Saturday, December 16, 2017
Home and Garden

A new way to remodel

On a cold day in January, homeowners Nick and Catherine Swezey stood in their kitchen looking up at the sky. The roof of their 1923 bungalow in the District's Kent neighborhood had been torn off to make way for a prefabricated addition on top of the house.

"That was one of the most dramatic moments presented by this project," said Nick Swezey, advertising director for the Weekly Standard magazine. "We crossed our fingers it wouldn't rain that day."

Fortunately, the weather cooperated and three prebuilt structures were hoisted by crane the next morning and assembled into a second story within the day. The new 900-square-foot level adds a bedroom, a bathroom and a walk-in closet for the homeowners, and a pair of bedrooms and a bathroom for their daughter Charlotte and son William. "Our kids were thrilled when they could look into their rooms on the ground before they were lifted into place," Swezey said.

This type of construction, made off-site and transported to a property, is still a rare sight. Called modular, manufactured or systems-built, it accounts for only about 1 or 2 percent of the national residential and commercial construction markets, according to Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute, a trade association based in Charlottesville, Va.

But pre-made modules, once considered formulaic and flimsy, are becoming more common as a faster, cheaper and less wasteful alternative to conventional stick-built construction, experts say.

"Perhaps because of the recession and certainly as a result of heightened awareness of sustainability, many owners, developers and architects are demanding more efficiency from their contractors," said Hardiman. "This, in turn, is forcing contractors to reexamine previously ignored methods such as modular."

Proving his point is Case Design/Remodeling Inc., the Bethesda, Md.-based company responsible for designing the Swezeys' addition. "This was our first modular project," said Bill Millholland, a Case executive vice president. "We got into this type of remodeling to do it in a less expensive and faster way."

Once the addition was designed, Case tapped Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes LLC of Selinsgrove, Pa., to fabricate the structures. Windows, wallboard, crown and base moldings, bedroom carpeting, bathroom vanities, mirrors, toilets and tub were already set into place when the structures arrived on a flatbed truck. Roof rafters and sheathing were pre-built and hoisted into place, and roof shingles were installed by the end of the day.

The control over construction quality in the factory and accelerated construction schedule convinced the homeowners to try the modular method. "It's a very efficient process. We were able to get the square footage we were looking for in a shorter period of time — six months of design and construction versus the nine to 12 months it would have taken to stick-build the second floor," said Catherine Swezey, who works for HotelMe.com, a hotel review website.

Advocates of modular building assert that prefabricated construction is more cost-effective than conventional, on-site methods.

Project designer Matt Dirksen of Case Design/Remodeling said the cost of the Swezeys' addition was about $14,000 less than a stick-built addition of comparable size. "The savings allowed us to customize parts of the second floor and open up the first floor for more family living space," said Catherine Swezey.

The prefabricated sections of the second level cost about $325,000, she said, but additional funds were needed for exterior upgrades, including Hardiplank siding on the upper and lower stories, and a new front porch. The couple also spent more on interior renovations and refinishing the wooden floors on the main level.

Looking at the home, with its continuous siding rising to gabled roofs, it's hard to tell the difference between the prefabricated upper story and the original house. The seam between the two is covered with a band of trim.

For prefab to be cost-effective, Dirksen said, the site has to be clear of obstructing trees and power lines, and the house must have a simple building profile. He said challenges such as crane access and complicated module assembly of contribute to higher expenses.

"Modular can save you money, primarily in labor costs, but we learned it depends on existing conditions," said the designer. "It helps if the existing house is well built and square, and the modular design is simple and put together in a logical way."

Installing a prefabricated addition isn't a matter of plopping down a box, Dirksen said. It requires working within the idiosyncrasies of an older home, making sure the new addition aligns with existing stair openings, plumbing pipes and structural framing, which may be uneven after years of settlement.

"We learned there is a lot of extra work we had to do to make the connections between the original home and the new structures," said the designer.

The Swezeys' 1923 home had to be strengthened to support the upper-level addition, so new posts were added inside the existing walls. The old chimney flue was sealed to make way for the second floor, and the wood-burning fireplace in the living room was converted to gas and vented through a side wall.

After the prefab addition was set in place, plumbing lines, duct­work and electrical wiring were installed and connected to existing systems. Drywall was then finished and painted, lighting was installed and marble and tile floors were added to the bathrooms.

Four years before the modular addition was completed, the couple remodeled their kitchen with new cabinets, marble countertops and appliances, and added built-in bookshelves to an adjacent office at the front of the house.

Those improvements appeared slowly compared to the single day it took to install the new second story. "The change happened so fast," recalls Nick Swezey. "To have a house you know to become completely different the next morning is remarkable."

 
Comments
Hometown Pasco for Dec. 15

Hometown Pasco for Dec. 15

We want your news!Hometown Pasco is devoted to everyday life in our county, whether it’s snapshots from your family reunion, recreational sporting event, news from your last club meeting or just a few lines thanking someone for a job well done. You ...
Published: 12/13/17
Hometown Hernando for Dec. 15

Hometown Hernando for Dec. 15

We want your news!Hometown Hernando is devoted to everyday life in our county, whether it’s snapshots from your family reunion, recreational sporting event, news from your last club meeting or just a few lines thanking someone for a job well done. Y...
Published: 12/13/17
Timely Tendings: Beware of buying or gifting invasive plant species

Timely Tendings: Beware of buying or gifting invasive plant species

Beware of buying or gifting invasive plant speciesPlants make great gifts to give and receive. But .?.?. beware invasive species lurking in local garden centers or nurseries. Many invasive species are still commonly sold and if you plant them in your...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/12/17
Review: Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it.

Review: Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it.

I gave Amazon.com a key to go into my house and drop off packages when I’m not around. After two weeks, it turns out letting strangers in has been the least-troubling part of the experience.Once Amazon owned my door, I was the one locked into an all-...
Published: 12/08/17
Want the perfect Christmas tree? We asked an expert for help

Want the perfect Christmas tree? We asked an expert for help

Lights, ribbons, tinsel, flowers — how do you get that perfect look? We asked designer Ken Neddo of Classic Florals in St. Petersburg to help with this yearly decorating event.   * What do you see as the general trends in Christmas tree deco...
Published: 12/05/17
Timely Tendings: As holidays approach, find the right plants; keep an eye on edibles in the garden

Timely Tendings: As holidays approach, find the right plants; keep an eye on edibles in the garden

Get holiday plants: trees, poinsettias and cactiLiving Christmas trees are a fun, lasting way to celebrate the holiday season that can then be planted to provide a lifetime of enjoyment. Unfortunately a commonly sold plant for this is the Norfolk Isl...
Published: 12/01/17
Updated: 12/05/17
5 first-time homebuyer mistakes to avoid

5 first-time homebuyer mistakes to avoid

Thinking about buying your first home? Before you can unlock the door to homeownership, you have to take some important first steps. From finding the perfect location to financing your purchase, shopping for your first home has challenges that go bey...
Published: 11/30/17
Updated: 12/05/17
Hometown Hernando for Dec. 8

Hometown Hernando for Dec. 8

We want your news!Hometown Hernando is devoted to everyday life in our county, whether it’s snapshots from your family reunion, recreational sporting event, news from your last club meeting or just a few lines thanking someone for a job well done. Y...
Published: 11/29/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Plan and budget for a good return on your garden investment

Plan and budget for a good return on your garden investment

The first of the 2018 seed catalogs will be arriving soon in the mail, signaling the start of another growing season. Savvy vegetable gardeners pore over the pages while choosing plants and drafting budgets. Planning ahead provides healthier returns ...
Published: 11/28/17
Updated: 12/05/17
Diggin’ Florida Dirt: Gardeners share suggestions for holiday gifts

Diggin’ Florida Dirt: Gardeners share suggestions for holiday gifts

If I had to choose just one garden tool to be shipwrecked with on an uninhabited island, it would be my Felco 2 pruners. They clip anything up to about a half-inch diameter — even thicker when I push it, which I do.Even my daughter marveled when I qu...
Updated one month ago