Tips on Hiring a Contractor; Part 1

Electricians

Our skilled (and friendly) electricians taking a lunch break 

One of the many important parts of hiring a contractor is to know what type of subcontractors they use, how often they use them, and why they use them. Some General Contractors (GC’s) sub-contract everything, and this is common in the new home market because there is very little service required to owners, and things are more often done one piece at a time. Unfortunately, it often results in the contractor shopping by price (not quality), and sometimes less oversight from one phase to another. If you are hiring a GC that subcontracts everything, it is a good idea to understand the level of their management on the project. We use a Project Lead Carpenter at our firm where a highly skilled craftsperson can produce great carpentry while managing and working with the required trades.

The “what” subcontracting at our firm is everything except the carpentry we are doing. The obvious trades we have to employ are the licensed ones. In Massachusetts, that is the plumber, electrician and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning). If we have a lot of roofing, flooring, demolition, etc., we do work with some great folks….. but if we need a small amount of these items, it is more efficient to do it ourselves. That leaves the specialty trades. Because of a specific skillset or equipment, we sometime need people to bring heavy machinery to excavate and install foundations, and specialists that are excellent plasterers, painters and tile installers.

How often a contractor hires the same folks is also important. I believe that while our sub-contractors are not our employees, they are part of our family that will deliver the same good work and service that our firm does. I understand the need to be budget conscious and some would argue that the best way to do that is to bid everything to multiples. If you have expertise in remodeling and your sub-contractors are good honest business people, the GC should be able to manage any sub-creep in pricing and get a fair price for the project. The client will benefit long after the project is done with any follow up service and lasting quality.

Why I choose the items to sub out and subcontractors boils down to delivery of great quality at a high value. I sometimes hear in interviews for carpenters that they can do everything from light electrical to all the tile work. Understanding how something is done, or being able to do something is not the same as being the master of something. Any fantastic carpenter is probably not a fantastic tile man. If the quality is matched, the time to execute is likely longer- and more costly.

While you are interviewing for the right company for your family, ask a few more questions about who else will be in your home.

Happy renovations!

Ray

Why is Bath Remodeling so Expensive?

Bathroom renovations are not inexpensive; and that is one reason we believe it is a good idea to meet with clients at their home initially to see the size and condition of the space. By looking and putting our eyes on it, we can provide a verbal ballpark and explain the design budget process before we start designing away. One common reaction I get when I talk budget is “How could it possibly cost so much?” Understandably, most folks mentally simplify the budget using the cost of installing new tile plus what the local plumbing store quoted for new fixtures. Unfortunately, there is a bit more to it when you add all the line items together- and don’t forget the plumber! As a point of reference in our area, a family bath about 5×8 will cost typically between $25k and $35k. The big delta on the budget range is a combination of how old the home is and what you will selects for finishes.  Master baths vary more because the space, size, interior architecture, and the clients desired outcome have more variables. Master bathroom projects in this area can cost from $40k to just below six figures. Remember, there are tubs for $1k and tubs for over $10K.

There are a few factors for bath pricing that make the cost of this project one of the most expensive per square foot.  I know there is no square foot price in renovation, however there are a few main reasons baths top the chart:

  1. Every specialty trade involved in large projects will participate in the bath renovation.
  2. There are no economies of scale.
  3. The finishes are a larger portion of this type of project.
  4. Good tile work always requires excellent preparation and execution, and is worth paying more for.
  5. Plumbers. ?

I was traveling over Memorial Day weekend and discovered a photo example of what the most important part of any renovation is.  These photos were taken in a 4-star bed and breakfast with beautiful finished and handmade wallpaper, so clearly the Owner wasn’t new to higher end work. It is the work you don’t see at the end of the project when the tile looks great and the fixtures selected are beautiful. A successful renovation is when the electric and plumbing didn’t leave any time bombs behind, the carpenter fastens the subfloor and underlayment properly, and the tile installer professionally waterproofs and sets the tile. The cracks in the marble tile photo show thin white lines in the marble which are cracks developed by improper preparation of the underlayment below. The failure of the shower tile is likely the use of a poor underlayment or lack of waterproofing. Unfortunately, the renovations to this magnificent Inn were only about 6 years old.  

cracked subway tileCracked marble tile

 

Contact us here for more information if you are interested in renovating your bathroom.

Happy remodeling!
Ray

Hidden Costs in Remodeling

Anxiety is the symptom of uncertainty, and I know that working through the process of design and budgeting requires a great deal of work for the remodeler and the client. One of the biggest reasons for the anxiety in renovating is that most people know someone who has had an awful experience with the cost escalating during construction. In the almost 25 years in business, I still haven’t found these hidden costs because construction is not a series of unknowns, it is a series of should have knowns (with only a few exceptions).

One item that is always an unknown is what lies under the soil if you are digging a foundation. There could be ledge, clay, or a personal experience I had at one project: a subterranean peat bog. If you are building an addition and talking with your construction expert, you should ask (if they didn’t mention) what sort of challenges can be found and the approximate costs. Knowing your options in advance will reduce the uncertainty and also provide you with information on where you will need to be with the budget.

Another common item in construction on older homes is asbestos. The most visible asbestos is linoleum floor tile, and as a rule of thumb if it measures 9 inches by 9 inches, it probably contains asbestos. We work on many homes in Wellesley, Mass. That were built by a man named Porter, and we know that even if we cannot see asbestos, if the home is a certain age and has warm air heat, the ducts in the wall will have a paper coating that contains asbestos. Generally, the removal of one area is approx. $1,500 for professional mitigation and based on experience we usually add this to the budget as an allowance so that there is money in the budget to cover the additional cost.

Termite and other pest damage can also be found, and I could make a list of some pretty ridiculous things clients have told me they were charged extra for, but I believe the onus to do a thorough inspection of your property and divulge any potential additional work lies with the experienced professional you are working with. If they say they don’t know what is in your walls, they may not have opened enough :)

Happy Renovating!

How Long Does a Kitchen Remodel Take?

There are a few different types of kitchen renovations and they all take different amounts of time. Because television shows are quick (pun intended) to make people feel it can happen while you are at dinner, the reality has actually resulted in more than one person getting upset with me on the phone when I told them I couldn’t do a kitchen in less than 4 weeks.

On the “quick” end of things, if you were changing your cabinets and appliances without moving anything that would probably take less than 4 weeks. Most kitchens we do typically involve opening an adjacent wall or adding on space to enlarge the kitchen. The time factor variables are: 

  1. the age of the home
  2.  the size of the kitchen
  3. the other spaces renovated/added and
  4.  the intricacy (how high end) of the finishes selected

 Below is a production schedule for a project we recently completed in 10 weeks. This project involved tying 2 rooms together by removing a nonbearing wall and modifying the relationship to the family room. Enjoy the time lapse video that makes it look like it happened while the client was at dinner! :)

If you live locally, and are embarking on a kitchen remodel, contact us to learn more about the process!

Home Renovations, A Tale from Start to Finish

A project is in process from the time you start to think about it, until you move in and start enjoying the finished product. Starting and going through the process can be fun, so why shouldn’t the completion be as easy and without the stress before that final check is written? It dawned on me about 20 years ago that we would work with some clients that were extremely fussy and some who would just move right in without even looking for any issues beyond an obvious item that hadn’t been installed. I realized a few truths:

  1. The carpenter managing the project was too deep into the items to see the project objectively at the end. After all, all those hours of hard work have created a lasting and quality project and they were living in the job. 
  2. The lighting in the project changes from the beginning to the end and makes it difficult to see any blemishes until all the finish lighting is in.
  3. The clients who used a magnifying glass were not doing it to be difficult, and maybe the clients who didn’t bring up minor issues just didn’t want to come across as high maintenance.

We use one of the most published charts in the construction industry to help clients with how they will be feeling. See “What To Expect Emotionally” below. The one big missing item is “punching out”. A terrible term that sounds like the time the Owner and the Contractor come to fists over what is done and what isn’t. It actually means going through a final checklist and using a paper punch to note what had been remedied.

It finally dawned on me that I could reduce the stress for the client (and everyone else) if we added designer punch to our process. About a week before we offer our client the time to pull out the fine tooth comb, the project designer spends some time with a flashlight and post-it notes. Now that our subcontractors are familiar with this, they love making sure it is perfect. Additionally, our own carpenters know they are less likely to miss something and the client doesn’t have to spend the time they did before and still has a chance to be that second or third look.

There will inevitably be some minor issues that come up during or after move in. Most warranties offer hardware adjusting type of things up to 90 days to fine tune items that will later become part of normal maintenance, or perhaps a small nick is put in the floor by the furniture delivery company. If your remodeler doesn’t have this scheduled automatically, then ask for a 90 day review- and all the little adjustments of other small finds can be rectified at one time. 

The idea for this article came to me on a site visit when Lisa was busy marking paint touch-ups….. if you don’t have a designer, don’t be afraid to make your discovery known with the post-it! Happy remodeling!