Preliminary Guesstimates

We are often asked to provide preliminary estimates for building and renovation projects, prior to the development of clear and definitive plans and specifications. Estimates are, of course, more accurate with a fully realized set of construction documents. But we know that preliminary estimates are a good way for architects and owners to get a rough idea of the cost of projects before fully committing to a design. Sometimes, preliminary plans have enough information to provide fairly accurate pricing, but in some cases, by necessity, estimates are more like guesstimates. In these situations, numbers will be based on our experience and whatever information we can gather from the architect and owner regarding the level of finishes.

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Preliminary Guesstimates

Job Site Dangers in the Construction Business

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

Building construction is a dangerous business. At a time when many jobs have moved from factory floors to cubicles, and from farms to malls, construction remains something that must be done on-site, by actual people. Those people, the people who work on your homes, face potential dangers every day. Electrical hazards, falls, and injuries from tools make up the majority of injuries suffered each year.

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Job Site Dangers in the Construction Business

Old, Virgin Growth Lumber and Alternatives

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

Having worked on old homes and structures in New England for the last 40 years, we continue to be impressed with the durability of the lumber used before the 20th century. Most of the exterior trim installed in the 17th, 18th and most of the 19th century came from virgin timber. These were trees that had grown close together, undisturbed, sometimes for centuries. The result of this "slow growth " was a tree with much tighter ring patterns, which created a harder, stronger piece of lumber that had more resistance to rot and insect damage. One of the most remarkable common places we still see this type of trim lumber is in window sills. Though window sills take a beating, and they might look worn and rutted, many sills continue to remain almost completely sound, sometimes centuries after they were installed.

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Old, Virgin Growth Lumber and Alternatives

Local Historical Commissions - - On Your Team

You just purchased an historic house in an historic neighborhood. You have planned some needed improvements to the building and now your contractor or designer informs you that you need to meet with the local historical commission in order to get these changes approved. What is going on here? Isn’t this your property? What right does some unelected commission have to tell you what you can do with your own property?

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 Local Historical Commissions - - On Your Team

Prevent Winter Freeze Ups

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

As I write this, we have a daytime high temperature of 9 deg F with a 22 mph wind, which makes me very thankful that I am no longer required to be outside swinging a hammer in all kinds of weather.

 

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Prevent Winter Freeze Ups

Protect Your Property from Extreme Weather

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

I just recently returned from a week long, fun-in-the sun vacation and while I was there, I couldn't help but reflect on the impressive deposit of snow we received prior to my departure. And now, we have yet anothersnow storm to hit New England this week. While I'm getting ready to put on the snowshoes and have some fun (in what hopefully is our last round of snow), I'm sure it's no fun for the people along the North and South shores who are dealing with yet another storm surge. There's just no question that the climate is changing and getting more severe. "You don't need a weather man..." etc. 

 

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Protect Your Property from Extreme Weather

Deferred Maintenance, If Your Roof Could Talk

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.  

Hey there, I'm your roof ... Hello?! Remember me?

Let's be open and both acknowledge that you don't usually give me the time of day until I start leaking.  It's OK, I'm used to being ignored. I noticed that you were a bit more attentive to my needs this winter, although only as it impacted you. Still, I like your involvement and new-found interest. But just to clue you in,  the other exterior components of  your house and I had it pretty rough these last few months. Known for the first hundred thousand years of human history as " the stuff that keeps water and wind out of the ... " ( and you can fill in the blank here: cave, tipi, igloo, yurt, hovel, house. double-wide ... ),  in the last 20 years we've somehow become your "building envelope." I don't know who thought we resemble a piece of stationery, but I guess I can see the analogy.

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Deferred Maintenance, If Your Roof Could Talk

Solutions to the Damn Ice Dams

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.  

We're having quite a winter here in the Boston area. Here at S+H Construction, we are getting dozens and dozens of calls from unfortunate people who have water leaking into their homes from ice dams. Icicles can be beautiful, but they are an indication that some ice damming is taking place. 

 

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Solutions to the Damn Ice Dams

Contemplation, Planning and the Elements of Design

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

Last night I looked out over a frozen pond with the full moon above. The shadows of the trees were beautifully etched in the snow. As I surveyed the landscape of the winter-that- never-ends, I've been thinking about the Native-Americans who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They lived through winters like this, but spent the long winter nights in hide-covered wigwams. It certainly must have affected the mindset of these people, to live four or five months of the year inside structures made of saplings covered with animal hide, with the natural world locked away in the ice and snow.

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Contemplation, Planning and the Elements of Design

The Benefit of a Good Architect or Designer

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

The residential construction industry is on the rise, which is great news. But lately we've noticed a tendency of owners trying to build or renovate without good, solid design plans. This is not anything new, but seems to be more prevalent these days. Perhaps it's a side effect of the recession, or, as one architect recently said to me "the commoditizing of our industry." I'm not quite sure the reason, but what I do know is that undertaking a home building or home remodeling project without a complete set of architectural plans is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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The Benefit of a Good Architect or Designer

Urban Living Revisited

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.  

After four years of self-imposed exile in the far suburbs I recently moved back to the city. There is nothing better than being out in nature with the blue herons, owls, hawks and flocks of turkeys you call your neighbors, but in time the solitude and beauty of living out in the woods can be offset by long and frustrating commute and the occasional feeling of isolation. Fun fact: In the past four years, I've driven approximately 40,000 miles for my daily commute alone, taking up upwards of 1,500 hours of time or around two months of my life. 

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Urban Living Revisited

The Difference Between Cost-Plus and Fixed Cost Contracts

By Doug Hanna, principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

Recently I attended a three-day retreat with a group of contractors from different areas of the United States. This was an introductory meeting to see if our company would "make the cut" and be voted into this advisory group of contractors. We were indeed voted into the group and so will attend a couple of meetings a year going forward. We regularly meet with local contractor/competitors involved in residential renovation and building at networking and trade association events, where we always have an interesting exchange of ideas and experiences. However this retreat allowed for more direct and honest criticism to be exchanged (along with the excuse to eat and drink more than usual). The contractors in the group come from non-competing markets, giving them the ability to share experiences and advice in a more open manner, without giving away all the state secrets.

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The Difference Between Cost-Plus and Fixed Cost Contracts

Living In a Construction Site - - Stay or Go?

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc. 

It's one of my favorite Clash songs. But it's also the subject of this month's letter because I'm referring to the decision many owners face when renovating their home. Along with other questions we typically ask people, today it is more important than ever to know whether an owner or family intends to stay in their home during a renovation.

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Living In a Construction Site - - Stay or Go?

Contractors Insurance - - What Homeowners Should Know

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

Remodeling your home or building a new one is always very exciting. The anticipation of finally having your "dream house" can sometimes overshadow some of the issues that tend to get lost in the shuffle. Yes, it is critical that you use a contractor, architect and designer that are a good fit for your project. But in the process, it is critical that you make sure your "team" - specifically your contractor, carries the appropriate insurance. Proper insurance is the "safety net" that protects everyone involved.

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Contractors Insurance - - What Homeowners Should Know

What Contractors Wish Homeowners Knew

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

Recently, I was asked a popular question from an editor at SheKnows.com, "What do contractors wish homeowners knew?" With the popularity of DIY-everything nowadays, homeowners may be feeling a little more ambitious to do their own home renovation or remodeling. While there are some projects that can be done without hiring a contractor, we feel the bulk of your remodel or renovation should come from a professional. Given the complexity of today's projects, the new building technologies and the increasingly rigorous requirements of municipal, state and federal agencies, most projects are better left to licensed contractors.

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What Contractors Wish Homeowners Knew

Why Use a General Contractor

Live and learn. That still holds true for us at S + H Construction, even though we’ve been in this business for almost 35 years. Some of what we learn falls under the category of “you can’t make this up,” while other things are just old realizations that get reinforced with each passing year. We’ve noticed that the learning process is also true for a new generation of homeowners who, just as with generations past, are learning by experience the enduring truths about renovation work and new construction and why it’s important to hire a legitimate general contractor. With an abundance of home improvement and “home – flippers” shows, many people are led to believe that being a general contractor is something that anyone can do or manage while learning on the fly. 

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Why Use a General Contractor

Building Consultations - - Costs and Benefits

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

A recent online discussion in the builder’s group NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) sparked some strong opinions from builders across the country. The hot topic being discussed is whether builders should charge for consultations and if so, how much. 

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Building Consultations - - Costs and Benefits

How to Choose a Contractor

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.  

Contrary to the sworn oath of the brotherhood/sisterhood of general contractors, we builders do sometimes try to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer. We understand that it can be daunting for homeowners to start down the road of choosing a contractor. There are many aspects to take into consideration including quality, price, reputation, length of time in business, NSA watch-list status, etc. Notice that I put quality in front of price. Many people focus on price first, and while that is certainly important, especially if the budget is limited, selecting a contractor is not as simple as selecting, say, a trash can. 

 

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How to Choose a Contractor

Volatility in the Greater Boston Real Estate Market

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.  

The current crazy ride in the local real estate market may seem unprecedented, but it's happened before. In 1981, as new parents, my wife and I bought a triple-decker in Somerville. The day we moved in the neighbor from across the street strolled over and greeted me as follows: "Ya paid too much for it!"  Three years later, when we sold the house for more than twice the amount we paid, I paid a visit to my neighbor, who had become a friend, and gave him the news. He just shook his head.

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Volatility in the Greater Boston Real Estate Market

Cambridge Historical Marker Returns to Original Location

On April 30th, S+H Construction assisted the Cambridge Historical Society and placed a historical granite marker, from the year of 1880, to its original location after being uncovered at a construction site, where it previously sat for 66 years. The marker was inscribed in 1880 by the city of Cambridge as a part of their 250th anniversary of their founding. The marker was at the corner of an 1869 building at Dunster and Mount Auburn and it marked the site of the first meeting house erected in 1632. When the building was demolished in 1929, the marker was dumped in a landfill near Fresh Pond. In 1947 the Continental Can Company built a factory on top of the marker and there it sat for 66 years until its discovery this year at the Fawcett Street construction site.

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Cambridge Historical Marker Returns to Original Location

Structural Stability and Building Soils in Greater Boston and Cambridge

If you are buying or remodeling a house in any of the historic neighborhoods of Cambridge or greater Boston, it can be useful to know about the history, and geohistory, of the building soils that underlay them. The urban landscape appears to be one undifferentiated expanse, but due to glaciation, there is some variety to the materials we find below grade. If you are noting any subsidence (sinking) or cracking in the foundation area, and are concerned about the stability of the structure, understand that this can be a function of the composition of the soils that it was built upon. Will it perhaps require fieldstone foundation waterproofing? You may want to find out.

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Structural Stability and Building Soils in Greater Boston and Cambridge

A Win For Solar Energy Installations in Massachusetts

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

A recent court decision should help increase the number of solar panels installed in the Commonwealth. Last month, the Massachusetts Superior Court issued a summary judgment that overruled part of a 2009 memorandum to wiring inspectors from the Massachusetts State Board of Electrical Examiners (BSEE). The BSEE memorandum stated that only companies controlled by master electricians were allowed to advertise or contract for solar photovoltaic (PV)  projects in the state. A few companies, including S + H Construction, had been cited by the BSEE as being in violation of this memorandum, had been issued summonses and were facing significant fines. These actions threatened to change the standard structure of many solar companies in Massachusetts.

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A Win For Solar Energy Installations in Massachusetts

The Radiance of Radiant Heating

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.  

Radiant heating heats objects like the furniture, the drapes, the dog, and you. We are big fans of radiant heat and have been installing both kinds, forced hot water and electric, since it became popular about 15-20 years ago.  In whole house renovations the walls and ceilings are exposed so the opportunity for installing radiant heating is easier and therefore less expensive.

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The Radiance of Radiant Heating

Geothermal Wells - - Drilling for Free Energy

Yes, you can drill for free energy in your own backyard, without fracking or contributing in the slightest to your carbon footprint, by sinking a geothermal well. This technology enables you to tap into the earth to provide heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.  Outdoor temperatures change with the seasons but below ground, they remain steady. About four feet below grade (in eastern Massachusetts), temperatures remain constant year-round, around 50 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  A geothermal system leverages this temperature differential by circulating water below ground in order to heat (or cool) it, relative to the surface temperature, in order to furnish virtually free energy. This energy can be used for heating, cooling or for hot water.

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Geothermal Wells - - Drilling for Free Energy

New Systems - - Old Radiators

Existing cast iron steam radiators can be easily reused in modern heating system upgrades. Sometimes richly detailed, these radiators are often part of the original design fabric, and homeowners want to retain them, just as they would for any original historical element in their home. In addition to their historic beauty, their greater mass enables them to hold and radiate heat for a longer time than conventional, modern finned copper pipe, thereby contributing to a steadier mean temperature.

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New Systems - - Old Radiators

Historic Roxbury Puddingstone - True Native Stone

One of the most beautiful and interesting local historic materials found in the greater Boston built environment is what is called Roxbury Puddingstone. This is a native sandstone inlaid with granite pebbles and fragments of quartz and then metamorphisized into something hard enough to build with. Historically, it was used to construct masonry walls and foundations throughout the Boston area and quarried in Roxbury, Brookline, Brighton and Newton. In many cases, quarried is too formal a word, as the stone used was often blasted out of the building site itself, in the process of excavation. 

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Historic Roxbury Puddingstone - True Native Stone