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.

Designing A Roof With Curb Appeal

We’ve all driven by houses that have that certain something. These welcoming, attractive homes have that much sought-after moniker referred to as curb appeal. All of the exterior elements come into play – landscaping, color of the house, entry door, windows – to create a cohesive and inviting appearance. Yet there is one important element we don’t often consider when it comes to curb appeal: the roof.

Harrell Remodeling Designer, Rafael Gomez, studied architecture and worked in both commercial and residential firms before joining Harrell.

“I remember early on in my career, designing rooflines was my biggest fear. I couldn’t grasp how what was going on inside a home could be matched up in a proportionate, balanced way with the roof,” reflects Rafael. “The experience in figuring this out was valuable in teaching me how interior and exterior architectural elements worked together. Now, I really enjoy creating rooflines that add to the beauty of a client’s home.”

There are multiple components that make up a roofline:

  • Shape
  • Pitch
  • Mass/scale/proportions
  • Continuity
  • Flow

The goal is to find the right balance of each of these elements while also designing a roofline that is in line with the overall architecture style of a home. It is also important to consider the neighborhood in which you live so your home fits within the overall residential look and feel of the surrounding area.

“To maintain the architectural integrity and continuity of their neighborhoods, many cities have architectural guidelines that impact what homeowners can do to the exterior of homes,” explains Rafael. “It is always advised to gather all of this information in advance of starting a project.”

The proper use of materials and design elements also helps to create curb appeal. Dormers with windows, enclosed soffits, gutters and downspouts, vents, and rafter tails that have a distinct design are all ways to add visual appeal to a roofline.

There are also a myriad of roofing materials that can enhance the beauty and resale value of your residence. Certain materials look best with specific architectural styles so it is wise to take this into consideration as well as the pros and cons of each type of roofing.

Thanks to their affordability, approximately 70% of homes in the United States have composition/asphalt shingles. This roofing material comes in an incredible array of colors and profiles, and is a great option for many types of houses. Available in clay, concrete, slate, and fiber cement, tiles are another roofing material that can offer a dramatic profile for the right style of home. Wood shakes, once very popular, offer an attractive, upscale appearance but tend to be considerably more expensive than their composite counterparts. Metal is a great option to achieve a farmhouse look, or for use on a feature area, such as an accent on an entry, dormers, or bay window. Solar tiles are an up and coming roofing product, eventually replacing the large and unsightly solar panels that can often detract from an otherwise attractive roofline.

Designing a roofline that accentuates your home, especially if you are undergoing a significant addition or remodel, can positively impact your curb appeal. It’s critical to ensure your roofline has a balanced appearance, it structurally sound, and properly ventilated. Working with a designer to assist in selecting the finishes, materials, and other elements guarantees a consistent architectural aesthetic and a home that has one heck of a WOW factor!

Let Harrell Remodeling help you achieve a roof with incredible curb appeal! Schedule a complimentary session with one of our talented designers at either our Los Gatos or Palo Alto showrooms.

One of Harrell Remodeling’s premier designers, Rafael Gomez has a background in Architecture and his extensive design experience brings a bold and forward-thinking edge to the Harrell Remodeling Design + Build team. After graduating from Universidad Autonoma De Guadalajara in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture, Rafael became a licensed Architect in Mexico. In 1995 Rafael began his professional career in San Francisco working in both commercial and residential architecture firms. Having worked in the field of design and construction, Rafael possesses a comprehensive design philosophy, which begins with the assumption that design is an intelligent process through which people arrange their environment. Establishing a relationship with his clients based on mutual trust and respect, Rafael carefully listens to client needs to create a custom design that fits their unique lifestyle. Designs that allow for function, durability and longevity are Rafael’s trademark. Thanks to his extensive project feasibility research and collaboration with our production department and engineers guarantee, these designs come to life. Rafael joined the Harrell Remodeling team after 12 years of Design + Build experience. His vision and attention to detail have won him many awards from NKBA kitchen renovations to whole house remodels as well as new homes.

Garage Doors: The Gateway to Curb Appeal

One of the most frequently used home additions is the garage. It rolls convenience, safety, security, and storage all into one. As a key component to your next custom remodeling project, a new garage or simply a new garage door can dramatically alter your Bay Area home’s appearance. And newer garage doors may provide improved function. If thinking about enhancing the curb appeal of your home, you may consider these options available for today’s garage doors.


Wood is a traditional garage door material that provides a more natural appearance. It blends in particularly well with brick, stone, and wood homes. Depending on the design, it can be elegant or rustic. Wood is a popular choice for carriage house designs and often comes with windows in the upper portion of the doors.


Metal garage doors for Bay Area homes are traditionally made of steel and aluminum. Traditional steel doors offer higher durability and an added sense of security. A more modern steel door, often called a sandwich construction, is now available with varying degrees of insulation to help ward off energy loss. Aluminum provides a sleeker look and is a much lighter weight material, although still durable. Both materials can be painted as needed to coordinate with the rest of your home’s exterior.


If you like the look of wood but prefer a less weather sensitive material that is easier to maintain, fiberglass may be the answer for you. Fiberglass doors are made in a broad variety of styles, including faux wood finishes available in different colors and grains.

Glass Panels

Many attached garages are incorporated into the front of the house, while other homes have detached garages that sometimes function as temporary workshops for hobbyists. The need for glass panels on a garage door can be dictated by the desire to have the door coordinate with the appearance of the home or to increase the natural light within the space.
Garage doors with large glass panels are also available and marry well with homes that have a high incidence of glazing. Adding glass panels to a garage door can balances the exterior appearance and provide a source of natural light to the interior.

Classic Versus Carriage

Classic garage doors are typically laid out in blocks and rows of rectangles. As the door rises, they roll up and disappear into the garage ceiling. Carriage house doors hearken back to the horse-drawn carriage era, and typically open outward from the center. Choose your carriage house hardware and windows carefully to create a plain or more ornate look. Add lift handles and knockers for an even greater authentic appearance.

If you’re not sure which look will best enhance your curb appeal, talk it over with our Design + Build team from Harrell Remodeling.

13 Home Maintenance Tips for Spring

Winter is finally coming to a close. With warmer days ahead, spring is an ideal time to give your home some much-needed TLC after months of cold, wet weather.

One of the best things a homeowner can do is to do a visual inspection both inside and outside their home. Look for mold or mildew build-up on the exterior as well as inside your home, especially after a long rainy winter. Keep an eye open for condensation inside windows. Look for peeling paint, bent or damaged gutters, or any other signs that indicate needed repair.


Spring is a great time to do some basic maintenance on your HVAC system. Swapping out your furnace filters is quick, easy, and inexpensive. It keeps your system operating efficiently and is one less thing you’ll have to worry about come next winter.
If you haven’t had your furnace serviced recently, schedule a maintenance visit now rather than waiting until you need the heat and discover your system is not functioning properly.

Just like with your furnace, your air conditioning unit needs a tune-up every few years and it is best to get this done in the off-season. That way, when the heat hits, you’re AC will be ready to cool.

Explains Harrell Remodeling Senior Project Manager Kai Jensen, “Most people only think about servicing their furnaces, AC units or roof when they encounter an issue. But the best (and cheapest) time to do this is during the off-season.”

2. Roof, Gutters & Chimney

Your roof, gutters, and chimney also need some TLC. Blow leaves off your roof, especially in the valleys where they tend to pile up. If not removed, they build up and eventually cause damage to your roof. Now is also a great time to have your roof inspected as well as have repairs completed. Remove leaves and other debris from gutters and have any damaged sections or downspouts replaced or repaired.

If you haven’t had one in awhile, an inspection will ensure your chimney is structurally sound while a professional cleaning keeps dangerous debris from accumulating and possibly causing a fire.

3. Look for Cracks in Stucco

If you discover large cracks in the stucco on your home, fill with a flexible caulking or apply a stucco patch. This reduces the chance of moisture seeping behind and into the walls and causing dry rot.

4. Sprinklers

Turn on your sprinklers and redirect them if any are hitting the exterior of your home. Over time, having water hitting the outside of your house can can cause dry rot. Replace missing or damaged sprinkler heads and check for water leaks.

5. Septic Tanks

If your home is on septic, it typically needs to be cleaned out every four or five years. And if you don’t already, purchase some septic treatment products and begin using this monthly to break down grease, fats, and oils.

6. Windows & Exterior Doors/Locks

Open and close each of your windows to make sure they operate properly. If you have double paned windows, look for cloudiness between the panes, which indicates window failure. Look closely at caulking on both windows and doors and reapply if it is cracked or peeling. If the paint is fading on the exterior of your windows, take time to repaint.

Check all exterior door locks and make sure they operate smoothly. If you have trouble getting the key in the lock or if you have to coax the lock itself to open, call a locksmith and get them to tune up your affected locks and possibly cut new keys.

7. Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Check all of the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. Make sure you have at least one CO detector on each level of your home. If you live in an all-electric home, carbon monoxide detectors are NOT required. If you have smoke detectors that are only battery operated, California law requires they include a 10-year battery that cannot be replaced or removed. Be sure to upgrade to these units if necessary.

8. Water Main

Locate your water main, remove the cover and look inside for leaks or water build up. Contact your local water company if you discover any issues.

9. Showers, Sinks, Toilet & Tubs

Check caulking around sinks as well as in showers where the tile meets the shower pan and around bathtubs where the wall tile connects with the tub. If the caulk is cracked, peeling, or pulling away, its time to reapply.

Check all drains for hair build up and remove using a tool made just for this fun job. This will reduce odor as well as allow water to drain properly.

Remove all of the aerators on your faucets, remove any debris and sediment, and reattach.

Turn on and off water valves for each sink and toilet to make sure they haven’t seized up and are operating as intended. Look under all sinks for leaks, check inside toilet tanks to ensure all parts appear in working order.

“To easily check toilets for leaks, place a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows up in the bowl, your toilet has a leak,” shares Kai. “I also recommend homeowners locate and check their main outside water valve, making sure it turns on and off. The same with hose bibs. Being outside, they can tighten up over time so it is important to check them every so often.”

10. Replace Light Bulbs

During winter, lighting is used much more than in spring and summer so bulbs often burn out. In the evening, go outside and inspect your outdoor lighting for bulbs that are broken or burned out. Do the same inside your home and replace all nonfunctioning bulbs.

11. Garage Door

Open and close your garage door a few times to confirm it operates smoothly. Check all of the bolts, especially those responsible for attaching the door to the hinge and spring hardware, and tighten if loose. If it’s been awhile since you had your door serviced, it’s probably time to do so.

12. Washers, Dryers, Dishwashers & Refrigerators

Inspect all hoses for your dishwasher (located under the sink) and clothes washer for cracks or damage that could result in leaks. Clean the vents in your dryer, both those inside as well as behind the appliance.

Explains Kai, “Dryer vents need to be cleaned two or three times a year to prevent lint build up, which can result in a fire.”

Check the seals on your fridge for cracks and vacuum behind your refrigerator to remove dust build-up from the back of the unit, which can reduce the efficiency as well as the life of your appliance.

13. Electrical Panel & GFCI Outlets

Flip each switch on your electrical panel. If any circuits don’t stay in their “on” position, this indicates a potential issue and it would be worth having your panel inspected.

GFCI outlets are typically placed in the kitchen and bath. Test each by pressing the button to reset the outlet. If any fail to work or reset properly, it’s time to replace them.

“Many older homes don’t have GFCI outlets in bathrooms and kitchens. These are important safety features and should be installed,” says Kai.

Maintaining your home can seem like an overwhelming task but the team at Harrell Remodeling is here to help. Our experts identify potential issues and point out areas that require maintenance. This proactive approach allows homeowners to actively participate in the maintenance and repair plan as well as address concerns before they become costly repairs.

Interested scheduling a spring maintenance inspection? Contact Harrell Remodeling to speak with one of our team members.

Kai Jensen is a native of San Jose. His father was employed in the design field, so Kai grew up immersed in the design and construction industry. He has worked in construction for over 40 years and has vast experience in both commercial and residential projects. A skilled craftsman, Kai spent part of his career building custom kitchen and bath cabinets. Kai obtained his licensed general contractor in 1993 and at one time ran his own construction business doing all phases of work from foundation to finish before joining Harrell Remodeling in August 2001 as a Lead Carpenter. Kai is now one of Harrell’s Senior Project Managers and is a Certified Remodeling Project Manager.