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posted: 7/2/2011 12:01 AM

Industry Insider: McDowell Inc., St. Charles

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  • Some of McDowell Inc.'s projects and home additions for baby boomers have involved moving laundry rooms out of basements, or creating first-floor master suites.

      Some of McDowell Inc.'s projects and home additions for baby boomers have involved moving laundry rooms out of basements, or creating first-floor master suites.

  • Bob McDowell founded the company in 1971.

      Bob McDowell founded the company in 1971.

  • McDowell Inc. in St. Charles recently completed this sunroom addition.

      McDowell Inc. in St. Charles recently completed this sunroom addition.

  • The master bedroom project is the work of McDowell Inc. in St. Charles.

      The master bedroom project is the work of McDowell Inc. in St. Charles.

 
By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

Today's homeowners are exceedingly practical. While they are guarded and conservative about spending money, they refuse to let their largest investments -- their homes -- fall into disrepair or not work for them.

So McDowell Inc. of St. Charles has been kept busy during this economic recession with smaller, necessary projects involving roofs, plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, instead of the large additions they were once regularly called in to coordinate, said Bob McDowell, founder and president.

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"In addition, many baby boomers love where they live and don't want to sell in today's market, so they are choosing to change their homes to better fit their new lifestyles, like moving laundry rooms out of basements, making exteriors less work-intensive and creating first-floor master suites," said Sue McDowell, Bob's wife and the company's vice president.

"While we are working on one huge addition right now," Sue said. "Those projects are fewer and further between than they once were. Most people are choosing to work within the current footprint of their homes by improving existing space, like finishing lower levels."

Some of the home improve projects entail quite a bit of work.

"People are trying to find additional living space within the confines of their current home," Bob said. "So we are thinking inside the box, so to speak. Recently we took a four-bedroom house and combined two small bedrooms to create the big master suite that the homeowners wanted.

"At another house we took out the basement floor and excavated the basement two feet deeper to give the basement a grander feel," he said. "It was a difficult project involving the relocation of sewer lines and sump pumps and the extension of foundation walls, but we did it."

The McDowells and their subcontractors are regularly reallocating existing space within homes in order to increase livable space.

For instance, there has been a surge of baby boomers who have been in their houses for 20 years and have decided to stay in their current homes. Many of them have called McDowell Inc. to remodel their master baths.

"They are asking us to remove those big whirlpool tubs that they never use and replace them with a huge shower instead, which is more functional and user friendly than that tub ever was," Bob said. "And they all want a built-in seat in the shower."

Issues like the amount of water used to fill those tubs and the difficulty of climbing in and out, combined with a lack of time to sit and soak, have made the tubs much less popular than they once were, the McDowells said.

When it comes to kitchens, homeowners still want them to function well for the family and guests, but they are willing to pass on the bells and whistles like fancy trim packages, Bob said. Efficient, stainless steel appliances, functional cabinets and granite countertops take precedence today.

"It seems that we are either doing really high-end work like this big addition or we are doing necessary repairs," Sue said. "The middle of the road person is freaked out right now. If they have to fix something, they may take the opportunity to make some minor changes at the same time, but they aren't doing anything big right now.

"The key for the homeowner is to work with a company that can advise them on how to accomplish what they want to do and how to get the best return on their investment," she said.

The McDowells said they are also finding themselves increasingly called in to fix things that homeowners tried to repair or improve themselves over the past few years. Or they hired a friend, family member or neighbor who works in the construction industry and has been out of work and the work wasn't up to snuff.

"Remodeling is different from new construction or commercial construction," Bob said. "When you open up a wall in an existing home you never know what you will encounter. So you need to have years of experience in the business to do it right."

For instance, with the addition they are currently doing, they managed to open up the whole back wall of the home and attach it to the new portion without getting a drop of water into the home. You need to know what you are doing to safeguard a homeowner's belongings, Bob said.

One-third of the work McDowell Inc. does involves the replacement of siding, windows and doors, as well as exterior enhancements like decks, porches, three-season rooms and accoutrements to add curb appeal.

The other two thirds of their work consists of additions, kitchen and bath remodels and finishing lower levels and basements.

For more information about McDowell Inc., call (630) 584-2255 or visit www.remodelwithmcdowell.com.

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