Scary True Story: The Rotting (Building) Skeleton

Forgive the theme, but we are obsessed with the horrors of a building’s demise.  In part this is because we are currently working on a large commercial repair project (pictured) where multiple gigantic structural members– replaced only several years back– are so rotted through they crumble with the stab of a screwdriver.  In part it’s because we have worked on lovely century-old homes that continue to stand proud.  As a builder, it’s easy for us to identify the what and how of a structure’s destiny.  But homeowners, well, they can be duped.  But it’s not their fault.

A building’s skeleton– the core structural members of beams, posts, and connections to the foundation– must be protected at all costs.  In our moist climate, the enemy is water.  A good Northwest builder knows how water finds its course down and around a building and has studied up on the latest thinking for flashing, ventilation, and drainage. Often, these aspects are invisible to homeowners who see surfaces: nice countertops, pretty windows, a fresh paint job.  And often, the biggest errors are the hidden ones:  for example, the vycor flashing around the windows that you cannot see once the siding is on.  A properly installed window directs water down and around the window in a technically designed cascading series; an improperly installed window has flashing that actually forms minute cups that retain water and send it flowing down the sheathing, ultimately soaking the internal members.

You might be amazed how often we drive around Seattle and Ben remarks: “Watch that window.  It’s going to fail in a few years.”  Here’s the scary part: some of the builders have hip, modern signs and a well marketed presence.  But we have to wonder, is the general contractor really a building professional?  Or just a good business person?

Ultimately, we hope these businesses won’t last.  Sadly, their buildings certainly won’t.  So the scary true story must be told here and there, if only as a reminder to check and recheck your home remodeler’s credentials.  Their company may be nice, fancy, highly recommended, or simply inexpensive.  But the real question is: who taught their carpenters how to build?  And do they stash copies of Journal of Light Construction on their bedside table, keep a ready library of Taunton Manuals, and actively engage engineers in discussing the latest on building science?

Because the tale of two buildings boils down to this: the builder who stayed awake at night reading their JLC, and the one who shouldn’t be sleeping at night while the drip, drip goes on in the handsome but compromised homes they built 2-3 years ago.

At Blue Sound Construction, our mission is to build legacies: solid homes that shelter generations. You’ll find those JLC’s close to our heads and our hearts.

Keep Your Home, Or Lose It Forever

It sounds crazy, but now is the time to prep for winter.  Yes, NOW.  When the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and you really can crawl up there on the roof and peak around of a Saturday.  We love remodeling Seattle’s beautiful homes, but no perfectly built home is going to stay that way unless someone (YOU) decides to be king or queen of the castle.

We’re here to tell you how. Below you’ll see we’ve drummed up this nifty checklist courtesy of “This Old House” and are thrilled to pass it along.  In no time, you’ll have your home more prepped than Martha.

If you find you’re going to need professional help, give us a call.  While we aren’t currently billing ourselves as a repair company, it’s certainly in our wheelhouse and we are happy to take on small, discreet projects for clients with a flexible timeline.

Save the Date! Meet Us April 21-22 at Seattle’s Green Home Tour

If there’s one home tour you don’t want to miss, it’s this one.  Thanks to Northwest EcoBuilding Guild’s Green Home Tour, you can come inside and view our two story addition to an old Sears Roebuck craftsman as well as other state-of-the-art green remodels around town.  Get inspired about simple and grand ways to implement sustainable design in your next remodel, and use the opportunity to meet some of Seattle’s best architects and builders.  For a quick teaser, check out our in-progress photos of this project, or see our “Rodessa Rising” post to view the homeowner’s slideshow from start to finish.  Professional photos of the finished product are still on the docket, so this tour will be the first unveiling of a job beautifully done.  

WHAT: 2012 Green Home Tours, from the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild

WHEN: April 21-22 10am – 4pm

WHERE: All over town, but come see us and Make Design at 138 NE 62nd St Seattle, WA 98115 (Google Map)


To MDF or Not to MDF: That Is the Question

We’ve always bid our trim installations for solid wood. Period.  Until this economy came.

With falling home prices, every cost is experiencing a squeeze, but is it possible to “trim” construction costs by substituting MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) for real wood trim without sacrificing quality?  One of our core values is promoting the longevity of the homes we remodel and build, so we have built the way homes were always built: with real wood.  Wood that expands and contracts as a unit–like the original tree– and can ultimately be brought to ship shape 100 years from now with some sanding and filler.

But financial health is also an important value, and we are dedicated to meeting our clients needs in a rough economic client.  In some cases, this may mean cost savings in the form of MDF trim. But before we dive headlong, we want to lay out the pros and cons for our Blue Sound friends.

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Move Over Ralph Lauren: Our New Liquor Cabinet

We are proud of our Blue Sound team’s handiwork in this first ever custom-made furniture piece. This corner confounded a pre-fabbed unit, so the owners of our Wedgwood kitchen remodel of last spring hired us to craft one for them.  

Pinterest- If You Dare

We do dare.  After discovering that somehow former clients and friends and long lost relatives had discovered us on Pinterest without us broadcasting it anywhere, we have decided to go public with it. Follow the link and you will find our personal home inspiration files.  

We are exploring an addition to our own home (“our” being Ben and Courtenay, Blue Sound co-owners.)  Over the years we’ve scanned, saved, and ‘grabbed’ photos off of every thing that inspires us: design blogs like and, movies, and books such as The Way We Live.  It’s a passion, and therefore small wonder that we landed in the remodel business.  When we spoke with an architect about our own remodel, she suggested we post our photos to help her design to our tastes.  We did, and next thing we knew, it was viral.  (OK, we have 26 followers.)

The point is, Pinterest is a great resource.  We’ve mentioned before (and yes, you can find us there, too), but Pinterest covers the gamut.  Need furnishings ideas?  There are boards. Colors?  Yup.  Or perhaps you’re just curious about the latest architecture in Seattle?  You got it. Find your favorite boards, follow them, and you’re in for a treat.



Selecting a Remodel Company, Part I

It is crazy times out there in construction; we know first hand.  So how should you think about your project’s price when one general contractor comes in with a bid that is thousands of dollars lower than the others, or another that is thousands higher?

First things first, you need to make sure everyone is bidding on the same set of specifications.  And given that they are, you can begin to comb through and slough off phases that can still be bid out further to competing subcontractors.  Thus, subtract from the total bid price all things related to plumbing, electrical, insulation, drywall, paint, and perhaps– if it’s a large component– siding.  Now you’ve arrived at the contractor’s individual numbers.  

If the lowest bid is wildly lower or the highest bid is wildly higher than the other contractors, it’s in your interest to ask more questions. Such as:

How long do they speculate their portion of the project will require?  

How many carpenters will be working on the site?  

Or, more directly, what do they bill per carpenter?  

Remodeling companies charge anywhere from $35-$65/hr for their carpenters, so if you want to just do the math yourself, you can see how long they expect their phases to take.  It’s possible they’re finding savings by using low skilled carpenters or production outfits that formerly built many of the townhomes that are failing due to shoddy construction.  It doesn’t always mean a bad result, but you might ask further about how much supervision those crews will receive from more highly skilled carpenters. 

On the flip side, if they are skimping on the time they expect the remodel to take, are you adequately protected from them upcharging you for the time it actually takes?  Read their scope of work descriptions carefully and peruse their contract ahead of time.

In the end, the best way to protect yourself is to trust your gut.  Visit the general contractors’ former projects, interview their recent references, and don’t be fooled by a too-good-to-be-true price.  You want to be sure the contractor who builds your home will be in business for the long run.  It’s a hedge of protection for one of the most valuable investments you’ll ever make.

Rodessa Rose

And rose, and now it has come to its full stature.  We’re just finishing up the last details; we hope to have professional photos in several weeks. For those who don’t know about Rodessa, it’s a little Sears Roebuck craftsman beneath which we added two stories after raising–so much greener than razing.

Here’s a link to a fun slideshow which documents the process in all its glorious detail. (Note: all unsafe work practices shown occurred with subs not under our supervision or in Blue Sound’s presence):…