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REI and Columbia Sportswear got it right – they know how to keep a person temperate and dry while wicking away moisture to maintain comfort.

Your house is not unlike your body – a home needs to stay at a consistent temperature no matter what the outside temperature is with a furnace/AC and insulation. A structure needs to keep out the elements with a roof and siding. Lastly, moisture production inside the house from showers, laundry, cooking, etc. needs to be ventilated to keep it healthy.

The designers at REI and Columbia Sportswear have borrowed principles from building scientists to create high performing, comfortable clothing. The key is in layering – most high performance sportswear is built out of multiple layers with unique functions, much like a high performing house:

Layer 1: Shell

The outermost layer takes the most beating from rain, snow, wind, and sun. The critical functions are waterproofing and blocking air movement. In your home, the roof, windows, and siding all act as waterproofing. Air sealing a home blocks air movement and prevents conditioned air from escaping to the outside. Just like leaving your jacket zipper open, heat escaping from gaps and cracks in a home adds up to big energy losses.

Layer 2: Fleece or Down Warming Layer

The middle layer’s critical function is to retain heat. In a home, your insulation acts as a buffer for both warm or cool air indoors that you are trying to keep that way. Many materials can be used to insulate a home; from shredded blue jeans, to ground up paper, to fiberglass and spray-foam. The important thing is to choose a material that will perform well in your specific application and climate – beyond that, any of the materials listed above can be used add R-Value (resistance to heat passing through).

Layer 3: Base Layer

This last layer is the one right next to your skin. Its critical function is to be breathable to allow moisture from your body to escape. Without this function your clothes become wet, your body drops in temperature, and you get very uncomfortable! Your home also produces a lot of moisture from showers, laundry, cooking, and just from occupants breathing and perspiring. It is critical to exhaust this moisture to outside, or else the building materials will eventually become damp, causing rot and mold! Properly vented bath and kitchen fans, appropriate levels of whole house ventilation, and proper attic and crawlspace ventilation will keep your home comfortable and healthy.

You know the dog days of summer have come to Portland when Highway 26 is packed all the way to the coast and the Willamette River is covered in watercraft full of people seeking relief. Air conditioning is still a rare occurrence in Portland homes, and those lucky enough to have a basement know well its benefits!

What you may not know is that in this temperate climate, even the hottest days are usually followed by drastically cooler nights. It is not uncommon to see 25-30 degree shifts from day to night! A savvy homeowner can take advantage of this local phenomenon with the most rudimentary of habits to naturally cool their homes.

Stack effect diagramThe moment of opportunity is when the outside temperature drops below the current indoor temperature of your house. This moment in time will change depending on how hot the day has been, and how many hot days have preceded it. A heat wave in late August may set you back to 10pm for opening windows! If you open a window and the air outside feels even slightly cooler, the time is right.

At this point, open every available window and door (even interior doors) from the top to the bottom of your house. If you have more than one story or a basement, it is especially important to allow airflow up through the structure from floor to floor, such as opening a door at the top or bottom of a stairway. Warm air in the house will naturally rise and escape out the top, drawing in cooler exterior air at the bottom.

This movement of air up through a building is called the “stack affect”. Any enclose space, no matter what size or shape, will have this same dynamic. The taller the structure, the greater the pressure that follows the arrows shown in the airflow diagram. Some people install a whole house ventilator fan, but with a few simple steps each evening as you go to bed, your house can be cooled naturally without installing a house fan or using any electricity!

Today’s case study is a 1930’s NE Portland bungalow with English Cottage flair. The original utility chimney is being removed to make room for a kitchen remodel on the main floor, expanded closet upstairs, and a new high efficiency furnace in the basement. The cottage also has a larger chimney near the front of the house that services the living room fireplace.

In the first half of the 20th century, a home often had a second chimney separate from the living room fireplace stack. The second chimney was usually the exhaust route for an old boiler, oil furnace, or wood stove. With modern cooking equipment and high efficiency furnaces that can exhaust inconspicuously through a wall, these second chimneys are obsolete and often pose a hazard of water leakage, air leakage, and exhaust gas leakage into the living areas. Removing them during a remodel can open up much needed space in a smaller home!

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Construction is built around contracts; the word “contractor” itself is evidence of the pivotal role contracts hold. A construction contract is more narrowly defined as a written agreement between an owner and a bidder covering the performance of work, by which the owner is obligated to compensate the contractor according to the terms of payment. Two styles of contract are used almost exclusively in residential construction: Fixed Sum and Cost Plus Fee. These two styles have practical differences, and these differences may end up saving you or costing you lots of money. This article attempts to compare and contrast these two predominant contract types so that you can choose the one that best meets your project goals.

Fixed Sum Contract

A Fixed Sum Contract, also know as a Lump Sum or Stipulated Sum Contract, is a contract which provides that the home owner will pay the contractor a specified sum of money for the completion of a project. The amount to be paid is determined by the bid from the contractor. The bid is an official offer from the contractor to furnish all labor, equipment, materials, overhead and profit necessary to complete the specified project. For example, a remodeling contractor might offer a homeowner a bid of $30,000 to remodel their bathroom. This dollar amount is based on the budget a contractor plans for how much he thinks it will cost him to do the job and how much profit he wants to make on it. The homeowner can accept this bid, sign a Fixed Sum Contract, and consider the work done for $30,000.

Every Fixed Sum Contract is a small gamble on the part of the contractor. In an ideal world, a contractor would be able to estimate exactly how much time, equipment, material and overhead would be necessary to complete a project. In the reality of the residential remodeling world, surprises and unforeseen challenges are a regular occurrence. For this reason, a contractor must shield his business from the risk of loss by including money for contingencies and unexpected challenges in his bid budget.

Pros: In a Fixed Sum Contract, the homeowner knows exactly how much the project will cost up front. They have peace of mind knowing that once they pay the stipulated sum, the work specified in the contract will be completed by the contractor without additional costs.

Cons: Homeowners pay the amount the contractor budgeted for contingency plans whether or not they are put in place. This means a homeowner may pay for work that is not actually performed or for materials that are not installed. Contractors who intentionally or mistakenly underbid a project are more likely to cut corners and perform sub-par work to make up for their losses.

Cost Plus Fee Contract

Cost Plus Fee is a contract under which the contractor is reimbursed for their direct and indirect costs and, in addition, is paid a fee for their services. The fee can be stated as a stipulated sum, but usually is stated as a percentage of cost. For every dollar the contractor spends putting the work in place, he charges the homeowner a dollar plus his contracting fee. If the construction project is complicated or takes a long time to complete, the contractor may use progressive billing to charge the homeowner at regular intervals for whatever job expenses occurred during that billing period.

Even though a Contractor under a Cost Plus Fee contract is not legally bound to a final price for the work, homeowners should still require an accurate forecast of construction costs. For this reason, contractors still have to build a complete budget for how much they think the work will cost. However, unlike a Fixed Sum Contract, tasks or materials in a Cost Plus budget forecast that are not installed are not billed to the homeowner, and conversely, portions that end up costing more than expected will be charge to the homeowner above the original forecast.

For example, the same homeowner who had their bathroom remodeled for $30,000 in the Fixed Sum example above might choose to sign a Cost Plus  Contract instead. In that case, the contractor might forecast construction costs at $25,000. The first month’s construction costs might add up to $5,000; month two at $10,000, and month three at $10,000, totalling $25,000. At the end of each month the contractor would bill the client for the construction costs listed above, plus his contracting fee, say, 20%. In the end, when the contracting fee is applied to each of the construction costs, the total cost for the project would be $30,000.

Pros: Time or material savings the contractor experiences on the job are passed on to the homeowner. When homeowners are offered a fair deal, they are more likely to have a good experience, recommend the contractor to others, and call them back for another project. With the security of knowing that every task will be paid for, contractors can do the job right without the pressure to cut corners in order to make a profit.

Cons: The homeowner has no guarantee of the final price of the project until it is complete. Additional costs due to complications or unexpected challenges are passed on to the homeowner.

Which Should I Choose?

As you may have noticed in the remodeling examples given for Fixed Sum and Cost Plus Contracts, though the contracts and billing procedures were different, the final cost of the bathroom remodel ended up being the same. So why does it matter which one you choose? A more detailed example will help clarify the differences between the two.

What if, in the $30,000 bathroom remodel listed above, the contractor predicted that demolition would take three days, for a cost of $1500. In both contract scenarios, $1500 would be budgeted for demolition. Now imagine the contractor finds the old bathroom materials were very easy to remove, and it only takes two days instead of three. The Fixed Sum Contract holder has already agreed to pay the full $30,000, so they do not experience any savings. On the other hand, the Cost Plus Fee Contract holder will save $500 because they will not be charged for a third day of demolition.

To be fair, this example could be reversed so the contractor estimates three days but it actually takes four to complete. Savings would then fall to the Fixed Sum Contract holder instead, because the contractor is responsible to complete the scope of work for the fixed sum. The Cost Plus Contract holder would most likely pay $500 above the forecasted cost for the additional work because it is necessary to complete the project correctly.

Unfortunately, some contractors are more concerned about making money than doing the job right. When faced with a shortfall in their bid, some Fixed Sum contractors will cut corners and perform tasks cheaply when it would cost more to do it correctly.


These examples illustrate an important point – the key to getting the best quality and value is to select an honest contractor with knowledge and experience who can accurately predict construction costs. This will help prevent the common pitfalls of incomplete cost forecasts or shoddy workmanship. A thorough contractor will help you determine which contract scenario best meets your goals. A company’s reputation and experience may be more important than initial cost forecast in the long run.

Provided to you by Olson & Jones Construction, Inc. We want to educate consumers in order to protect them from fraud and ensure that they are satisfied not only with their finished product, but with the process as well.


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One of the common dilemmas faced by homeowners in choosing if or how to remodel their home is determining the potential resale value or potential to recoup the cost of a particular improvement. Finding a way to compare the cost vs. value of a particular improvement can help make that decision.

Remodeling Magazine produces a powerful report each year called the Annual Cost Vs. Value Report that includes research in key markets all over the country, including Portland. The link to the report is at the bottom of this post, but to summarize, the three best improvements you can do for your Portland home in order of cost recoupment are an attic bedroom addition,  a minor kitchen remodel, or a basement remodel.

We hope this information is helpful in making your remodeling decisions!


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