Residential Renovation as an Art Form

Written on: August 15, 2022 by Dan Vastyan

Log home gets a remodel with floor warming…

J.K. Holton, a construction company in Cochranville, PA, began as a business specializing in log homes in 1991, eventually growing into a full-service building and remodeling company. Its current owner, Tim Holton, took the reins from his father in 2015 and has since shifted the company’s focus.

“I’ve worked for Dad since I was 16, and by 2015, I’d reached a point in my career where I was either going to start my own company or take over the family business,” said Holton. “We decided that I would take over the company and he would step back into a support role. He’s still part of the company, when needed.”

Today, the company’s focus is almost entirely on additions and renovations. Holton has found that they can be more specialized this way. They also appreciate the opportunity to make improvements to existing homes instead of fighting over new construction jobs and dealing with the scheduling hassles that are inherent to a project that includes as many as a dozen different subcontractors.

“I live by three precepts that I inherited from my father,” Holton continued. “You can’t outlive a bad reputation. Under-promise and over-deliver. Cheap work ain’t good and good work ain’t cheap!”

The log home hadn’t been renovated in decades.

Log home retrofit
J.K. Holton has forged a distinguished reputation in Southeast PA by living up to promises while providing crystal clear communications with everyone involved, from the homeowner to “subs.”

“It’s rewarding to visit a customer after a renovation and they’re just over the moon excited about how we’ve artfully refreshed or expanded their living space,” said Holton. “For example, the most recent log home we’ve worked on hadn’t changed in a long time; the upstairs bathroom hadn’t been touched since 1978.”

One of two bathrooms in the 2,400 sq ft home, the upstairs guest bathroom, is 80 square feet and had a simple bathtub and surround. The owner wanted to update it completely; new floors, vanity, tile shower and floor warming.

“We rarely take on small bathroom projects,” added Holton. “As a company, we specialize in larger remodeling work, which usually includes bathrooms. On average, 60% of our projects include a bathroom remodel. However, we took this job between two bigger jobs.”

J.K. Holton uses Creative Ceramics, LLC for much of its tile work. The company has been in business in the greater Newark, DE, area for nearly 20 years and is typically booked-out six months in advance. Given the log exterior wall in the bathroom and the use of an electric floor warming system, Holton preferred to sub-out the shower and flooring to Creative Ceramics.

“Mark Matchen, who owns Creative Ceramics, is without question the best tile setter I’ve ever seen,” said Holton. “Dad taught me early on to let people who specialize in a trade do that trade. I’ve seen Mark quickly and meticulously scribe natural stone tile to intricate crown molding. His work is always impressive.”

The bathroom was demolished and new plumbing was roughed-in before Matchen arrived to install underlayment.

“I always get the customer involved during the design,” Matchen said. “I prefer they see the tile laid out before it’s installed. We have one shot at getting it right. This homeowner really wanted two things—patterned tile and warm floors.”

Installing radiant floors
Matchen used Watts’ SunTouch electric system to provide the floor warming that the customer wanted. Due to the small size of the bathroom, he selected the SunTouch TapeMat. Electric wire is woven into the mat, allowing mortar or floor leveler to bond to the subfloor. After adhering the mat to the subfloor, Matchen poured floor leveler to bring consistency to the old log home’s bathroom floor. Then he ran wires to the touchscreen SunTouch thermostat on the wall.

Tim Holton adjusts the floor temperature with the SunTouch thermostat.

There are a number of options when installing a SunTouch system beyond using the woven mat. WarmWire can be purchased on a spool and fastened directly to the floor. Alternately, the HeatMatrix uncoupling membrane can be installed, which allows the installer to snap wire into place. The polymer membrane has a fleece backing, which adds protection from expansion and contraction, especially when using large tiles.

“The SunTouch system is easy to install and you can make it fit any application and any size you need,” continued Matchen. “Floor warming is really the cherry on top for a bathroom remodel.”

After the floor leveler cured, Matchen installed the eight-inch patterned porcelain tile and completed the shower. A plumber arrived to install fixtures and Holton completed the vanity, trim and other finishes.

Mark Matchen installs the Suntouch TapeMat.

“Warm floors in any space, but especially a bathroom, takes the project to a whole different level,” said Holton. “About half of our bathroom renovations have warm floors. Five years ago there were not nearly as many. People are investing in premium comfort, and not just within super high-end residences. We’ve also installed floor warming in kitchens and sunrooms.”

The owner of the log home was thrilled with the result, from both aesthetic and comfort standpoints. Holton admits that installing warm floors and coordinating with a very busy, professional tile setter are just more steps in the process, but steps that are well worth it. After all, bathrooms and kitchen sell homes, or keep occupants in them.

The finished bathroom floor.

According to Holton, there are few steps in the renovation process that, with relative ease and modest expense, add as much “wow” factor and contribute to lasting comfort as a radiant-heat floor that’s easy to control.

“The experience of bare feet on a warm tile or stone floor is hard to match when it comes to homeowner satisfaction,” concluded Holton. ICM

Dan Vastyan is PR director and writer for Common Ground, based in Manheim, PA.