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Tutu’s Moving In! Helpful Tips for Adding or Remodeling a Room

Having Tutu close means you can enjoy more time together—and care for any special needs she may have. But first you’ll need a game plan for setting up a living space that makes her feel right at home, respects local building laws and makes smart financial sense for you.


Before you greenlight a home add-on or room remodeling project to welcome your newest household member, we have a few bright ideas to help you gear up for what’s ahead.

1. Touch base with Tutu
Hooray — Tutu is coming to stay! Time to check in with her health, so you can create a home design that fully supports her physical needs. Address issues like the ones below, and then get with your
HPM Project Specialist to make a plan.

Do squeaky joints make movement tricky?

Talk with Tutu about arthritis and other aches and pains that might limit her range of motion, so you can make it easier for her to move around with simple upgrades. Mike Young, Plumbing and Electrical Specialist at HPM Hilo, offers one example of a clever home hack: “Replacing doorknobs with lever handles can put less stress on sore hands and fingers.”


Does she struggle to see in low light?

Aside from the family cat, probably everyone in your household would answer “yes” to this one.  Prevent bumps, trips and falls by installing enough wattage in all entryways, hallways, doorways and rooms to reduce the risk —and don’t forget nice and bright exterior lighting, too.


Are steps and stairs a special kind of foe?

A staircase can look like Mount Everest to someone who’s had a knee replacement or serious injury. If Tutu isn’t a fan of stairs, choose a ground-floor room or build a single-level unit—and make sure everything she needs is stored on the first floor. Ramps for elevated front and back entrances might also make her knees happier.


Is a bad back right around the corner?

Even if Tutu is healthy as an ox, the odds of sustaining back, neck and shoulder strain injuries are greater in seniors. Respect the back by adjusting cabinet and shelf heights in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry and other areas. Putting everyday items within reach minimizes lifting and bending mishaps.

2. Get a jump on proper permitting
Filing for permits may not be the first thing that comes to mind when gearing up for a renovation, but getting this step out of the way can free you up to focus on the fun stuff, like interior design. Mike advises homeowners to start early to ensure a safe and legal build, first by looking into local building codes to see what types of structures are allowed on your property. “Don’t worry if your project doesn't conform exactly to current codes,” he says. “You might be able to apply for a variance, which gives you special permission to build what you want.”

The following checklist can help you get started:


Do I need a permit for an addition or remodel?

Probably. If you plan to make any structural changes, like knocking down walls, you have to get permission. According to the Hawaii County Public Works permit directory, a residential building permit is required “to erect, construct, enlarge, alter, repair, convert, move, or demolish any building or structure.”


Do I need special permits for small changes?

In all likelihood. Often additional permits are needed for various specific changes involving specialized trade work, like installing outlets (electrical), a toilet (plumbing) or new A/C vents (HVAC). 


And blueprints, too?

All signs point to yes. For home add-ons and structural remodels, the county will ask you to present several copies of your plans, aka blueprints, that are stamped by a licensed architect or engineer.  

3. Make a plan for plumbing and power
Plumbing and electricity that suits your new tenant takes some real strategy, but thankfully there are experts for that. (In other words, don’t try to DIY if you’re not an experienced plumber or electrician!) “It’s an easy step that could end up saving homeowners from costly missteps,” Mike says. “Assessing your needs can be done in one day by a good contractor.”

Check HPM’s
Better Builder Directory to find skilled pros near you, and keep the following in mind:


Electricity Tips

Power Up
If your current power supply isn’t strong enough to meet the needs of your add-on, plan to upgrade the main electrical capacity —at least 200 amps is ideal.


Light the Way
Make sure you have ample lighting, and that there are plenty of outlets to support various electronics.


Take Control
Install LED lighting and add dimmer switches for easy control.


Plumbing Tips

Make Access Easy
Plan to build your new bathroom to be accessible and ADA-compliant. “Even if Tutu doesn’t need it now, upgrading later will be a lot more costly,” Mike warns.


Fortify Your Pipes
If you live near the ocean or an active volcano, use good copper or consider using PEX tubing.


Tap the Sun
Consider the benefits of solar water heating to save money and the planet. 

4. Build a budget & stay on schedule

Building a budget is easy: Just use variables such as location, contractor rates, supplies and material costs to shape it. Then take proactive steps to get your project done on schedule and under budget—such as checking the numbers every time you make a major purchase to help you stay on track. “As a general guideline, plan to spend $100 to $200 or more per square foot,” says Mike. “And try to keep your grand total lower than the anticipated property value increase.”

Here are a few more things to think about regarding expenses and timing:

Patience, patience, patience
It may take months before you’re move-in ready. Things like bad weather and material sourcing issues can cause delays. Get ahead of potential hitches by building room for the unexpected into your budget and schedule—and plan to be patient.


Brace yourself for tax increases
A big home improvement project will probably raise your home’s value and increase property taxes, too. But don’t panic; you can get a jump on the increase by studying the sale prices of nearby homes with similar characteristics to estimate the finished value of your home, and then compute your anticipated tax liability with current tax rates. If the amount is a deal-breaker, look at ways you can build energy savings into your add-on with efficiency upgrades. (hint: )


Go green and stay cool
Windows that prevent hot or cool air from escaping and ultra-efficient appliances can minimize the cost of an addition or remodel by saving you money on monthly utility bills—and reduce your home’s overall environmental impact.

5. Find affordable funding
Deciding how you’ll pay for a room remodel or home expansion doesn’t have to be a headache if you apply a little smart funding savvy.
Mike suggests a few options his HPM customers often use to make home upgrades easier on their budget:


Creative Re-Use
See if it would be worthwhile to finish an unfinished space, like a garage or attic, or renovate a seldom-used room as a cost-effective alternative to building on. Talk with your HPM Project Specialist to sort through some options.


Savings to the Rescue
If current interest rates are low, withdrawing from a savings account could be a great way to fund your project. If rates are high, better just leave it alone to grow. 


Home Equity Equalizer
Using a home equity loan or line of credit can be a wise move—especially when interest rates are nice and low. Talk to your bank or credit union about leveraging the power of your equity.


Time to Refinance?
If today’s mortgage rates are lower than your existing mortgage, it might be a perfect time to refinance your home —and be sure to fold in the funds you need for your project.

Ready to start planning your home add-on or remodel?
Ask an HPM Project Specialist for experienced guidance.


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