5 things you might find in a new $1,000,000 home

We recently bid a 3,000 square foot custom home in the heart of Silicon Valley.  I grew up in a 1910 Sears Catalog home that would sell for $180,000 today.  $1,000,000 is an insane amount of money. Except it’s quite common today.
At $333 per square foot I have to admit, I was surprised this wasn’t more expensive…
Because this home is in the most expensive real estate market in the country. People can spend $1,000+ per square foot in this town.
Because it is designed with magazine quality, fantasy finishes.
So, let’s see what kind of goodies techies drop their money on:)
These are the five big purchases that I find most interesting:
– Fancy staircase
– Special cut hardwood flooring
– 4 exquisite bathrooms (in a three bedroom home)
– Custom kitchen cabinets
– A 10 piece wall of windows and sliding doors.
Here are some details about these finishes:
–  A special order $38,000 staircase.  This is the kind you’ll see in Dwell Magazine.  The staircase has floating wooden steps, a structural steel stringer, steel supports, and a metal wire railing.
Inline image 2
– 35,000 hardwood flooring that is “rift sawn”.  Rift sawn is the most expensive way to harvest wood from a tree trunk, it’s also the hardest and most durable.
Inline image 3
Rift Sawn
– $5,600 in glass shower doors, tile everywhere, waterproof floors throughout.
– $36,000 in custom kitchen cabinets

– 10 part glass doors running the full length of the kitchen and living area.  A truly open living area like this, in earthquake country, with another story above requires that you build the walls like building a steel skyscraper vs. a traditional wood framed house.
Inline image 4
To see some of the design of this home, and the full budget, you can read another post here.
Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

How to Finance: Remodels, Fixer Uppers, and Accessory Dwellings

We interviewed  Kris Floyd of Pinnacle Capital to try to get to the bottom of the timeline for financing a home improvement project, addition, remodel or accessory dwelling.

Kris explained that when done right, the renovation loan process will take 30 days and there are five steps in this process:

  • Pre qualification (1 day)
  • If buying a new home the offer to purchase the home must be accepted. If renovating our own home or adding on, this is obviously not relevant (1 day)
  • List of repairs to be approved and choosing a contractor (10 days)
  • Loan approval, appraisal, final conditions for the borrower and renovation (11 days)
  • Closing (7 days)

The renovation that follows can range from 30 days to over six months.

Kris at Pinnacle Renovation Lending spends over 80% of this time working with owners to obtain renovation loans.  At New Avenue we are working with them to help owners who are considering 203K loans and remodeling loans.  They have the ability to finance the “soft costs” which includes the design and permit fees. You will typically pay these soft costs out of pocket and then be reimbursed once construction begins.

Kris estimates that over 95% of all their renovation loans take frmo 30-45 days to close.

Pinnacle has a renovation loan that allows owners to purchase a home and renovate the home with one loan.   There are two key benefits in their renovation loan that we find unique. First, t he mortgage is based on after-improved value.  Second, there is only one closing and then repairs begin.
To learn more about remodeling costs, to speak to an architect or contractor or to discuss the financing options you can sign up at New Avenue.
We will share example budgets, example floor plans.  Any owner, architect or contractor can use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started


Client Quotes and Referrals

We’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of nice feedback from the clients, architects and contractors that we work with.   We typically share this list when a potential client asks for a reference in order to verify a construction budget, construction schedule, building permit process or costs.

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

Here are several references:

Our son, AJ joined our little family last Tuesday. Thank you for surrounding us with a strong team during all of this,it’s good to know that New Avenue, Mick and Robert have the house project under control while we’re ramping up on this whole parent project thing.

– Robert K (San Rafael Remodel, Addition, new master bathroom, seismic, 5/6/2015, 7 days after AJ’s arrival)

The very nice thing about working with you is that I don’t need to worry about the process and oversight, and vetting people to do the work.  That is a huge value for me. Our architect is a pleasure to work with.  He is very easy and has been responsive and flexible and understands what we’re looking for.  And he certainly knows his business and how to work with the City. So that’s great.

– Marian M (Berkeley master bedroom and master bathroom remodel, client note from 5/2015)

The architect is designing such a nice cottage that I might just move in myself and rent out the main house!

– Ellen H (Albany, CA  client, detached music studio, guest house, landscaping, new bathroom)

Having a fully integrated way of controlling correspondence along with billing is nonexistent… this is really great

– Miklos, General Contractor (Alameda historic restoration, Berkeley accessory dwelling, San Francisco Addition, San Francisco remodel, Oakland guest house, Berkeley addition, El Cerrito accessory dwelling)

“You are rendering a very valuable service to the families and communities for which we have great appreciation”

-Vijai Sharma, PhD, Oakland addition

“New Avenue allows us to focus on what we enjoy doing the most – designing for clients.”

-Patrick, architect 

“Working with New Ave has been such a great experience! From the beginning, New Ave and Paks Builder have been cohesive partners and we look forward to working on many future projects together!”

– Robert P – General Contractor

“You certainly make it waay better than business-as-usual.  No doubt.”

– Prasad, Client

“I’m tired of trolling Yelp and banging my head against the wall.  I just want someone to show up”

– Bryndis T

Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

8 Insights from a Happy Client – Accessory Dwelling Backyard Cottage in Berkeley, CA

We recently had the chance to reconnect with an early client who completed a backyard cottage, that included a little remodeling and a lot of custom design, custom construction and landscaping.

Here are the client’s unedited responses to a few quick questions:

 1) Why did you build an accessory dwelling?
We had been looking for a duplex to buy and share with my Mom but couldn’t find anything that met her needs and ours.  At one point, we happened to look at a fixer-upper that had a big lot and that sparked the idea for an ADU.  That particular house wasn’t the match for us, but we did find another fixer-upper that did work out and immediately started the process.
2) What was most surprising about having all three generations together.
​I thought we’d spend more time together than we actually do- especially dinners.  We each have our own routines and so we often share food, but not always together.
3) Have you set up any “good neighbor” rules between your two homes?
​We don’t typically show up unannounced though now that we walk my Mom’s dog, we’re there once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
4) What was the worst surprise in the planning and building?
​Fire sprinklers being enforced!  ​
5) What was the best surprise during planning and building?  
​The building permit was remarkably fast and made up for the delay in the planning permit.​
6) What was the best aspect of creating a custom design?
We were able to site the cottage in a way that worked for both privacy and light.  We also were able to really consider how the space(s) would be used for my Mom and configure a nice sized office space for her.
7) What do you wish you did differently?
​I’m not sure I’d choose radiant heat again.  And, if we didn’t choose radiant heat, we might not have chosen the tile floors.
8) Other thoughts?
We really love living here and sharing more of the day-to-day with my Mom.  It’s great to be able to help out as needed, but for her to be quite independent and able to walk/ take the bus/ etc. to get around here in the Gourmet Ghetto.  Her old house was up in the Berkeley Hills and not nearly as easy for accessing stores and restaurants.


Accessory Dwellings in the City of El Cerrito

Here are a few of the requirements related to Second Units for the City of El Cerrito, though you’ll have to review the New Accessory Dwelling code for 2017 for the most accurate definition, requirements, variances and exceptions:

  • The maximum FAR (floor area ratio) shall not exceed 750 sq ft or 40% of the floor area of the primary dwelling, whichever is less, except that an attached Second Unit of 400 sq ft in floor area is permitted regardless of the size of the primary dwelling. Up to 1200 sq ft or 75% of the floor area of the primary dwelling, whichever is less, may be permitted with the approval of a Conditional Use Permit.
  • The maximum height of a detached Second Unit is 15 feet. A detached Second Unit may exceed 15-feet in height with the approval of a Conditional Use Permit.
  • The required additional parking space for the Second Unit may be in tandem with required parking of the principal dwelling unit.
Dennis and Lisa's Paradise in El Cerrito, CA
Dennis and Lisa’s Paradise in El Cerrito, CA

Here’s a link to a client story for a recent El Cerrito project.  This home was also featured on NPR!  Verify with the Planning Division to confirm your requirements in your zoning district. Learn more about accessory dwellings by learning about our process, read our client stories or contact us today if you are interested in building your own backyard cottage.


Paul’s Green Pad – A Perfect Place for the Urban Professional

Paul, an expert in energy efficiency and sustainable design, decided to convert his detached garage so he could have more living space in his East Bay home.  The wooden floor concealed an old slab and once it was removed it became clear that it would be better to replace the entire foundation.  After replacing the foundation, redoing the slab and, of course, installing energy efficient appliances and systems, Paul created a green and cozy home ideal for simple and single urban living. For example, using an electric cooktop with one burner induction has better control than gas and – bonus – it is super easy to install. To proactively manage energy consumption and demand, we plugged in an electrical submeter into the subpanel. Finally, Paul found an amazing all-in-one washer/dryer uses a fraction of the space as a traditional washer and dryer set. It does take longer to complete a load, so you’ll want to put in the dirty clothes in the morning so when you’re back from work, the laundry is ready for folding.

Total budget for this project was $81,648.  Though the original construction agreement was $69,452, we accommodated Paul’s requests for additional work that was not included in the original scope or the project’s evolving needs with these non-discretionary change orders:

Water Heaters $80 water heater price overage
Faucets, Supplies, and Trim $340 purchased garbage disposal & install electrical outlet & switch; plumbing/hookup for garbage disposal included in orig bid
Oven/Stovetop $250 addtl outlet for stovetop hooked onto garbage disposal outlet.
Landscaping $200 installation of new special front gate hardware per request of owner.
Electrical service upgrade $180 3hr for electrician to do a separate gauge incl materials
Showers $8 shower head contractor paid for. orig shower trim returned to owner b/c missing part.
Countertops $780 addtl 18″ backsplash, stovetop cutout, & granite on window sill ledge
Demolition and Structure Moving $200 removal satellite dish removal, patch roof, & hauling debris
Showers $500 rough plumbing: moving shower head & valve from west to south wall after per drawing from 6.26 for phase 2.
Faucets, Supplies, and Trim $250 Hose bib on garage by driveway
Patios $199 materials for redwood landing in front of entry door
Faucets, Supplies, and Trim $(360) credit to owner for faucets & sink. excluding cost for toilet
Exterior Painting $150 addtl two colors
Interior Painting $150 addtl two colors
Custom $240 Per City Inspector’s orders: addtl electrical work, labor only 4hrs
Framing $870 Loft: Reframe for loft in bathroom area. Includes flooring with 3/4″ plywood. Window frame: Reframing window for bigger size 3×4 window.
Exterior Window and Door Trim $100 skylight & flashing unexpected price increase; no change in labor price
Demo $3,200 demolition of existing concrete slab & exterior wall only. Existing wall at west elevation will remain. We will add 2×6 stud & will nail at 16″oc for wood siding. Haul away unnecessary items. Labor & material priced together.
Foundation $7,500 place 4″ new concrete slab & foundation according to structure engineer’s revised drawing. We will include trenching, dirt compacting, 4″ drain rock, 2″ sand, 2 layers 6mil vapor barrier. Labor and material priced together.
Foundation $2,400 new 2×4 wall 16″oc at south, east and north elevations. Approx 70 linear ft at 8′ high. Labor & material priced together.
Trenching $(670) on original budget form: Line Item 31 Trenching. We have included in change order (ref# VAIDYA-0513). Cost reimbursed $670.
Demo $(500) line Item 33 Phase II Demo/Earth Move: We have included part of cost to change order price. Cost reimbursed $500
Foundation $(3,000) line Item 03 Foundation (phase II): We have included full cost to change order price. Cost reimbursed $3000.
$185 coordination w/Surveyors and obtaining proposals for Clients approval
Architect Coordination $185 structural analysis/documentation for bringing structure closer to current codes (per Owner’s direction)
$85 cadd up schedules/details, etc
Schematics $185 Multiple “Future” Floor Plan variations in the process working with owner to develop the final “Future” floor plan, beyond that of the initial 4 layouts per contract
$85 cadd some options in process


Woodside and Accessory Living Quarters

Nestled in San Mateo County and filled with ranches and horse properties, the town of ar135976903004569Woodside has done better than some of its neighbors in providing additional housing.

They town planed for 17 low-income units in the last housing element, but 24 were actually built, all of them accessory living quarters.

 An accessory living quarter is a living area that is: (1) within or attached to a main dwelling or within or attached to a detached building or structure, subordinate to the main dwelling; and (2) designed, built or used for human habitation.

Many accessory living units in Woodside are built to be occupied by people who work on a property, to provide rental income or to allow older residents a place age in place, allowing their adult children and their families to move into the main house.

Here’s an overview of the key differences between accessory structures and accessory living quarters.

Verify with the Planning Division to confirm your requirements for your home, or call New Avenue.  Learn more about accessory dwellings, remodels and major home renovations by learning about our process, read our client stories or contact us today if you are interested in pursuing your own home project.

Radiant Floor Heating

Radiant floor heating turns your floor into a large-area radiator. The floor becomes a heated surface that directly warms the floor – whether a wood floor or a thick concrete floor. This floor can be “charged” during off-peak hours, when electricity is cheaper, and, if the thermal mass is large enough, it can keep a home comfortable all day without further electrical input. Other options to heat a home include forced-air heating, baseboard heating, gas burners, electric heating elements, space heaters, and passive solar design. There are three types of radiant floor heating:

  • Air-heated radiant floors – Air cannot hold a large amount of heat, so this type of system is rarely installed. They are not cost-effective for residential use.
  • Electric radiant floors – This type of heating uses electric cables or electrically conductive plastic mats installed beneath the floor covering. It is cost-effective when used with flooring of significant thermal mass. Electric systems are cheaper to install than hydronic systems, but In the long run it would likely be less expensive to use a different fuel source and go with a hydronic system, which is powered by gas. This option is frequently used to retrofit a single room or to add a little luxury.  This is common in bathrooms but can be ideal for a smaller home or for occasional use.
  • Hydronic radiant floors – The most popular and cost-effective type of radiant heating, hydronic radiant floor systems pump water heated from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern under the floor. Manifold setup allows varied heating of different zones. This is ideal for homes that already use a water heater.

Underfloor heating pipes, before they are covered by the screed. - From: Wikipedia
Underfloor heating pipes, before they are covered by the screed. – From: Wikipedia
Illustration of hydronic radiant floor heating system. - From: This Old House
Illustration of hydronic radiant floor heating system. – From: This Old House
Forced-air Heat vs. Radiant Heat temperature distribution. Note the even and gradient in the radiant heating system vs. the roundabout circulation of the forced-air system. - From: Uponor
Forced-air Heat vs. Radiant Heat temperature distribution. Note the even and gradient in the radiant heating system vs. the roundabout circulation of the forced-air system. – From: Uponor
Here’s a short list of advantages and disadvantages of radiant floor heating:


  • One of the largest selling points is comfort. A warm floor allows you to more comfortably walk around barefoot.
  • Radiant floor heating is very quiet. There is no airflow through ducts as one would hear from forced-air heating systems, and there is no gurgling and little to no expansion and contraction creaking as one would hear from baseboard radiators.
  • For hydronic heating, lower boiler temperature requirements than one would need for baseboard heating increases boiler life and gives the option to use hot water heated by solar energy.  This is difficult to permit though, and often times it is a DIY project.
  • Not having to configure a room for a baseboard radiator or air register gives occupants more flexibility in arranging furniture. The heating system is essentially invisible.
  • Less dust circulating around the house compared with forced-air systems and no surfaces that become too hot and burn dust like electric baseboard systems.
  • Good for when building occupants have acute chemical sensitivity or allergies. A forced-air system could distribute dust and an electric heating element or gas burner can burn dust particles.
  • Forced-air heated air rises up to the ceiling, where it cools, then down. A radiant floor system gives a more desirable temperature gradient throughout a room.


  • Costs more to install, particularly for retrofits, and, depending on your local climate, you may still need a separate air-conditioning system. You can expect to pay 50% more for installing a hydronic radiant floor heating system than for a conventional forced-air system.  Costs have averaged $12-15 per square foot in projects we have managed.
  • High-performance green homes that need little heating energy would not benefit or benefit very little from the added costs of putting in an expensive heating system. Other, less expensive heating options can provide the same level of comfort particularly when the building envelope already does a fine job.
  • There is a time-lag of heat movement through the flooring. This can lead to an overheating problem if there are other sources, such as passive solar, already delivering heat to a space. It is probably best to disable or avoid installing radiant floor slabs where solar heat will already more directly heat the air.
  • To be effective, floor coverings must be thin and conductive.  The covering should not insulate the heating system from the room. Ceramic tile is the most common and effective floor covering for radiant floor heating, but thin carpeting and wood can also be used.
  • Consistent heat may not be desirable for homeowners that like to turn heat on and off at different times of the day.
  • While great for small smaller rooms with lower roofs, in some cases it can be less energy efficient than forced-air heating. Check with a heating contractor to see if it would be sensible.

While it does cost more, radiant floor heating is a popular option. It provides so much more comfort than what many of us have experience with in older, drafty, or ineffectively-heated homes. A well-operated radiant heating system with a programmable thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars on home heating bills. Also, many states have financial incentives for upgrading homes to boost energy efficiency. If you’re building a small home, this could be something you could consider. We at New Avenue have had experience incorporating radiant floor heating in our projects.


  1. This Old House – Radiant Floor Heating
  2. Energy.gov on Radiant Heating
  3. Oregon.gov – Radiant-Floor Heating
  4. Scientific American – Is Under-Floor Radiant Heating More Efficient Than Conventional Systems?



As a building material, fiberglass is nothing new. It’s been floating boats and strengthening ladders for years. In the window industry, however, it’s the latest addition to a range of finish options. The most popular fiberglass windows are wood windows with exterior fiberglass cladding but 100% fiberglass windows are also available. Fiberglass windows currently comprise about 4% of the market and the percentage is growing each year.

Fiberglass windows are a popular alternative to metal or wood windows for good reason: they are strong, durable, long-lasting, maintenance free, energy efficient, have low thermal expansions, and are economical. Fiberglass is made of thin, strong cables of glass, saturated with specially compounded resins and fiberglass won’t discolor, warp, rot, dent, or rust over time.

For renovation work, fiberglass windows are a very good choice. In addition to the above benefits, two characteristics separate them from other window alternatives and make them especially appropriate for this specialized work.

First, in a restoration project, window profiles (stiles, rails, and muntins) often need to simulate older, wooden windows with narrow profiles. Fiberglass is 3.5 times stronger than wood composites and 3 times stronger than wood. Because of it’s superior strength, fiberglass profiles are narrower than most replacement windows and are the perfect solution when a traditional look is needed. And, unlike wood windows, they never need to be painted or scraped.

However, fiberglass windows can be painted for aesthetic reasons.

The second important feature of fiberglass windows is that although painting isn’t necessary for protection, they are paintable. Over the course of a lifetime, historic buildings undergo a number of color transformations. From generation to generation, color schemes vary and what is popular during one decade is often out of favor the next. Because color is so important in renovation projects, fiberglass windows give older buildings the ability to change colors. From one generation to the next, fiberglass windows – like wood windows – are chameleons, they can change color whenever a building does. In contrast, once a metal or vinyl window is installed, it can’t be painted and the building color must always be coordinated with the unchangeable window color.

For renovation projects that need to meet high standards, restoring or recreating original wood windows is the only window treatment possible. But for rehabilitation projects with less-demanding standards or projects where no original wood windows are extant, installing fiberglass windows makes a lot of sense: they are more durable than wood, they’re proportionally correct, and they require no maintenance but can be painted.

In the future, more restoration projects will discover that fiberglass windows fulfill many needs. Even better, they don’t break the budget.

Jerri Holan, FAIA, is an award-winning architect with an old-fashioned mission: to create buildings connected to their context and to express these connections gracefully. She has received awards from the National Trust, the American Institute of Architects, the California Preservation Foundation, the Art Deco Society of California, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, and the Oakland Heritage Alliance. See the original post from Jerri Holan, FAIA here.


Salvaged Redwood

Salvaged redwood is a popular building material used to achieve the natural and rustic character appealing to many. The de-nailed material will usually have extractive “black” bleeding from the tannic acids and the nails. Although the holes, knicks, and scratches that remain help define the look and feel, they are a problem for finishing elements exposed to the outdoors, where new siding would perform better, look better, and last longer. Using old, naturally-aged material for exterior siding presents maintenance and upkeep problem as the material checks and endures sun and weather. For the best performance and durability, salvaged redwood should be cleaned and used for ornamentation in more stable circumstances such as character siding in eaves, interior walls, flooring, tables, chairs, garden boxes, wainscoting, and other places where the holes, splits and knots of the wood can focus and really show their character. Use new material for siding!

Here’s a couple of projects we’ve done that used salvaged redwood.

Poppy’s Place: Two-Bedroom, Two-Bath Home in Berkeley’s Elmwood Neighborhood

Poppy's Place - Redwood from old backyard home
Poppy's Place - Redwood from old backyard home
Poppy's Place - Salvaged Redwood Finish
Poppy's Place - Salvaged Redwood Finish
Susan’s Cottage: Studio with Upstairs Loft in the East Bay of CA

Susan's Cottage - Salvaged Redwood from Old Garage
Susan's Cottage - Salvaged Redwood from Old Garage
Susan's Cottage - Redwood Loft Railing and Finishing
Susan's Cottage - Redwood Loft Railing and Finishing
Susan's Cottage - Redwood Loft Railing and Finishing
Susan's Cottage - Redwood Loft Railing and Finishing
Susan's Cottage - Salvaged redwood to be installed
Susan's Cottage - Salvaged redwood to be installed
Susan's Cottage - Redwood Finishing
Susan's Cottage - Redwood Finishing