Our Eichler Remodel in Palo Alto



This was my third remodel in 14 years. First one was a transformation of a cottage in Old Palo Alto into a modern. It ended up looking great thanks to my architect dad. It was also over budget, and a year late thanks to my contractor.

Next was a successful update of a 4000 sq ft Victorian in San Francisco. Great contractor helped finish this one on time & budget. The gotcha was that expensive double pane windows did not stop the chill or sound from drifting into our master bedroom; heat remained on continuously for the next 5 years, and 6AM trash trucks were our alarm clocks.

I did not want to move for the 3rd time. I did want my son to play on the street like I did, and my fancy neighborhood was not that street. “Streetplay daily” was our new criteria. After a long search, and lucky break we found a street in Palo Alto with many kids that played outside, straight out of 60′s. This playful street was full of  Eichlers, and one of them was for sale. We were off onto our 3rd remodel.

Initially we just wanted to touch up a few things. Then old things started looking drab next to new things, and we ended up with a full-scale remodel. This has been the most successful and non-traditional remodel so far, and I’d like to share what we have done. We choose many less known options, and made them work.

The prep

The driving ideas behind the remodel were comfort, storage, and energy consumption. Our initial list of improvements was:

  • replace the single pane windows – old windows were inefficient, and unsafe
  • expand the master bathroom – bathroom was tiny, with a single sink, and sharing space with a walk-in closet
  • enclose the atrium – atrium was too small to be used as a room, and too large to be decorative
  • redo pergo floors – the floors were inefficient, and yucky
  • many minor fixes: take out some extra closets, put in new ones

By the time we were done, we also:

  • redid the whole kitchen
  • redid another bathroom
  • painted the house
  • updated all the pool technology: solar heat, new pumps
  • replaced the water heater with on-demand
  • replaced all the closet doors
  • installed new lighting everywhere
  • replaced shades on the windows
  • repainted everything
  • redid the garage
  • upgraded electrical

We bought the house in November, started work 2 months later, and moved in in June. Major work continued until September, and my house to-do list went to zero in January, 13 months after the purchase.

I decided to coordinate the remodel myself. If I hired an architect, most of the decisions would have to be made before the work started. We had strong ideas about what we wanted, and would be changing our minds a lot. On the recommendation from our realtor, we hired Palo Alto Home Improvement. They were local, knew how to get the permits, and did not mind our lack of complete plans before starting work. They were not a high-end outfit, but they tried their best, and were accommodating. Most of the time, this worked. Few times their lack of fear of doing stuff they know little about backfired badly.

The drawback of coordinating the work yourself is that you have to visit the job site almost every day. Your plans are not exact, decisions get made all the time, and many times they are not what you want.

Unlike the rest of my architect family, I have a hard time visualizing what something would look like before I see it. For this remodel, I did all of our plans in Google Sketchup. The work you put in to learn it pays off in mistakes avoided.

Going green

Every time I remodeled, I  tried and failed to make my house “green”. Insulation, new windows, new furnace, no go, those power bills stayed high, I was hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. Luckily, in 2009 there were companies who would do this work for me. I hired a couple for an initial consult, and was very happy with Sustainable Spaces. They are now called “Recurve”. Which naming consultant came up with that name?

Recurve takes your $500, comes in, measures and models your house, and gives you a list of recommendations for cutting your energy/water use. Their recommendations made sense. Some were a bit too efficient for me, I would have happily installed 8GPM instead of 6 GPM water heater, and added a few more solar panels for the pool. They’ll also get subs to do the work if you’d like. I am not sure would I recommend their installers. They hire from all over Bay Area, and non-local contractors are tough to get a hold of once something goes wrong. But the stuff they recommend is usually cutting edge, and your local guy will happily take on the job, without having any idea how to actually get it done.

I followed most of their recommendations, and used their contractors. They also suggested a recirculating air pump because our house was so airtight. That was just silly, our doors are open all the time.

Double pane windows: I knew I wanted them, and the fact that we lost 50% of its heat through the windows made my decision to replace them all make engineering sense. This work was performed by Palo Alto Glass. Loved them, the windows went down and up in two days, ~25K for everything.

On-demand water heater/ radiant heater combo: How exotic! The steampunk looking device replaces water heater and radiant heat heater with one compact heater. It is a Trinity NTi 150. Recurve recommended a 6 gallons/min model, which I thought was a little skimpy. It barely drivex 2 showers at the same time. It turned out to be sufficient, but only after I replaced all my high-flow faucets with lo-flow versions. Another drawback is lack of knowledgeable service guys.

Update Apr 2011 I was getting tired of water rationing: “Ingrid, are your running the dishwasher when we are trying to give baby a bath?”. While installing my earthquake gas shutoff valve, JustTankless.com guys mentioned that they can install an 8GPM tankless heater for about $3.5K, and fit it into existing heater space. Getting a new heater meant I was admitting defeat, and that I’ve blown $20K on a POS appliance. But that’s what I did, there was no getting away from it, and $20K was sunk cost. Quietside ODW-199A got installed, and now it pumps HOT water at 8GPM, 92% efficient, I love it so far. It is supposedly low-maintenance, have it looked at every couple of years, and if you are out of power, you can use your computer UPS to get hours of hot water. My installer was awesome, highly recommended to anyone in the bay area.

On-demand recirculation pumpMetlund D’Mand S-70T this was my favorite suggestion by far. If your faucets are far away from the heater, you need this. You install a pump that pulls hot water to you without wasting any water.

Efficient pool pump: Pentair Intelliflo VS-3050. Argh, pool tech.

Solar heater for the poolGull Sun Coil No brainer if you have the pool, and the sunlight. Install is easy, and it pays off fast. This triggered a redo of all our pool systems, more about that below.

One question Recurve was not able to answer was what floors I should get. They could not tell us what the numerical difference in efficiency between concrete and cork was. We were a bit scared of cork. I knew Eichlers originally had cork, but there were very few cork floors left. Why were they all replaced? Supposedly, cork was easy to maintain, pleasure to walk on, and beautiful. What’s the catch? It turns out there were none. We went to Sue Olson Designs in Menlo Park, who lives for cork. She is a bit abrasive, has great cork selection, and a top-notch installer, Perry Cordova. We picked Solida cork. Installation took a week. It is very important that the floors are perfectly level, and achieving that is the longest part of the install. The cost for cork+install was ~20K. We’ve had the floors for a year, and they are the best floors I’ve ever been on.

To match the cork, we installed rubber-cork flooring in the bathroom. I’ve never liked tiled floors, the tiles would get slippery, and grout messy. Cor-terra by Capri Cork is a rubber/cork tile blend that is thin like cork, grippy, and easy to maintain. We found these in Reclaim Home in Menlo Park. It is a great store for a green remodel. The couple who runs it are true believers, and super sweet.

Another purchase from Reclaim was recycled glass counter tops. I’ve been a huge granite fan, and did a lot of reading trying to understand why would granite not be green. We are not running out of rocks. It comes down to the distance travelled, and extraction methods. I’ve tried and failed to source California granite. Instead, we ended up with kitchen counters made out of Vetrazzo, aka recycled beer bottles. Great conversation piece. I am not as confident in their longevity as I am in granite. So far, we’ve had one nick, and it is sharp. The cool thing is that these are produced 50 miles away, and we got to go to the factory and see them being made.

Operation “Greening” was a success. Our energy usage is:

Electric ~600KWh
Gas between 10 (summer) and 110 (winter) therms
Water 5 CCF. This will go up when we start irrigation.

Just for fun, I’ve installed The Energy Detective. You can see our daily electricity consumption graph on the right. The 10AM bump is the pool pump, 4PM is the induction range, late night is TV.

Going swimming

The house came with a pool, a pool that sucked energy. Ducking the “fill-it-in” trend, we decided to keep it, and see if it is worth the trouble. On Recurve’s recommendation, we upgraded our pump (Pentair Intelliflo VS-3050), controller Suntouch Auto Controller), and put in solar heat. The the trouble started. Pools need to be maintained weekly, and you want a maintenance guy who knows your controller. We went through 3 different companies who were misconfiguring the system, before getting a recommendation from the manufacturer for someone who can operate this. And those guys only serviced commercial pools regularly. Their controller’s has one of the worst UIs ever. 4 buttons that control 100 options, and an unreadable manual. It is so bad that you’d think that they run their training classes as a profit center. One of the failed guys admitted that he did not understand half the stuff they were talking about in training, and thought that variable speed pumps are just fashion. By the time we were done, we ended up replacing the whole system, booster pump, filter, and adding on a salt water chlorinator. This stuff will have to get ripped out and reinstalled when we redo our yard, as the chlorinator is installed in the wrong place along the pipe. Pool is still a sore topic here.

Going potty


I love redoing bathrooms because I know what like: showers for two, wall-to-wall mirrors, bright lights, and Toto toilets.

Our original master bath was awful (see left image). Tiny, dark space, with a walk-in closet right sharing space with it. It took many revisions of the plans, and a suggestion from my contractor to move the door until I was happy with it. The transformation feels miraculous now. On the new plan (right), you can see the spacious shower, and above picture shows you how nice it feels.

Lesson here is that moving walls and doors in an Eichler is easy and cheap. We removed another low wall in the kitchen, and even putting a new metal beam did not seem like trouble.

For the hardware, we picked Toto toilet, Pegasus 8 In. Sunflower Showerhead from Home Depot, and Hansgrohe faucets. I like picking quality faucets. When I was a kid, faucet maintenance was my chore. StarCraft Custom Builders: Faucet Reviews and Ratings is an awesome resource for picking the right one.

On the other side of our master bathroom is our new closet. We got the doors from The Sliding Door Company. They are beautiful, and smooth. We replaced all of the original doors with these. When you place your order, double-check. We got the wrong doors twice in a row.

Cooking

I love redoing kitchens too. Here we repeated the old favorites, Miele dishwasher and a SubZero fridge (we tried getting a GE, it just did not do what we wanted). We ran into a lot of trouble with the contractor. He knew a guy who could bang a kitchen out in 2 weeks, cheap. What we got looked nothing like what we ordered, and it took another 6 weeks, and more money to clean everything up. Next time, I’ll listen to my instincts. Shiny new things we really like:

Pull out pantry

Extra wide drawer for silverware. We’ll never wonder “Where is that utensil?” again.

Induction range. Gas or induction, that was the question. Induction won, love the speed and ease of cleaning. No regrets. Ok, maybe I miss the wokability.

Sliding roof

Our atrium was too small to sit in, and too large be an indoor garden. We thought that the sliding roof would be ideal. It turns out that there is a company, Rollamatic Roofs, that makes exactly that. They were a pleasure to work with. A few months later, it was here. We cooked underneath our first summer, and installed a rolling shade underneath. The only guys willing to take on the shade installation were Blinds & Designs. We bought the rest of our roller shades from them too, they look pretty, and work well. The roof is now it just right, it’ll get us warm when it is cold, and cool us of in the evenings.

The rest

We bought most of our lighting at City lights. Wide selection of the stuff we like.

Our favorite furniture store is Room & Board. We like Ikea & Land of Nod too.

For paints, we hired a colorist. It is the best $400 we’ve spent. We’d have never come up with this list of colors, with many subtle differences, and they look great:

Ceiling: AF-70 Battenberg 508-1X Dresser frames: AF-545 (Solitude), 528-1X Dresser Drawer: 50% AF-20 528-1X  Front door: C2-392, Vicuna Hall + master bathroom: AF-70 Battenberg 526-1X Guest hall bath: AF-700 (Storm), 528-1X Kitchen accent: AF-420 (Agave), 522-3X Boy room walls: AF-485 (Crystaline), 524-1X Guest bedroom accent: AF-700 (Storm), 524-1X Family room accent: AF-225 (Firenze), 524-3X Master bed and bathroom: AF-470 (Flora), 532-1X Living room accent: AF-720 (Sparrow), 522-3X Main walls: AF-70 (Battenberg), 508-1X Bath ceilings: AF-70 (Battenberg), 508-1X Interior trim: AF-70 (Battenberg), 528-1X Exterior body: AF-720 (Sparrow), 634-3X Exterior trim: AF-720 (Sparrow), 632-3X Exterior fence: NO89-3B Eves: AF-70 (Battenberg), 634-1X

I really wanted to install a graywater system, rain catch system, but was unable to find the right person to design them.

We still have not gotten around to redoing our garden.

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46 Responses to Our Eichler Remodel in Palo Alto

  1. Name says:

    I’m a fellow Eichler owner but in a different city. I appreciate your willingness to share the highs and lows of your remodeling efforts. One thing I (and perhaps others) would find useful is ballpark figures of what each improvement cost. For instance, rollamatic roofs are interesting but their website gives no prices that I can see and my interest is inversely related to price. If it’s 50k not interested.

    Could you had rough figures (parts and labor) for what you did?

    Best regards and thanks again for sharing.

    • atotic says:

      Surprisingly, the rollamatic roof was only $23K, and that was with their most sophisticated glass option. I call it my “million dollar feature”.
      Here are some entries from my costs spreadsheet. The water boiler was surprisingly expensive, I would not have done it if I was concerned about cash. Best cheap feature: hot water recirculator.

      High efficiency water boiler $17,220
      High efficiency pool pump $2,950
      On-demand hot water recirculator: $400
      Solar pool heater $6,000
      Windows $29,200
      Cork floors $20,123 + $10,920 install
      Sliding roof $22,670

      • atotic says:

        That water boiler was a waste of money. Got it replaced by a $3.5K model by Quietside, works a lot better.

      • Scott Lamb says:

        Wow, as I consider buying an Eichler in Sunnyvale, your pictures, recommendations, and prices are really handy. Thank you! Most people don’t seem to share the costs of their renovations. It’s great that you’ve done so, overpriced boiler and all.

        I haven’t seen estimates on high-efficiency Eichler windows anywhere until now. Does your price include all of those floor-to-ceiling windows + sliding door in the back, the narrow floor-to-ceiling windows in the front, and the more conventional-looking window I see in that bedroom? But nothing for the atrium wall, as you took that out when you enclosed it with the rollamatic roof?

        Did you put new insulation in the walls? I’ve read the original walls are not much better than the single-pane glass…

      • atotic says:

        The price included all the windows, and no atrium.

        I did not put in any new installation, unless the wall was getting opened up for some other reason. They are crappy walls, you can feel the cold seeping in on cold nights. The energy model from Sustainable Spaces said that our walls were not a major source of energy loss, so I just let them stay.

    • js says:

      Good luck with the quietside, have nothing but problems with them…korean junk…samsung might make a good tv but a boiler is a whole different beast. But you get what you pay for. Mine had to be replaced just after the warranty expired :-(

  2. Dan Simoes says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m dealing with much the same remodel right now. Your kitchen looks huge but it appears you deleted the master bedroom? I actually work in Mountain View and would love to see your house if you’d be up for it.

  3. Dan C. says:

    Thanks for the extensive write-up. I also have an Eichler with a a pool and I’m thinking of adding the Gull Sun Coils since they don’t require fastening on a flat roof. Did you ever get these working? I too have a Pentair Suntouch Controller with a VS-3050 pump. Thanks!

    • atotic says:

      The coils work. I am not sure if I ended up with the right number of coils, my current 8-coil setup takes a long time to heat the pool up. Installation and maintenance are very simple. The pump uses about 1KwH while heating.

  4. atotic says:

    Contractor. I do not have any pictures handy.

  5. Nancy says:

    Hello,
    We are in contract to buy an Eichler (in need of appropriate/tasteful! updating) and I came across your blog and see that we have the EXACT same master bed/bath layout, and are about to embark on a remodel ASAP Not only do we like the idea of switching closet opening to bedroom, but I love the counters. That’s funny because I was just thinking about something speckled/mixed colors, etc. Already in contact with PA Glass, but where/what brand is your counter top/cabinetry in the bathroom? Who did the work for you?
    Thank you so much!

    • atotic says:

      The countertop is Vetrazzo, made from recycled glass & concrete in Richmond. You can see samples at Reclaim in Menlo Park. Cabinetry is custom made on the cheap by our contractor. We’ve used Palo Alto Home Improvement (http://paloaltohi.com/). If you are in the neighborhood, stop by for a tour.

    • Nancy says:

      Thanks so much!

      • Nancy says:

        Was it very involved to switch the toilet/sinks/shower layout in your master bathroom? Did that require jack hammering into the concrete floor to lay new plumbing? With the closet, did you have to bump it out into the bedroom, or were you able to keep it in within the footprint of the bathroom/closet?
        Thanks.

  6. atotic says:

    Remodeling the master bathroom was a big job. We did jack hammer the concrete to reroute the radiant heat, and plumbing. Once it was all done, we discovered the leak in radiant pipes, and had to jackhammer the floor again. Here it pays to get the good guys to do the job, patching radiant pipes is tricky. The closet does not protrude into the bedroom. The extra bathroom space came from taking over the hallway closet.

  7. Jon Rattner says:

    Hi. You did a magnificent job!

    I am a realtor in Palo Alto andI have clients who are looking for ways to renovate an Eichler. Would it be psosibel to arrange to see your home?

    Thanks.

    Jon Rattner

  8. Eren says:

    Atotic, can I contact you for a couple questions? I own the same eichler model, and I am also looking into removing some walls.

  9. carla says:

    Aleks, Congrats on your fabulous blog about your home. We just went into contract today on an Eichler and I’m definitely nervous about the upcoming remodel. Your wisdom is going to be really helpful! Thanks!

  10. Cindy says:

    Very helpful descriptions and info! I have an Eichler-esque home and will be replacing several windows as part of a kitchen re-do. You mention your glass resource but what type (materials) of windows did you choose? I would especially like to know how they appear on the exterior. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences – inspiring!

    • atotic says:

      Glass, double pane. They look great. We went with Blomberg because they were the only ones offering same narrow profile as the originals.

      • Cindy says:

        On windows’ exterior side: powder coated, anodized, color/s?
        Thanks again!

      • atotic says:

        I forgot what exactly my order was, I wanted it as close to original as possible. They are aluminum, and look clear anodized.

  11. sross222 says:

    We just bought an Eichler in Palo Alto in near-original condition, so have plenty of work ahead of us!

    Thanks for sharing the details of your remodel. very helpful!

    How did you find a good paint colorist? Or who did you use?

    • atotic says:

      We used Carol Boyden, email me for her contact info.
      Our real estate agent had her repaint our old house for sales prep. We thought we did not need a repaint because 2 years ago we spent weeks picking just the right colors, painting chips, etc, and loved what we did.
      We were wrong. Her paint choices were much better than ours.

      • Mark Allen says:

        Very helpful post, Aleks, of obvious interest to all Eichler owners.

        With the vast selection of glass colors and various coatings that give different reflectivity, did you have Carol Boyden advise you on this aspect too when you put in the new windows? Does she have a web site (a quick Google search for “Carol Boyden colorist” didn’t return anything useful…)?

      • atotic says:

        I’ve emailed you her contact info. She did not help out with the windows. Picking them was confusing, I went with plain glass with maximum protection (forgot the exact terms).

  12. rosemary says:

    We are looking at a remodel on an Eichler in Castro Valley. Has a pool, which we are also not going to fill in. Can you tell me more about how you sorted out your pool filter/maintenance issues? Did you ever get it to the point where it wasn’t a sore spot?

    • atotic says:

      Pool is good. We finally found a maintenance guy who understands everything about our system, and it all just works. The kids are really enjoying it.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    Aleks, Great write-up! What’s your long term opinion about the cork floors. We installed cork in our Eichler (thanks Sue and Perry) in 2003, but within three years the fading became a major disappointment. The windows all had UV film but it didn’t help.

  14. atalanta says:

    Thanks for posting. About how many square feet is your home? How many bedrooms/baths? We are looking at one that’s 1872 sqft, 4bd/2baths. It’s an investor flip and the investor had no idea what makes an Eichler an Eichler. It’s a total Frankenstein uky disaster but the bones are there. I’m hoping we can get it to look like an Eichler again.
    We need to redo the bathrooms and kitchen. How much did it cost for your Master Bath pictured? Was there radiant heat pipes in the original bathroom and closets? When you switched to the $3.5k boiler do you still have the radiant floor heat running through it along with running water? Why did you only put your pool on solar and not the whole electrical for the house?

    • atotic says:

      Mine is 2000sqft, 4bd/3baths. The extra space comes from enclosing the atrium.

      I did not break out the cost of Master Bath.

      There were radiant heat pipes in the bathroom, they had to be rerouted, which was a big job. Done badly first time around, had to break concrete to fix it, make sure to hire someone who knows what they are doing. I left radiant heat on the old boiler, will switch when it dies.

      Pool solar was no brainer, pays itself off in a couple of years. I lusted after whole house solar, there is something nice about being off the grid. My house ended up being too efficient for solar to make financial sense yet. My yearly gas+electric bill is $2K, and that is with “green energy” surcharge. Which is pretty neat, considering that we keep it at 68 constant 24/7 all winter long, and kids are not very careful with outside doors. Maybe once I get an electric car my usage will be high enough.

  15. DL says:

    Bookmarking this – hoping for another chance at remodeling an Eichler! I wish that info was available when we started our remodeling. I never published the cost breakdown on my blog (http://eichler.bitfodder.com/) but I did keep all this info in some spreadsheet. It’s quite dated now but will try to dig it up and post it when I get a chance. We had put in a Munchkin T80M for the radiant heat and were quite impressed with its compact size and efficiency (non-scientific observation) – surprised that I rarely see this model mentioned in Eichler blogs; everyone still seemed to go to a bulky alternative that looked almost as old and large as the original boilers (forgot the name). The Munchkin can also be used for hot water but never got to test it for that.

  16. SS says:

    Wow, what a great remodeling! I have similar floor plan in San Mateo Highlands, and so far have done only master bathroom expansion. I will share the floor plan if you are interested. I, too, have been considering enclosing the atrium for a long time, but had not been able to resolve a few problems. Would you share how you resolved them? Of course, your model, though similar, may have been built in later years (ours is 1959), and may have improvements over ours, and you may not have had the same problem.
    1. What was your solution for radiant heat overflow pipe that drains out directly to atrium?
    2. Did you have to make new window other than the narrow floor to ceiling band window in the front bedroom next to entrance? There’s some sort of fire code requirement that every bedroom has to have an operating window, or something like that.
    3. Do you have any significant condensation in the glass ceiling in the atrium? Condensation is a problem in my household even on double pane windows..

    From the floor plan, it appears you have another room between atrium and the front bedroom next to the entrance. Is it the third bathroom? I have 4/2 model, and doesn’t have the third bathroom, though I’ve been considering making one next to the boiler and water heater.

    Thanks again for sharing your remodeling. It is a great inspiration.

    • atotic says:

      Previous owner built a bathroom out of front of the atrium. This left the atrium too small, and easy to enclose.

      1) I was not aware of any radiant overflows into the atrium, might have been dealt when 3rd bathroom was added.
      2) Previous owner left a sliding door between front bedroom and new bathroom to satisfy the code.
      3) No condensation. I have very little condensation overall, just overnight on windows behind the shades.

      You are welcome to stop by if you are interested.

  17. Jim says:

    A very well done remodel. I enjoyed reading about the considerations that you used to pick your materials and fixtures. Every homeowner should be so thoughtful. Simply proves our basic premise, a well-informed homeowner given the right information will almost always make the correct decision.

  18. Nan says:

    Thanks for keeping this site up. It’s very helpful.

  19. John Chachere says:

    Thank you for making the time to share all this with us, Aleks. Our Eichler is very similar. We redid three beds and one bath, but we’re going to live in the existing 80s updated social spaces until we figure out what we want to do with it (and save up the money). I expected the sliding roof to cost more, so I’ll take another look at it. Never considered adding a bathroom to solve the egress issue.

  20. lena dekesel-lams says:

    I love my original 2 story Eichler. But just today I had another (#10) radiant heat repair. Do you have any recommendation on an alternative heating system that fits an Eichler.

  21. Joyce says:

    Aleks, thank you for sharing your hard-earned expertise. We just bought an Eichler and need to redo floors and bathrooms before moving in. Could you please share the contact info for your colorist? And have your cork floors held up?

  22. Joyce says:

    Oh, I just saw the comment above about the gashes in the kitchen. Sorry about that!

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