Stairs/Hole in the Floor
So, my wife has convinced me to not take a saws-all to the floor. I was thinking, let’s just cut a hole in the floor and install a slide for the kids from our place to the basement. They would love it and reminisce about it for decades to come! Well, the boss of the house will have none of that idea. She is concerned not only about gaping holes in the floor, but about the placement of the staircase in general. It needs to be well thought-out and compatible with our long-term plan to turn the place into a single family home. I have to agree, although I am not giving up on the slide idea yet. … All this means we needed to talk to a professional. So we called an architect referred to us by someone my wife works with. He’s a local guy working on his own who is self-certified by the city. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it supposedly means it is easier and faster for him to get permits. That could be very important for us given the dated state of our place. We also called Airoom, a large design-build firm that does a lot of projects in our area.
Airoom first: We’ve heard various things about them, not all good (you can find some of this on the web), although the projects I have seen first-hand seem to be well-done. My main concern with them was that they would be looking for a massive gut-everything type of job that would involve a huge HELOC loan. That’s not really what we’re looking for, but not completely out of the question either depending on what we could get for that kind of money. We’ve been in a couple of houses that have had the basements re-done very nicely and it could be worth it. We really needed to talk to them as a reference point for the really go-all-out scenario. An Airoom rep came over the other night to give us a consultation. I don’t really think she was an architect, although she was at least a drafter of some sort and was able to do some on-the-spot sketching. She also took a lot of pictures that she will, in theory, use to work up something more detailed at the office. But, my concerns seem to be basically correct. Although they seem more flexible than I may have thought regarding project scope and so on, the project cost will likely come back way more than we initially started talking about and even given the expanded scope that we discussed with her I think it will be hard to justify spending that kind of money when we basically started out by talking about me chopping a hole in the floor. During the rep’s visit I tried to steer us in this direction a bit but she was very car-salesmanesque and was saying things like “well, we’ll do it right” and “aren’t you committed to this project” and “what, do you just want to chop a hole in the floor and have the house fall down?”. She also seemed to focus in on a couple of things that I don’t think are all that important, like the slope of the basement floor. But, I it will be interesting to see what she comes back with. I just hope there’s not a lot more sales pressure to deal with and she will let us take a step back and think about things without making me feel I’m wasting her time.
The local architect: This guy was much more laid back. He has done a few similar projects and done a couple of full conversions of two-flats to single family homes. With him we went in thinking it would be nice to get an overall plan/concept for executing our conversion in phases, with phase 1 being the basement access, phase two being taking over the second floor and phase three being re-doing the first floor (changing the bedrooms to living rooms, re-doing the kitchen, etc). We’d also throw in a back porch rehab with deck build in there somewhere between phases 1 and 2. We could then execute the plan at our own pace, doing some of the work on our own and using contractors for some. The good news was that he seemed very open to this idea. Going in I was wondering about the phase approach and if a professional would say we were crazy for thinking of doing it that way, but he seems to think it is reasonable and also fairly common, and he says he can develop an overall plan to help us execute. On the other hand, he is pretty busy and I’m not sure when we will actually hear back from him (supposed to be a couple of weeks) and I’m not sure what we will really get. He did some sketching on the spot but didn’t take any pictures. Some of his ideas were good but some others I didn’t like so much, like where he proposed we put the staircase to the basement (he proposed it go in the back of the house, but we already have the rear stairs in the back of the house, and if it is in the back we would have to relocate/redo the laundry area back there…). Anyway, we will see what he has to say. I was much more comfortable working with him than with the Airoom folks. With him it was much more design-oriented. With Airoom it was more like “tell us what you want, we’ll tell you that you need more”.
Final observations: With both of our consultations I experienced to a certain extent what I have come to call the “I’m-no-expert-but” phenomenon. I need a better word for that… maybe… Googlebrains? Basically, before I talk to a “professional” about whatever, I will go on Google and do some research into what some of the primary issues might be. I spend a couple of hours reading about this and that and learn a few things. The idea is that I want to be able to ask the right questions. Then, almost without exception I find that I seem to know more about these likely issues than the professional does (actually, I have not had it happen with doctors yet, although having the right questions ready has been very handy with them). This happens all the time, whether it is related to the house, the appliances, the cars, or whatever. Example: This time, with both Airoom and the architect, I seemed to have a better understanding of electrical services and associated requirements. I also knew more about high-velocity A/C than the architect (he actually referred to it incorrectly as “low-velocity air conditioning”). There were a couple of other things as well. Rather than making me feel like a smarty-pants, this makes me wonder “man, if they don’t know this, what do I don’t know they don’t know?”