For Life! Lessons in Successful Remodeling

Tomco Company  takes pride in being your contractor for life.  Gary and Kristin Johnson are proof it works. They hired Tomco Company for the first remodeling project 13 years ago. Since then Tom Schiebout and his crew have been back several times for additional interior and exterior projects. They finished the most recent in the past month.

The New Brighton couple says they choose Tomco because they are confident the work will be done right and will last. They count on excellent craftsmanship, forward-looking design, clear communication and considerate workers every time. That’s far more important to them than possibly saving a little money on a less experienced remodeler.

“You can’t save enough money to make a failed project a good investment, so we hire Tom.” Kristin explained.

Like many couples, Gary and Kristin have their own priorities. Kristin is keenly focused on how the space will look and feel. Gary dives into the details of how stuff will work and perform over time. “Tom really explains things in fine detail. Sometimes I just wanted to know it will look pretty,” Kristin admits. One thing she and Gary agree on is that every project should use quality materials that will stand the test of time.

The Johnsons value Tom’s design advice too, even when some suggestions exceed the budget and must wait for a later phase to be executed. They also appreciate Tomco’s ability to seamlessly blend new surfaces and old, such as when Tom’s  bricklayer finished the side of the original fireplace after removing the closet.

Over the years, Tomco has remodeled the Johnsons’ kitchen, three bathrooms, the interior stairway, the living room, the main entry and even the front elevation and hardscaping. Each time, the updates made the environment both look and perform better.

Portico and stairway enhance curb appeal, safety and function

The home sits high on a sloped lot. Kristin said the plain, flat two-story front made it look like a giant box. There also was the matter of the steep stairway that hugged the house from the tuck under garage to the small, exposed stoop. Tom re-sided the entire house, carefully balancing different textures and paint colors to add character to the flat surface. He also designed an open portico with a long curved concrete stairway, custom wrought iron rail and multi-level retaining wall to provide three-dimensional curb appeal The portico and its larger stoop also improve safety and create welcoming shelter for guests.

“Porticos can make a huge difference. Often, cities will allow them even if they encroach on the zoning for front-yard setback because they improve safety,” Tom explained.

Tomco: Take down that wall!

Once inside the entry, Tom removed a tiny coat closet that faced the main door an arm’s length away to open the space, expose the handsome see-through Chicago brick fireplace and increase natural light. He also removed the far living room wall so sunlight streams in from three directions and added recessed LED lighting.

“The living room used to be so dark. We plan to stay here after retirement so we wanted it to be more cheerful. With the wall and closet removed and the new lighting, it is so much brighter,” Kristin remarked.

Houzz-inspired custom railing

When Kristin wanted a distinctive railing to go with their new birch stairway, Tom encouraged her to look for ideas on Houzz. She spotted a modern design that would complement the light hardwood flooring, and Tom had the same company that did the outside railing fabricate it to fit.

The old stairways had solid knee walls at the top that blocked light and created a tunnel effect. Now light streams in from every angle.

Remodeling remedies hidden flaws

Perhaps the biggest improvement to the Johnson home is barely visible. While doing demolition for the bathroom makeovers, Tom discovered water dripping from the attic where another contractor had built an addition many years ago. The new perpendicular ridge had created a poorly ventilated space. With warm moist area rising from below, the inside of the gable wall resembled a glacier, Tom recalls.

Tom solved the problem by sealing all the attic air leaks around cables and pipes, insulating and windblocking the eaves with expanding foam and installing continuous ridge and soffit vents.

It’s not surprising that the Johnsons have referred Tomco to family, friends and neighbors. Although Tom has remodeled kitchens for two of their referrals, they’re all different. “Each project suits the house and reflects the personality and tastes of the owners,” Kristin said.

Tomco Company
1425 Andover Blvd. NW AndoverMN55304 USA 
 • 763-434-1522

Full-feature, curb-free shower ideal for aging in place

Coordinated hand shower, seat and grab bars complete curb-free shower design

Phil and his wife are inspirations for aging on one’s own terms. Although in their 80s, both still work outside the home. They mostly heat their house with dead wood harvested from their bucolic 10-acre property. And they are determined to enjoy their peaceful country life as long as they are physically able.

The couple experienced a curb-free shower for the first time at a hotel last year and knew it was just what they needed to make their home safer and more accessible. They hired Tomco Company to remodel their master bath and could not be happier with how the project turned out.

curb-free shower photo

Curb-free shower

With a curb-free shower, the bathroom floor now is an unbroken, non-slip tile surface that slopes toward the drain beginning at the shower curtain. This will make it possible to roll a chair or walker into the bathing area if needed in the future. But anyone would find the barrier-free design easier and safer than climbing into the old combination tub-shower.

The new shower also features an attractive fold-down teak seat and an adjustable handshower that can be positioned high or low along a vertical bar for standing or seated use. Coordinated vertical and horizontal grab bars complete the safety upgrade. The Tomco remodel also features a new wall-mounted toilet, wall tile, lighting and fan.

The couple wanted to retain the existing vanity and mirror, but we measured the doorway and clear space to ensure there would be enough room for a wheelchair to access and turn around in the space. Eliminating a shower curb and glass enclosure greatly enhanced the turning radius.

The couple’s only regret is that they didn’t replace the tub sooner. They say the added comfort, convenience, and safety give them peace of mind. Best of all, the accessible design looks as good as it functions.

Handshower photo

Adjustable hand shower, grab bars and teak seat

teak shower seat photo

Teak seat down

accessible shower photo

Accessible shower

wall-mounted toilet photo

Wall-mounted toilet

Remodeling with Your Future in Mind

From chilly porch to cozy family room

With two growing children, Brian and Tiffany White were rapidly outgrowing their 1,100 sf New Brighton home and approached Tomco Company for help.

Recommended against raising the roof

First, they asked us to bid on raising the roof and adding a full second level. I talked them out of it because I felt they could not have recouped much of the sizeable investment at resale.

Although the home featured an attached two-car garage, vehicles needed to park one behind the other, and there was no room to add a bay to the side. We cautioned that this drawback would offset the appeal of the second level living space. It cost us the job at the time, but it was the right advice.

Consider the kitchen before the porch

Last year, the Whites invited us back to discuss updating and winterizing their large three-season porch for year-round enjoyment. They had moved family room furniture out into the space for the summer to experience how it would work. After that, they couldn’t imagine forfeiting the bonus space over the winter.

We again encouraged the couple to look ahead. The kitchen was old and access to the old porch was awkward. I asked if they expected to remodel the kitchen someday. If so, I suggested they consider the future kitchen floor plan now and redesign the porch access accordingly.

Future Plans

Although the kitchen remodeling was not in the White’s immediate remodeling budget, they hired Tomco to develop three alternative kitchen/porch floor plans in both bird’s eye drawings and 3-dimensional color renderings. Only after they selected the design with the best traffic flow, did we set out to update the porch. Someday, we hope to return to remodel the kitchen. But for now, the Whites love their new porch with its efficient gas fireplace, energy efficient windows and vaulted ceiling.

We share this story to illustrate the importance of being firmly grounded with an eye on the distant horizon when considering home remodeling projects.

The Whites paid for the kitchen plans with full knowledge that they probably would not be built until later. But they avoided two costly scenarios – a major addition that would have been over improvement and a porch upgrade that could have limited future kitchen remodeling plans.

Here’s how Brian recalls his Tomco Company experience.

In Brian’s own words

The old porch had old style, uninsulated windows. Six months of the year it was too cold to use. We didn’t have kids when we bought the house. With two kids now, space was at a premium.

We moved the living room furniture out there on a whim last spring. We couldn’t imagine losing the space when it got cold again so we had Tomco come out to give us a quote to upgrade the windows and add insulation and an efficient gas fireplace.

 Actually, we had spoken to Tom a year earlier when he was doing some work in the neighborhood. We were thinking about doing a second floor addition at the time. Tom talked us out of it. He said it would be an overimprovement. The additional living space would not overcome the fact that the attached two-car garage on our small lot required one vehicle to be parked behind the other, so we would never get our money back when we sold.

 When we had Tom out for the porch, he again got us to think down the road. The existing access from the kitchen to the porch was odd. Tom asked if we expected to remodel the kitchen at some point. When we said yes, he urged us to consider traffic flow to the porch now based on how we would lay out the new kitchen someday.

 Tom created three kitchen/porch floor plans with both bird’s eye and 3-D views. We picked the one we like best and positioned the new three-panel patio door, fireplace and wiring to work with the new kitchen someday. That was a really good call.

We understood it would take time to do the various renderings and we were happy to pay for the design even though we all knew the kitchen remodel would stretch beyond our immediate budget. The 3D views really helped us visualize what it would look like and make the best decision for the porch access.

We got few bids. Tomco’s quote wasn’t the cheapest, but it was the most detailed and the allowances seemed most realistic. The other guys probably would have run over budget and ended up charging us just as much or more. We definitely felt Tom was up front. The 3-D modeling was the big plus. The other contractors just offered floor plan sketches.

 As executed, the design looks really nice. It looks custom. Quality. Not like the cookie cutter designs in the new developments. My wife’s dad builds custom log homes up north, so we set the bar a bit higher than most, and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. – Brian White

Integrating white kitchen with open plan

White kitchens still are popular, but they are changing. This Tomco Company project in Blaine is a great example. The original 1996 kitchen was all white: cabinets, counters, appliances and floor. However, the adjacent great room was a mix of honey oak cabinets and millwork, green marble tile and brass. Fast forward 20 years and the same open floor plan now looks like it was freshly built with clean lines and upscale character.

We worked with the homeowners, Cornelia and Dale, to integrate the entire open space, including the kitchen, great room, entry foyer and formal dining room. The new white cabinets are better quality and more functional than the old ones.  Meanwhile, the rich engineered wood floor, gray quartz counters and stainless steel appliances add color and texture.

We upgraded the white enamel trim and extended it and the gray tops into the adjacent rooms. The railing to the lower level, the dining room columns and the great room cabinetry mimic the kitchen woodwork, and the cabinetry and tops that flank the updated gray tile fireplace match the kitchen.

Hear what the homeowner thinks of her Tomco Company experience.

6 Reasons to spec LED lighting in your next remodeling project

Many remodeling choices are anything but black and white. Lighting isn’t one of them. The wise move is decidedly LED. Yet it still is easy to get wrong.

Kelvin light temperature comparison display

   Kelvin light temperature comparison display

Remodeling is your gateway to LED upgrades

The sooner you make the change to LED (Light Emitting Diode) the faster you will begin to enjoy its many benefits. Replacing an incandescent or compact fluorescent lamp with LED often is as easy as screwing in a different type of light bulb. But a licensed electrician on site during a major remodeling project can upgrade or add fixtures (luminaires) and switches and ensure you achieve the desired light color (temperature), brightness (lumens) and control, and overcome notorious air leaks from recessed lights that waste energy and lead to attic or roof moisture problems.

Residential LED lighting offers many benefits

Most residential LED lights project blue light from diodes through a phosphorous-coated lens to create white light. The greater the phosphorous, the more yellow (warm) the light.

Early LED lights were expensive and produced unflattering light that often was too directional. Quality LED lights now are more affordable, look great, and can spread pleasing light more evenly.

Tomco Company recommends LED lighting for many reasons:

  1. Save money and energy – LED can create the same illumination with 8 watts that incandescent bulbs produce with 40 watts. LED also produces less heat, which can reduce air conditioning demands. What’s more, a quality LED light will last as long as five CFLs, 22 incandescents or even more halogens. If your budget won’t support LED, consider Xenon fixtures for under-cabinet. They cost less to buy and perform better and longer than fluorescent.
  2. Avoid mercury in fluorescent lamps – Unlike fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps, LED poses no risk of environmental pollution from heavy metals that can occur when fluorescent lamps break or are disposed of improperly.
  3. Improve color rendering – LED is much better than fluorescent and almost as good as incandescent at achieving natural looking light. Choose 2700 Kelvin for warm yellow, 3,000 for a slightly whiter light, or 4,000 for cool white that mimics the noon sun). Important: The higher the CRI (color rendering index) the more natural everything and everyone will look. So compare CRI specs.
  4. Reduce maintenance — An LED lamp can last 50,000 hours vs 8,000 for compact fluorescent, just 1,000 for incandescent and even less for Halogen. As such, LED is ideal for high or hard to reach fixtures. LED lamps also are more durable (less likely to break) than incandescent or fluorescent lamps.
  5. Enhance control – Unlike fluorescent lamps that brighten slowly, LED lighting is instant on and can be smoothly dimmed with compatible switches.
  6. Improve cold weather performance – The colder the temperature of the environment, the less light compact fluorescent lamps produce. At 32 degrees F, a CFL loses 25 percent of its brightness. An LED loses no brightness in the cold so it is great for garage and outdoor lighting here in Minnesota.

Gauging Quality in LED Luminaires, Lamps

The first thing that will hit you when you shop LED lighting is that both luminaires and lamps cost more. The LM-79 standard measures LED output, intensity and color. Meanwhile, the LM-80 and TM-21 standards assess lumen depreciation (which can be caused by inferior design). The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) approved these methods for the Electrical and Photometric Measurements of Solid-State Lighting and the U.S. Department of Energy uses them for ENERGY STAR program qualification.

These third-party ECO labels rate products from a high of A++ to a low of G. So when comparing products, check the labels from an EPA certified lab. Don’t rely on the manufacturer’s own claims.

More is better

When remodeling, take advantage of opportunities to increase task and ambient lighting and upgrade controls, especially if you expect to keep your home after retirement. With LED, we can increase lighting needed as we age and conserve energy.

Under-cabinet lighting in kitchens provides critical, shadow-free task lighting when working at counters. Dimmer switches both save energy and enable you to achieve the desired functionality and ambiance. Modern LED recessed lighting overcomes the heat and moistue leaks that plagued old-style can lights Because they produce less heat, recessed LED fixtures can be effectively sealed and insulated to avoid air bypass and heat loss.

Compatible LED dimmer switch

                                                            Compatible LED dimmer switch

Not all dimmer switches are compatible with LED lighting. When choosing a switch, look for labeling that states it is LED compatible such as those from Lutron and Pass & Seymour. The more an LED lamp is dimmed, the less energy it consumes. You also can save energy by installing switches equipped with room occupancy, motion or daylight sensors. Even the most energy efficient lighting fixture wastes energy if it is on when it should be off. Sensors are good for LED lights in bathrooms, garages and outdoor lighting.

 Links to learn more:

Energy Star qualified LED lighting


Green Creative

Philips Lighting

USAI Lighting