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Just bought an Eichler! Need help!

11 replies [Last post]
Joined: Oct 8 2003

WARNING---BEFORE YOU READ THIS---I know people have strong opinions about how an Eichler should be remodeled, if at all. I am hoping to elicit responses regarding our remodeling process rather than, say, a debate about whether putting in new cabinets is a defacement of an architecturally significant structure. The Eichler we bought was defaced long ago. Please help us revive what we can. Also, I have included actual dollar amounts, which may seem a bit crass to some people. Please forgive me, but I am trying to get to some bottom line answers. Divulging actual costs would be greatly appreciated.---THANK YOU.

When we started looking for a new home, we fell in love with Eichlers. We love the openness, the indoor/outdoor perspective and the styling of modernism generally. Unfortunately, the only Eichler we could afford is in a disastrous condition. It has been badly and cheaply "updated." We would like to remodel our smallish home (1,300 sq.ft) in keeping with the spirit of Eichler but without going broke. We know that we could save money by doing some of the work ourselves, but we know our limits and are certain that we would do more damage than good. As far as we know from professional inspections and our aesthetic preferences, we will need to do the following (with quotes/guesstimates we received in parens): complete electrical update with new panel ($10K); new roof with foam insulation ($15K); new radiant heat with new boiler to replace existing cheap-looking 1970's baseboards ($15K); slate tiles installed ($15K); replacing all original glass to double paned saftey glass ($20K); replacing painted wood paneling with a combination of drywall and new wood paneling with insulation ($8K); painting indoor and outdoor ($10K); changing automatic garage door to Eichler-looking automatic garage door ($3500); 2 bathroom remodels ($20K each); and kitchen remodel ($50K). So here are some of our questions:
1. Do these numbers seem high? I am reeling from sticker shock!
2. Does it make sense to hire a a general contractor? Or can we manage all the subcontractors ourselves? Are GC's worth the extra 25-30%?
3. Does it make sense to hire an architect? An interior designer? How much do these services tend to cost?
4. Why would it cost $50K to remodel a kitchen if IKEA sells great looking stuff for $4K? Is it crazy to think we could get it done for $15K?
5. Has anyone had any experience using IKEA cabinetry? Will it last longer than a couple of years?
6. Assuming all goes well, how long does it take to get all this stuff done?
7. How can a 5 x 7 bathroom cost $20K to remodel? Is it crazy to think we could get it done for $8K?
8. Besides DIY, how can we cut costs?
9. Does anyone have any contractor (general or sub) recommendations for any of the above projects?
10. Is radiant heating really the cat's meow? Has anyone tried to have a new radiant heating system installed over the existing concrete slab? any thoughts on electric radiant heat?
11. Has anyone seen polished concrete in an Eichler? does it look consistent with the home?
12. Was buying this house a mistake? (rhetorical, but thanks!)

Many, many thanks in advance for your help.

Joined: Mar 20 2003

Hi Katherine,

Here goes...

> Do these numbers seem high? I am reeling from sticker shock!

They don't look out of line, but there aren't enough to specifics to know. $50k for a new kitchen could be cheap if you're running a new gas line, installing vast tracts of marble, moving doors/walls and buying lots of shiny European appliances.

> Does it make sense to hire a a general contractor?

If you're really planning to do all of things on your list and you'd like to have them done within a reasonable time frame, you should get a GC. I didn't. I learned a lot, and made many mistakes that I wouldn't make the next time. But I also wasn't doing as much stuff as you're planning to do.

The GC provides a lot of project planning. The GC knows people who will call him/her back and can be relied on to show up, do good work, and complete it in a timely fashion. The GC knows details. That if you need new wiring over here, you replace the roof first 'cause the wires... well you get the picture.

> Does it make sense to hire an architect?
Are you building a cabana? A four car garage perhaps? Seriously, if you're thinking of moving certain walls and making additions, then you may want to get one, but you probably don't need an architect.

> An interior designer?
Depends. Do you have a strong idea of what you want for the remodel? Do you know what colors / flooring / finishes you want? A designer can line up all of the decisions and help you make them efficiently. There are a lot of decisions to be made about amazing details you would not have considered until late in the remodel.

> How much do these services tend to cost?
The (lousy) designer we worked with charged an hourly rate.

> Why would it cost $50K to remodel a kitchen if IKEA sells great looking stuff for $4K?
Labor, obviously. And structural changes, if any. Consider tile. You can buy an entire bathroom's worth of tile at Home Depot for $100. Now all you have to do is tear out the old tile, the old wall, install a new wall, set the tile, and grout it. That's neither easy nor cheap. If you think the $50k bid was too high, get another bid. And before you hire anyone, make sure they're licensed. There's a lot of good information here:

> Is it crazy to think we could get it done for $15K?
Not enough specifics to answer this. If you're just changing the faucet, you could probably do it for $0.15k

> Has anyone had any experience using IKEA cabinetry? Will it last longer than a couple of years?
I have a friend who has had it for many years and loves it.

> Assuming all goes well, how long does it take to get all this stuff done?
Money and time are inversely proportional.

> How can a 5 x 7 bathroom cost $20K to remodel? Is it crazy to think we could get it done for $8K?
See kitchen faucet answer above.

> Besides DIY, how can we cut costs?
Combine tasks. For instance, do all the drywall at once. Also, ask a lot of questions. About the appliances, about the tasks, about the materials, etc.

> Does anyone have any contractor (general or sub) recommendations for any of the above projects?
The people running this web site delete the postings of those who recommend anyone who is not an advertiser. Therefore, I have no recommendations.

> Is radiant heating really the cat's meow?
I like it. It depends on the flooring. If you have dense carpets, it's not that noticeable. But when you wake up and put your feet on a warm floor on a cold day, you'll appreciate radiant heat. And no ugly registers on the walls.

> Has anyone tried to have a new radiant heating system installed over the existing concrete slab?
Sounds impractical. Consider the implications. If your floor is higher, your ceilings and door frames are lower. You'll have to cut the bottoms off the doors. Since the door frame is still at the old height, would you have to crouch down to pass through the door? Reframe all the doors?

> any thoughts on electric radiant heat?
Last time I looked into it, electric heat was cost prohibitive when compared to gas, but that may no longer be the case.

> Has anyone seen polished concrete in an Eichler?
I haven't. It seems so ... spartan.

> Was buying this house a mistake? (rhetorical, but thanks!)
Well you do sound a bit freaked out, but I'll chalk it up to enthusiasm and the overwhelming experience of buying a home.

Joined: Aug 28 2003

I can only speak to the costs of the kitchen remodel. Originally we were quoted $60,000 (with IKEA cabinets?!) but ended up red penciling the project and doing it ourselves for $37,000 which included custom cabinets, counters, appliances and new light fixtures, drywall, cutting through the roof to run new electrical, taking out a wall and rebuilding another one, permits, flooring, island, misc. from the hardware store--everything!
One of the ways we compromised in order to save money was to not buy the top of the line appliances that we originally wanted. i.e. sub-zero stainless fridge=$5,000 but the stainless amana fridge=$1,800. You get the idea.
All the bids I received from general contractors were very expensive and I assume it is because their overhead costs with workmans comp insurance etc.-- not because they were dishonest. Also, in my experience with contractors the price they quote you is usually not a final price and it starts to escalate as soon as they get into it and find out what is really involved. So reluctantly we decided to act as our own general contractor.
With the money we saved by doing the work ourselves we were able to hire a cabinet maker and have custom made cabinets in the modernist vein. His work is excellent and I can't say enough about him. He met with us many times to help us work out the functional details of our kitchen. We are thrilled with the results! He also did not charge more than his original estimate. If you want his name please send me an e-mail to
My main advice would be spend a lot of time doing research. We spent over two years looking at every possible option always keeping in mind a modernist aesthetic. By the way, modernism is something that most contrators "don't get" since it requires extreme attention to detail, (no moldings to cover up mistakes). Check out dwell magazine also.

Joined: Mar 20 2003

> Assuming all goes well, how long does it take to get all this stuff done?
Money and time are inversely proportional.

The above is the best advice you will get throughout your entire remodel. I remodeled our previous home's kitchen for under $25000 which included replacing every appliance and fixture with very nice stainless steel built-ins. This was because I found an Italian designer's kitchen and paid an American cabinet builder to make it! Actually, I played my own contractor and oversaw everything. It was also cheaper because I didn't have a kitchen for 8 months.

I am so anal that I am not a fan of General contractors. But I'm also not rich, and if I was, then maybe that would be a different story. I've found with our remodel/renovation on our Eichler that I have made a huge mistake of not researching contractors further. I didn't look at previous contractors' jobs--boy was that a boo boo! Next time I would insist on seeing at least 2 prior jobs that a contractor did.

I personally think all of your numbers seem high, but that is also assuming that you are only getting involved in a lot of cosmetic work--if you have to "dig deeper" than that is a whole other story. I've found that these Eichlers are really good at making a simpler repair cost a lot more!

One thing my sister did to save thousands of dollars on her remodel was to shop around locally for appliances and see what she wanted. Then she purchased them online.

There's something to be said for doing it right the first time. But money always talks loudest, so if you have to half-ass something in the meantime to pay for something more important now, don't kick yourself too hard. Patience is a virtue!! :oops: Best of luck!

Joined: Mar 20 2003

We purchased our home and worked on it for 5 months before moving in. Having the general contractor was a blessing. She was more detail oriented than I was (hard to believe) and had a good design sense. I did some of the work myself and purchased all the fixtures and appliances.

The kitchen and master bath were done with Ikea cabinets - a great decision. I can send pictures if you want.

We did look into putting a new radiant heat system in over the existing slab. I taked to a two people who had done it. A little pricey but they were happy. Electric radiant heat systems in the bathroom are pretty easy and something to think about. Not a lot of room for the baseboard heaters in Eichler bathrooms.

I have seen serveral Eichlers with the floors stripped to the bare concrete and then polished or stained and sealed. They look pretty nice if the slab is not cracked.

My advice is to find a general contractor who you feel comfortable with but do as much yourself as possible. My GC was really useful in dealing with the subs and the inspections.

Get the applicances and fixtures yourself. Look for good deals online and see if local merchants will match the price. Keep an eye open for specials (10% off for opening an account etc.) It all adds up.

You did not make a mistake!

Joined: Apr 10 2003

I don't live in an Eichler but I have had some experiences with remodeling.
Do research, research, research-if you can find out where your load bearing walls are, your roof condition, your floor condition-where your utilities are in walls etc. Know pretty much what you want. measure measure measure. Lay out your proposal in your house with masking tape see what works. Research your appliances/fixtures, check em out at the store read Consumer Reports. For example my brother wants to go with cktop and wall oven/microwave but with gas-but cant find gas wall oven with microwave-what now? Want to use stock size shutters-good luck-everythings made to measure. But find this all out BEFORE one hole is knocked out, one brick layed and it will save you tons of headaches and $.

Wishing for modern home.

Joined: Aug 28 2003

changing automatic garage door to Eichler-looking automatic garage door ($3500)

We did this for about $200
See the Eichler house doctor section on this website.

Joined: Jul 1 2003

Katherine: we moved into an Eichler 4 months ago; fortunately, it is not an fix-it-upper. There are many points to cover, but I'll offer a personal perspective.
(1) Be detached about the whole thing - - ask yourself fundamental questions like (i) how long are you going to live there? (ii) what are the financial implications - do you want to be house rich and cash poor and what about security of your job(s).
(2) I'll fast forward and provide personal opinions.
(i) Spend 4-6 months researching the matter before making decisions - - this means don't do anything major for the 1st 6-12 months - - during this time, the house will compel you to fix or replace something - - sometimes, you don't get to decide (in my case, the hot water heater 3 weeks after moving in). (ii) As previous posts indicated, many projects are interrelated - - a new roof will have implications for electrical as many circuits come through the roof or ventilation for bathrooms, etc.) You can't think of everything upfront, which leads to the next point.
(iii) Compartmentalize as much as possible because it will be intellectually difficult to think clearly if all the projects are considered in parallel (but I also said many projects are interrelated).
(iv) And finally for this posting, another point: I am not pleased that my wife has taken on this kind of work within a short period when we were already stressing out on job change, relocating from the East Coast, child care, buying 2 cars (which was an experience in itself) - - the projects my wife took on were simple and benefited the family, but I was still not happy about it because the emotional price of selecting and dealing with contractors, sticker shock from contractor quotes (you left out air conditioning on your list - - I've been frying in the "unsual" usual hot weather in Sunnyvale since arising 4 months ago - - yes, it's been nice the last 2 weeks), 10 daily messages on our answering machine from contractors calling back if they call back, etc.; overlay this with being cash poor after the big adventure of buying a house at the market peak and "minor" funiture purchases because your old stuff just doesn't look right in an Eichler, and you have one unhappy husband even though the wife is trying to make the home more hospitable. In the short term, the physical condition of the house will suggest a critical path to you on which projects to start first, and your physical, emotional and financial capacity will dictate whether you do any or all of it in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, etc.

Joined: May 1 2003

For all of the above reasons you should hire an architect. A good architect will be able to evaluate budget and aesthetic as it applies to you personally. The architect is your conduit to make good decisions, to better manage the job and to evaluate contractor and vendor costs.

Your project will be a lot of work but can be well worth it. :)

Good Luck

Joined: Jul 22 2003

So far we have done the hall bath, the kitchen and replaced all the flooring in our house in phases. We replaced the bedroom windows and the slider in the master as well. We did all of it ourselves except the floor. That was the most expensive part of our projects. I did the entire bath myself from tearout to installation of a new tub, pedestal sink (modern of course) and toilet. My husband did the wiring and plumbing. I did all the sheetrock and tile. The total cost for all our fixtures, tile, etc was about $2500. But it was a very dirty job. When we did the kitchen we hired a local handyman to help us. We tore out the kitchen on Monday and had a functioning one again on Friday. It took a bit longer for the counter tops to come in and the tile for the back splash but we could cook and do the dishes.

What have we learned? Invest your time before you spend a dime. Cut out picutres of what you like. Take a class through Adult Ed (have taken several great ones) on design, etc. Make the internet your best friend for everything. We got our kitchen sink and faucet on line. Shop for prices and make the dealers bid against each other. Examine what you like and determine if it is what you need. All those cool professional ranges need an extra big gas line, insulation, etc for a big price. For a lot less money you can get the professional style in a residential range. Do you need a Sub Zero or will a GE counterdepth refrigerator work just as well with matching panels?

As for contractors, if you are not skilled and don't know the codes, they are worth it. Plus considering the scope of what you want to do they can help with scheduling or phasing the project, possibly score additional discounts on things, and even help determine what the most critical things are to do first. Designers can help you make the style decisions. One word with any kitchen designer-besure to tell them your walls are not the standard 8 feet. With "normal" counter and upper cabinet heights and clearance between counter tops and cabinet bottoms, adjustments need to be made. One other big plus in the kitchen-full extension drawers are worth every penny-no more trying to find stuff in the back. Good luck with your projects. We love what we have done.

Joined: Oct 8 2003

Thanks to everyone for the replies. Many, many nuggets of sound advice. We have decided to hire a designer and a general contractor. And I am much relieved. We will not, however, be able to live in the house for a while before deciding on what/how to remodel. I worry that haste will indeed make waste, but I worry more about having our infant amidst all of the remodeling. Thanks again!

Joined: Mar 22 2003

The fact that you have decided to hire an architect and contractor should help reduce the potential for making costly mistakes.

One more coment: In general, it is best to live in a home for awhile (at least a year) before doing anything irreversible, since it is tough to anticipate the way in which each and every space will be used and also it takes time to settle into a workable design style. I know you don't have that luxury, given the condition of the home, but you may want to give yourself a "crash course" in Eichler design by getting a copy of the Eichler book by Jerry Ditto. Lots of lovely pictures inside and out. Not being experts on moderinsm and/or what works and doesn't work in Eichlers, this book was a tremendous help to us when we were looking for ideas for our home.

Best of luck!


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