NTE Podcast: Should I Build New or Remodel?

Jay and Andy get many questions like this on a daily basis, so they thought why not have the discussion on the podcast for all to hear!   Do I rip out and replace my cabinets, or can I refinish them? Can I seal the off gassing of my countertop or should I just get something new?  Do I remodel my entire home or just start from scratch. There are definitely pros and cons to both side of this topic, so lots of great information in this episode.


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Should I Build New or Remodel?


Andrew Pace: Is it better to remove and replace or should we just seal what we have? Or how about: do we remodel this home or just build a brand new one? Today, Jay and I’ll be answering those questions in more here on Non Toxic Environments.

Hello folks. Welcome back to Non Toxic Environments. Jay, we’re headed into a holiday weekend.

Jay Watts: We are indeed.

Andy: And I know you want to get away. I want to get away. I haven’t had a day off…. we talked about this last week. I haven’t had a day off in almost a year.

Jay: It’s funny about Labor Day. A lot of people work on labor day. No, I’ve always been confused by that. I guess we’re taking it off, but it’s Labor Day. So what are we doing here? You shouldn’t be working or should we be relaxing?

Andy: Yeah, my wife usually gives me some grief about that. A day of labor. That’s what it is for me. But not this year. Not this year. I’m gonna work on some projects around the house that I’ve been meaning to get to for quite a while.

Jay: Okay, well that’s a laboring, but just a different kind.

Andy: It’s a different kind of labor.

Jay: It’s a labor of love, labor of love.

Andy: So, you know, and this actually ties in well to what we wanted to discuss today, which is how do you know it’s a good time to either fix or remodel or just say, I’m done with it? Let’s start from scratch and build new. So this is a topic that you brought up, Jay and I think it’s a fantastic topic to talk about.

Jay: So many times people are calling in, they’re in a project and they’ve got some challenges and the smaller challenges are usually fixable challenges. But when the project starts to get bigger and we start looking at all the different facets of a project, and then that becomes that time where you’re like can I fix this and get what I want as affordably as possible without the stress that’s induced from these kinds of things? Or is it just better to demo whatever we’re trying to do? Rip out the stuff. And here’s a good example. I had a client that the road in the other day and she was wondering about some drywall that she said was smelling and the drywall is in a stairwell. So getting into the stairwell to treat the dry wall, her intention was to try to treat the dried drywall, to seal, she wasn’t clear about what it was that she was experiencing other than it’s smelled. Well, you and I both know that smell can mean a million different things. And so she was trying to figure out, should I try to seal it or should I just pull it out?

And of course, you know, when we talk about demo, it starts to become tricky and how much is it going to cost and can we do it or do we have to hire a contractor? So all of these usually come up. But I think there’s some times when when there’s mysteries involved, we don’t know what that is. Can we really seal it? Do we really want to spend the time and money to decorate it or seal it and find out that that didn’t really get it done? And then we’re back to square one and then we’re like, why didn’t we just demo it and start with fresh material? Andy and I are always talking to folks about the best method for any of this stuff is to start with a clean source. Don’t start with a dirty source or a source you’re unclear about and then come back later and say, Oh my God, that wasn’t the best thing to do. Now, what do we do?

Andy: Well this is a common common problem. So you really hit this one out of the park Jay because boy, every single day… calls, people in the showroom, and people discussing things. And let’s use your example of a smell coming out of the drywall. I equate this to peeling the skin and then different layers of an onion, right?

Jay: I remember you using that analogy before. It’s a good.

Andy: And so you peel the skin off. Well, guess what? The next layer still smells right. Still smells like an onion. And every layer could give you a different smell, a different look, a different set of problems to deal with. It is inevitable that when you start a remodeling project, big or small folks, it’s inevitable that you are going to run into something that you did not expect, right? And what it comes down to is at the end of the day, if you think you took care of everything, do you know you took care of everything? Are you 100% certain that you got everything that could have been problematic and causing this odor? And a lot of times my recommendation will come down to what’s going to give you the best peace of mind. And folks, let me tell you, I’m sure everybody listening knows this. Peace of mind is remarkable when it comes to believing and feeling like you’re living in a healthy space.

Jay: It’s so important. It’s that connection. We talked about this before, the mind body connection and there’s a big component here in what Andy’s alluding to. I’m thinking just as you were talking about that, uncovering the onion. I think one of the things folks, that if you’re in that situation where it’s a mystery, one of the things that would argue for demolition or removal is the possibility that you will uncover that you wouldn’t have uncovered if you had just done a bandaid approach to it. There could be something in the system somewhere, whatever that system may mean. There may be something there that’s much worse that would be undiscovered unless you pulled things out the look right? You don’t wanna like put the bandaid on and think, Hey, if the smells kinda gone, I think we’re okay. And then days, months, weeks, years later there’s something really bad that went on and we didn’t catch it. And now we’re way down the rabbit hole.

Andy: Well, that’s the thing. So you think of a remodeling project and you think you’ve got it all right. And then four months later the smell comes back. Well, why did it come back? Could it be the fact that as we’ve talked about before, temperature and humidity can bring out more odors. So maybe at the time of you doing the remodeling or the remediation, you didn’t really get everything because you couldn’t smell it at that time. And this is one of those peace of mind things. Well, if you don’t know you actually got it, sometimes it’s a really hard fact to learn. It’s a hard lesson to learn. And now you’re talking about spending double to either repair it again or rip it out and replace it again and you end up spending so much more than you would if you just would’ve started from scratch.

We did an episode, I think I did that one solo. You were traveling. It was our, our episode 169 Project Planning to Avoid Frustration. Essentially this is one of these things I talked about there where you have to realize that you almost have to go through the entire process and project in your head. Write down everything that’s involved. And this is where clients will hire me as their consultant to help them through that process. And it’s almost like doing a feasibility study on the project to say what’s involved and maybe it’s a small bathroom remodel. So what’s all the materials involved and what are we trying to fix? What do I trying to protect against? At the end of that process, you may find that, you know what, instead of just doing a slight remodel, maybe we should be a complete gut job.

Andy: Or you know, if we’re planning on doing this in every bathroom in the next year or two and we’re going to remodel the kitchen is eventually as well, maybe we should just look at the idea of building something new. And I know you’re talking apples and oranges when it comes to cost folks. But in the grand scheme of things, I can present to you materials that will be a healthier alternative to what’s normally used for just about anything that goes into the home building project. In a remodeling project, you don’t know what you don’t know. And I don’t like using cliched terminology, but you don’t know what you don’t know and you won’t know what’s involved until you expose something. You go, Holy cow, now what? Yeah. It can be something as bad as asbestos. It could be lead, it could be something worse.

Jay: Yeah. I think the idea of having a checklist and having someone that can help you make the checklist that has explained like you do with your consulting business and there’s others out there to do the same thing, but folks not as good as Andy Pace. I’m a low pitch for him. It really helps to have someone who can guide you through the analysis. And then when you have to make the big decision, you’re doing it as smartly as you can because you’ve got all that evidence and information right in front of you. And then you can make those big decisions. Out here on the West coast, if you’re building from scratch, you’re looking at

$300 to $400 a square foot. Now I’m in Southern California. So, that’s where the pricing comes from. But it can be expensive. So that’s something you have to think about. But at the same time, understanding that that might be the kind of bite you have to take for what Andy is suggesting, which is that peace of mind knowing that you’ve dotted every I and crossed every T in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Andy: But you know this brings up what’s happening right now with a lot of our clients and we’ve been talking about the use of the Caliwel product to prevent mold from occurring in cavity walls or behind wet walls. Folks, a lot of people are using this product now, just in case…  it’s an inexpensive insurance policy because we all know that if you’re going to have a mold problem in the cavity wall or in the exterior wall of a new home usually happens within the first few years because all the moisture that is locked in that wall. Well if you can’t see what’s going on in that wall, there’s no window into that. There’s no lighting that shows you can see everything, right? You have to just trust the process.

Well, if you’ve been injured, chemically injured for a long period of time, even for a short period of time, you’ve been suffering from chemical sensitivity, somebody in the family has been, you know, how debilitating it is, how painful it is, how difficult it is to live with this disease. The thought of crossing your fingers and hoping that everybody did their job properly so that you don’t have mold in that cavity wall it’s difficult to think about, is difficult to live with. If you were told for X amount of dollars, and it’s hard to say in the project, but let’s say it’s an extra $2,000 to coat all of the cavity walls with the Caliwel product and now you don’t have to worry about mold in those walls. That’s one more thing that allows you to hopefully sleep a little better at night, right? It’s that insurance policy. So this is what we’re talking about folks. If you are very, very concerned that you’re just not going to get it all, you’re not going to do it right, you can’t get to the actual root of the problem, then you’re better off considering the new project: a complete gut job instead of a small repainting project. Taking up that step further that allows you to get that good peace of mind.

Jay: You know, folks, Andy and I aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. If we think that you can, and we’ve got the experience, so we’ve both been counseling for many, many years now. We have the experience to know through our anecdotal storytelling and what we’ve seen happen. There are situations we can feel real comfortable telling you this is a fix.

But then there’s going to be some, after we hear the evidence and we’re going to say, forget the fix, right? You gotta you gotta tear it down. You got to pull out. You’ve got to start with some new material, right? Otherwise it’s going to be a study in frustration and a waste of money.

Andy: And I’ve dealt with over 20,000, probably more, chemically sensitive clients over the years and each and every one of you gives me a different perspective and I also, I mean really it’s hard not to feel every single situation to heart, you know?

Jay: Oh, it’s so difficult. I’d take it all to heart and yeah, especially understanding and certain situations, that financial burden that it places on the person, it’s inconceivable.

Andy: Right. And so because of that experience and I know you have the exact same thought on this Jay, same experiences, which would be- if somebody asked me what is my educated professional opinion to do this or do that, the last thing I want to do is sugarcoat it or, or tell you what you want to hear. I will tell you what you need to hear. And sometimes it’s a tough pill to swallow. If it’s tough for you to swallow, imagine what it’s like for me to say it because I don’t like being the bearer of bad news sometimes. But on the other hand, it needs to be said and case in point: I had a client just today, they’re designing a home and their builder is really pushing them to use spray foam. And you all know what I think about that. It’s toxic sludge. They said, yeah, but the energy efficiency in the sealing you’re going to get. And I said, you know what, if you save a dollar a month in your energy bill because of spray foam but it off gases for the next six years, or you really think you’re really helping yourself with an energy savings?

Andy: And I try to put it into something that they’ll understand; you’re saving 10 bucks, 15 bucks a year in energy. What’s the upside? And sometimes when clients hire me for a project, um, not everybody in the household is on the same page. And we’ve talked about this before, Jay, one or the other has a severe sensitivity or just has more of a concern than the other. I certainly won’t point any fingers, but it’s, generally speaking, us fellows of the household, we feel that, sometimes these issues are a little bit exaggerated. The mom in the household will say yes, but what about the kids? They have smaller lungs, they have smaller immune systems to begin with. I mean, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. The difficulty is talking shop to both of them, talking facts and figures to both of them, and making sure they understand each other.

Jay: Going back to your concept of having an analysis that provides information that everyone can take a look at and understand. Not speculation, but here’s the facts. This is what we’re dealing with. It’s this and this and this and this and this and this. And once we have that, then both parties in the decision making are educated enough to make a logical decision as opposed to one that becomes very, very emotional. The idea at that point is you want to kind of take the emotional quotient out of it and be more factual and logical about it to say, okay. And then step forward from that position. But you never want to be in a combative kind of mode with one another. When you’re making these ideas come to fruition, you’ve got to say, okay, let’s get the facts and let’s make the best decision for our family, for our health. I don’t know anyone that’s going to argue with that with the health idea. We don’t want to be healthy in this house. That doesn’t make sense. Of course it makes sense. We want to be healthy.

Andy: Well, and here’s where it comes down to as well, is through this process, you may actually find that there are some things that we look at and say, I just don’t think it’s worth the investment. We may get a slight health benefit for this or that, but at the end of the day, could those dollars be used somewhere else in the home to make a bigger, healthier impact? There’s a term that’s used in our industry, it’s called ‘value engineering’. So value engineering comes from the commercial building industry, which means that the client has a budget of $10 million to build this office building. The estimates come back and it’s at $15 million.

So the general contractor or the construction manager will say, well, we’ll value engineer this. We’ll get rid of those five, that $5 million. And essentially they go through all the bids and they find less expensive versions of what the architect and the engineer drew up. As long as it meets the intent and it looks the same. Let’s see how we can make this less expensive and make it affordable. Well, I call in our industry, I call it healthy value engineering. If it’s gonna cost you $40,000 to put a metal roof on the house and $15,000 for an asphalt shingles, is that $25,000 extra for the metal roof really going to impact the health of the occupants of the home? Generally speaking? No, it’s not. So you can either save that $25,000 or use that for other things in the home that will have a direct impact.

Jay: Right. Spending the money in all the right places. Exactly. Wasn’t there a song about that? Finding love or looking for love in all the wrong places?

Andy: That’s right. This is all kind of ties in together Jay in that when you’re looking at a project larger, small, these are the considerations that you have to have. And you know, and we’d like to talk about especially with our consultations because we want to make sure you’re thinking of these things so it’s not a, Oh, I wish I would have thought of that, at the wrong time.

Jay: You know, we’re going to have some interviews coming up here later in the year where we’re talking to builders and they’re going to be really interesteding because they’re going to be able to share some of the stories that they’re developing and the experiences are having as they’re doing what they’re doing, building healthy homes. And so getting a perspective from the builder and themselves and when we have that interview, we’ll be able to bring up the subject, talking about where’s the money best spent and all of that. So that’s going to be some exciting future podcasts coming.

Andy: Excellent. So I think we’re gonna leave it there folks. It’s a very, very important topic. We don’t certainly want to go overboard with this, but we wanted to stress that when you’re looking at these projects, you always want to look at different sides and make the determination. How do you make that determination which way you should go? Well, it all comes down to these conversations that you have with everybody in the household who’s got a thought on this and then reach out to me and reach out to Jay and hopefully we can kind of boil things down in a way that is very understandable. Something you can jump on when the time was right.

Jay: Couldn’t say it better myself partner.

Andy: All right sir. So you have yourself a great holiday weekend.

Jay: You too. I will.

Andy: And folks, we really appreciate you listening to the show. We’d love it if you could give us a five star rating and a review on iTunes and tell your family and friends about the show. We’ve gotten a lot of new listeners in the last couple of weeks, received a number of emails Jay, from people who never heard the show before and they were just shocked to see that we had 70 some episodes already. We’ve been working. It’s really, really exciting to, to hear from folks all over the world who are enjoying the show. So pass it along to your family and friends and we look forward to coming back with you next week.

Jay: Adios everyone.

Andy: Adios. Take care.


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