Tag Archives: House Construction


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest TroublemakersGumption

Written by: Nick Offerman

Narration by:  Nick Offerman


Authors who speak about a future in the past often sound like fingernails on a black board; signifying nothing but noise. Nick Offerman is unquestionably a funny man. Offerman leavens the noise of historical luminaries with modern writers, artists, and musicians who carry some of what is best about America’s past. However, some Offerman’ opinions are fingernail-on-blackboard’ screeches. Offerman infers modern food is poison and craftsmanship is dying because “Corpocracy” has converted human need into human desire

Offerman suggests people like Teddy Roosevelt have gumption because they fight corporate consolidation and greed.  Most rational Americans would probably agree. Modern corporations have undue influence in capitalist economies, but desire drives human nature in proportion to freedom.  Teddy Roosevelt is no slouch in the human desire department considering his indiscriminate slaughter of wildlife to aggrandize his identity as a virile American.  Offerman alludes to that truth but infers that corporations have magnified desire to the point of human extinction.  His evidence is sketchy at best and Luddite driven at worst.


To suggest that houses today cannot survive the centuries is a Las Vegas myth.  (Las Vegas implodes buildings because they want to generate excitement; not because older buildings are poorly built.)  Modern houses are built better today than ever in history.  Modern houses better serve the needs and desires of humanity than ever before. How many 300 year old houses have insulated windows, glass walls that open to the outdoors, central heat, or concrete foundations?

BOAT BUILDERSOfferman’s rant about the beauty of boat building, working with one’s hands, and tool design is a disingenuous paean to the wealthy.  Who can spend a million dollars to retrofit a wooden boat that is a hole in the water through which money is poured?  Those craftsmen who work with their hands are serving the wealthy and will continue to exist as long as demand remains.  Freedom is freedom; both to Offerman that has the leisure, time, and fame to promote his book on John Stewart’s show, or to the boat builder that turns a lathe or bends a board for a wealthy client.

Offerman’s complaints about Genetically Modified Organisms fall into the category of vaccines that cause illness.  It is undoubtedly true that GMOs and vaccines that are not produced with care can be harmful but GMOs hold the potential of feeding the world and vaccines have proven their value by eliminating diseases like polio.  Offerman argues that McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are fattening our bodies and shortening our lives.  Undoubtedly true, but everyone lives; everyone dies—what has changed?  We are living longer now than ever before.  Is the quality of life for Americans worse now than in 1861, 1929, 1941, or 2014–maybe for some but not most?

Offerman is quite right to question equal rights for minorities and women.  The dismal truth is equality of opportunity remains un-achieved.  This is an ageless battle that must continue to be fought, but to infer the present is not better than the past is disingenuous; i.e. a populist appeal without actionable substance.

Finally, Offerman’s frequent negative comments about the computer age obscure the value of widening the world of knowledge.  Without the internet, movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and Global Warming are doomed.  The internet, like invention of radio and television, is revolutionary.  The internet changes the way people see and understand the world but it does not change human nature.  The internet magnifies human nature in both good and bad ways.  One can choose to believe “good” will prevail over “evil” or that the world is spiraling down to hell.  Those who believe in a future think wider dissemination and utilization of knowledge will set humanity free.  Others, like Luddites, or misanthropic minorities wish to destroy the machine and return humanity to the dark ages of an agrarian society.

Offerman’s book gleefully makes fun of modern times but his story suggests he is one lucky white guy who is making a good living in these “terrible times”.  SCENES OF NICK OFFERMAN ON PARKS AND RECREATION SITCOM:

The future is not in the past.  Though many are skeptical, optimists believe the future will be better than the present or past.  Life is a journey; death is the destination.  Think more like Bobby McFerrin than Thomas Malthus or Ned Ludd.

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By Chet Yarbrough

Making it Home-4

Billy Baldwin, “the dean of indigenous decorators”, is alleged to have said, “Be faithful to your own taste because nothing you really like is ever out of style”.

It is helpful to have a designer involved when renovating a house; however, what a home owner should be looking for is professional feedback about house modifications that meet an owner’s life style and interest.  The purpose of renovation is to make a generic house a personal home.

An office, a library, an outdoor cooking area, room for an exercise bike, and an outbuilding steam/shower are changes made to this house to meet an owner’s life style and interest. The original layout of the house allows for those changes without foundation modifications; no concrete foundation work is required.


Creating an office means turning one of four bedrooms into an “L” shaped space with an added window for natural light to the right of a desk.  The “L” shape is created by reducing a full bathroom to a ½ bathroom and adding a door to the ½ bathroom from the office.  The door to the office is to the right of the black linen closet in the 1/2 bathroom.


A library is created from a room off the entry foyer of the house.  The fireplace is re-done, a window is added for more natural light, book shelves are added, and entry to the space is widened.



An outdoor grill and bar is modified for an outdoor gas range.  This is particularly valuable when cooking in the heat of summer; i.e. instead of heat generation indoors, heat is dispersed outdoors.  The counter top is re-tiled to match tile work done in the house with an umbrella holder for shade in the summer.



The master bathroom is enlarged to accommodate a larger tub


(with bigger windows for added natural light), a walk-in shower is created (with a glass partition for outside light) and space is created for an exercise bike.


Enlarging the master bath eliminates a closet but space for a larger master closet is created by borrowing space from the 4thbedroom that was changed to an office.


Finally, an outbuilding, previously used to house exotic birds, is converted to a steam room and shower.  The big advantage of an outside steam room is elimination of steam in the master bedroom when using the steamer.


All of these changes/additions are within the framework of the original house.  The renovation modernizes the house’s appearance and is meant to meet a home owner’s life style and interests; i.e. making it home.  [contact-form-7 id=”1710″ title=”Contact form 1″]

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By Chet Yarbrough

Making it Home-3

Not all renovation work requires a permit.  However, if you need a permit, not getting one may have negative consequences.  Not getting a permit can result in work being stopped, completed work being dismantled, added renovation cost, and time delay.  If improvements require re-framing, plumbing, mechanical, or electrical changes, a permit is required.  On the positive side, a permit protects the homeowner; i.e. it provides independent review of planned improvements and construction inspections for work compliance with local building codes that are designed to make your house safe.

If you have decided to use a General Contractor, the following information explains what the General Contractor must do before beginning work.  If you are your own Contractor, these are steps you will need to take before having any work done by sub-contractors.

Getting a building permit is time consuming.  It is tedious but it gives the homeowner better control and understanding of the work that is to be done.  Better control comes from independent building inspection of the improvements; understanding comes from inevitable conflicts that are resolved by City or County plan examiners and building inspectors that demand compliance with building codes.

Renovation begins with a dimensionally drawn layout of the house that shows planned changes.  A plumbing, mechanical, or electrical subcontractor may add his (or her) specifications to the plans when you explain what you want. If you are not using a subcontractor that can add detail specifications in their bid, you may have to contact a civil engineering company to add details to the plans, before sending them to subcontractors for bids.


For illustrative purpose, presume you plan to have plumbing changes made to your house.


If you intend to be your own “General Contractor”, contact at least 3 plumbers, with drawings in hand, to explain what you want.  You need 4 copies of your plans, 3 which will be given to competitive subcontractors bidding your work, and one to keep with you for any telephone questions about the plan.  Ask them if they have done similar work; ask for their subcontractor license number; and ask them if they can get the required permit (if they can get the permit for the work, then they know what drawings must be submitted for approval of the plans).  Once you have an acceptable bid, ask the selected subcontractor for references.   Before signing a work agreement, check the State Contractors Board’ web site (you can post the subcontractor’s license number on the Contractors Board’ web site to find any complaints that have been filed and how they were resolved) and call the references that were given to you by the subcontractor.  If you follow these steps, you have a better opportunity to get a good price and the quality of work you expect.


While prequalifying subcontractors, either you or the General Contractor can submit for permit.  If the General Contractor submits for permit, ask the Contractor to give you the plan review number that is assigned by the City or County so you can check on “plan review” progress.   The jurisdiction will have a website that will allow you to check progress by entering the assigned plan review number.

Every City or County will have their own submission requirements; i.e. the number of plan sets required (usually 2), the application form, and levels of plan certification (engineer or architect stamps) that may be required.  You can get plan submission information from the jurisdiction’s web site but you can also go to the building department of the respective jurisdiction and talk to a plans examiner before assembling or submitting for permit.

After plan review, the City or County will send you a notice that may stipulate plan corrections to be made before approval; or, they will allow you to pay the permit fee, pick up the approved permit and plans, and begin work.  The approved set of plans must always be available to an inspector when inspections are called.  The permitted set of plans will frequently be reviewed by subcontractors when they have questions about the work being done so approved plans should always be at the renovation site.

With a permit in hand, it is time for the General Contractor or owner to schedule the work.  Think big holes and little holes when scheduling; i.e. framers make the biggest holes in a renovation so framing subcontractors are first, plumbing and Heating, Ventilating,


and Air Conditioning (HVAC) subcontractors make the next biggest holes so they are scheduled second, and an electrician makes the smallest holes so he/she is scheduled last.


If you are managing subcontractors, make each subcontractor responsible for their own inspections.  By doing this, any corrections needed may be done at the time of inspection (subject to the inspector’s agreement) by the subcontractor.  In any case, plan to be at each inspection yourself because it is informative.  (If a General Contractor is used, it is generally unnecessary for the owner to attend inspections.)

The final post in this series will address unique features of this 1980s’ house renovation.

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By Chet Yarbrough

Making it Home-2

Is it time to move or renovate?  Ugly is a cosmetic judgement but if the bones of a house, its’ room layout, offer what a family can afford, think about what it can be rather than what it is.   If a house is located close to work, school, groceries, and entertainment, it meets most desired needs for home ownership.  Improvements can be made to an ugly house that has good structure and location.

A wall at the entry to this house is the first thing one sees when opening the front door.  The wall makes sense when one recognizes that it blocks a view of the kitchen from the entry.  What makes no sense is painting it purple.  An equally inept decision  is having a bathroom door off the main entry.


On the other hand, room locations of this house show healthy bones with a kitchen that is centrally located and a bathroom that is convenient for visitors.


A relatively inexpensive solution is to paint the wall a more subtle color and move the entry door of the bathroom to the hallway.  Note that the wall has down-lights that could turn it into a location for a wall hanging.

Rather than seeing the wall as a problem, it can be  made into a thematic asset.

The paint color of the entry is toned down, the wall is squared to provide pantry doors on each side of the separation wall.  The pantry  provides space for a water fall pump as well as groceries.

The door to the bathroom is no longer off the entry.  The floor is changed from tile to hardwood.  The trim is painted white to contrast with the dark color of the floor.


A part of what makes this entry change work is that the dining room and living room glass doors (to the right and left of the entry wall)  are significantly enlarged to bring the outside inside to fit a thematic outdoor feeling created by the waterfall.


The “faux” beams are painted brown to give contrast to the ceiling.  The painted beams compliment the brown wood floor to bring the room together.  An accent color is used to paint one of the walls to add drama and to tie the back yard’s rear wall (painted the same accent color) to continue the theme of drawing the outside to the inside of the house.  Chair rail is added to give the accent wall more definition.

The living room gets a similar treatment.


The exterior wall of the living room becomes a panoramic door to bring the backyard into the living space.  Bright accent colors are continued with earth toned tile to define the living room space.  The fireplace opening is enlarged by extending the fire brick into the room.  A wine cabinet replaces the 1980s wet bar and a glass enclosed exhibit replaces the cabinet niche to the left of the fireplace.

The bones of the house remain the same but the 20th century look of the house is disappearing; becoming more modern.  The kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms are the next part of the project, “MAKING IT HOME-3”.

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By Chet Yarbrough

Making it Home

April 2, 2012

Depending on audience interest, this may be the first and last of a series of “how to” articles on the mechanics of what it takes to renovate a house.  This first article will address planning and whether or not to use a qualified General Contractor to manage renovation work that is to be done.  Subsequent articles will address the process of renovating a house; in that process, pictures will be shown of decisions made in re-modeling a 1980s house.

To quote a Bob Dylan lyric: “Let me forget about today until tomorrow.”  That is what every home owner is compelled to do when thinking about what has happened to home values in the last five years.

If you have purchased a foreclosed house, if you have lived in your current home for ten years or more, it may be time to assess its condition and what you can do to make it better.  No one can say that we have hit the bottom of the market in housing; i.e., maybe prices are going to continue to fall, but is that relevant?  A house is not just a financial investment.  If you have decided home is where you want to live, it is time to begin re-building pride and value in home ownership.

Renovation is a maddening complicated process that has both pitfalls and rewards.  Should I or shouldn’t I?  Can I do it or do I need to hire someone?  How can I fit this additional responsibility into my daily life?

The first step is to identify a scope of work.  If you are going to renovate the entire house; i.e., move some walls, change the bathroom layout, add a room, etc., then you need an original set of plans that show the dimensions of the house.  Most often, that set of plans is not available.  With any extensive renovation, it is important to hire a draftsman or designer; in some cases, an architect.  They will draw a house layout showing existing room dimensions and wall locations.  You will use that set of drawings (called “as builts”) to formulate ideas about what you want to do in the renovation.  The designer or architect will use that “as built” to re-draw the plans to illustrate the changes that will be made to the house.   Before hiring a designer or architect, formulate clear ideas of what you would like to do because time is money and a designer or architect will want to clearly understand what you want.  This is the least expensive and most important stage of your renovation project.  Revisions drawn on an “as built” give you the basic document you will need to bid work for a budget and receive the required permits before you begin renovation.

The following picture is of a house built over 25 years ago:

Exterior Elevation Before Renovation

If the scope of work is cosmetic and non-structural; i.e., replacing carpet, flooring, windows, landscaping, paint, trim, and appliances, no drawings and no permits will be required.  However, it remains important to identify the scope of work to know your costs and manage your time.

The following renovation is more than cosmetic.  The front entry structure was removed because it overwhelmed the house.  The entry structure is replaced with curved landscaping walls.  Two new windows (only 1 shows; the other is unseen to the right of the double door) are installed at the entry, and an 8 foot glass & wood double door replaces 6′ 8″ solid wood double doors.


After the scope of work is determined, and revisions to the “as-built” drawing are done, you are at a fundamental decision point.  Do you become your own “General Contractor” or do you hire a General Contractor?  A General Contractor is not a “doer of things”; a General Contractor is a manager of people.  If you already do that in your job, a renovation will become an extension of your work time commitment; if you are not a manager of people, you should hire a qualified and licensed General Contractor that will manage the people to do the work that you are either not qualified or too busy to do.  Hiring a General Contractor will require less of your time than being your own “General Contractor”.

A reliable licensed General Contractor that has been in the market for five or more years develops a group of subcontractors that have done a good job in the past; a customer benefits from that experience.  That benefit translates to better quality; however, using a General Contractor costs more, from 3% to 10% of job cost.  That wide range is largely based on the size of the job.  There are significant benefits in using a General Contractor.  You will only have to interview, check references, and investigate the workmanship of one discipline. You only have to manage one person during the renovation process.  However, even though only one General Contractor will be hired, a minimum of 3 General Contractors should be interviewed before you enter into a contract.

The biggest disadvantage of using a General Contractor is diminution of control.  A good General Contractor is driven to complete a job to a customer’s satisfaction but every change a customer makes always increases cost and delays completion of the renovation.  The consequence is that customers become reluctant to make changes once the General Contractor has begun work.  That reluctance is well founded when a customer only has so much money to spend.  It is important to make as many design decisions as you can before the General Contractor begins because a budget can easily double when changes are made after work is started.

If not bored by the idea of renovating, follow up articles will explain the permit process and show pictures of this house’s renovation; reflecting unexpected problems, choices, compromises, and results.

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