Green Portland: A Design & Remodeling Blog

Presented by Green Design & Remodeling to increase knowledge about home design and remodeling

The Cost of Remodeling October 3, 2013

NE Kitchen

Everyone wonders what their project will cost.  Will I be able to afford what I want to do?  If I have a budget, what can I get for it?  Will it cost more?  Remodeling Magazine provides a great Cost vs. Value report every year that can give you a very good idea of what remodeling projects cost in every area of the country.  For instance, a midrange, major kitchen remodel in Portland can easily cost $55,000 according to the Remodeling 2012–13 Cost vs. Value Report (  Take a look at their charts to get an idea of costs vs. what you might recoup at resale.  You can also compare your city to the area or the national average.


I Want To Remodel My Home, Why Do I Need A Designer? November 3, 2008

So you want to remodel your home, you have a pretty good idea on what you want to do and you are about to go out and find yourself a contractor. This is all well and good, but have you talked to a designer yet? You may ask, “why do I need a designer, I just said I know what I want!” You may think you know what you want—but do you really?
Here is my list of the top ten reasons to hire a designer, from least important to most.

10. A designer makes you look like you are really cool.
Okay, so maybe this is not a great reason, but it does help you. A good designer knows the industry. They can introduce you to contractors, showrooms, and order sample materials for you. This makes you seem really put together when you are talking to your bank, or just your friends.

9. A designer knows color.
Probably the first thing someone thinks of when interior design is mentioned is color. And although I don’t like it one bit when people confuse interior designers with decorators (we are NOT the Sugerbaker’s), this is one area we have in common. Almost all designers, whether they are graphic, industrial, or interior usually have a good education when it comes to color theory.

8. A designer knows more then color.
A professional designer has gone to school. And not just a two week course you see on late night TV. Real, honest to goodness formal, professional schooling. Did you know that in Portland alone there are two Universities teaching Interior Design, as well as, PCC.  So what on Earth does an interior designer learn in all this schooling?—I mean you can’t spend four years studying just color. We learn everything from basic design principles, to building structures, appropriateness of materials, history, art, sustainability and most important: safety. We not only make spaces wonderful to be in, but hopefully also keep Grandma from slipping on the bathroom tile.

7. A designer can draw.
Not only can a good designer quickly sketch out an idea, but most can draft as well. This means they will place together a full set of plans and elevations so you can get permits and the contractor has something to build from. No remodeling project is complete without some form of drawings.

6. A designer understands space.
I am not talking about that place were all the stars live. I mean your kitchen, your living room, your entire house.  We understand how people move through spaces, what they first see when they walk into a new space, and how people use things that are in that space. I bet you have been in kitchen where everything is just not were it should be—well, a designer can help correct that from happening.

5. A designer knows there way around town.
Designers have knowledge and access to all the showrooms in town.  All the tile, carpeting, paint and counters you will ever want to see, as well as all the hardware, plumbing fixtures, and lights that can be working in your house. This is a major benefit; this means you are not limited to what is sold at Home Depot or Lowes.  A designer can open doors to possibilities that you never knew existed. Best of all, we are not always talking more money, often times a designer can find fantastic things for a great price.

4. A designer knows price.
If, like most people, you have to stay within a budget the best way to do so is with a designer. Understanding the difference from a $30,000 kitchen and a $80,000 kitchen is a big deal. A lot of clients I have run across in the past have no idea what something should cost.  A designer—although not the greatest job we have, can bring a project into perspective. Sometimes this means you have to give up that fantastic $8000.00 rare granite counter and look to a granite that is a little more common and overstocked. This doesn’t have to be a huge dream buster, a designer can often find good deals to bring a project back into budget.

3. Water and electricity don’t mix—or do they?
A designer understands how to lay out an electrical plan, usually what the current code requires, and how to make sure that your house stays safe. A designer also understands plumbing—and not just the pretty toilet sitting in the corner. We understand what it takes to move that toilet out of the corner, and how best to plumb a new bathroom addition. When dealing with plumbing and electrical a professional designer knows what needs to be there, were it needs to go, and how to make sure that it is safe and will pass inspection.

2. A designer knows how a house is built.
Believe it or not, architects and contractors are not the only ones that know how a house is put together; a designer knows too, and maybe even better then an architect or contractor. When I am working on placing a job together I think of all the phases it takes to get that kitchen sink up and running. Everything from the demolition (what stays and what goes), to framing, plumbing, electrical, insulation, sheetrock, etc. This helps in what I think might be the most important thing a designer can do for you…
1. A designer knows how to write specifications.
When a contractor goes to start a job he needs two very important documents: the drawings (see above) and specifications. This is a laundry list of everything that is and is not on the plans. It includes everything: what kind of lumber to use, what type of sheetrock, what sink was selected, right down to the color on the walls. Because my firm is design build, my specifications also include everything that is to be demoed, what needs to be saved for reuse, what is being donated and what is to be recycled or trashed. It also includes how all the debris from building the job is to be handled and how the jobsite should be left at the end of each day. In the end the specifications are your contract on what and how the job is suppose to be. They should be as detailed as possible so everyone is on the same page.

So there it is—my top ten reasons for hiring a designer. I would love to hear questions and read comments on your thoughts about designers. I believe there is still a lot of education that the general design community needs to do to let people know what we do. I hope this has helped.
Many thanks,
Daniel Milligan


Be Choosy When Choosing a Contractor October 27, 2008

Choosing a contractor can be and should be a difficult task. Often times you will be living with this person for months, so it is important to be sure you have a good working relationship with them before you get started. I have a few thoughts on this, but before we get to that lets make a checklist:

1. Does the contractor have his/her license? -Most states and cities require that contractors have a license in order to work on other peoples houses. For example, in Oregon, all contractors are required to be licensed with the Construction Contractors Board (CCB). Usually to have the license they need to be insured and bonded. Just in case, ask them for their insurance papers.

2. Does the contractor have his business in order? -Ask to see his/her business licence. If their business is not properly registered do you really want them working in your house?

3. What associations do the contractors belong to? -There are two big national associations that help out construction contractors, the National Builders Association and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

4. Does the contractor have any liens on his/her projects? What is the cause? -Most states allow contractors and sub-contractors to place liens on houses if they have not been paid in due time. If the general contractor has placed a lien on a house, that usually means he has a client that has not paid him, if his sub-contractors have a lien on the house, that means that the general contractor has not paid his subs. It is okay to ask why this has happened.

5. Does the contractor have references? – If you are still a little hesitant about hiring someone, then ask for references. Good contractors and produce two or three references right away.

6. How does the contractor price projects? -This is a big one! If your project is over $5000.00, you better see at least two or three subcontractors coming by to see your job. Be very wary if the contractor is giving you a bid based on square footage or just off the top of his head. A well ESTIMATED project means that everyone that is going to work your house has come by to look at and given the general their price. -Remember too that no general contractor can give you a “FIRM PRICE.” That is total BS (excuse the French). There is always at least one thing that will come up during construction. Remember to set aside an additional 8-10% of the job cost.

7. One last thing you should ask: How are payments made on your project? -If you are doing a $150,000.00 addition, you do not want to hand the whole amount over at once. Make sure there are appropriate progess payments in place. For example 30/20/20/20/10.

So now that I have given a few things to think about, lets talk about the design. Who is doing the design work? You the client, the contractor, or have you hired a designer/architect? Here is my thinking–and granted I am totally biased, but it is grounded in some logic. You should always consult with a designer!

“Why? I have perfectly good taste! Thank you very much!” This may be true, you might have impeccable taste, but do you know what all is involved? Do you know your local codes? Do you know how things are built and placed together?

“Okay, fine! I will have my contractor review my design.” Very good idea, but don’t expect a general contractor to know a good design when he sees one.

“So what do I need a designer for?” A designer can offer a number of services. For example, most designers know the majority of showrooms in the area and can point you to new places to look for things like tile, counters, appliances, hardware, cabinets, etc. A designer knows when you do and do not need an architect. If you are moving a bearing wall, or changing the exterior often times all you need is engineering. Architects are great, don’t get me wrong, but they are expensive and a designer can save you a ton of their time by helping get straight to the point.

“But designers are expensive too!” This can be true. In fact I know a lot of designers that charge by the hour, and the costs can skyrocket if the client has a hard time making choices. In my firm, as long as we are planning on building the project, we charge a flat rate for the design. This keeps costs low up front and allows us and the client to get to know each other better.

“You mean I can hire a designer who does contracting?” Yes! It is often referred to as design/build. But again, be wary! If a company says they are design/build, ask for their design credentials.

I will write another entry later this week on how to choose a good designer. Until then, I hope you have found this article helpful, and please check out our website at

Thanks for reading!

Daniel Milligan