When remodeler Bob Fleming was a child, he liked jigsaw puzzles. To challenge himself, he would dump the pieces of three or four puzzles together and do them all at the same time. "Physical space is easy for me to visualize," he says.
That talent helped the owner of Classic Remodeling see the potential in Becky and Graham Eubank's house. The small, dark living room at the back of the house did not allow for views of the wooded back yard. The Eubanks wanted a brighter room, a new kitchen, and a living space that flowed well. Fleming immediately saw all of that fitting into an addition to the back of the living room -- one that measured just 155 square feet.
"More fitting additions can often be accomplished by listening to clients. It's not always necessary to add a large box onto the back," says the Charleston, S.C., remodeler. "I try to come up with more creative solutions."
Fleming also added a bank of windows to the rear of the house and new French doors that lead to the deck. Plus, the remodel includes an updated kitchen with custom cabinets, a larger island, and an adjacent wet bar set in a wall of cabinetry. The $134,000 job took 13 weeks to complete.
Less is More
Fleming's design philosophy sometimes seems at odds with that of many residential architects. He says they seem to be trained to look at a project from the outside inward and can fail to take family life, efficiency, and space into consideration. "We have had numerous projects where an architect has designed a huge addition that dwarfs the original structure, steals excessive amounts of what little outdoor space the family has, and interrupts view lines to the water," he says, "'Less is more,' is sometimes the best solution."
He brings a sensitivity to the size and character of the existing house to all his projects. "I super-focus when I meet with a client," Fleming says. "Sometimes we click, and I'm sketching or showing them pictures to get them excited about possibilities." On projects where he has ideas about a solution that's totally different than what the homeowners initially want, he doesn't want to surprise them, so he warns them up front -- "Can I come back with something different?" he asks them. Fleming points out that a more modest design doesn't necessarily cost less, but it may better address organization, entertainment, and family needs.
Fleming talks, thinks, and visualizes very quickly, so to bring the homeowners along on his design ride, he uses a tablet PC. "It's not like selling a car, where you can drive or touch or feel," he explains (see "Top Sales Tool").
For the Eubank project, the homeowners liked the overall design right away. The 10-by-15-foot addition with large windows gives them just enough space to make the room more comfortable and brings much-needed light into the room.
The couple had thought about knocking out the back wall when they purchased the house. On a previous remodel, they enclosed the side porch to create a play area for their children. Fleming suggested new French doors to provide a more inviting entrance to the playroom. He also suggested replacing the damaged sashes in the three existing breakfast nook windows that form the bay and on the window above the sink in the kitchen. The couple also liked how Fleming extended the existing island to match the expanded space.
"People say, 'That's all the space you got?' But it's made a world of difference," Becky Eubank says.
The original kitchen cabinets extended the full height of the 9-foot ceiling, but Fleming moved the new ones down and left 1 foot of space above them. "The open space at the top of the cabinet gives the illusion of a larger room, because your eye goes beyond the front of the wall cabinet to the wall beyond," Fleming says. Also, he says, a single door that extends up to the ceiling looks too narrow and tall, but there is not enough height, with a 9-foot ceiling, to add another door for usable storage space. Fleming also likes to use a built-up crown molding on the cabinetry. In this project, he extended the molding through the room.
The off-white cabinetry and bookcases that flank the fireplace were fabricated by Chuck Stallsmith of Charlestowne Caseworks. Originally, both storage cabinets were 33 inches wide. But the television the Eubanks selected would not fit in the cabinet. "We resized the cabinets to 32 and 34 inches," Fleming says, "but you can't really tell the difference."
Where the new hardwood floor meets the old, Fleming's crew staggered back the tie-in and refinished the entire floor. On the exterior, they matched the stucco on the addition to the rest of the house. The homeowners originally had an EIFS system but changed to real stucco when they noticed damage around the windows. Fleming replaced the stucco on the full length of the back of the house. "You can't start in the middle of the wall -- you have to put it in corner to corner," Fleming says. He prefers to use two traditional stucco hardcoats and then use a top coat of the EIFS finishing layer. "Traditional stucco has a variegated appearance. This provides a smoother and more even finish," he says.
The addition was also the first project where Fleming had to apply the new earthquake and hurricane codes adopted by Charleston County. The adjustment to the new codes caused quite a bit of confusion on his staff, as well as delays in the inspection process.
The Eubank house, like all the houses in Charleston County, is in a hurricane and earthquake zone. The county originally followed the CABO code, which had wind calculations that applied only to beachfront housing and did not have any earthquake requirements. In August 2002, the county adopted the International Residential Code. Builders and remodelers now must meet hurricane codes, which require buildings to withstand sustained 110 mph winds and 130 mph wind gusts for up to three seconds, as well as D2 earthquake codes, which require special strap anchors, seismic fasteners, and reinforced foundation walls.
"They went from lax codes to a really stringent code," Fleming says.
The design called for removing the old exterior walls to open up the interior space and using a steel beam for support. "In the past, we would have transferred the load on a steel or wood column that was supported on the original exterior foundation wall," Fleming says. With the new code's uplift calculations, the engineer required that Fleming's crew remove a section of the floor and foundation wall and extend the steel column to the footing below. The new codes also required that the perimeter floor joists be bolted at 48 inches on center to the foundation straps.
In addition, the engineer required the exterior to be wrapped completely in plywood sheathing, and the plywood overlaps the floor system. They are also required to place a bolt-down fastener at each king stud on either side of every window and door opening. "We often do not have enough room between windows to accommodate this, so the alternate solution was a 30-inch metal strap attached to the interior of the stud," Fleming explains. "We make a plunge cut in the plywood and extend the strap to the bottom edge of the double rim joist below."
The other issue with the new code involved the windows. The code requires windows to have a design pressure (DP) rating of 40. "Most windows are tested and rated as individual units -- not as mulled units," Fleming says. This project has mulled windows, and most of the window manufacturers Fleming's company uses could not provide the required DP. "I talked to three engineers who recommended three different windows," Fleming says. In the end, he found Monarch Windows with an acceptable mulled DP code. The new casement windows in the addition have two-wide by three-high grids to match the existing windows.
As far as getting up to speed on the codes, the learning curve applied not just to this project, and to Fleming's company, but to the government, as well. "The different inspectors were interpreting those codes differently, because it's new," Fleming says. "The IRC was chosen to bring consistency across the municipalities. But now how we are building differs even more," he says. South Carolina adopted the IRC 2000 code in mid-2002 and has written 18 amendments since then. Each municipality has the option of what amendments they choose.
The code issues have snowballed and the backlog of inspections has increased over the past few months. "Before August, we could call in an inspection at 10 a.m. and get an inspection the same day," Fleming says. "Now, we have to wait three days for each individual inspection, which adds up to 21 'idle' days while we wait for approval to move to the next phase," he says. "And if you fail, you add another three days to the wait." The project manager also cannot verify inspections -- they have to go through the specialty trade contractor.
Fleming has made two major changes to adjust to the new codes: First, he rescheduled his crews to adjust to the delays. "We used to have each project run by a lead carpenter who remained on site during the project. We switched to project managers who handle numerous projects at once and move our carpenters around to accommodate the inspections," Fleming says. He still has lead carpenters who have a managerial roles on individual jobs.
Second, every lead and project manager has a new code book and they have ongoing staff discussions regarding inspection issues. Fleming attends roundtable discussions of codes through the local home builders association.
Fleming has also found that permits are approved faster if the plan reviewer for the building inspection has a licensed engineer's stamp of approval. "Now, every project we design that involves any structural work is verified and approved by a licensed structural engineer," Fleming says.