Opportunity Lost During Remodeling?


By Bruce W. Maki, Editor


Over the years I have seen many remodeling projects where the homeowner or contractor had removed the drywall, siding or flooring and passed up many good opportunities. Whenever a surface finish is removed there is almost always a chance to repair, upgrade, improve or enhance the things that lie beneath the surface.

Take interior walls, for example. When building a house, the drywall cannot be installed until the initial inspections are made for electrical, plumbing, heating/cooling, and of course, framing. Conversely, whenever an interior wall surface is removed, any of these systems could be examined or modified. Yet many people, contractors included, pass up the opportunity to improve what lies behind the wall. Why does this happen? Home owners often don’t know what enhancements could be made. And some contractors don't want to add complexity to their projects, such as bringing in an electrician or other subcontractor for a minor change. This scenario seemed common during the housing boom years, when many contractors were more interested in the practice of "get in, get it done, get out, and cash the check".

I've always noticed that contractors don't usually give a darn about your heating bills. They are in business to make money, period. True, it would be a smart customer service to suggest some insulation upgrades, but it has to be weighed against the profitability (and complexity) of the job.

In these post-housing-bubble years, I keep reading about contractors who are taking a greater interest in energy-efficiency upgrades. It's about time!

If you are hiring a contractor, it's important to know some basics about home construction techniques, so you can ask the right questions.

If you are the serious do-it-yourselfer that would tackle a remodeling job, then you REALLY need to be familiar with the many different materials and construction methods available. It really sucks when you finish a big remodeling job and then discover that you could've installed better insulation, or wired in some different lighting, or run wiring for home theater, a home computer network, security system, etc.


Wall Surface Removal Could Allow:

  • Insulation improvement: Replace the old insulation or add more. A layer of foam could be added to enhance the existing insulation, at minimal cost. A vapor barrier can be added if none existed.
  • Wiring update: An opportunity to add more outlets, wall sconces, light switches, wires to upper floors, wires to outdoor lights, phone and cable TV lines & jacks. Let's not forget running wiring for computer networks (such as CAT5e), or speaker wiring for a home theater system, or security system wiring.
  • HVAC: Additional ducting could be installed if some rooms were too hot or too cold. Ducts could be disassembled and cleaned. Return air ducting can be added on homes built without it (which was all too common years ago).
  • Plumbing: Repair and replacement of old pipes, especially galvanized steel. Old vent and drain piping could be corrected or updated. Drain cleanouts could be installed (with an access port in the new wall surface).
  • Structural: Inspection of wall studs, window and door framing, water & insect damage inspection. Excessively damaged framing can be replaced or supplemented.


Ceiling Surface Removal Could Allow:

  • Most of the items listed above, plus:
  • Wiring, lighting improvements, addition of ceiling fans or recessed lights.
  • Insulation enhancements, vapor barrier.
  • Plumbing and HVAC improvements as mentioned earlier.
  • If the ceiling in question is the underside of the floor above (such as the first floor ceiling in a two story house), then sagging or springy floors could be remedied by sistering the joists.


Flooring Removal Could Allow:

  • Subfloor improvements: Squeaky floors can be remedied by locating the floor joists and screwing the subfloor down with deck screws. Subfloor could be removed to access wiring and plumbing, although this could be very time consuming.


Siding Removal Could Allow:

  • Additional rigid foam insulation panels could be added.
  • Structure could be inspected for damage.
  • Plywood/OSB sheathing could be installed if rigid sheathing was not originally used.
  • Existing sheathing could be screwed to the studs, using deck screws.
  • Sheathing could be painted with a good quality primer, to reduce the weathering effects of moisture transmission. Many would argue this is a waste of money, but I've seen a lot of old houses where the wood or plywood sheathing got damaged from small amounts of water infiltration, or from condensation behind the siding.
  • An air barrier (Tyvek or Typar) could be added, to reduce wind infiltration.
  • Additional outdoor lighting.


If there is a bottom line to this discussion, it’s that proper, careful, and detailed planning can result in the optimum remodeling job for the money and time invested.


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Written January 12, 2009