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Remodeling Q&A

Don't Add Room, Move Laundry Out of Kitchen


Today marks the debut of a monthly column that will answer readers' questions on remodeling.


Question: I have a small problem with my kitchen. Actually it's a pretty big kitchen, but my washer and dryer are in an alcove off to one side and because the alcove doesn't have a door, it looks unfinished. I can't add a door because it would interfere with my back door. I wanted to build a new utility room for the appliances and turn the alcove into a small eating area. The two estimates I solicited were astronomical. What can I do?


Los Angeles

Answer: Adding a new small room to a house is unbelievably expensive. After an existing wall of your house is demolished and the trash taken to bulk up landfills, you then need a new foundation, plumbing, electrical, flooring, walls, roofing and all that has to be matched and blended with the old house.

In fact, what you propose adding--a new, small room--is the most expensive addition per square foot you could imagine. Larger additions have the best cost-per-square-footage value.

It's possible you're stuck on this one, unworkable solution to your problem. But here's a much better idea: Relocate your washer and dryer to another part of the house, like a closet near the bedrooms, closer to where your dirty clothes are.

Whoever designed houses with the washer and dryer near the kitchen had two goals: 1) to save money on plumbing costs by placing major appliances close together, and 2) to keep the laundry near the kitchen so the homemaker could spend the whole day in one spot.

Unless you are such a homemaker, I say lose the washer-dryer from the kitchen area, move them to a closet and create a dining area in the alcove where you can relax with the morning newspaper.

Don't do this: It's much too expensive to add a small room to your house.

Do this: Instead, use wasted space that's already in your house. If you need to clean out a closet and donate the stuff to the Goodwill to make room for a washer and dryer, do it.

Owner of Historic Home Needs Artisan

Q: Our family recently purchased a 78-year-old home that needs of a lot of repairs, especially to its dozens of doors and windows. I don't know how to find someone who knows how to restore an old house without taking away its historic integrity.

I've met many contractors and handymen through the Yellow Pages, but I am unimpressed thus far. Can you please help?



A: You need to look for help in all the right places. If you love your home, you want a genius working on it. An artisan. A saint. Ask at local retail shops if anyone knows a good craftsperson specializing in old, precious, beloved homes.

For instance, paint store employees know which craftspeople specialize in woodwork or windows. Or find a shop that sells old, restored or reproduction lighting fixtures that go in those old homes. Surely someone in that business knows of craftspeople who work on older homes.

And finally, if you're a brave soul, stop by a house in an area that's being restored and ask who's doing the work. Often, the contractor will put out a sign with a phone number. Contractors usually know all the good artisans.

Don't do this: Don't expect artisan-level work from a handyman-type person.

Do this: Instead, find an artisan to refinish delicate, old or precious doors, windows and woodwork, and be prepared to pay a fair price for the time and talent.

Quality of Life, Not Just Investment, Is at Stake

Q: We own a 2,500-square-foot house in a very good neighborhood. The house was built in the 1960s and the kitchen and floor plan are dated. For instance, the dining room sits between the kitchen and the family room. Our plan is to flip-flop the kitchen and the dining room so the kitchen is next to the family room. My wife wants the kids nearby while she cooks dinner.

The estimate we have on the whole job is about $60,000 with the kitchen only coming in at about $40,000. Will we get that money back when we sell the house? We are trying to decide if we should invest the $60,000 on the major remodel or if we should just redo the kitchen in its present floor plan and save $20,000.



A: Changing an outdated floor plan to bring the kitchen and family room together is a great idea. That '60s floor plan was patterned after large, ritzy homes where the wealthy wanted to be as far as possible from the help in the kitchen. And so families today end up segregated in their own homes--those who cook are in the kitchen and those who watch television, do homework, talk, read or work on the family computer are on the opposite side of the house.

As for the return on your investment, ask a home sales expert. If you plan on selling within a few years, choose a real estate agent now or at least talk to a few about how remodeling will affect the selling price of your home.

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