Renovating vs. buying a larger house - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 04-11-2012, 12:30 PM - Thread Starter
 
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We have been looking for a larger house in our area for quite some time now, and have not found anything suitable. We love our current lot, neighborhood, etc. but our house is small, and we would like more space.

 

Buying a larger house will be expensive. We estimate that all said and done, it will cost us approximately $120K to buy a larger house (including higher taxes, higher mortgage, closing costs, realtor fees, etc.)

 

It's possible that for that same price we could renovate our house and build an addition to include a bedroom and a larger kitchen (still have to talk to some builders about this). Renovating would be a major pain (we'd plan to move to an apartment for several months), but in the end we would have almost exactly the house we want.

 

The major problem for us is that we are very concerned about toxic building materials. We want to use formaldehyde-free wood/MDF for the subfloor and exterior walls, etc. And then of course we'd end up spending more on less toxic kitchen cabinets, countertops, flooring, etc. I'm concerned that we'd have to analyze every item that went into the building of the addition to make sure it wasn't super-toxic. And of course, this would add a HUGE amount to the typical building expenses.

 

I guess what I'd like is to hear stories from those of you who have renovated with green materials - or decided not to do this and just buy a different house. What were the costs involved? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#2 of 9 Old 04-11-2012, 06:43 PM
 
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We recently completed a LEED-certified renovation of our home, and we are so happy that we renovated and used only green materials.  We hired a green architect and a builder who was an expert in non-toxic building materials (his children are chemical sensitive, so he won't work with toxic building materials); a lot of builders will tell you they can build a green house, but I would try to avoid the builder who doesn't build non-toxic as his way of doing business.  Find a true expert who has done this before (and is aware that there are many different types of formaldehyde, for example), won't "greenwash", and can really steer you in the right direction in terms of safe building materials.  A builder who is interested in health and non-toxic materials would not recommend spray foam, for example.  Here are some of the materials we used because of their non-toxic properties:

 

UltraTouch Denim Insulation

AFM Safecoat paints and tile sealers

Vermont Natural Coatings hardwood floor finish

Honed marble and Paperstone countertops (Carerra marble does not emit radon; some types of granite will emit radon and Corian will off-gas)

The builder sourced the FSC-certified, formaldehyde-free wood, sheetrock, etc.  American Clay would be a good alternative to sheetrock -- the least toxic way to go!

Wood-framed windows (vinyl will off-gas and is not eco-friendly)

 

Costs will depend on your area of the country.  But because of cost savings from energy efficient measures, as well as state rebates and federal tax credits if they are still available, the cost difference may not be as big as you think they will be.  Our renovation did not really end up being more expensive than a conventional renovation, except for a few things like solar panels, triple-pane windows, etc., that wouldn't have been included in a conventional renovation at all. 

 

If you decide to buy a different home, the homeowner may have used unhealthy materials that will off-gas.  Polyurethane off-gasses for several years, for example.  Also, you may invest some money in getting the new home just right. 

 

Again, I am so happy that we went this route.  The home is just what we wanted and it does not smell and never has.  I could walk on the job site and not even know construction was going on because it didn't stink!  The moving out and back in again was not fun, but I would do it again.

 

PM me if you want me to send you a link to an article and blog entry on our home.

 

Good luck and hope this helps!

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#3 of 9 Old 04-12-2012, 07:04 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for all the great info, ZippyGirl! I do not know anyone who has done a green renovation, so this is really helpful. We probably don't have any green builders in our area, but I will make a few calls. 

 

Our ideal situation would be to find a larger house that had all the major updates done several years ago (so already off-gassed), but that doesn't seem to be happening!

 

If we do decide to go ahead with the renovation, I will PM you for details. There are so many potentially toxic products out there!

 

Just one quick question for now: Were you able to find suitable kitchen/bathroom cabinets that did not cost a fortune? Renovating the kitchen and the bathrooms would be our biggest expense (aside from the actual addition, that is).

 

Thanks again!

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#4 of 9 Old 04-12-2012, 12:07 PM
 
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Do you have a local green construction material store?  They would be a good place to start.  Ultimately, that's who I hired to renovate my house:  The husband of our local green building store owner runs a green construction company.

 

We used a local millworker to custom build all of our cabinets to our specification:  FSC-cert, FF wood; zero-VOC glues and paints; etc.  I don't think he was much more than conventional cabinetry. 

 

If you are going with a cabinet company, you can ask them if their cabinets qualify for LEED points.  If they do, that is a good route to go (even if you are not getting LEED certified).  The cabinet company will be able to provide you with their LEED paperwork to show that installation of their cabinetry qualifies for LEED points.  When we were considering using a regular cabinet company, my kitchen designer called the company and spoke to someone knowledgeable about their sustainability program.  They were able to fax her their documentation that showed their cabinets help with indoor air quality LEED points.  Like anything non-toxic, it just took persistence and knowing the right questions to ask.

 

Again, in the end, we ended up using a local millworker because we had so much millwork go into our house beyond the kitchen and bath cabinets.  Also, I liked how we could control all the materials used, too.   (Even though the cabinet company qualified for LEED points, I was still a little concerned about them being 100% green.  Also, supporting a local artisan made us feel better about the entire process.)  You might be surprised that someone in your area could help you out for a good price!  Our millworker was so good, we went back to him to have him build our dining room table, master bed, and outdoor dining furniture.

 

Good luck!!!

 

 

 

 

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#5 of 9 Old 04-13-2012, 07:36 AM
 
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I forgot to mention that my architects (who specialize in green architecture) recommended Ikea cabinets as one alternative.  I think they are greener than most cabinets, and cost-effective as well. 

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#6 of 9 Old 04-13-2012, 08:53 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZippyGirl View Post

Do you have a local green construction material store?  They would be a good place to start.  Ultimately, that's who I hired to renovate my house:  The husband of our local green building store owner runs a green construction company.

 

I second this.

 

Go to the manufacturers' websites for products that ZippyGirl listed, their directories of stores would help.


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#7 of 9 Old 04-13-2012, 09:26 AM
 
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I think that if you love your lot and you love where you live, then consider renovating.  However, be mindful that with a reno you are limited by your current home's footprint, loadbearing walls, and what your foundation can support, etc.  Renos are often more expensive than anticipated and also often take longer than anticipated too. 


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#8 of 9 Old 04-14-2012, 04:53 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nstewart View Post

I think that if you love your lot and you love where you live, then consider renovating.  However, be mindful that with a reno you are limited by your current home's footprint, loadbearing walls, and what your foundation can support, etc.  Renos are often more expensive than anticipated and also often take longer than anticipated too. 


yeahthat.gif

 

If you love your neighbors, your land, your commute, etc., then renovating is a good way to go.  Before you even start, I would make sure zoning regulations in your town will allow for what you have planned.  If zoning regulations will not allow what you want, then you would have to seek a variance and that can cost time and money (especially if you need to hire an attorney).  You might decide it's not worth the hassle!  If zoning will let you do what you want, then you just need to get your building permit (requires plans and fee) and satisfy them that you are building to code (via inspections).  We expanded our home's footprint and added an additional story, but this all required variances because our original house was already out of compliance with the lot's zoning.  It was a major PITA, I won't lie!  Dealing with zoning was, by far, the worst part of my renovation.  Fortunately, my neighbors stood behind me and wrote letters of support to the zoning board.  That went a long way in getting them to approve our plans. 

 

We did have to do some structural work to our home so it could handle the additional story.  Our contract with the builder had some built-in cost contingencies, so we lucked out there.  What drove the costs higher than we originally had thought were things I hadn't budgeted ahead of time, like fixtures, appliances, landscaping, tile, etc., which were not included in the builder's bid because these were things I had to provide.  His contract included the installation of these things, though.  And anytime you do a change work order, you risk driving the cost up.  For example, we changed our minds about the heating system we wanted.  This change required additional work on the part of the builder (in addition to the increased cost of the new heating system), so we went over-budget.  These things were under our control, though.  Interview former clients of the builder and ask if they come in on time and budget. 

 

I think if you are really careful about planning and budgeting and if you do as much research as possible ahead of time, renovations can run smoothly.  As for running over the schedule, your contract can specify start and end dates, and could include a penalty in the contract that the builder would need to pay you for each day that goes over schedule.  Anytime you do a change work order, it would probably include the number of extra days to be added to the end date.  We had our attorney review the contract with the builder before we signed.

 

One more piece of advice that I wished I had done beforehand.  Make sure that the builder bids on known mechanicals.  In other words, make sure you know where all of your HVAC, plumbing, and electrical runs are going to go.  In a renovation, this all may need to be handled in existing walls.  You don't want this figured out on the job.  Make sure your plans include all of this information, and that the builder incorporates this into his bid.  This will help avoid cost over-runs as well.

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#9 of 9 Old 04-16-2012, 06:13 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for everyone's advice! I did contact our town's zoning department, and we can make the addition we want to make (which is a very small addition, of about 300 - 400 square feet). I'm going to call our local green building supply store tomorrow. I'm going to guess that what we want to do is going to cost WAY over our budget, but I may as well find that out for certain! In the meantime, we're still checking out the local new listings every day.

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