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Planning, price, & timeline overview - Remodeling a home in the Bay Area

January 14, 2021

Let’s assume that you’re reading this because you want to remodel a part of your home. Maybe it's the idea of having a more spacious and updated kitchen or extending your living room a few square feet that has you doing the research. Either way, in this article we will be thorough in going through some questions you should ask yourself, your local building department, and your builder to see if you’re ready to start the remodeling process.

Overview of the permitting process

Project you need and don’t need permits for

As a general rule of thumb, your builder will need to get permits for any project over $500 and projects that fall outside the scope of the list mentioned below:

  • Building a fence taller than 7 feet high
  • Minor electrical and plumbing repairs without replacing existing wiring or piping
  • Painting, wallpapering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, countertops and similar finish work
  • Building movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters and partitions up to 5 feet 9 inches high without electrical
  • Building a one-story detached building used for storage or a children’s playhouse with a floor area up to 120 square feet and without electricity, plumbing, or heating
  • Building a retaining wall up to 4 feet high measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall and not supporting a surcharge (sloping ground, foundation, fence, etc.) or hazardous liquids.


Types of permits you’ll need

Like-to-like remodeling refers to a remodeling project that doesn’t change anything in the floor plan but simply updates the currently existing one.These types of remodels are fairly simple to get permit approvals for. So if you’re looking to update your flooring, counter tops, or change non-structural aesthetic elements of your home, you’re looking at a like-to-like remodel. 

If you’re changing the floor plan or knocking down a wall - load bearing or not - you will need plans from a structural engineer which is then subject to review by your local building department. If you’re moving or adding electrical or plumbing fixtures, you will need electrical and plumbing permits which are, again, subject to review by your local building department. 

Depending on the type of project, some cities are easier to work with than others. As an example, we find that the city of Danville is quick to respond and easy to get permit approvals from; roughly 2 - 3 weeks for like-to-like remodels. In contrast, the city of San Jose takes roughly 2-3 months to get the most basic permits approved. 

3D designs and floor plans

Why you should start with 3D designs

Remodeling a home is often driven by a desire to make your space look and function better. By having 3D designs done for your remodeling project, our 3D interior designers can quickly create a digital mockup of your space so you can get a clear idea of the look and feel of your remodeling ideas. At this point, making changes is easy to do and doesn't cost money.  

Once you’re happy with your 3D designs, your structural engineer can get to work and draw up structural plans based on the 3D renderings, your project manager can start coordinating the construction teams and materials to order, and can be used by your local building department as a reference when reviewing permits. 

Having 3D renderings creates a clear set of expectations for everyone involved in the construction process. If cost is a consideration, we suggest saving on the type of finish materials you select but invest in a good set of plans to begin with.

How long does it take and how much will it cost to get 3D designs?

3D designs are quite detailed so the time and cost of 3D designs are directly proportional to the size of your project. But as a ballpark figure, a standard bathroom at is 50 sq ft can take 4 days to complete, a standard 150 sq ft kitchen can take 2 weeks to complete, and for a 3,500 sq ft home takes about 5 weeks to complete. The price of each of the renders will depend on the type of materials, fixtures, and appliances you select but can range from $2,500 to $10,000. Simpler designs are quicker to create and thus less expensive.

The process of getting 3D designs 

  1. Initial meeting with the designers for them to take measurements and talk about your ideas, materials you want, and the aesthetic you’re going for. This takes about 1-2 hours.
  2. Designers will create a digital rough draft of the room and submit that to you for feedback. The rough draft is submitted to you in 1-2 weeks depending on the size of the project. 
  3. Revisions are made to the rough draft based on your feedback. The duration will vary depending on the number revisions you have.
  4. High resolution 3D renders are created and submitted to you and the project manager to use for the construction phase. High resolution 3D renders take 1-2 weeks to complete.

Are you ready to remodel your home?

Construction can be loud and dusty - h3

This is an important question to ask yourself especially when the property you’re thinking of remodeling is the one you’re living in. Construction will inevitably be loud and dusty. Additionally, you’ll have people that will need to come in and out of the property to do work. 

If the room you’re remodeling is a kitchen, a main bedroom or bathroom, we recommend planning your remodel when you’ll be on vacation or plan to stay somewhere else for the duration of the remodel. With Home Quality Remodeling, a project manager will be assigned to oversee the entire construction process and answer any of your questions so you can still be part of the project without having to be right in the middle of a construction site.

Cost of remodeling

With a clear set of plans, your project manager can give you a detailed ‘Scope of Work’ and price. The price you’ll get from your project manager will include the cost of demolition, disposal fees, labor, standard materials (rough materials), and installation of standard fixtures and standard finish materials. The quote from your project manager will not include the cost of building permits and inspections but will sometimes include the cost of getting structural plans if this was determined before construction begins. 

Note that the type of finish materials you select can drive up the cost of your project pretty quickly. Just as an example, you can buy prefabricated cabinets for $5,000 or get custom cabinets for $50,000. So work with your project manager or interior designer during the planning phase to select the finish materials so you’ll have a clear idea of the total project cost. 

Step by step process of building a new home

The information we’re sharing is generalized and not specific to any city in the Bay Area so check with your local building department to see what their requirements are for new construction homes.

We’ve laid out this section into phases with the permits and work needed to be done for each phase.

  1. Start with creating clear plans and 3D designs. As with any major undertaking, creating a clear set of expectations and plans on how to execute on them is key to making sure everyone involved is happy with the end result. If you’re looking to build your home from the ground up, this is at times easier to get permits and approval for as opposed to remodeling an existing home. Existing homes typically require your builder to bring it up to date with building codes and this may require additional unforeseen work. 
  2. Get architectural plans and structural plans. This phase goes a lot quicker with the 3D designs from the earlier phase. Blue prints and engineer’s drawings are made based on the floor plan you create with your 3D interior designer.
  3. Get the soil test report. Your structural engineer will determine if you need to get a soils test. Soil standards are in place to ensure earthquake survivability, proper water drainage, and to prevent structures being built on soil that will shift and cause future damage to the property. This report will give your builder a clear idea on what they need to do to prepare the building site for the foundation.
  4. Apply for building permits. Your builder will be responsible for creating and submitting the building permits, structural plans, and architectural drawings to the local building department. Your builder will be the initial point of contact for any revision requests and questions the building department may have.
  5. Foundation preparation and concrete pouring. The building site is cleared of any debris and leveled. Then, foundation forms are laid out and rebar is placed in preparation for the concrete foundation to be poured. A building inspector will come to inspect the rebar and foundation forms before the concrete is poured. After the concrete is poured and dried, the inspector will come again to check the quality of the foundation.
  6. Rough framing. At this point the walls, window openings, door openings, and the roof frame is built. Sheathing and weatherproofing are also done at this phase. Once built, an inspector will check to see if the frame complies with local building codes.
  7. Install plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems. At this point, the plumbing, electrical systems, and HVAC systems are installed.
  8. Installation of rough materials. At this point, the insulation, drywall, electrical outlets, light inlets, and light switches are installed. Once installed, a city inspector will come to inspect the work done.
  9. Installation of finish materials. Your home is almost done. The fine fixtures and aesthetic qualities of your home come together in this phase. At this point, walls are painted, flooring, trims, moulding, cabinets, sinks, appliances, fixtures, doors and windows are installed.
  10. the final inspection and final walk-through. A local inspector will come and do a final inspection and if everything is in compliance, they will issue a certificate of occupancy. With this, you and your builder will do a final walk through of the property.

Building a home is a daunting task with all the codes to comply with and trades to coordinate but working with our experienced team will make sure you avoid any pitfalls or surprises.

How long does it take to build a home in California?

From the design phase to the final inspection, we estimate that building a standard 3500 sq ft home can take 8 to 12 months.

How much does it cost to build a home in California?

From the design phase to the final inspection you can expect to pay $400 to $500 per sq ft. This price will either go up or down depending on the type of finish materials you select. 

At Home Quality Remodeling, we structure the cost of the project into what we call ‘stages of payment’; this is our way of creating a transparent payment structure. Before beginning the project, we create an outline of each stage of the project and the amount that will be due once each stage of the project is completed. To begin the project, we collect either 10% of the project value or $1,000 - whichever is less.

ADUs & in-law units

The process of building an in-law unit or ADU is almost identical to building a new home. The differences are with the occupancy limits, set back requirements, and other requirements that your governing building department may have specific to in-law units or ADUs. A great resource is https://www.aducalifornia.org/

Why start with 3D designs for your kitchen remodel?

As with the new construction, we recommend that you start with a 3D design so that the project manager, engineer, and architect are all on the same page with what the end product will look like.  The cost of 3D designs for your ADU will depend on the size and complexity of the ADU. To give you a ballpark estimate, 3D designs for an ADU will run from $5,000 to $15,000.

Cost and time of building an ADU/in-law unit

You can expect to spend $400 to $500 per square foot of your ADU for the labor and rough materials. The most time consuming part of the ADU building process is getting the permits and plans approved. Some cities are quicker to respond and approve than others.

Note that the type of finish materials you select for your ADU will likely drive up the cost so if you’re on a tight budget, choose your materials strategically. Ask your project manager for supplier recommendations. We have partnered with a variety of suppliers around the Bay Area to get discounts for our clients. We typically get materials 10% to 20% cheaper than retail price.

Remodeling your kitchen

Why start with 3D designs for your kitchen remodel?

As mentioned before, 3D designs are great for creating a clear set of expectations with your build team but 3D designs for kitchen remodels, in our experience, are particularly important. 

  1. Making sure material and pattern pairings work. Kitchen countertops and kitchen backsplashes can be the ‘wow factor’ of your kitchen. Finding the patterns or color pairings that work together are essential to achieving that ‘wow factor’. 
  2. Making sure that your appliances fit. Refrigerators, ovens, wine coolers, and other appliances come in a variety of sizes. If you want a specific type of appliance, we recommend getting 3D designs to make sure that the construction team can build out the correct openings to install your appliances.
  3. Tearing down a wall. Kitchens in Bay Area homes built roughly 50 years ago commonly had a wall separating the kitchen and the dining room. A popular trend today is to create an open concept kitchen where the dining room and kitchen are combined into one spacious room. We recommend getting 3D designs for a project like this because tearing down a wall is a serious commitment requiring the involvement of a structural engineer and a number of inspections by the local building department.

Kitchen remodeling scenarios and the permits you’ll need

  1. Are you moving or adding plumbing? If so, your builder will need to get a permit and an inspection once the new plumbing is installed. This is common when adding or moving a sink or dishwasher.
  2. Are you installing new or more electrical appliances? This is the most common case for most kitchen remodels. It may be the case that your home’s current electrical panels weren’t initially installed to handle the load of multiple modern appliances. Your project manager will notify you in the case that you’ll need to upgrade your electrical panel to handle the added appliances. The cost of this may vary from $7,000 to $14,000 depending on what is needed during the upgrade. At times, it’s simply changing a circuit breaker but other times wiring has to be removed and upgraded.

How much does it cost to remodel a kitchen?

As you may have noticed, each remodeling project has unique requirements but a like-to-like remodel of a standard kitchen starts at $50,000 for rough materials and labor.

How to find the best price and quality for your kitchen remodel?

Our team at Home Quality Remodeling has partnerships with various masonry, appliance, flooring, and hardware suppliers. This allows us to get products anywhere from 10% to 20% cheaper than retail price so ask your project manager for a list of suppliers to avail of the discounts.

What inspections are needed for a kitchen remodel?

In the case where only aesthetic elements of the kitchen - flooring, countertops, backsplash - were changed then there wouldn’t be a need for a building inspector to come in for an inspection.

Remodeling your bathroom

Why start with 3D designs for your bathroom remodel?

I won’t go over the general reasons why 3D designs are good again. Instead I’ll mention why we’ve found 3D designing for bathroom remodels particularly helpful.

  1. adding a skylight. Positioning your bathroom skylight can be tricky when trying to find a place for it on your bathroom ceiling. Your project manager will have to look at your ceiling rafters to be able to make a suggestion on where you can best place the skylight. Based on the suggestion of your project manager, the 3D design team can create a mockup of the skylight and how the light enters the room. Our 3D designers can mimic natural light in their high resolution renderings.
  2. shower wall and shower floor pairings. If you’re remodeling your shower area and you’re changing up the tile pairings, we strongly recommend you get 3D designs to see if the material and pattern pairings you chose work well together.
  3. experimenting with new windows, bathtubs, vanities, or other fixtures. Adding a new window design like a bump-out window or a stand alone tub will drastically change the aesthetics of your bathroom. It helps to see these in high resolution renders to get a clear sense of what your bathroom will look like when completed.

Bathroom remodeling scenarios and the permits you’ll need

  1. Are you moving, adding, or modifying plumbing fixtures? In the case where a shower head, sink, or drain is added, then the project would need permits for the plumbing change and an inspection once the new plumbing is installed.
  2. Are you moving, adding, or modifying electrical fixtures? If you’re adding a heated bathtub or new appliances, the current circuit breaker may not be able to handle the added load. In this case, we would need a permit for the electrical work and an inspection once the work is completed. 
  3. Are you changing from a tub to a shower or vice versa? A project like this would require us to waterproof the areas surrounding tub or shower. This type of work requires the local building department to inspect the quality of the waterproofing.

Additions & extensions

Why start with 3D designs for your addition or extension?

Additions and extensions by nature involve either tearing down or adding new walls. These require an engineer to create structural plans based on the desired layout of the new room. We recommend you do 3D renderings of your project so that the engineer can create the structural plans accordingly.

Types of permits and inspections you’ll need for an addition or extension

This type of project requires an extension of the home’s foundation to support the new walls. Other than the standard building permit and standard inspections, there will also be a need for a special inspection. Special inspections are done by 3rd party engineering companies who test the components of a home that are structurally critical, so the foundation, wall framing, and roof framing.

City by city considerations

As mentioned earlier in this article, some city building departments are more lenient toward certain types of projects. Some building departments in the Bay Area are difficult to get approval for additions and extensions, for example: the cities of Oakland, Emeryville, and San Francisco.

The cities that we’ve found to be easiest to get permit approval for both ground level and second story additions and extensions are the cities of Concord, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Martinez, Richmond, San Ramon, Danville, San Pablo, Orinda, Moraga, Alamo, Clayton, and Blackhawk.

How much does it cost to build an addition?

A ground level addition can cost $350 per square foot but 2nd story additions typically cost 20% more due to additional labor and materials needed to run utilities to the second floor. This price includes the cost of labor and rough materials only.

As mentioned above, the type of finish materials you select for your addition can drive up the cost. So if you’re working with a tight budget, ask your project manager for recommendations on how to save on finish materials.

How long does it take to build an addition?

In our experience, the most time consuming part of building an addition is the permitting and approval process. The design, demolition, and construction typically take 3 to 8 weeks depending on the size and complexity of the addition.

Remodeling your garage

Garages are typically a dull and dreary place of a home. You’ll often find garages in Bay Area homes with exposed framing and no insulation so it makes the space either too cold during the winter or too hot during the summer months. Today, people are wanting more out of their garages and with the pandemic, we’ve done more garage conversion than at any other time. People are turning their garages into gyms, home offices, or multipurpose spaces. 

What can you turn your garage into?

Insulating your garage, putting in drywall, electrical fixtures and painting your garage is a quick and simple process but a question we get often is if people can turn their garage into a bedroom. The answer is it depends on the city. For a space to be considered a room, each city has unique requirements. These requirements typically include specifications on the number of windows or window size in the room, number of outlets, and minimum square footage of the room. So if you’re thinking of turning your garage into a bedroom or studio, then the best way to know if this is allowed in your city is to get in touch with your local building department and ask them. If you can’t get any information from them, give us a call.

If you’re thinking of turning your garage into a super cool ‘man-cave’ or a home office, the process is fairly straightforward; adding electrical outlets, lights, insulation, and drywall. 

Permits for garage remodels

In our experience, garage remodels are one of the quickest and easiest to get permit approvals for since most of the work done isn’t structurally critical. 

How long does it take to remodel a garage?

If you’re turning your garage into a bedroom, refer to the section above on ‘additions & extensions’. If you’re converting your garage into a gym, home office or multi purpose room then we estimate the whole process to take 3-5 weeks to complete from design to the final inspection.

Remodeling your driveway

Remodeling your driveway is also another simple and straightforward project. The process typically involves demolition of the old driveway, preparing the rebar and concrete forms, pouring of the new concrete, and concrete finishing. These projects have a quick turnaround time and an easy permitting process since driveways aren’t typically considered structurally critical to the home. 

Pricing and timeline for driveway remodels

The pricing for redoing your driveway is based on the square footage of your driveway, the materials you want to use (some prefer to use special masonry products), the type of finish you want, and potentially the complexity of the project. Some driveways are located on steep curvy sites, these types of driveways typically are more expensive than driveways with a light slope along a straight line. This being said, we would be able to give you a more accurate time and cost estimate if you give us a call and tell us about how you plan on remodeling your driveway.

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