July 22, 2008
Bring Dead Space to Life ; Remodels Add Value to Homes
By MARY AMOROSO, SPECIAL TO THE RECORD
For the Tenazas family, it all started with the hot tub.They had a hot tub installed on the deck of their Upper Saddle River home about three years ago. But when the weather turned cold, they found themselves dreading the thought of making the dash from the hot tub to the house.
"We were thinking that in the winter time, it's too cold to get out there," said Mary Lou Tenazas.
So they decided to turn part of the deck into more usable space by installing a three-season sunroom, at a cost of about $25,000. Now they're able to use the hot tub through more of the year, and enjoy the sunroom.
Decks are not the only place homeowners target when they want to transform little-used space into increased living areas. Basements, attics, closets, garages, even the dead space under the stairs: All can become additional living space with imagination and some remodeling.
And in the weak real estate market, remodeling underused space is a way to "trade up" without selling and moving, or even expanding beyond the footprint of the house.
"Today, we're doing more full remodels than new construction," said kitchen designer Ned Spenadel of Home Supply in Hawthorne. "We used to see more people coming in with blueprints for a new home or for a grandiose addition. Now we're seeing people who want to work with the space they have and redesignate the space that they have."
Mayan Metzler, president and co-founder of the New York-based remodeling company MyHome, which has a showroom in Paramus, said there are four basic areas for capturing underused space: the deck, the basement, the garage often turned into a workshop and the attic.
In a kitchen remodel, designer Spenadel said homeowners often sacrifice the dining room which may be used only a couple of times a year to get a larger, gathering-place kitchen.
"In older homes, where the priority wasn't on the size of the kitchen, opening up the walls to the adjoining dining room gives you space that will be used every day," Spenadel said.
Ralph Zielinski of R & R Remodelers in Clifton said that even a few feet of little-used space can make a world of difference.
"People looking for larger bathrooms may take a foot or two of adjoining closet space," said Zielinski. "And some people are opening the space under the stairwell and making it a little desk area."
A powder room is another option for the under-the-stairwell space.
Basements used to be the cavernous unfinished space where the furnace was king, the washer and dryer lived, and out-of-season gear was stored.
Today, the basement is a popular choice for annexing space for living. Basements, however, have special issues: a greater likelihood of dampness, mold, even flooding.
Manufacturers such as Owens Corning have developed basement finishing systems of wall panels and flooring that are mold- resistant, sound-dampening and quick to install.
"You're taking wasted space and turning it into living space," said Scott Keegan, the general manager of CKH Industries in Lodi, the local franchise for the Owens Corning Basement Finishing System. "The product absorbs 95 percent of noise, which makes it good for a home theater. The product does not promote mold growth. We do a drop ceiling and install the electric. There's special flooring that goes down and floats on the cement."
The system takes about two weeks to install. Because there's no cutting of drywall, there's very little construction dust and it doesn't need to be painted.
Keegan said his company has done 6,000 basement installations in the past five years, including about 2,000 in North Jersey. Neither Keegan nor a spokesperson for Owens-Corning would offer a per- square-foot price, but postings by consumers on the Web indicate it's around $30,000 for an average basement room.
"This costs a fraction of what it would cost to put an addition on a home," Keegan said.
Attics are another place to steal space. Move out the trunks, the racks of off-season clothes, and the old furniture and turn the space into another bedroom, an office or a playroom.
Rita Lyons, an interior designer from Midland Park, worked on an old Ridgewood home for a large family.
"I used every nook and cranny," she said. "I ran shelves around the top of each child's room for storage. I put a sitting area in the basement. I did an addition in the attic for a home office and the girls' play area."
The issue with reclaiming space in the attic is the pitch of the roof, said Theresa Markosian, business manager of On The Spot remodelers of Saddle Brook.
"When you go up there, you often don't have a lot of head space," she said. "When you do a remodeling of the attic, you often have to redo the roof."
Sunrooms that can be installed on existing decks are a quick way to add space that can be used much of the year.
David Card of Admiral Sunrooms in Lakewood, the manufacturer of the Tenazas family sunroom, said, "The installation project can start on a Monday, and by the weekend, people can be putting furniture in."
Bert Tallaksen of Tally's Construction in Tenafly said he's converted attached garages into bedrooms, family rooms and dens. He's also remodeled a number of bi-levels or split-levels to create an extended-family unit in existing home space.
"We've done about 20 conversions in the last five years to create a separate living area for grandparents," said Tallaksen. "We do a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room area, and a breakfast bar with a sink and a microwave. In Bergen County, you can't do a second full kitchen in a home if you're not in a two-family area. The cost for a 300- to 400-square-foot unit is $15,000 to $20,000."
Diane Lotwis annexed space in various parts of her Wyckoff home when she did a major kitchen remodeling and expansion recently.
"We like our house, we like the area we live in, we wanted more usable space," Lotwis said. "We took space for the new kitchen from a little laundry room and a pantry next to the old kitchen. Then we put a new laundry room into space we took from the garage."
The Lotwis family also had their unfinished basement turned into a second living room, using panels from the Better Basement Company. Now their 11-year-old daughter has a place to play with friends.
The entire project took three months. But Lotwis said it was well worth the time and expense.
"We are thrilled to death," said Lotwis. "Every day I walk into this kitchen and say, 'I love this kitchen.' "
Is it worth the money?
Will you recoup your remodeling investment at the resale of your home? Homeowners in the Middle Atlantic region in 2007 got back the following percentage of original costs:
Attic bedroom: 77%
Basement remodel: 75%
Kitchen remodel: 74-78%
Sunroom addition: 59%
Source: Remodeling Magazine's 2007 Cost vs. Value Survey
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