commonly used in North America in the 1880s to the 1950s, Knob & Tube remains in some older homes in the Bay Area. And although not inherently unsafe, the age of this type of wiring can lead to it degrading and deteriorating, creating a safety hazard. Romex, on the other hand, is the modern standard for interior residential electrical and is made up of a tight bundle of 2 – 3 insulated copper wires encased in a non-metallic sheathing.

Is your electrical system grounded?

Grounding improves a home’s safety and applies throughout your electrical system. If your electrical outlets have two prongs, that is a sign that you have an outdated, ungrounded system. It doesn’t mean your house is unsafe necessarily, but it does limit the types of devices you can plug in. Your computer, for example, typically has three prongs and therefore requires a grounded outlet. Grounding from the outlet connects back to the panel via a grounding wire, and from the panel, it connects to a copper rod that is buried in the ground 8′ below grade. The purpose of grounding is to protect your electrical system in the event of a power surge or lightning strike.

Simply because an outlet has three prongs does not necessarily mean the outlet is grounded. Two-prong outlets are often replaced with three-prong outlets for the convenience of plugging in three-prong power cords. But with no grounding wire running from the outlet back to the panel, the outlet remains ungrounded. “Many homes built in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in tract homes that were prevalent in various Bay Area cities, had partially grounded electrical systems,” says Gary.

Are there signs of electrical overload?

There are often indications of an overtaxed electrical system. These include:

  • Burn marks or discolorations on outlets
  • Humming noises when an appliance is in use
  • Flickering lights
  • Sparking when a device is unplugged
  • Circuit breakers tripping regularly

The above are all red flags that your home’s electrical may be overburdened or has problems. Additionally, certain panel brands used decades ago are more prone to the risk of fire and electrical shock. Zinsco and Federal Pacific brands, in particular, have been widely publicized to have a higher failure rate and consequently lost their Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) rating.

What technology are you using?

In the past 20 or 30 years, the use of modern technology in homes has skyrocketed. Today, we have a wide variety of consumer devices that require electricity to function. Electrical systems didn’t use to have to meet such continuously high demand. The older your home and its electrical system, coupled with the amount of modern power-hungry tech you use, should be a reason to investigate your home’s electrical health.

Power Hungry Technology includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Solar Panels w Battery Backup
  • Kitchen
  • Personal
  • Printers
  • Routers
  • WiFi extenders
  • Smartphones, Tablets, and eBooks
  • Entertainment systems (TVs, sound systems, etc.)
  • Home Security Systems and Cameras
  • Smart assistants
  • Electric Vehicle Chargers
  • Heat Pump Water Heaters

Who has worked on your home?

Gary explains that understanding who has performed work on your home’s electrical system is critical. “There are many homeowners who either tackle electrical projects themselves or hire unlicensed handymen to perform work. This subpar work often results in jerry-rigged ‘updates’ that are potentially unsafe, including long-term use of extension cords, which are intended only for temporary use. If you suspect any such work in your residence, I would consider that a reason to get an electrical check-up.”

The Role of Title 24

In 1978, the California Building Standards Commission enacted Title 24. The goal of this state-wide energy code, which is enforced at the local level by city government agencies, is to ensure that all building construction, system design, and installation achieve higher energy efficiency levels.

The Title 24 code is updated every three years to consider and incorporate new energy-efficient technologies and construction methods. These standards save energy, expand electricity supply reliability, increase indoor comfort, prevent the necessity to build more power plants, and preserve the environment. But with these Title 24 improvements may come the need to make other upgrades to your electrical system.

The most recent Title 24 code changes went into effect in January 2020. Homes constructed under this revised code are 53% more efficient than those complying with the previous code from 2016.

Preparing for the Future

California’s Title 24 energy code continues to be revised, as cities strive toward all-electric, climate-friendly homes. Appliances such as heating systems, dryers, and kitchen stoves that once sourced power from natural gas are going electric and therefore are now tapping into a home’s electrical system.

Homeowners who envision a larger-scale (kitchen or whole-house) remodel, or additions may need to meet current code standards throughout their home, including their electrical system.

These upgrades could include:

  • Upgrading the primary utility service to the residence to support a larger service panel
  • Expanding the size of your service or sub-panel to include an Arc Fault Circuit
    Interrupter (AFCI)
  • Updating your electrical to add new circuits and install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

AFCI is a new technology designed to protect against fires caused by electrical arcing. AFCI breakers are installed in the home’s electrical panel to provide arc fault protection on each individual circuit. Because AFCI breakers are considerably larger than standard breakers, they consume more room in electrical panels, often requiring panel upgrades due to space constraints.

GFCIs are fast-acting devices, shutting off power to safeguard against electrocution. GFCIs are those distinctive outlets with reset buttons typically found in kitchens, laundry rooms, baths, and outdoor areas, as they are necessary for wet-area applications.

Additionally, Gary sees more use of integrated USB ports within electrical outlets, making it easier for homeowners to charge cell phones and other portable devices while leaving the outlet available for other purposes.

Harrell Remodeling frequently partners with licensed electricians to do a thorough inspection of clients’ electrical system, which is recommended every ten years. This two-hour examination includes checking panels, securing breakers, and looking over the entire system inside and out.

The safety and health of your home and its inhabitants are first and foremost. Please reach out to Harrell Remodeling to discuss your remodeling needs and to determine if an inspection of your home electrical system is necessary.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling Inc. Design + Build has been creating distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and mid-Peninsula since 1985. We invite you to attend one of our virtual workshops or schedule an appointment with one of our award-winning designers to discover how we can redesign your Silicon Valley or mid-Peninsula home inside and out.

The 4-1-1 on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, are getting a lot of “airtime” lately. In some cities they are also called Secondary Dwelling Units (SDUs), or backyard cottages, studios, apartments, granny / in-law units, or guest / carriage houses. These ancillary spaces are gaining in popularity in Silicon Valley and the mid-Peninsula as families look for ways to add a separate, independent living space to their property in order to meet a number of lifestyle needs.

So what is an ADU?

The state of California defines an ADU, or Accessory Dwelling Unit, as a self-contained residential unit located on the same lot as a single-family home. An ADU is part of the residential property and cannot be sold as a separate dwelling.

To be classified as an ADU, the dwelling must include a:

  • Separate entrance
  • Kitchen with refrigerator, sink, and built-in cooking appliance
  • Bathroom with toilet, shower, and sink
  • Living space (which can also serve as a bedroom)
  • Storage space

There are four primary types of Accessory Dwelling Units:

  1. Detached: a structure independent from the primary dwelling with a bath, kitchen, storage, and living space.
  2. Attached: an addition to the primary house that includes all of the above amenities along with a private entrance.
  3. Interior conversion (also called a junior ADU): adapting a space such as a basement, attic, or bedroom space into a self-contained unit with amenities.
  4. Garage conversion: the transformation of an attached or detached garage into a separate unit complete with amenities.

Detached secondary dwelling units, which tend to be more prevalent in west coast metro areas can range from cookie-cutter, prefab options to fully customized units, designed to specifically meet the homeowner’s needs and lifestyle. One benefit of customization is that it ensures the ADU has an intentional, cohesive design that coordinates with the existing architecture of your home and that it is integrated into the surrounding landscape. Personalization also enables specific features, such as Universal Design elements to be thoughtfully considered and integrated to allow aging in place.

Harrell Remodeling, Inc. CEO, Lisa Sten explains that when meeting with clients for an ADU project, Harrell Designers ask two critical questions: “Who will be living here?” and “How will the dwelling be used?” These answers are unique to each family and help inform the overall design of the secondary dwelling. Harrell Remodeling Designers use this “who” and “how” information to create a tailored space that meets the client’s specific needs. “An ADU designed as an income property may be very different from one intended as an accessible and safe home for one’s parents,” Lisa clarifies.

There are many reasons to consider building an additional dwelling on your property.

  • Intergenerational living
  • Meet lifestyle needs
  • Rental income
  • Long-term investment
  • Downsizing

ADUs offer a way to provide safe and accessible home care for aging or returning family members. For young adult family members who may have moved back home or are unable to afford to move out, a secondary unit keeps everyone connected but not crowded in the main residence. Many homeowners plan to use an accessory unit for themselves, downsizing when the time comes and renting out the main house. These spaces can also serve as guest houses or separate home offices.

These smaller dwellings can also be a great source of passive rental income, a primary reason ADUs have increased in popularity among Millennials, according to Forbes Magazine. According to a study conducted by Freddie Mac, around 8,000 or 2.9% of the total number of homes rented nationwide in 2019 using the MLS were accessory units. A decade prior, less than 1,000 ADUs, or 1.2%, were rented via the MLS.

As a long-term investment, secondary dwellings boost the overall value of the property and offer an attractive element to potential buyers. Freddie Mac also found that in 2019, 4.2% or approximately 70,000 homes sold in the United States included a backyard dwelling. There are 1.4 million residences in the USA that have a secondary dwelling unit and that number is on the rise, especially in areas with a high cost of living such as Silicon Valley.

Construction of ADUs in California has always been possible but the interest in secondary dwellings has been on the rise since 2017 when four ADU-friendly bills were enacted. The bills were signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown with the intent to address the state’s housing crisis. The purpose of this legislation is to reduce the difficulty of the construction process of ADUs, to make it simpler for homeowners to build a unit on their property, and thus provide much needed affordable residential living.

In the years since, the number of ADU applications has increased in many metro areas for these “discreet density” dwellings. The San Francisco Chronicle compiled approved ADU application metrics from seven Bay Area cities, which illustrates the uptick between 2016 (434 applications) and 2017 (1,598 applications), when the relaxed regulations were implemented.

Some of the restrictions relaxed or eliminated by the passing of these ADU-friendly measures include utility hook up constraints and the once über-strict parking requirements, which were a huge roadblock for many property owners. This one simplification has made secondary units attainable for many homeowners but, it is important to note, regulations still exist.

“There has been a movement to streamline the ADU process but there are still considerable guidelines that need to be understood and implemented,” Senior Designer, Gloria Carlson explains. “A stand-alone secondary unit may be smaller than your existing home, but it is just as complex as building a new home.”

An additional dwelling unit must adhere to all state, local, and city planning code requirements, Title 24 energy and building codes, and CalGreen requirements. Many homeowners are under the impression that adding an ADU onto their property is something that can be done without a lot of red tape, permits, and incurred fees. “Quite the contrary,” says Gloria. “The state and local municipalities are doing their best to continually simplify the process, such as removing the parking restriction requirements, but building an ADU and adhering to the restrictions is still very multifaceted. You can’t just build something in your backyard and call it a day.”

One of the initial steps the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build Team undertakes at the outset of each project is to research the requirements, permitting, and fees specific to the city or county of the project as well as information on the client’s property. The resulting feasibility study outlines a plan, identifying and mitigating most issues or surprises. Gloria expounds, “Each property and project is very unique, and each jurisdiction has very different requirements. There is a lot to unearth before breaking ground. The feasibility roadmap is vital for the Harrell Remodeling Team as well as our clients to successfully navigate the ADU project from concept to completion.”

In addition to the feasibility study, the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build Team works closely with each client to determine a budget for their project. “The cost for building an ADU varies by the scope and quality of the project, and homeowners need to take into consideration the additional cost of permits and other fees,” Lisa clarifies. Other things to consider include lot coverage, height restrictions, and ensuring your property has sufficient sewer and electrical service.

Accessory Dwelling Units offer numerous lifestyle benefits for homeowners, and having an expert to guide you through every facet of the process from concept to completion is paramount. The Team at Harrell Remodeling, Inc. understands the unique complexities involved in the design, permitting, and construction of high-quality, customized attached or detached ADUs.

Woman-founded in 1985 and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling has been creating distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula for 35 years. If you are contemplating adding an ADU to your property, we’re sure you have questions and we’d love to start a conversation. Our award-winning Design + Build team is here to help you create the home (or secondary dwelling!) of your dreams. Reach out to us to set up your design consultation or sign up for one of our frequent and informative educational workshops.

Green Building Explained

What is Green Building

According to the World Green Building Council, a green building is one that, “in its design, construction, or operation, minimizes or eliminates negative impacts and creates positive impacts on our climate and natural environment.” Green buildings preserve natural resources and improve our quality of life.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) provides a framework for efficient, healthy, and cost-effective green building. Spearheaded by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is the most widely recognized green building rating system in the world, LEED certified buildings are a symbol of the highest level of sustainability.

Any building can be green: a shopping center, an office complex, a school, hospital, library, and a residence, provided they include and meet specific requirements and features such as:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources
  • Renewable energy (i.e. solar)
  • Reduction of pollution and waste along with recycling and re-use
  • Use of non-toxic, sustainable, and ethical materials
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Consideration of the environment and the inhabitants in design, demolition, construction, and operation

Harrell Designer and Code Specialist, Rafael Gomez, explains that after World War II, housing was built very rapidly to meet demand. “These post-war homes were not necessarily healthy or durable. They used materials that not only stripped our planet’s natural resources but also could unknowingly expose residents to lead paint and other toxic chemicals. With the increased global awareness of the importance of environmentally sustainable practices, green building has emerged as an all-encompassing process with the mission of creating long-lasting structures that take the health of the Earth and humans into account.”

When building a home, or remodeling in California, there are green building guidelines that must be followed, as California has its own green building standards, called CALGreen. The first state-mandated green building code in the nation, CALGreen measures are applied to planning, design, operation, construction, use, and occupancy of all new construction as well as remodels and additions.

CALGreen addresses five areas of construction and remodeling:

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

Every city must comply with CALGreen code standards and can also choose to enforce a higher level of green building requirements. “Palo Alto has been pioneering the green building movement in Silicon Valley for years,” says Rafael. These enhanced local city ordinances create “reach code” standards that go above and beyond those required by the state.

To encourage homeowners to upgrade to more energy efficient appliances or materials, many cities offer rebate incentive programs for installation of green alternatives such as solar panels, electric water heaters, and electric vehicle charging stations.

Palo Alto is spearheading California’s mission to have zero emission buildings by the year 2045. Many other cities and states are taking the same initiative, joining efforts with contractors and developers to make remarkable progress toward this mission of a carbon neutral future. Energy efficiency in new construction is exceeding the 2020 target of 33 percent.

“At Harrell Remodeling, we integrate the mandatory green building measures into each stage of a project,” states Rafael. “Depending upon the size and scope of the construction, there are also prescriptive measures we must take into account, such as roofing, insulation, and windows.”

Recycling construction material plays a significant part in green building. “Harrell Remodeling pays close attention to the recycling rules for all our projects,” Rafael explains. “It is our responsibility to meet the recycling requirements, and to salvage and repurpose materials for a second life.”

Rafael shares that some homeowners want to go even farther with making their residence environmentally friendly. Studies show that one in three Millennials want a home that is sustainable and eco-friendly. “Whether our clients simply want to meet the minimum green building standards, or want to make their homes as environmentally friendly as possible, Harrell Remodeling is here to help facilitate that.”

Myths about Green Building

There are a lot of misunderstandings and falsehoods surrounding green building. Below are just a few of the misconceptions and explanations dispelling those myths.

Green building is more expensive

According to Gina Rodda, principal owner of Gabel Energy, the upfront cost of an eco-friendly building is indeed more expensive but after year ten, the return on investment kicks in. The energy efficiency of a sustainable home results in considerable savings over time. And, because of the use of non-toxic materials and enhanced indoor air quality, the occupants enjoy better health and reduced medical costs.

Green building is not as efficient as traditional construction

Construction using green building is still a new process but when applied properly, which is where CALGreen and other code mandates come in, it can be exceptionally efficient in all phases.

Green building is just a fad

With our reliance on oil, escalating fuel costs, and the negative impacts we’ve made on our planet, we’ve reached a point where we need to pivot. And a large part of that pivot is the implementation of global green building practices. The green approach to construction is constantly evolving and requires diligence but this environmentally responsible and responsive process is here to stay. It saves resources, energy, and increases the health and wellbeing of occupants.

If a product has the Green label on it, it must be green

Unfortunately, this label isn’t an indicator of a product’s sustainability. It simply means the manufacturer complied with minimal criteria. Often, these are also less expensive options that lure consumers with the label and a lower price. To determine if a product is truly eco-friendly, ask a professional for advice.

If you are considering a remodel, addition, or construction of an ADU on your Silicon Valley or mid-Peninsula property, green building practices will come into play. Having been in the Design + Build industry since 1985, Harrell Remodeling understands the process and importance of these sustainable practices. We invite you to reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our award-winning designers to discover how we can make your home healthy and beautifully sustainable.

Making a Statement With Garage Doors

We’ve all heard the saying, “necessity is the mother of invention” and this definitely holds true for the residential garage. Well over a century ago when one of the primary modes of transportation was horse and buggy, many homes had carriage houses. These were outbuildings situated behind homes that served as shelter for the horses and carriage. When mass production made the motorized vehicle (the “horseless carriage”) popular in the 1920s, the garage replaced the carriage house.

As alleys behind homes were not constructed in the new post-war and 1950s and 1960s neighborhoods, garages eventually moved to the front of the home, often becoming a prominent (and sometimes not very attractive) architectural feature. Today, garage doors offer homeowners the opportunity to add visual interest to their homes, especially if their garage is a primary feature.

Garage doors have come a long way since the cumbersome single panel, manual, swing-up or sliding door. Today, they come in a myriad of materials, including wood, steel, vinyl, glass, and fiberglass, and the styles include contemporary, traditional, modern, and even the historic “carriage house” style. The almost limitless options allow homeowners to design a garage door that makes an architectural statement in keeping with the aesthetic of their residence.

Says Harrell CEO (and occasional Senior Designer) Lisa Sten, “Garage doors have such potential but are underused as a residential design feature. It’s imperative to take a holistic approach – a garage door should be a cohesive, rather than a standalone design statement.”

Lisa suggests that when choosing a new garage door for your home, you should consider:

  • Curb appeal
  • Cohesive design
  • Functionality
  • Energy-savings
  • Safety
  • Privacy and light
  • Material durability

When it comes to materials, wood doors are beautiful but take considerable time and money to maintain. Embossed steel or fiberglass doors with a wood grain offer a similar aesthetic and require much less maintenance. Opting for an insulated door will help keep your garage cool in the summer, and warmer in the winter, which is a benefit, especially if the garage is attached to your home. Be sure to choose windows wisely if privacy (or safety) is a concern. Frosted windows allow light inside while concealing the contents in your garage. Be sure to get a door with heavy-duty springs, especially if you will be using your garage door frequently. Lisa also recommends that homeowners purchase a new garage door opener and have both the opener and the door professionally installed.

There are a number of other elements to integrate with your new garage door in order to coordinate with the design aesthetic of your home, including:

  • Lighted house numbers
  • Exterior light fixtures
  • Trellis structure for plantings and vines above the garage doors
  • Planters or greenery on sides of doors
  • Complementary side gates and fencing
  • Coordinating person door to the garage
  • Paint or stain, and using accents colors

“Painting your garage door a contrasting or bold color makes a visual statement,” Lisa says. “In my opinion, darker colors tend to recede while lighter colors actually pop out more. If you prefer to have your garage door ‘disappear,’ paint it the same color as your house.”

Whatever the style of your home, the right garage door can make an impact, creating curb appeal as well as increasing the functionality of your home.

Woman-founded in 1985 and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling has been creating distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula for 35 years. If you are considering transforming your space, allow our award-winning Design + Build team to help you create the home of your dreams. Reach out to us to set up your design consultation or sign up for one of our frequent and informative educational workshops.

Ceilings — Making the Most of the “Fifth Wall”

Thoughtfully-designed ceilings treatments are frequently a forgotten design element in homes, and that’s unfortunate as they offer one of the largest areas of visually-uninterrupted square footage for creating a visual statement, and for incorporating creative design elements and principles in our homes.

Harrell Remodeling Designer, Lisa Mellberg, believes that ceiling treatments can be applied in all styles of homes if they are intentionally designed with each client’s personal aesthetic in mind.

“It’s all about coordination and the use of unifying elements to create an intended design driven by the client’s budget and individual preferences,” Lisa explains. “A ceiling treatment can embody color and pattern or add subdued interest. Regardless of a client’s distinct flair, these design elements should feel intentional and fluid throughout all areas of the home”.

Below are six ways to make the most of your fifth wall.

Tray or Coffered Ceilings: A tray ceiling features a center area that is several inches “popped-up” higher than its perimeter. Wood moldings can be applied to the border area as a design element. The perimeter can also be constructed to conceal lighting that is directed upward, outlining the space with a warm, subtle glow.

A coffered ceiling has its origins in classical design. Applied molding creates a repetition of indentations or recesses that can be simple or elaborate. These ceiling treatments are timeless, often with a square or rectangular pattern. Both tray and coffered ceilings work well in bedrooms and living areas of the home.

Faux Beams: Beamed ceilings instill architectural appeal in almost any home and frequently provide a solution to the functional problem of an exposed structural beam. If you have an exposed structural beam, you can create a repeating design pattern, by adding intentionally placed faux beams for a thoughtfully designed look. Ready-made beams are lightweight and come in a wide variety of wood grains, textures and colors. They can be placed over existing wood beams, and offer the ability to make the beams appear much larger than structurally needed if it fits the design. Faux beams are a great way to disguise electrical wiring and up-lighting.

Harrell Remodeling is using this ceiling treatment in a current Redwood City remodel where moving a visible structural beam (into the second floor structural system above) was not desired, nor would it impact the intended design. The beam pattern is embellished and repeated with faux beams. When the project is complete, the clients will have a stunning and dramatic faux beam ceiling in their living space.

Wood Plank or Beadboard: Placing wood planks such as shiplap, barn wood, or tongue and groove on the ceiling creates a relaxed, natural ambiance. Painted beadboard lends itself to a farmhouse atmosphere. These textural ceiling treatments have gained in popularity with the advent of industrial chic designs and because of the appreciation of rustic, patinaed, and distressed materials. Wood plank and beadboard applications can also add visual interest in bathrooms and in all living spaces.

Wallpaper: The incredibly wide variety of colors, patterns, and styles make installing wallpaper an exceptional way to add interest to ceilings. Crown molding is often used to define the space and the wallpaper is applied within its borders. The design can be bold and colorful, textural, or subtle. For lower ceilings, the addition of wallpaper to the ceiling can give the illusion of height. Adding a complimentary or dramatic light fixture can intensify the visual impact. Wallpapered ceilings are ideal for adding drama to special spaces such as bedrooms and dining rooms. Be careful in selecting an appropriately-rated wallpaper treatment in bathrooms because of moisture.

Silver or Gold-leaf, or Metallic Paint: Perfect for a single small space, like a dining room, foyer, or powder room, silver or gold-leaf creates exponential drama. Crown molding is used to delineate the ceiling with the gold or silver-leaf applied within the area. For those looking for a similar effect at a lower price point, metallic paint is a fantastic solution. Add a statement light fixture to illuminate the space, and voilà!

Barrel Ceilings: A barrel ceiling is semi-cylindrical in shape, resembling the inside of a half barrel. This type of ceiling treatment can be accomplished in a room or often a hallway, by constructing a ceiling so that two sides of the space are a few feet lower than the highest point in the middle. The barrel shape can be finished in a multitude of ways, including brick, tile, stucco, or wood plank, to name a few. This dramatic ceiling type works beautifully in a long, narrow space such as a foyer or hallway.

“Classic architecture embraced the use of the fifth wall,” Lisa reminds us. “You see all types of dramatic and beautiful treatments but they lost popularity mainly due to budget constraints. But ceiling treatments can be designed to fit any aesthetic and budget and add a dramatic statement to a home, even if it is applied in just one room.”

Wondering how to make the most of your fifth wall? Contact us for a complimentary design consultation and let the Design + Build team at Harrell Remodeling work with you to transform your Silicon Valley and Peninsula home.

Universal Design & Whole House Remodel

“Universal Design offers a choice to stay at home. If you are already planning a remodel, I always encourage homeowners to incorporate features that make their home more accessible, be that now or in the future. And it doesn’t have to look like a hospital. We can meld these elements into your home’s aesthetic so that it offers beauty and accessibility in equal measure,” explains Harrell Remodeling Designer, Debra Winston.

Here are key takeaways on how to include Universal Design features in your home on a scale both large and small.

Start at the Street

As you enter and depart, consider the various obstacles for those who may have mobility challenges. Many homes have a step up to the front door and creating a zero-step threshold via an inclined surface is an ideal way to remove this situation. The inclined access can be at a back or side door, can be made from decking, concrete or any other smooth surface. Integrating it into the surrounding landscape as well as the aesthetic of the house itself makes it appear as a purposeful design element.

Consider adding handrails to any exterior stairs, having well illuminated pathways, porches and entryways. A lighted house number is a code requirement but also enables emergency responders to more easily locate your home.

Backyards & Garden Spaces

Garden and yard spaces can be created or modified with Universal Design principles. Remove any tripping hazards such as stepping-stones or uneven surfaces where possible. Porches and decks should be enclosed with railings or large potted plants, both serving as a barrier against falling. If there is more than one step leading to a deck or other outdoor space, add a handrail for safety and accessibility. All hand and guardrails should be 42 inches high. (If the guardrail also serves as a handrail on stairs, it can be at 36 inches high.) The space between vertical railings must be no more than 4 inches wide.


Entry doors should be a minimum of 36 inches wide and should have a peephole at an accessible level for all residing within the home. At the point of entry, there should be a beveled transition or low-profile threshold to allow easy passage of wheelchairs and other mobility devices. A bench or landing for placing bags while opening the door also is desirable.


If the garage is the primary entry point, eliminate clutter to create a clear path to get into and out of a vehicle as well as enter the residence. If the entry into the house from the garage has more than one step, a ramp may be necessary.

The Interior

Multi-Level Homes

Many people have two story houses, which can be made accessible if there is at least one bedroom and a full bath on the main level.

Residences with multiple levels can be made fully accessible by installing a chair lift or an elevator. The opportunity for each is dependent upon the space available and the overall layout of the home. Budget plays a significant part as well.

Chair lifts are the less expensive option and require a landing area at the top and bottom of the stairs for the user to easily enter and exit. Elevators can be installed internally or externally and should be spacious enough to accommodate a person in a wheelchair plus one additional person. During a major remodel, a home can be redesigned with an elevator shaft (hallways and closets are great areas to use) but professional installation of an exterior lift can solve access challenges without “tearing up the house,” Debra explains. Installation should always be performed by a licensed elevator contractor.

Lighting & Electrical

Proper illumination in every room of your home is a key to Universal Design. Task lighting, ambient lighting and dimmable lights that offer visibility at night make a home safer and more navigable. When possible, install light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats at levels accessible to those who are seated.


If you plan on replacing flooring in your home, strive for a seamless transition from one space to another. Using the same flooring throughout when possible avoids the need for transition strips, making even inexpensive flooring appear high-end. If this isn’t achievable, thresholds of ½ inch or less create a smoother flow and a reduced tripping hazard. Taping or securing area rugs – or removing them altogether – eliminates tripping hazards.

Hallways & Doors

If you have the opportunity during a remodel, increase the width of hallways and doors. Most interior passageways should be 36 inches wide, but an additional six to 12 inches makes them more maneuverable, comfortable and flexible.

The typical interior door is 32 inches wide with some as narrow as 26 inches. Increasing doorways to 36 inches allows for easy passage, especially for those using mobility devices. If doorways cannot be made wider, there are some opportunities to widen doorways by using specialized offset hinges. These move the door out of the pathway when opened, increasing the passageway by 1-3/4 inch. Installing levered handles allow all doors to be opened and closed by those with limited grip or hand strength.

Bathrooms & Kitchens

Bathrooms with Universal Design elements can ensure homeowners can live comfortably and safely in their own home. For more specifics on integrating elements of Universal Design in bathrooms, refer to our blog on this topic.

As the heart of the home, implementing Universal Design principles in your kitchen also greatly enhances its long-term livability. Learn more about how to merge these elements into your kitchen by reading our Kitchens & Universal Design blog.

Laundry Rooms

Front loading machines set on pedestals provide ideal access while offering additional storage at a low level. Having a rolling laundry basket is also a plus.

Universal Design is a way to make your entire home livable for all stages of life, for people of all abilities and ages. It is a worthwhile investment to incorporate elements of Universal Design. These principles can be implemented all at once during a major remodel, in specific rooms, such as during a kitchen or bath remodel, or anytime you are considering any type of upgrade, including flooring, door hardware or lighting. Explore more about Universal Design on our website.

Founded in 1985 by Iris Harrell and 100% employee-owned, Harrell Remodeling Design+Build has been creating distinctive homes for 35 years. To learn more about Universal Design and how it can make your home more livable for years to come, we invite you to talk with one of our Designers. Feel free to email us or call our Palo Alto office at 650-230-2900 to schedule a meeting to talk more about Universal Design.