I hear that the big handyman stores like Lowes, Home Depot, etc. now remodel kitchens and bathrooms. What are the differences between remodeling companies, and these types of stores?
In a word; service. If you know exactly what you want, and can pick it out at that store, and are prepared to stay at home supervising your remodeling project, then the installed sales (I.S. as they are called) department at the big handyman stores might be the way to go. Typically, the quality of installation, and attention to detail is not an I.S. trademark. Neither is custom or out of the ordinary work. A lot of things 'pop up' during a remodeling project. Unforseen damage or conditions are a daily occurance. A remodeling company usually has the people to deal with these 'things' in a timely manner, and keep things moving. A remodeling company has greater flexibility to get the job done. Usually, the big handyman stores do not have the high quality materials that people often are wanting. In fact, manufactures will make lower quality products to sell to the big handyman stores, then those they sell to plumbers and remodelers. An apple is not always an apple when you buy from the big stores. Like most things, there are situations when a big box store might be the right way to go, and there are times when it is best to have a professional handle the COMPLETE job. Every situation is different, but carefully compare estimates from each of these types of companies. Is it an apple to apple comparision? Usually not. Buyer Beware.
How many estimates should I get for a remodeling project?
I'm sure you have heard to always get three estimates for any work you are going to have done. Well, that depends on a lot of factors. If a contractor has been recommended by a friend, you have seen his work and are satisfied with the quality, and YOU have met and talked with the contractor and are comfortable with him, , then maybe you only need to get his estimate. If you feel his price is reasonable, I would say go for it. On the other hand, if you are getting bids from contractors that you have no personal experience with, get three bids. If the bids are within 10-15% of each other, then choose based on your comfort level with the contractor. If the three bids are really different, more investigation needs to be done. Either, a contractor forgot something and the bids are not "apples to apples" bids, or there might be something suspicious about a contractor with a "out of range" bid. Look closely, buyer beware.
I have three different estimates, and the prices vary greatly. Why?
Good question. There are a number of different factors that go into pricing a remodeling job. Check the obvious first. Make sure that every estimate has the same scope of work. If the estimates are so vague that you cannot decipher that information, go back to the contractor for clarification, IN WRITING, not just a "yea, its included" over the phone. If you cannot get satisfactory written results, eliminate that contractor from future bidding. The level of service given by a contractor greatly affects the cost. If the contractor spends lots of time picking out materials, attending to every detail, and taking care of all the little extras, so you don't have to, it will cost a little extra. When a contractor carries all the proper and required insurances, his prices will be higher than a 'pick-up contractor'. Quality of work, hard to show in a written estimate, is also a factor in costs. For example, our carpenters do very high quality work (their standards are usually much higher than our customers). Rarely, does the customer ever ask to have something re-done because of quality issues. That piece of mind is worth extra money up front to most people. This facet of the cost difference is usually only confirmed by calling references or visiting jobs the contractor has done in the past.
What can I, as a homeowner, expect to do while a remodeling project is being done at my house?
The most important thing you can do is ASK QUESTIONS. If there is something that doesnt look right, or you think you ordered one thing, and something else is being installed, ASK!! A contractor wants to know if things are not right immediately. There are no dumb questions, remember, IT'S YOUR MONEY. Remember, there will be dust and dirt in your house. It does'nt matter how careful the contractor is, expect it. Make it easy for the contractor to have access to your house. There will be times when he will have to leave and come back. Give him a key if possible. It will make your life easier to schedule. If you are remodeling a kitchen, eat out a lot. Most kitchen projects take 4-6 weeks. Arrange ahead of time with your contractor to have the refrigerator set up in an alternate location, away from the dust and dirt. If you are remodeling a bathroom, and it is your only bathroom, make arrangements to have the toilet reset each day it is pulled.
Q: We don't know where to start for our desired room addition. Should we hire an architect to design our new space?
A: Although hiring an architect is an option that you may consider, it probably is not your best option for most room additions. Rather, you should consider hiring a Design/Build remodeler who has the experience and capabilities to design and build your project within your stipulated budget for two main reasons.
First, by working directly with a remodeling contractor to design and build your project, you will control your budgeted costs. The contractor knows the costs of construction and will design the plans and specifications within predetermined budgets. This eliminates additional design fees which frequently occur when an outside architect or designer draws a project without knowing the costs to ensure the project can be built within budget . This is one of the most common problems and frustrations many homeowners experience when not having their plans drawn by someone other than the remodeler who will build it.
Second, the byproduct of the reasons explained above is that the design costs will usually be less costly than hiring a third party architect. Also, it should be a more enjoyable experience for you in working with a knowledgeable and experienced contractor who is totally responsible for the design and construction of your remodeling project. You'll be working together from inception to completion as a team with one major goal in mind - designing and building your dream project within your designated budget.
Q: Is my remodeling contractor required to give me a warranty on its work?
A: No. A surprising fact that many homeowners find out too late is that a remodeling contractor is not required by law to provide the consumer with a warranty. Unless an agreement or contract clearly stipulates a warranty provision, there is no binding warranty provision to ensure quality workmanship and required repairs if defective products or workmanship is discovered.
Q: What's the typical cost per square foot to add on a room addition?
A: Remodeling is such a unique and custom form of construction that it is impossible to accurately quote a project by square foot price without knowing all specifications of the job. Prices can vary dramatically depending upon several factors including size, location, materials used, demolition to existing house, tie-ins to existing, etc. Some additions are built for $100.00 per square foot, others at $200.00 per square foot, while some additions cost $300.00 per square foot and up.
Have you ever tried to buy an automobile per square foot? Which do you think would cost more to buy per square foot - a Chevy Cavalier or BMW 450 SL Convertible? It's pretty obvious that one vehicle will cost two or three times the amount per square foot as the other. The same is true with room additions and other remodeling projects. It all depends on specific details as noted above.
The best way to proceed in getting a price estimate is to discuss your ideas with a qualified remodeler. He or she can give you a ballpark estimate based upon the type of job involved.
Q: Wouldn't I save money for my kitchen or bath remodeling project if I bought all the materials myself from Home Depot or Lowes and give them to my remodeler to install?
A: All experienced remodeling contractors have overhead costs as part of doing business. These include salaries, office, rent, administration fees, trucks and vehicles, insurance, computers, accounting, etc. In order to pay for these expenses and earn an honest profit for the risks of being in business, remodeling contractors need to count on sufficient gross profits from all jobs.
Part of the gross profits include markups on all labor, subcontracts and materials to form the basis of sales prices. If a contractor cannot include a fair markup on the products used in a remodeling project, he or she will not have sufficient gross profits to cover overhead , expenses and earn a fair profit. There just would not be enough markup on labor only to provide enough return in exchange for the risks of being in business.
An analogy would be, if you walked into your favorite fine restaurant with a grocery bag of food bought at the local food market and asked the restaurant to cook your food and reduce the menu prices accordingly. I'm sure you know what the answer would be. The restaurant counts on a fair markup on all their food (products) in order to receive sufficient revenue to cover their operating expenses and earn a fair profit.
Remember that experienced remodeling professionals don't just provide an installation, they provide a valued service to assist you in design, analysis of all products and materials to be used, quality workmanship, and warranties to protect your continued satisfaction with the products and services provided. Allow your contractor to earn a fair return for their expertise and assistance in making your remodeling project an enjoyable one for you.
Q: How much money should I give my remodeling contractor so I can be sure he won't skip out before finishing my job?
A: If you have any doubts about the ability of your remodeler to perform on your contract to your full satisfaction, you should not do business with him/her in the first place. If you do not know the contractor or know someone else who has done business with him/her, contact the local building department of your city and ask questions about the contractor's capabilities.
Each contractor has their own policies and procedures concerning homeowner payments. Typically, remodelers require a down payment of 25-50% of the contract price for small jobs and 10-33% for large jobs. The remaining payments are typically spread out over the term of the project based upon work performed at various stages. Before paying the contractor in full, you should have all work completed to your satisfaction. If one or two minor items remain to be completed at the end, most remodelers require the entire project to be paid in full except a small holdback amount until completion of those items. Remember that remodelers are not bankers and rely upon the homeowners to provide sufficient payments to pay their bills, including payroll, and office administrative costs. While it is the responsibility of the remodeler to provide quality workmanship and good service, it is the homeowners' responsibility to make prompt payments as stipulated in the sales agreement.
Is Deck Maintenance Necessary?
Many decks are made of pressure treated pine. Good quality treated pine will last thirty years or so before there is any substantial decay. However, discoloration and splintering can begin after only a few months. For this reason, most people take on a regular cycle of maintenance. Failure to do so won't cause your deck to rot, but your deck will most certainly become discolored and the surface will become rough and prone to splinters.
Do New Decks Need to be Sealed?
Yes. To ensure that the deck continues to look good with minimal splintering and discoloration, the deck should be sealed as soon as it becomes stabilized within it's environment or (dried out). This usually means waiting a few weeks after the deck is completed before sealing.
What Will Happen to a Poorly Maintained Deck?
Many people never treat and seal their decks. Untreated decks don't fall down or rot away quickly. Nothing dramatic happens. They will simply get dirty and the surface will become much rougher much sooner. Splinters are a common problem with wood decks. Another hazzard is slick surfaces. Much of the "dirt" we see on a poorly maintained deck is actually living organisms. Just like the algae and moss that grows on rocks next to a stream, the organic material growing on a deck can make the deck very slippery whenwet. Cleaning and sealing a deck kills, removes and slows the return of organic build-up.
What Type of Maintenance is Recommended?
Approximately once a year, the deck should be checked for loose boards and protruding nails, thoroughly cleaned and resealed. Cleaning involves the removal of dirt, algae, moss and other organic matter. Resealing is accomplished applying a clear or semi-clear liquid sealant to all exposed surfaces. You can do many of these tasks yourself if you are so inclined. Many professional painter offer this service. Prices and quality vary. Typically, deck cleaning and sealing expenses run from $300-$600. At the bottom end of that scale are a lot of firms that don't know much about what they are doing. Choose an experienced, high quality individual.
What is Good Deck Maintenance?
The process begins with clearing the deck of furnitur, toys, etc. Then cover fragile plants. Next, sweep deck free of large debris. Check carefully for loose boards and nails that stick up. Make any necessary repairs. Before beginning the cleaning process, make sure no children have access to the area.
In accordance with the directions that come with the cleaning solutions, it may be necessary to hose down the deck and surrounding area before applying cleaning solutions. The water can also help dilute any chemicals that may inadvertently come into contact with plants and grass. Even with mild solutions, care must be taken to limit the amount of solution that gets on nearby plants and grass. Many solutions contain bleach, which is toxic to plants when in concentrated form. The solutions can be brushed onto the deck using a broom, a garden sprayer or can be sprayed on with a power washer under low pressure. After waiting the directed length of time for the chemicals to do their work, the deck should be thoroughly rinsed. This is the step where more power can be particularly helpful, as water under pressure more effectively rinses out both dirt and chemicals.However, too much pressure can gouge out wood or cause the grain to become exaggerated. Within wood, the visible grain marks differences in density and hardness. Part of each grain is relatively soft wood. This softer wood can be rinsed away if too much pressure is used. At still higher pressures, even the harder parts of the grain can be damaged.
Once the deck is dry, put tarps down to protect plants and other items on which you don't want to get sealant. Sealant can be brushed on, rolled on with a paint roller or sprayed on. Spraying is the fastest by far, but the hardest to control. Some sealants have color in them and will stain surfaces to which they are applied. Sealants are also rough on plants. While most plants won't be damaged by getting hit with wafting over-spray, direct hits can do real damage. Sealants come in either water or oil based formulas. Wax or oil. Be careful considering Linseed Oil based wood protectors. In our experience they attract quickly black mildew. Professional sealants, which are typically superior, are oil based. Some sealants contain stain to tint the color of the deck. Sealants with stain don't always deliver a uniform color across the wood, so try some in an out of the way spot to make sure the results match your expectations. Good quality sealants contain ultra-violet sunlight protection to reduce the damaging effects of the sun. Be careful in your selection of the sealant and consider the toxicity to humans when walking barefoot on treated wood.
Alternatives to Traditional Decking Materials
There are new decking material options. Several companies make new decking materials that don't splinter and don't require painting or sealing. Most are made of plastic or a combination wood and plastic. While more expensive initially than the common wood products used today, they offer large savings over time due to reduced maintenance costs. Most of them are probably not good as decking replacement on older decks since they require tighter spacing of joists due to reduced dimensional strength.
Jim's Carpentry, LLC
King, NC 27021