The Importance of Home Maintenance

The Importance of Home Maintenance

We are excited to announce a new division of Stearns Design Build, Stearns Home-Care.

As remodelers, on a daily basis, we see the impact of a lack of maintenance. Often homeowners just don’t know how to do the maintenance. Other times they are busy professionals that don’t have time. The most troubling is when we see elderly people who just cannot keep up with it and have to leave their homes for assisted living sooner than they otherwise would.  We see the unnecessary expense and inconvenience that comes from poor maintenance.

Offering a Home-Care program for routine maintenance was a natural fit for us, as it highlights three of our four core values. Maintaining a home preserves its Quality. This is something we do as an act of Caring for our clients. We are committed to building and maintaining Relationships. We love getting to know our clients and their homes.  Our fourth core value is Honesty, which is transparent in everything that we do.

We know that your family home is your sanctuary and it’s a privilege and an honor to help take care of it.  

Equation for Value in Remodeling

Do you want value?  Of course, you do. But what does that mean?  Value is not a fixed point. It is an equation. And that equation is different for everyone.  An often-used example in discussions of value is the fine Italian shoes that cost five times more than a regular pair of shoes but last ten times longer.  The Italian shoes are an excellent value… if you can afford them.

Homes provide a much more complex equation than shoes.  Like shoes, durability, fashion and design are key issues but with many more variables within each category. Additionally, the cost of maintenance and utilities are also at issue.

Unfortunately, the single variable for home buying is cost per square foot, which throws all of these variables of value out the cheap, builder grade window.  Price per square foot is not a good benchmark for value and cheap per square foot is a near perfect equation for bad value.  But that is what sells homes.

To get their price per square foot down, builders are encouraged to provide the most space possible for the lowest price possible.  This has given birth to a whole line of building products called “builder grade.”  This means the lowest possible quality that will get through the short warranty period. 


The average American home is built with around 2500 various parts. With everything from the baseboards to the roofing provided at builder grade, the home can be built at a very low price.  The lower the price, the quicker the home will sell.

As a remodeler, we are the beneficiaries of this approach.  Not only are corners cut on materials but design as well.  Though poor-quality materials are an often-mentioned complaint as families consider remodeling, poor quality space is the most common reason for remodeling.

What most homeowners don’t see is the unnecessary energy loss due to corners cut in order to reduce the price per square foot.  But just like you pay a mortgage payment every month, you also pay your utility bill every month. Unlike your mortgage payment, as long as you are buying energy rather than producing your own, you will never pay it off. 

So, what is your equation for value in remodeling?  If you are in a position of needing to get a project done with as little money as possible, we may not be the right company for you. Our crews are trained not to cut corners.  Nonetheless, we are happy to put our expertise to work for you. If you are doing work yourself and have a question, don’t hesitate to email or call us. We will do our best to get you the information that you need.

Kitchen Inventory

Kitchen Inventory

The thought of designing and enjoying a new kitchen is exciting! There are so many new materials and trends. The possibilities are endless. You can picture those new appliances, a back-splash just like the one you saw in Houzz or the counter top you saw on the Stearns Design Build page.

It is easy to get caught up in the glitz and lose sight of designing a kitchen to fit your life style and your stuff. It is not at all uncommon for customers of other design firms to get finished with their new kitchen and start to wonder where they will put everything. Of course, that is backwards.

It is best to consider where you are going to put everything as you begin design. That is the advantage of custom design – it allows you to design to the specifics of your life. It is exciting to design a kitchen that fits you like a glove.

Don’t forget to think ahead. Plan for what you have and what you think you will have in the future. If you had more pantry space, what would you put there?

To help you list your Kitchen inventory we provide the Kitchen Inventory Worksheet.

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Finding Value in Remodeling

Finding Value in Remodeling

One of the biggest obstacles to remodeling for many folks is the expense. Unfortunately, the alternatives can be even more expensive, both short term and long term.

Moving vs. remodeling: Leaving the memories behind

Many of our prospective clients are trying to decide between remodeling and moving to a house that better matches their wants and needs. Remember that the soft costs of moving, as well as the hard costs of moving, can be exorbitant.

Have you seen the cost of moving lately? You might be surprised at what it takes to move a household today even to another neighborhood in College Station or Bryan. Of course, there are other major hard costs involved in moving to a new home. Don’t just think of the closing costs. Remember the costs for refreshes on your current home like new interior paint and landscaping, staging, inspection-related repairs and cleaning. It all adds up.

The soft costs—your time and energy—can be even higher. If you don’t hire a moving company, the cost in your time to pack, unpack, and market your current home for sale is hefty. Add to that the considerable cost of your precious evenings and weekends spent trying to find that “just right” home and your valuable time can be monopolized for many months. Perhaps the largest soft cost, though, is the sentimental cost of leaving a space with so many memories connected to it. Those memories have a significant, yet unquantifiable, value to most people.

DIY vs. remodeling: Everything in moderation

Another alternative is to “do it yourself” (DIY). This is a good alternative if employed in moderation. Just don’t neglect to do a soul-searching reality check on your construction abilities before you begin.

DIY shows on TV are very popular. Those shows and their sponsors (like Lowes and Home Depot) would have you believe that you can remodel virtually anything without any prior experience. Not surprisingly, the big box home improvement stores sell massive amounts of products that are never used because unsuspecting homeowners bite off more than they can chew. Worse than the materials that are never installed are those that are installed poorly. For example, if you have never used a circular saw it might not be a good idea for you to build a multi-level deck. DIY jobs can put safety—not just aesthetics—in jeopardy.

That is not to say that a motivated homeowner with the right attitude, good training, and ample free time can’t do good work. But there is more involved than just craftsmanship. Building science is more complicated than is depicted in home makeover programs and requires knowledge and skills that range from architecture to engineering, from electrical to plumbing, and from heat to moisture management.

 DIY remodeling: a cautionary tale

We are called in to fix DIY project fails frequently. Sally, a client we worked with not long ago, spent much of her time between her college studies refurbishing an old house she had inherited. Sally was a wonderful woman. She was very laid back and patient—just the sort of personality that is often associated with great attention to detail that is the hallmark of good craftsmanship. In fact, Sally had done some beautifully detailed woodwork and we were impressed with her trim work. Sally hired us a few years after college because she noticed a few soft spots in her floor. Sadly, while Sally’s craftsmanship with trim was top quality, she did not understand building science and had made a few errors in moisture-proofing the structures. The rot was not limited to the floor joists, either. This DIY project stands out because Sally was a gifted woodworker.

Very often it is the DIY work of a previous homeowner – or so we are told – that is the cause of our homeowner’s headaches. I’m not sure what it is that makes men feel like they must have competence with construction tools and knowledge of building science without ever having taken a course. Even brilliant men with PhDs express self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy because they cannot build a deck. Few carpenters feel that way if they cannot lecture on differential equations. My advice: Be real with yourself—and your family—about your abilities. Avoid a future headache and the cost of re-doing a DIY project gone bad.

Low-balling your remodeling project: buyer beware

Another alternative to reduce the cost of remodeling is to hire the low bid “contractor.” This is fraught with risk. In Texas, you have to have a license to sell a house or cut hair but not to build or remodel a house. The cost of entry into the construction field is low. Let the buyer beware.

Low-balling your remodeling: another cautionary tale

Mark was like many of our potential clients: He had his bathroom remodeled the year before he called us and now there was mold on the walls, the cabinet drawers were hard to open and shut, and the paint was peeling. He had done what he thought he was supposed to. He had solicited bids from three different remodeling contractors and accepted the low bid. The contractor stopped taking his calls after the second time he called to have the problems fixed. Mark did not hire us but hired someone else to try to fix the problems. After tearing out the tile and opening the walls, his second “contractor” moved to California. Last we heard, Mark had put his house on the market.

Cost to remodel vs. cost to build new

Remodeling often seems expensive when it is compared to the cost per square foot of new home construction. That is not an apples-to-apples or even an apples-to-oranges comparison.

New homes are often built en masse in an assembly line process that results in significant economies of scale. By contrast, remodeling is done to meet a homeowner’s exacting needs and wants within an existing structure. It is much more time consuming but, in the end, the homeowner gets a very personalized and professional product.

So, yes, professional remodeling can be expensive. But it’s much more expensive to move, to try to do it yourself, or to employ a lowball “contractor” to remodel your home—the keeper of so many precious memories.

Bring Remodeling Outdoors with an Outdoor kitchen

Bring Remodeling Outdoors with an Outdoor kitchen

Spring is here in College Station and Bryan and summer is just around the corner. Everyone already wants to spend more time enjoying the outdoors! It’s a perfect time to start planning and building your outdoor kitchen.

A great outdoor kitchen is at least a couple of notches above a nice patio furniture set and your portable barbecue grill. We all love that picnic feel, but if you are going to spend your evenings entertaining or just relaxing and enjoying the cooler evening temperatures outside, you may want more amenities. Plus, an outdoor kitchen is a great way to keep your home cooler by avoiding the use of your oven and other appliances inside.

You can start your unique outdoor kitchen by placing a grill into stonework and creating custom-built counter-tops on either side.  This gives you easy-to-navigate areas for food preparation, cooking, and serving.

Next, you can add lights so that you won’t be limited to enjoying your outdoor kitchen during daylight hours. You may either choose to run electricity or install battery- or solar-powered lights. Since you want to enjoy the natural light as much as possible, you really just need enough light to be able to prepare, cook and serve safely. If you choose to run electricity to your outdoor kitchen, you can also add a small refrigerator to keep your favorite beverages and condiments handy.

Here are a few other ideas:


For shade during the summer, you can build your kitchen under an existing covered porch, add a pergola, or buy a large patio umbrella.


Adding a water line to your outdoor kitchen will allow you to install a small sink for food preparation and clean up.


Add a fireplace or portable fire pit if you want to keep using your great outdoor space when the weather turns cold or just to add a little ambiance for the adults and a way to make s’mores with the kids!


A gas line will allow you the option of barbeque fuels and adding a small cook top or oven can stretch your outdoor culinary choices even further.

The possibilities for your outdoor kitchen are numerous and really depend on the frequency that you intend to use your kitchen and your budget. You can always start small, building around your existing home’s features and your existing barbecue, and add on next year.

The key is to make it cool, keep it classy, and enjoy our wonderful spring and summer climate here in Bryan and College Station.

We also love Screened in Porches