By Nina Patel.

Open Book Policy

Brenneman & Pagenstecher has an open book estimating policy. The firm gives clients a price for the project, including allowances, and a list of how they arrived at the cost. They break the project management fee into installments over the life of the job. With each weekly bill, the clients are handed receipts associated with the work for that time period (materials and subcontractor costs), a total for the in-house crew's hours, and a portion of the management fee. Peter Pagenstecher says some refer to this method as time and materials with a fixed fee.

According to the partners, there are several advantages to this system. First, the open communication lends itself to making the project a team effort. Not only do the clients know all the costs but they can participate in steering the funds to areas they think are important. Also, with standard markup, clients often complain about the markup on change orders. With this method, there are no change orders, per se. If the homeowners add to the scope of the project, the firm gives them a quote for that work.

Dean Brenneman says when contractors offer a fixed price, they are taking a gamble because there are so many unknown factors. "Remodeling is like exploratory surgery -- you don't know what you're going to find or how much it's going to cost until you open up the house," he says.

The system also allows them to pay subs within days of receiving an invoice. Brenneman says the weekly bills require fiscal and financial discipline and special invoicing and estimating forms. Pagenstecher says fellow remodelers point out the limited profit potential of this method. While this may be true, the duo says they would rather have a customer for life than push for maximum dollars on each job. Rich mahogany decking extends entertaining from the family room to the outdoors. Hidden fasteners give the decking the look of a wood floor. The design/build team and homeowners approved low-maintenance PVC trim around the windows and composite railings on the deck. The architect couldn't find ready-made brackets for the eaves, so he created full-sized templates and had the cedar brackets cut at a local millwork shop.

The new roofline accents what was a simple box of a previous rear addition. Architect Dean Brenneman also added window trim and accented the chimney to punch up the look of the rear elevation.

The design/build team replaced the single door in the family room with double French doors to take advantage of the new decks. The crew also repaired window sashes and stained them to match the existing trim.

History Panel

Pre-cast concrete slabs like the ones found in this Bethesda house were used throughout the United States, but mostly for commercial and industrial buildings. Colonel Robert Aiken devised a concrete panel building method in the early 1900s and used it to construct buildings for the Army.

The first mass residential use of concrete panels was in 1911 by architect Grovesnor Atterbury. He developed an architectural style for houses made of large slabs of concrete that was used for affordable homes in Long Island for the Sage Foundation. In 1918, a large industrial housing development in Youngstown, Ohio, was built using a similar method. About 280 houses were built for workers of Youngstown Sheet & Tubing Company.

Concrete promoters touted the fact that this type of construction is fireproof and could be constructed faster and with less labor than a standard wood-frame method.

Panels were pre-cast and transported to the site or cast on site. Crews used a crane to lift panels into place and then connected them by binding together reinforcing rods and/or grouting the joints. Door and window openings were set with metal jambs.

To finish the exterior surfaces, crews would use heavily stippled paint or score the panel while it was wet to prepare it for stucco application.

Though this method continued to gain popularity in commercial building, it never really caught on in residential construction.

House remodelers and builders may have found the concept too costly for houses or too time consuming to train their crews in a new building method.

Return to B+A: It Takes a Villa