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  • Lorianna Kastrop

Ask an Architect #1

Editor’s note: Welcome to Ask an Architect, a regular feature on the Kastrop Group blog. Each question is answered by Principal Architect D. Michael Kastrop, AIA.  If you have a question, send it in to  Enjoy!

Question:  We’re planning on owning a home in the next two years. The big question is what to do. Here are some options we’re considering:

a. Buying a house and tearing it down to the frame to rebuild b. Buying land or a house to tear down and building from scratch c. Buying a newly built home

So now the questions:

1. How much is it to build per square foot?

2. Is building from scratch more expensive than modifying an existing home? 

3. How long does it take? 

4. How has your experience been?

5. Can you recommend builders/contractors/architects? Thanks! Monica

Thanks for your question Monica!  We’ll take your questions one by one:

1)             Costs vary from $250 to $500 per square foot due to a lot of factors including: location (City, distance from suppliers), site factors (slope, soil, vegetation, access), design complexity (details and finish materials), remodeling (varies by room type) or new construction, to name a few of the factors.

2)             It depends on the original home condition and extent of remodeling needed.  Building from scratch can be less expensive per square foot, but is usually more expensive overall because you impact more square feet. Most of the time remodeling is more cost-effective and a greener solution, especially when you are keeping the same foundation (footprint).  When the circumstances warrant, we might recommend tearing down the original house and starting over with a new design if the house is in very poor or unsafe condition.

3)         Many factors come into play for the timing.  Here are a couple of them.

a. Jurisdiction:  Redwood City is generally very good to work with, especially with remodels.  Building new in any city will trigger an architectural review and approval process, which slows things down quite a bit.  In some cities and San Mateo County, if you remodel more than 50% of the home, then the entire home has to be brought up to current code.

b. Scope of work:  A straightforward master bedroom addition take an average of 6 weeks for the design process (including one-stop City review).  Bathrooms and kitchens add complexity and time, due to the extra details and decisions necessary, such as cabinetry, appliances and fixtures.  An average remodel, including kitchen, etc., would normally take about 3 months.  Then the construction process, which obviously depends on the skill & experience of the contractor as well as the weather, can take 6-9 months or more.

4)         We have over 25 years of residential experience at our firm, and have local references.  If you are going to the effort and expense to create a home that is unique to your needs and lifestyle, you should contact us for a free, no obligation 1-hour consultation.

5)         We know licensed contractors that have done many of our projects that we can recommend.



We live near downtown San Mateo in a small older home (about 95 years old). We are outgrowing our home and are looking at hiring an architect to help us figure out how to add one more bedroom and bathroom to the existing floor plan. There currently are only two bedrooms and one bath. The house is about 1200 square feet but most of this space is unusable and not very functional.  If money were no object, we would redo the entire house since it has been ‘remuddled’ many times and lacks some of its original character; the windows were replaced in the 60’s and some walls redone.  But money is an object and we are really in the need of a professional to help us get the already large but nonfunctional kitchen to be modern and functional and like I said before, to add another bedroom and bath to the house. We feel that this can all be done within the existing square footage, but not sure how.

So, how much do you charge for an architect to look at our existing floor plan and draw up a new floor plan with our desires and small budget in mind?  Is this even a service that you provide?

Thank you in advance for your help.

Regards, Nicole 

Dear Nicole,

It is interesting that you raise the issue of “character”, which is one of the nice things about living in an older home.  An experienced architect will retain the charm and character of an older home, while modernizing it to suit your needs.  The “remuddled” look (great word!) from previous work done on the house is what happens when there was no licensed architect was involved, and the “designer” was inexperienced.  Since a home is often a family’s biggest asset, it makes good financial and aesthetic sense to use experienced professionals when you work on it.

We understand your situation and it is something that we deal with quite often.  We need to take a look at your home in person in order to properly answer your question regarding cost.  We would be happy to come out for a no-obligation free one-hour consultation to look at your home, talk about the process, give you some initial ideas and discuss potential costs.


I think I may need to get new windows for my house. My house is very cold in the winter and super hot in the summer, especially upstairs. I don’t think I can go through another summer like last year again. Someone suggested to me that new windows would help. I was wondering if anyone has done this with their home, could recommend a company, and could tell me what a price range for windows might be.

Thank you,


Dear Lisa:

Since you say that your house is cold in winter and hot in summer, it sounds like an insulation problem to me.  Older homes in Redwood City often do not have very good insulation.  Windows are only one part of the overall issue.  Double-pane windows can help, but they are very expensive and will only have a partial impact.  Here are some other cost-effective ideas that you may want to try before replacing your windows.  We used these ideas in our own home.

1.         One of the most effective ways to cool a home is with an attic fan/vent.  Solar-powered ones are available that do not require an electrical hook-up.  You will want to have it installed by a reputable roofer because it does require going through the roof and you don’t want to create any leaks.  We recommend Saber Roofing at 368-9220.

2.         Check your attic insulation—consider doubling it, whatever it is.  You can use blow-in insulation if you have access problems.  This makes a huge difference.

3.         For cooling:  Install ceiling fans in your rooms, especially upstairs.

4.         Add landscaping (hedges, trees) in front of west- or south-facing windows.  This is a surprisingly effective insulating technique and works for both heating and cooling.  The hedge or tree does not need to be directly against the house—it can be a few feet away, so that you can still look out your window.

5.          Add window shades to your existing windows.  We bought a bunch of the spring-loaded white opaque ones that roll down and then you tug to roll them up.  We installed them on all of our upstairs windows.  They are easy to adjust for the size of the window, are very cheap, and you can install them yourself.  Get the heaviest ones you can find, sometimes they are called sleep shades because they block out the light.  I think that we got ours at Target, but I’m sure they are available in many department stores that carry window coverings or drapes.  In the winter you need to remember to keep them down at night to keep heat in, and then open them during the day to let the sun in.  In the summer, you do the opposite—keep them down during the day to shield the room from the hot sun and open them at night to let coolness in.


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