Remodeling 101

Winners of the NARI COTY Awards share project challenges and offer advice on planning a stress-free renovation


Encompass Design/Build won a Finalist award in the category
of Entire House $500,000 to $1,000,000 for this project in
Vienna, VA.What was the greatest challenge of this project?
Removing the roof in the middle of winter snows, while keeping the existing finished basement as intact as possible. Turning an existing outdoor stair (to the basement) into an indoor stair. This was done to eliminate the existing non-compliant stairs to the basement, and to add room for the expanded kitchen.

What lessons can other homeowners take away from this project?
It is possible to have your dream home without moving out of the neighborhood or tearing down.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when remodeling?
Avoid providing some of your own “subcontractors” or relying on internet “bargains.” While working outside a remodeler’s network of vendors and suppliers can seem like a way of saving a few dollars, most often headaches, scams or delays end up costing more in the end.

How do you and your clients control costs during remodeling?

Complete specifications of all project details and finishes are done at the beginning of the project. Then we provide clients with a “fixed cost” contract so that costs never escalate unless there is a change in scope driven by the client.

What are the most important criteria homeowners should follow when selecting a remodeler?
Quality remodelers should have a proven method and system of tools that manage workflow efficiently and keep the customer as informed as possible throughout the process. You have to feel good about the relationship between you and your remodeler. You are often in each other’s lives for a year’s time, from the initial meeting through design, planning, and construction. The level of trust and how you get along is key. A successful relationship can be a trusted resource and friend for years to come.

What were a few of the greatest challenges of this project?
The site presented many challenges. A long, windy, steep gravel drive limited access for any large equipment. Another challenge facing the designer/builder was transporting equipment and materials across the steep swale, which separated the driveway and existing house from the addition.

What lessons can other homeowners take away from this project?
In the hands of an experienced architect, a limitation can be turned into a design opportunity, and result in a unique solution.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when remodeling?
Having a narrow vision of the desired result or unrealistic view of cost; not using an architect to design the project and using new products that have not been time-tested.

What tips do you have for living through a home remodel?
If at all possible, do not attempt to live in the house during a major remodeling project. A project is much more efficient if the trades can do their work without worrying about keeping the house “livable” during construction.

How do you and your clients control costs during remodeling?
The best way to control costs is to make all final design decisions prior to starting construction. Make revisions on paper, not in the field. Also, make material selections, such as tile and plumbing fixtures, early in the process. Then the client has realistic expectations about the cost of the desired finishes and is not tempted to exceed the budget.

What are the most important factors homeowners should consider when selecting a remodeling firm?
Clients should visit completed projects and talk to former clients about their experiences. A referral from a friend who has had a positive remodeling experience is the most valuable criteria. A firm that is active in an organization such as NARI and is able to win awards reflects a commitment to quality design and promoting professionalism in the industry. An established firm with a long history reflects a firm that is going to be there in the future if a need arises.

What were the greatest challenges of the project?

Designing and sculpting new spaces out of a large and stark interior void in such a way that the immense space feels warm and comfortably proportioned. Logistically, construction of a very complex project had to take place around the busy daily lives of six people and a hamster, in the flux of often hectic Georgetown.

What lessons can other homeowners take away from this project?
Get professional help. I believe design/build is, in many ways, the “art of the possible.” Most homeowners know there are aspects of their home, and therefore their lives, that could be better, either dramatically or via some simple tweaking. No matter how overwhelming, perplexing or crowded your home seems to be, a highly skilled architect, coupled with an experienced project coordinator and estimator on his team, cannot only organize your needs and address each one, but will do so in a creative and enjoyable manner that meets your needs and budget, and exceeds your expectations.

If the renovation is extensive or will involve critical living areas such as the kitchen, family room, master suite, etc., seriously explore the feasibility of moving out for the duration of the project. Most of our clients with large remodeling projects include rental/moving expenses in their budget. And know where your hamster is at all times!

What are the most important factors homeowners should consider when selecting a remodeling firm?
Every remodeler always lists his happiest customers as his references; nevertheless, talking to past customers gives valuable insight into whether the remodeler conducts business in a way that fits your individual style. Visit a few jobs and certainly examine the remodeler’s portfolio carefully, asking lots of questions.


Kohler Homes


Hopkins & Porter Construction won a Grand Award in the category
of Residential Interior over $100,000 for this home in Georgetown.


Kohler Homes won a Grand Award in the category of Residential
Additions over $250,000 for the renovation of a carriage house
set on a five-acre wooded site.