All Hail Vila
Bob Vila. His name is to home improvement what Michael Jordan's is to basketball. Like Jordan, Vila hasn't just elevated his craft to dazzling new levels; he has become a singular entity in his field His profile has managed to transcend the very nature of the vocation itself. But Vila's art isn't a thriving trade these days, and his concern is detectable. He dedicates his book to "America's remodelers, from enthusiastic novices to practiced preservationists," as he laments the fact that "the do-it-yourself tactic has, for most people, been superseded by the buy-it-yourself strategy."
Complete Guide to Remodeling Your Home looks to buck this trend, and in doing so, it might be the most practical and important home improvement guide on bookstore shelves. Do not crack this book open looking for cute little DIY projects. Vila's book doesn't teach you how to hammer a nail without busting a thumb, how to lay cement without losing a shoe, or how to shingle a roof without tumbling onto the pavement below. As a matter of fact, there is nary a single picture of Vila with tools in hand (or belt, for that matter) in the entire book.
Instead, the Complete Guide to Remodeling Your Home is the forum in which Vila's cerebral dynamics finally get overdue props on a par with his world-renowned handyman skills; it's more a book of theory than a craft manual. Vila's on stage here, and he's as handy without a hammer as with. You scoff? Well, check this out: We call those things that take us from the second floor to the first floor "stairs." Hardly. Vila claims that the stairwell is comprised of the newel post, riser, tread, stringer, nosing, and baluster. For instance, should you trip while walking down the stairs, the riser keeps you heading downward, the tread cracks your coccyx, and the baluster is what keeps the whole stairwell from collapsing under your clumsiness. The newel post lets you know the trip is over -- a finish line of sorts.
Partially inspired by the renovation of Vila's own 1897 home, the Complete Guide to Remodeling Your Home is all about preparation. So get out of the car -- we're not going to Home Depot just yet. There's plenty of work to be done before the dirty fun begins.
From the overall style of the house to the components within the rooms, Vila breaks down home renovation into history and equations in the first section, "Looking at Your House." He identifies some of the more common styles of home, the aspects that make each singular. He also offers tips with regard to hidden treasures within the home, such as trimmings, styles of stairwell, and so forth. In the first segment, Vila essentially asks you to visualize what you have: what works as is, what needs restoration, and what needs to be ripped out and replaced. He then marches through organizational plans, from hiring a contractor, scheduling, and budgeting to execution and payment.
One of the great charms of this book is Vila's sincerity in dedicating the book to novices as well as professionals. The degree of interaction between a newcomer and his or her contractor may be less involved than that of a professional, but matters of taste don't depend on DIY know-how. In effect, Vila's book becomes a great equalizer.
And once major restructuring is finished, Vila walks the reader through some of the tasks that won't fatally backfire should they be executed by a rookie, though he continues to urge aspiring renovators to hire professionals. Should a novice screw up a ceiling, it might wind up on his or her head. Painting, tiling, laying carpet, et cetera, can be expensive if executed clumsily, but other than draining one's savings account, about the worst thing that can happen is growing dizzy from painting with closed windows, or stepping on a stray nail that didn't quite make it into the floor. When was your last tetanus shot?
And don't think Vila has forgotten the peskiest of minutiae: paperwork. You won't want to forget your building permit, lest the government slap you with a fine and shut down your operation. And hang on to those receipts: You may be able to deduct what you owe to Uncle Sam. Bob Vila is no friend of the Man.
Balance, style, landscape, utility, time constraints, money (or lack thereof), government regulations -- the list of aspects to home renovation seems endless, but Vila covers all of his bases with the Complete Guide to Remodeling Your Home. With this volume, you won't become any handier a handyman (that's more a matter of practice), but you could end up a smarter one.
Read an Excerpt
From my house, we move to your house. Together we're going to examine your place in a way you probably never have.
Most people move into a house, arrange the furniture, and get on with the business of living their lives there. Some of those people, upon tiring of the turquoise paint in the breakfast nook or the cramped feel of the living room, decide to embark upon a renovation project, Then they go about getting it done. Perhaps you're about to take that step, too.
To my way of thinking, the process begins not with a call to a contractor or an architect- The first step is to look at and really see your house. You may believe you know it intimately, but the typical homeowner recognizes little more than the obvious pleasures of the place and the irritating aspects he or she wants to change.
Think of it this way. In the early 1970s, pop psychologists introduced the encounter session." A kind of group therapy, these sessions involved intense but short-term interactions between participants. The point of such sensitivity training was a sort of self-realization or, in the jargon of the time, " self- actualization." That meant that group members were sensitized to feelings about themselves and others.
In a variation on the old know-thyself theme, I want you to "encounter" your house. You need to take an eyes-open, objective look at your home. You need to jar yourself to a new level of consciousness. Before you add new elements, you should know what needs to be renewed. Fixing up the old and adding the new are part of any remodeling job. In order to make the rightchanges, you need a solid overall feel for the existing qualities, liabilities, and potentials.
Without a thorough working knowledge of your home, you put yourself at risk of rude surprises. There can be excess remodeling costs that could have been anticipated if, for example, you had studied the structure and discovered that certain basic work needed to be done. Other unexpected expenses can be avoided, such as change orders, those contractual amendments regarding changes from the original specifications-making changes partway through the process is always disproportionately expensive. The worst circumstance of all is the one in which you find your self wondering at the time of completion why you didn't do certain things to produce a more satisfactory result-and it's too late to change.
In the following pages we'll walk through the physical structure of the house. We'll look outside first, then visit the interior, moving from bottom (the foundation) and top (the attic) to the living spaces. After describing how to examine your home in order to learn about it in ways you had not before, I'll try to help you put to advantage a sixth sense that you may not even realize you have about your home. It's an instinctive understanding of both your existing space and what you want it to be.
We'll look at your house in a few new ways, from some surprising angles of approach. We'll be looking not only for problems but good work, too, for themes you may want to develop in the renovation. With luck, perhaps you'll also find a little inspiration to help you develop a plan that suits both the house and your needs.
The Surrounding Landscape
Begin your inspection by walking the boundary line of the property. If you've' mowed the lawn and trimmed the hedges a hundred times, this may seem absurd. Do it anyway.
If you have a survey of the property, keep a copy of it at hand. It should indicate, through notations of landmarks and measurements, where your land abuts other properties. Particularly with a small plot where the buildings may be close to the boundary lines, it's important to be sure that your understanding of the outside perimeter coincides with the description on your deed and the survey
The lay of the land. Look at the topography: Locate yourself with respect to the surroundings. Are you on top of a hill? In a valley? Is the land flat or does it run down a slope? Imagine you're a low-flying bird: shaping a mind picture of a fly-over view may be helpful in thinking about your house and its context.
Look at the nearby houses. In many neighborhoods, more than one house was constructed by the same developer, often in the same or similar styles. We will talk of style at length in the next chapter (see Chapter 2, A Matter of Style), but while casting a glance at your neighborhood, look for houses similar to yours. Notice what they have in common with your home and what's different.
Does a neighboring house have an addition that might inform what you're doing in some way? When differing needs are brought to bear on identical starter houses, strikingly different dwellings evolve. You might also see what you don't want to do. That can be valuable, too.
The plantscape. What about plantings? Are there trees or shrubs you want to emphasize? Often a large tree or a glade of smaller ones provides a focus for an overall landscape plan. If you're planning on adding to your house, however, great care must be taken to protect the trees and their root systems from the heavy equipment that is used to excavate, pour concrete, and deliver supplies. A good rule of thumb is that no truck should be allowed within 10 feet of a tree trunk, since the fragile root system at or near the surface can be badly damaged by just one crushing visit of a bulldozer track or even the tires of a heavy truck. A corollary is no trenches should be dug within 20 feet of a middle-sized tree, 30 feet of a large one- Small trees and shrubs can be moved, but only with an adequate amount of soil in a root ball. And preferably by experts.
Look at the neighbors' properties, too. Are there mature plantings along your property line or trees that you could use as a backdrop for your yard?
While there may be plantings you want to preserve, chances are that some...