Achieving D-I-Y Treat Was Tricky

Trick or Treat Construction Witch The title of this blog is seasonal, but unfortunately, “Trick or Treat” remodeling happens year ’round. The “treat” is homemade. If you follow the “Recipe for DIY Home Remodeling Success,” you’ll end up with something very sweet. If you try to change the recipe, your treat may look like it’s sweet, but it  could be face-puckering bitter — the kind of bitter that you’ll never forget.  This is a true story about one family’s DIY Treat that turned into a Trick.

It Was Supposed To Be a Treat

Imagine how great it must  feel to discover that you have 280 square feet in your basement that you can convert to usable space. Wow! What a treat! Remodeling is going to be a lot of work, but there are many ways to use the space. Storage? Possibly. How about a bonus room? Yes! It will require at least two of the four structural posts to be removed, to open up the room, but it can be done. Using the exterior doorway that’s already there is an added bonus, because you can build a deck for summertime inside/outside parties. And, as long as you’re doing the work, how about adding a powder room, so family and friends don’t have to climb a flight of stairs to use the bathroom? Sure! Wonderful idea!

This is the shorthand version of what often happens during DIY  brainstorming, talking

about all of the possibilities for a “found” space. Within a couple of weeks, you’ve purchased everything you need at the local Big Box Store, and  every available minute is spent to create your special haven. Friends and family get involved, to finish the job sooner. When  it’s done, there’s a big party to celebrate.

Several years pass, and the bonus room is used by everyone in the family, for different reasons. Then, the children grow up and move away; the home is now too big to maintain.  Entertaining has changed dramatically. Downsizing is the logical thing to do, moving to a home that’s away from hectic city life, in preparation for retirement. The “For Sale” sign goes up. Everything is done to make the home marketable — fresh paint, new carpets, a bit of landscaping, kitchen and bathroom updates. It  looks great!  The competitive advantage you have with other similar homes is the bonus room and powder room in the basement —  until the prospective buyers’ agent asks if the bonus room is original.

The Treat Became A Bitter Trick

Both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent were blind-sighted when they learned that:

  • The bonus room and powder room were built without plans or permits. To enter into escrow, they’ll need to “back in” to plans and permits, and do whatever it takes to make the area legal.
  • Structural posts were removed, replaced by 4×10 beams reinforced with steel — but how were the beams supported by the exterior wall? The Homeowners didn’t take “during” photos.
  • The Homeowners used 2x4s for the floor joists; 2x8s or 2x10s are what contractors typically use for a span of 15 feet or more, usually verified by a structural engineer.
  • The 2×4 floor joists were not continuous, and they were not pressure-treated (although they were very close to the earth in the crawl space). The homeowner screwed standard 2×4 pieces together end-to-end, with no overlap. No structural stability.
  • The finish ceiling height was lower than the code allows.
  • The overall width for the toilet exceeded code requirements, but  it ended up being 1/2″ too close to the wall, and impossible to be moved. All that everyone could hope for was Building Department leniency.

It’s clear that the Homeowners had the best of intentions. They (like many DIYers) are avid fans of remodeling shows and magazines that demonstrate how easy and inexpensive it is to remodel. The problem is that most of the media fails to stress the importance of detailed plans and getting permits.

Expensive Remedy

A structural engineer was hired to help remedy the multiple problems, to  provide framing details and calculations for the prescriptive requirements that converted the beautiful but potentially hazardous bonus room into an enjoyable, safe haven for the new owners. The current owners had a lot less money at close of escrow, but they purchased peace of mind. They realized that the additional investment of $18,750 was deferred (with interest)  from when they created the space originally.

Diane Plesset is a Kitchen-Bath Design Specialist, and a Homeowner Advocate. Call Diane to talk about your home (whether you’re a DIYer or not): 503-632-8801. You can email Diane with questions, or add your comments below. Guaranteed, no sales pitch or pressure — ever!

© Copyright 2015 D. P. Design “See the Possibilities. Create a Positive Difference.”