Will your dream home stand the test of time?

I often hear from homeowners who have been in their homes for years and have always intended to stay… until issues of aging compromised their mobility or otherwise challenged their ability to remain at home. 
The good news is, in most cases, basic updates to the structure and design can allow a homeowner to stay comfortably at home for most if not all of the stages of life. 
Universal Design refers to the use of products and structural modifications to make a space more accessible and safer to those who are challenged by the limitations of illness, aging or injury. 
As Baby Boomers started reaching retirement age, awareness of the necessity of Universal Design became clear.  Taking Universal Design into account when modifying or remodeling an existing space can reduce or even completely eliminate the need for later or emergency updates.
Great design is no accident.
Here are some examples of Universal Design adaptations s that can really make a difference for people, young or old, who struggle with mobility issues:
  • Large appliances can be built into cabinets and drawer spaces for easier access
  • Lower countertops make food preparation easier
  • Induction cook tops don’t use open flames and are not hot to the touch
  • Add extra space under countertops near cooking and food preparation spaces for roll-under seated access. 
  • Hands-free or touch activated faucets
  • Roll-in showers that allow for easy access
  • Grab bars in shower or next to toilet
  • Ledge seat in bathtub
  • Night lighting 
  • Flip-seat design in the shower
  • Touch-activation shower or faucet heads
When considering which modifications and adaptations will best serve your long term independence, our Aging in Place Checklist may help.  
As always, I invite you to contact me to discuss any aspect of your design or building process. 
Until next time,

I live in Portland, Oregon, where vintage homes are a premium, in part because of their basements.  In many cases, basements provide the simplest and most affordable way to increase livable space without building an addition to your home.

If you have a basement, this article is for you.  But before you spring headlong into a basement conversion project, here are some important questions to consider:

Is your basement dry? 

It’s important to carefully inspect the basement and surrounding yard or landscaping for dampness and proper drainage.  Are the rain drains doing their job and does the foundation of the house include exterior perimeter drainage tile?  If there has ever been a leak or moisture problem in the basement, this may prove to be an obstacle to a successful basement remodel.  In almost every case, we recommend installing an internal perimeter drainage system inside the basement and below floor level, along with a sump pump to collect any water that may accumulate at the basement level. 

What kind of basement access is available from inside and outside?

Building codes require an entrance to your basement via a proper stairway from the inside or outside of the house.  A basement living space must also include a secondary exit directly to the outside, in the event of a fire or other emergency.  An egress window or outside door qualifies as a secondary exit.  Additionally, each basement bedroom must have its own egress window or door exit.

How much headroom do you have down there?

The minimum headroom required for the space to be up to code (here in Portland) is 6’8”, but we recommend at least 7’0”  for the comfort of those using the space. If your basement lacks adequate headroom, we can often dig down to create more useable space.  

How much light flows into the basement?

If your basement is dark, it may still be usable if the right lighting is installed.  Much can be done with windows and light tunnels, and window wells can often be turned into small atriums or gardens.

How old is the plumbing? 

If you have an older home, and you probably do if you are reading this article, we encourage you to update the plumbing drains and supply lines prior to your basement conversation project.  It can be costly and disruptive to repair sewer lines under a concrete basement floor later on. 

You can see more about how a basement remodel can transform your space by viewing this Basement Remodel Slideshow.

The very best way to assess the possibility of a successful basement conversion is to meet with an experienced contractor. The possibilities are exciting! 

It’s what we do best, so let’s talk.

~Jim Bruce


As you consider embarking on a building or remodeling project, some details are important to understand up front.  The purpose of this article is to provide a basic understanding of the process we follow at JB Construction, and to clearly explain how different types of Construction Contracts work. 

At JB Construction, we offer two different approaches to the design and building process:  Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build.  We invite you to choose the approach that best fits your philosophy and finances. 

The design-build concept has been around for years, and its advantage is that the Designer, Contractor and Client work as a team from the very beginning.  Ideas are presented and analyzed on a “real time” basis thus taking into account all the elements of the project so there will be no surprises during the build phase. This process is a win-win situation for both the client and the contractor.

The Design/Build process begins with an initial meeting to discuss the ideas and dreams of the client, and to establish a comfortable working relationship between contractor and client.  In this meeting important considerations such as budget and timelines will also be discussed.

In order to move into the design phase of the project, a financial commitment is made by the client in the form of a Design Agreement.

The design phase begins with preliminary or conceptual architectural design drawings being produced, with different scenarios presented in order to arrive at an approved design, which then can be priced on a preliminary basis. If there is a preliminary decision is to proceed, detailed construction drawings are developed with a specification list, and both the drawings and specifications are approved by the client before a final project bid is developed.

This design-build process is completely transparent and all parties work on a cooperative basis at all times. Ideas are exchanged freely and are evaluated on a practical and financial basis.

The Design/Build method is the fastest way to complete your project.

The Design-Bid-Build approach calls for a set of plans and specifications drawn out by an architect or designer.  This set of specifications is where every detail of the building project is defined and itemized.  With this approach, the client will make decisions about almost every detail of the design and building process before bids are solicited. The client will then solicit and compare bids from multiple contractors.

Design-Bid-Build is the preferred approach for clients who are most concerned with keeping costs as low as possible and less concerned with details and quality.  In a Design-Bid-Build project, once a contract is signed the client has minimal input with regard to adjusting project details and time frames.  Changes (change orders) can be made later in the project cycle; however, they may be much more costly for the client.

Understanding Various Types of Construction Contracts

Fixed Price Contract
This is also known as a “guaranteed” or “hard” bid.  A contractor receives a set of plans and specifications and bids the job according to those documents.  The bid has a larger “contingency” (a specified amount, built into the bid, to cover cost overages caused by a number of factors), so that the contractor is protected from losing money on the project.  If the contingency is not used, the contractor gets to keep it as extra profit.

Cost Plus (with a fixed fee) Contract
With this type of contract, the client pays the contractor for Time and Materials plus a fee, and pays for these costs at regular intervals throughout the duration of the project.  Cost Plus contracts include direct (billed) fees for all materials, subcontractors, and any other direct costs associated with the project including labor rates (as described in the contract), as well as an additional fee (a percentage which includes overhead indirect job costs and profit) for the contractor. This type of contract is less costly up front than the Fixed Price Contract or the Not to Exceed Contract; because it does not include an amount for contingency (unforeseen overage costs).  With this kind of contract, any and all cost overages are the responsibility of the client. This type of contract is done on an “open book” basis:  all costs are detailed, disclosed and billed on a monthly basis throughout the duration of the project.

Cost Plus (with a ‘Not to Exceed’ clause) Contract
This is a variation of the Cost Plus (fixed fee) Contract, whereby a contingency amount is determined, and defines the minimum and maximum contract price.  The final contract price depends upon how much of the contingency is used during construction.  The contingency is usually 5 – 15% of the project costs.  For example, if the project cost is determined to be $100,000 a contingency may be set at $10,000, and the Contract would be written as a minimum of $100,000 and maximum of $110,000.  In this type of contract, change orders are addressed separately.

Our Philosophy, in a nutshell
At JB Construction Services, we approach all types of contracts very conservatively, because we want to produce a quality project and avoid surprising a client with additional costs later on in the project.  Depending on the complexity of the job and the client’s level of desire to “be flexible” with certain design details and specifications, we will suggest an appropriate type of contract. Our approach is about being honest about all costs, up front, so that our clients can be comfortable with the design and build process… at every step of the way.

I look forward to discussing the details of your project. 

~Jim Bruce


Strong House circa 1915 In 2008 we completed a whole house remodel of a gorgeous historic home in the Alphabet district in NW Portland.  The house came with a rich, partial history which was conveyed to us by the people who occupied it between 1941 and 2008.  That part of the story was masterfully recounted by Bridget Otto in her article in the Oregonian's H&G issue of April 2, 2009.


Then, in January of this year, we were approached by the original owner's granddaughter, Caroline Strong Pond, age 85. Her grandfather, George Strong, had built the house in 1901 and lived in it until 1941.  When Caroline toured the home, share shared with us some of the special memories that came flooding back of her own childhood and young adolescence in the house. She was so impressed with our restoration of the home - it looked much the way she remembered it - that she returned a week later with photos of her grandparents, in front of the original house with their open air automobile, circa 1915 (above).


Caroline told us of the extra bedrooms and an open air porch that had been added in 1910 to provide an isolated space where her grandfather could recover after contracting tuberculosis. Today, that space is a wonderful indoor garden and sanctuary.


Meeting Caroline and getting the bigger picture of this historical home is truly a full circle experience, and a wonderful testament to the longevity and legacy of a well-crafted and solidly constructed home.  Below, the Strong house (circa 2012), looks ready for another century as one of Portland’s best. Strong House circa 2012


 Until next time,





By Jim Bruce

JB Construction Services, Inc.


As a remodeling contractor, we receive a few calls a year to look at converting unfinished basements into living space.  I live and work in the Portland Oregon area and the great majority of basement conversions occur in older houses, because newer ones are not built with basements, unless they are daylights.  Things to consider in the planning stage are:

  • Is the basement dry?  I mean “really dry”.  Nobody wants moisture problems that can lead to high humidity, rot and mold.  So we ask each homeowner how long they have lived in the house, have they ever had a leak, etc.  Then we carefully inspect the basement and the surrounding yard.  Does the ground slope away from the house?  Are the rain drains in good shape?  Does the foundation have an exterior perimeter drainage tile and what shape is it in?  Are there a lot of trees around the house that could cause the gutters to overflow?  All of these factors and more are considered.  Even if all of the above checks out, we recommend that almost all basements should have an internal perimeter drainage system installed inside the basement and below floor level, with a sump well and pump to catch any water infiltration.  That same system has a plastic fin that protrudes slightly above the floor near the foundation wall and re-directs any wall leakage down into the drain tile under the floor.  Then we frame the interior stud walls inside and away from the plastic fin.  We have found that this “last line of defense” is very effective and protects the homeowner’s  investment.


  • Is there reasonable access to the basement from both inside and outside?    Building codes require a proper stairway from the inside or outside.  Invariably, the homeowner wants unfettered internal access to the basement, and that can cause challenges with the upstairs floor plan.  The basement must also have a secondary exit in the event of a fire or other emergency.  An egress window or outside door can suffice as a secondary exit.  Additionally, each bedroom must have its own egress window or door.


  • Is there enough headroom in the basement?  The code minimum in Portland is 6’8”, but we recommend  a minimum of 7’0” after all finishes are installed.  We will often dig down to achieve this.  Sometimes the existing foundation is not deep enough and we will build one under the existing foundation walls to achieve the desired height.  There is also the furnace and its ductwork to consider. 


  • Is there enough light down there?  Much can be done with windows and light tunnels.  Window wells can be turned into small atriums or gardens.


  • Is the old plumbing in good shape?  We encourage our clients to change out the drains and supply lines, especially in older homes.  If they are cast iron or galvanized steel, they will never hold up for the 50 or more years that a basement remodel should last.  The newer materials are much more durable and efficient.  Having to repair a sewer line under the concrete basement floor, after doing that beautiful remodel, can be very disruptive and costly.


These are the main points that you should consider when planning to remodel your basement.