Remodeling University: ‘Best Practices’ When Remodeling
So, you ‘pulled the trigger’. You decided to remodel. You chose a Los Angles general contractor for your work. You settled on a design. You secured the permits and the source of financing. Maybe you even packed and moved out for the duration of the work. Now what? What can you, as the homeowner, do to improve the odds of a successful project?
The homeowners’ dos and don’ts when remodeling:
1. It’s YOUR project: while there may be strong personalities involved (your general contractor and/or your architect come to mind), this is still your home and your money and you are the most important person in this team. This is both a privilege and an obligation.
2. Meetings: Insist on weekly meetings with all key personnel. In these meetings progress should be reviewed and looking ahead, items you need to choose, order or decide upon need to be brought to your attention.
3. Everyone should be kept in the loop: whatever decisions, changes and selections are made, should be brought to everyone’s attention. To minimize costly hick-ups, everyone on the project needs to be on the ‘same page’ at all times.
4. Job book: A great way to keep everyone ‘on the same page’ is to have all key players keep an up to date job book. This 3-ring binder should contain all selections, changed details, designer drawings, fixtures, appliances, etc. The key here is for any team member to distribute any new item to all team members and for them to keep their book updated. The ‘music’ will sound wonderful only when every ‘player’ is ‘reading off of the same sheet music’.
5. Mindset and attitude: Remodeling projects are labor and detail intense. They also involve several key persons and a rather larger number of individuals. As such, there is a lot of room for personality clashes, misunderstandings or miscommunication. Plus, if you are living in the home while a major remodeling project is underway, there are all sorts of additional sources of stress. You need to remember that you are a central key member of the team. In fact, you are the team leader. If you ‘loose it’ on a regular basis, or if you routinely inject negativity and stress into the situation, the performance of other team members will likely be adversely affected. That is to your detriment as it is your house everyone is working on…and your money is paying for it. Keep you cool!
6. Payments: while you might be a member of equal standing in your remodeling team with regards to input and decisions and perhaps you develop a personal friendship with your contractor and others on the team, payments should be made based only on a predetermined Payment Schedule. All payments should be made for items completed – not for items about to start. Make no exceptions and you will be in great shape.
7. Documentation: before and during the work take a lot of pictures. Make sure all changes are in writing and that all Change Orders specify the changes agreed to, the amount of money involved and the impact the proposed change would have on the completion date. Get an Invoice and a Release for all payments. If subs or suppliers are involved, make sure they are paid as well before paying off your general contractor.
8. Hire help: Depending on the size of your project, you might want to hire additional team members to help you with the work load. An interior designer can be a God send when you need to make endless decisions regarding style, color, fixtures, etc. Also consider a Construction Manager. A CM could be of great help in overseeing your general contractor or the subs you hire.
9. Do your part: When decisions are expected of you – make them timely. When you need to order items – do so. When payment is due – cut the check. Delaying any of the above would adversely impact the work schedule and the working relationship you have with your team.
10. Insurance: Aside from making certain the contractors on site are covered with Liability and Workers’ Compensation insurance policies, you be covered as well. Speak with your agent about amending your Homeowner’s policy and about adding a special policy to cover risks particular to the construction process.
11. Celebrate: Recognize great work. Compliment others. By all means, bring family and friends along to see the progress and to explain to them what is being done (do so only when job site conditions are safe). Recognize for yourself the progress that is taking place. When things get a little tough, look back and review all the progress made on your home. Adopt an attitude of can-do and of a problem-solver. Enjoy the process as your remodeled home is taking shape.
If you have chosen your team well and are following the above advice, your project should be a smashing success.
Remodeling University: When your work is insurance related
You were prudent and selective when you evaluated insurance policies for your home. You made sure the policy is issued by a reputable insurance company and that your policy limits are adequate. You have also been paying your home insurance premiums like clockwork for years. Now, that unfortunately you have some accidental damage to your home (fire damage, water damage, smoke damage, etc.) you fully expect your insurance company to take care of you. After all, you are covered, right? Dream on.
All insurance companies are for-profit enterprises. They realize their profits by minimizing their outlays for losses (i.e. paying out as little as possible). The more they pay on a loss – the less they make. It’s as simple as that. There is a built-in bias therefore, for your insurance company to under-value and under-pay your claim. So first, when you are about to deal with an insurance comapny on a loss, remeber the following:
1. The insurance company is NOT ON YOUR SIDE! They are not your friends nor is your best interest their principal agenda.
2. Your insurance company’s estimate of the value of the loss (or that of the contractors they send your way) is (more often than not) but a distant echo of what quality work to restore your home to pre loss condition would actually cost.
3. You are under no obligation to use their recommended contractors.
4. You are under no obligation to provide them with several estimates (all that accomplishes is further enabling them to save on your claim while in all likelihood short changing you of quality repairs).
5. Neither you nor your contractor of choice are under any obligation to work for their submitted estimates.
Dealing with your insurance company directly or with the help of a remodeling contractor that is not an expert in the field of insurance loss claims, restoration work and insurance related repairs, is akin to acting as your own attorney in an important trial. “You’ll have a full for a client”.
So what do you do to protect your position and to ensure your home is restored to its pre-loss condition with no short-cuts and without any potential issues remaining hidden?
These are your to-dos:
1. Never deal with an insurance company without expert assistance (I know this is repetitive. This is because repetition is the mother of skill – a skill I hope to help you quire).
2. Your best bet in a tenured Public Adjuster working for you. Be mindful and selective though. Like contractors and any other professionals, PAs come in many shades of competence and commitment to your best interest. Public Adjusters are paid a percentage of the entire settlement amount. These fees could be substantial.
3. A quick settlement should not be your primary goal. An amicable one, that addresses all loss issues is what you should insist on.
4. Have a ‘top shelf’ advocate contractor deal with the insurance company on your behalf. That means a contractor that is not only excellent at the construction end of things but also one that has great experience and facility dealing with insurance companies, claims, etc.
5. for large losses (you loss might be huge and you might not even know it. Don’t rely on your insurance company for input here) you need a team – a competent Public Adjuster, a top-shelf contractor with insurance related expertise, a reputable remediation company, a sharp hygienist and more. Your PA, hygienist and/or contractor should be able to put together a dream team for you.
6. Last, it is almost never too late to bring a representative on board. Even after a lot was already done to both remediate and repair and even after you accepted and deposited settlement amounts from your insurance company.
The insurance companies have the ‘home’ advantage and they always play to win. Adopt the defensive actions recommended above to level the playing field. With the right team at your side this should be a fair game where things get done as they should.
Remodeling University: New Lead-Paint Regulations
On April 22, 2010 a new EPA rule will become effective. You need to know about this rule and what it entails if you have a remodeling project in your future.
In essence, starting on April 22, 2010, remodelers, renovators, painters, drywall contractors or anyone working on your home doing remediation work or any kind or remodeling work (inside or out) – will need to be certified by the EPA and use lead-safe work practices during renovations, repair and painting operations, providing your home was built prior to 1978.
Why should you care?
1. If your home was built prior to 1978 odds are good lead paint is present (the older it is- the better the odds).
2. There are serious health risks associated with lead exposure. Kids and pregnant women are at the highest risk.
3. Lead poisoning symptoms are easily misinterpreted by physicians, increasing the likelihood of permanent damage.
4. Renovation activities that disturb lead-based paint create dust. Lead-contaminated dust is poisonous!
So what’s in this rule? Here are some of the highlights:
1. Companies performing the work must be certified.
2. A Certified Renovator must be on-site with the crew.
3. Entire crew must be trained in special practices designed to minimize and mitigate dust exposure.
4. Crew will need to be equipped with special tools to perform the work according to the prescribed practice.
5. Your contractor must provide you with an informative EPA brochure and you will be asked to approve that you got it.
6. Specific procedures are prescribed and must be observed so that your home, your family, your neighbors and the workers are not exposed to lead-contaminated dust. This is the ‘meat’ of the matter.
Note: the EPA rule applies to all interior work where more than 6 square feet of paint area is involved and/or exterior work involving more than 20 square feet. Local ordinances might be even more restrictive than that!
While the EPA curiously estimates the cost of these measure at an average of $35 per job, I anticipate real-world costs to be much higher, especially in California. One of the reasons for that is the fact that in most of the country it is possible to follow the EPA rule as prescribed and dispose of the suspected lead-contained paint debris in the home’s trash. But, in California this waste might be considered hazardous waste and so regular disposal in the home’s trash or even as construction debris might not be permitted. Disposing of hazardous waste this way it strictly prohibited in California and carries very heavy fines. On the other hand, disposing of hazardous waste properly is a very expensive proposition.
There are currently no clear guidelines on this issue and at the present the EPA rule, as I understand it, is in disagreement with both California’s AND OSHA’s regulations in this regard. Stay tuned.
Happy remodeling and keep your family healthy and safe!
Remodeling University: Considering Green
With all the other issues you need to be considering and evaluating with regards to your remodeling project, do you really need to be bothered with thinking about green remodeling?
It used to be the anything green was considered almost exclusively by those who are policy driven. Costs and best construction practices were really secondary to the faithful. Green has come a long way since.
Stated simply, green is a better was to build. Independent of where you find yourself in the climate debate and regardless of your affiliations, be it the Sierra Club or OPEC, if you want your general contractor to use best practices when remodeling your home, you want green.
There are different ‘menu options’ with regards to green, depending on your project. A new custom home, or a tear down and rebuild project will have a more expansive menu of green options available to the homeowners. In these instances, house orientation, lot drainage and landscaping options could be reviewed as well.
For most remodeling projects, though, the green menu options would mostly address energy and water conservation (forget the environment, did you see those bills lately?), indoor air quality (care for this only if you breath inside your home) and sustainability issues.
When remodeling in Los Angeles, as a result of the California Building Code, you are already assured a higher (and some say, substantial) degree of green elements, as compared to the rest of the country. This is because the CBC is more restrictive not only in its structural requirements (we do get earthquakes on a fairly regular basis here) but also in its energy conservation measures (called out in the section of the code known as Title-24).
That said, you can go further, and enjoy greater energy savings, less water use and better indoor air quality.
There is much to discuss here and this subject is broader in scope than a single post. I hope and plan to return to this subject in future posts, but here are some principals:
1. Start by spending on items with best return on investment. This usually means reduce your energy consumption as much as possible (see below).
2. If your water bill is growing faster than the federal government, you should consider investing in water saving elements (for both indoors and outdoors).
3. Investigate and take advantage of currently available incentive programs from federal and local governments and from the utilities.
So, how to save energy? Here are just a few ideas you can utilize right away:
1. Replace all light bulbs in your home with CFLs or LED lights.
2. Improve the air-tightness of your doors and windows.
3. When changing appliances, consider to the unit’s energy performance.
4. Change pool timer to work at off peak hours.
5. Improve the insulation of your home.
6. Consider solar panels for generating electricity.
These are just a few highlights. Your best bet is to consult with green professionals who could provide far broader recommendations that are tailored to your home and to your lifestyle.
Remodeling University: What to look for in a contract?
As you are going through the process of selecting a contractor, You should be mindful of the aspects of the actual contract you would be entering into. There are really two distinct issues here:
1. Which type of contract would serve you best?
2. What should the contract include?
Type of contract:
Assuming that you are hiring a general contractor for your remodeling project, there are several potential ways you can go about doing so. If you are interested in a particular arrangement, you should check with the contractor you would like if they can accommodate such an arrangement.
Time & Materials: Under such a contract, there is no set price for the work. You agree to pay the contractor based on actual incurred costs of labor-time and materials furnished. This arrangement might prove beneficial (as in cost-saving), if you have a very high degree of confidence in the contractor. Remember that working this way, the contractor has no built-in incentive to complete the work timely or inexpensively. I recommend taking this approach only for small (almost handyman sized) projects and/or for portions of work where conditions are impossible to ascertain before work’s commencement.
Cost Plus: This is a similar arrangement to T & M, though it may be more practical for larger jobs and for CM (Construction Management Contracts). Here your General Contractor or your Construction Manager act as your agent. The GC (general contractor) will collect bids from various subs, help in the selection process, will supervise the work making sure that it is in compliance with plans, specifications, codes and agreed to terms and will also help in managing disbursements. The GC or CM are not ultimately responsible for the work of the performing contractors however, which leaves the owners with a greater exposure and liability. The flip side, of course, are the cost savings that could be realized. Note that the caliber, experience, knowledge and most importantly trust worthiness of the GC or CM are the critical elements here. Cost plus could be a great success if your GC has these traits. It can also be a costly failure if any of these qualities are lacking.
Turn-Key: In this scenario, your general contractor is assuming full monetary and performance liabilities for the work. The contractor is responsible to you for all aspect of the work. His contractual obligation to you is to deliver the project, as specified in the plans and specifications, at the very least to code and industry standards – on time and for a fixed, pre agreed to price. Here you have the greatest degree of comfort and minimal amount of liability…at a higher cost. Here too the key is the caliber of the general contractor. It should be clear that not all contractors are equal, even if all are bidding on the same plans/specs. Again, whom you hire will have the greatest impact on how your projects will turn out, how long it would take, what the real, actual costs of it will turn out to be (as opposed to what it was quoted/contracted for) and how many grey hairs you got during the adventure.
What should the contract include?
1. Full and detailed specifications.
2. The plans.
3. Start date and completion dates.
4. Exact total cost.
5. Payment schedule (hint: NEVER allow for disbursements in advance of work – only at certain stage’s completion).
6. All required Notices – this varies from state to state. In Los Angeles, remodeling projects’ contracts are require to have a Notice of Recession (3-Days Right to Cancel), Notice to Owner, and quite a bit more. Make sure to visit the regulating agency’s website for complete information (in California it would be the Contractors State License Board).
Remodeling University: Permits and your remodeling project
Let’s talk a little bit about the roll of the city in your project. When are permits required? When are plans a necessity? What kind of inspections would be needed? And more.
So here are some highlights to consider:
1. Permits are typically die for any project inspections would be required for. If you are painting your home or redoing your driveway there is nothing a city inspector will look at. Correspondingly, a permit is not required. Projects that have any structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical elements to them will typically need to be inspected (unless minimal finish work, such as replacing an old faucet with a new one, is what’s done).
2. If you are in doubt about the inspection issue, call your local department of Building & Safety ahead of the work.
3. As far as the city is concerned, plans are needed anytime your remodeling project involves structural work and/or changes to the building envelop, layout or use.
4. If you project is a kitchen remodeling or a room addition in Los Angeles (for example), multiple inspections would be required during the work. In general inspections would be needed as follows – before footings or slabs are poured, before walls, floors and roofs are covered, after insulation is set, after drywall and exterior lathing are nailed and at work completion. Note that this is NOT a complete list and you should consult with your local B & S department.
In addition to the cost of architectural design and drafting and structural engineering, some plans will also involve a survey, grading plan, soil study, energy calculations and more. Each of the involved consultants is an additional ‘soft’ cost that you need to be aware of and budget for.
In some instances, you will also need to clear additional planning hurdles. There might be a Home Owners’ Association whose approval you’ll need to secure (even before the city’s) or some planning commission (such as the Coastal Commission in Los Angels and others). These type of approvals will often include requests for artist renderings of the project and attending public hearings to present the project.
Last, let’s not forget the ‘official’ costs involved. These vary based on location, but would include a plan check fee, permit fees (for building, electrical, plumbing and mechanical permits) and, in California, a special tax for all addition over 500SF to support our wonderful public schools system (take shelter, this one is a whopper).
In addition to consulting with your local B & S, you should have a conversation about these issues with your architect, designer and/or your general contractor. Los Angeles can be a daunting place to get plans approved, but it is routinely done. All you might need is some professional help.
Remodeling University: Kitchen Remodeling
It would seem fitting to write about kitchen remodeling in our ‘University’ blog the day before our exclusive webinar event featuring Mal Corboy, the world renowned kitchen designer/cabinet maker. To register for this event please go here.
Kitchen remodeling in Los Angeles (and most anywhere else, for that matter) can be as simple as a face-lift involving painting, new faucets and appliances and maybe a new floor. Or, as is more often the case, it could be an involved project encompassing every aspect of the kitchen – from structural consideration when walls, doors or windows are changed, through design and style. When a complete kitchen project is undertaken, code issues come into play. This, because codes changed over the years since the old kitchen was done (even if that kitchen is not that old).
A complete review of the subject ‘kitchen remodeling’ is certainly beyond what a single post could accomplish. Indeed, I hope to return to this subject in future posts to more fully address it as well.
Today, I want to address few key code and design issues. These should be considered by anyone thinking about remodeling their kitchen:
1. Electrical: today’s kitchens require many more circuits than kitchens of old. Essentially, while before, the entire kitchen had one or two circuits serving all appliances, lighting and outlets, today’s codes require separate circuits for most appliance and GFI protected outlets anywhere in the kitchen. The need for additional circuits might trigger a need to expand or upgrade the electrical panel as well.
2. Lighting: modern kitchens are distinguished by a lot of light, both natural and artificial. There are hanging/decorative lights, there are task lights, there are recess lights, there are under/in/over cabinet lights, etc. Title-24 (a California code section) places certain limits on energy use, and by extension on the type of lighting one can use. Essentially (though there may be more to it than that), 50% of the power used for lighting should come from ‘high efficacy’ lighting fixtures. That means florescent and LED lighting (note that the requirement is for 50% of the power, not the number of fixtures). As the typical ‘builders’ grade’ florescent recess cans suck (they produce very dim light) and LED lighting is presently best for spot lighting only (its not quite ready for prime time yet…but soon), this is a challenge. Discuss this with your kitchen remodeling contractor, your lighting designer or the inspector to make sure you are in compliance and are still getting a beautifully lit kitchen.
3. Design: If you are changing your layout so that your kitchen remodel produces a more open floor plan, a less dated look, an accommodation for the new appliances you’ve been dreaming about and so forth, consider the following. Note that executing these design criteria well, in a visually compelling fashion and so that the kitchen is a delight to use and entertain in, is why you need a competent kitchen designer to help with the planning. This facility (the ability and knowhow needed to design well) is greatly lacking with most kitchen remodeling contractors; consider – the work triangle(s), traffic and work isles, counter areas adjacent work centers, optimal clearances, optimal placement of the various appliances, storage and cabinets’ features, style and color and more.
Our kitchens are the heart of our homes. They are where families meet, they are where cooks create, they are where we entertain and where so many of our life’s memories are created. The remodeling of the kitchen is also a project with great return on investment, when done right.
Whatever your budget may be, there could be a nicer, more inviting and inspiring kitchen in your future. Educate yourself further. Assemble a competent team with proven expertise in the kind of kitchen you are dreaming about and have fun!
Remodeling University: Do you really need a general contractor?
With all the discussion (see previous posts) about the best way to hire a general contractor, Los Angeles residents might ask themselves a legitimate questions: “do I really need a general contractor on my project?”
Well, in my opinion, the answer depends on your particular circumstances.
Generally speaking, the more complex your project is and the larger it is, the more a competent general contractor is needed. Many homeowners might not be aware of it, but being an owner-builder is a viable option for many remodeling projects. That category (owner-builder) is also recognized by the city for the purpose of securing permits.
As an owner-builder, you act as the GC (general contractor). So let’s say that you live in Los Angeles and Kitchen remodeling is what you are considering. You might decide to do the demolition yourself, have an electrician take care of the electrical, a handy man patch the walls, you’ll do the painting, the Home Depot would supply and install the cabinets and a friend of yours would install the tile counters. Is that a legitimate approach? It sure is…providing;
Here are some of the challenges you should be aware of:
1. Like for anything else, for this too there is a learning curve. Even if you are a very fast learner, chances are that you’ll have a few missteps the ‘first time out’.
2. Design knowhow: the more complex the project, the more critical the design would be. Unless there is a design professional on your team, yours would be a hit-n-miss experience.
3. Code and construction knowhow: Someone on your team needs to be knowledgeable in the various codes pertaining to your project and in the best sequencing for your particular work.
4. Competent supervision: while a layperson can review finish work and judge it satisfactory (or not), the same does not hold true for ‘rough’ work. As a layperson, can you tell if the plumbing is run correctly, the wires properly sized, the drywall legally nailed, etc?
5. Availability: will you be able to be on site to see that things are done as agreed to or as needed? Was the gravel base placed before the driveway was poured? Was the second coat of paint applied? Were the old pipes abandoned and new ones ran in the wall? Unless you are – A. On site to supervise and note all these things, short cuts are certain to take place and B. Even if you are at home to supervise, do you know enough about construction’s ‘best practices’ to be able to effectively supervise?
None of it is rocket science. Truly. But there is enough complexity in today’s homes that you need to consider your options; if you have a basic project that does not involve multiple trades, is not too complex and the overall scope and budget are small, I think you can take it on yourself, should you be so inclined. Just take time to educate yourself (endless resources available online these days) and stay on top of everyone. If, on the other hand, the home remodeling you are considering is complex, involves structural work, requires design and/or is broad in scope and budget, I strongly feel that teaming with a competent, professional and experienced general contractor would be in your best interest.
Introducing Mal Corboy – an exclusive webinar event!
As many of you know by now, Mega Builders was selected by Mal Corboy Cabinets and Design of New Zealand to be their North America distributor.
On February 10, 2010 at 10AM (PST) We will be hosting a webinar with the man himself – Mal Corboy.
Please visit this link: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/121338321
to register for this event. This webinar is free to of all our guests.
Mal will be sharing design tips and talk about some of his latest projects. He will also review features of reference-quality cabinets. It should be a fun and useful half hour. We would love for you to join us.
See you there!
Remodeling University: Choosing a General Contractor
As noted before, the subject of how to choose the best contractor for your project is of critical importance. It is probably the most important decision you’ll have to make with regards to any substantial remodeling adventure. It is also a subject that is impossible to cover adequately in a single blog post. So here is the second installment;
Beyond the brouhaha of a sales pitch and independent of the appeal of low, or too-good-to-be-true quotes, an alert homeowner can find clues and telltale indications relating to the remodeling companies being considered. The challenge of course, is to ignore the pull of the ‘great’ low quote or the charisma of the persuasive salesperson long enough to be able to objectively evaluate these criteria.
1. Contract: educate yourself about what a complete and proper Home Improvement Contract should contain (in California, use the CSLB website). Ask the contractor for all his contract papers and compare to what’s required. You will often finds remarkable short falls in what the contractor’s contract looks like to what it needs to be. Note that these state mandated contract elements are there to protect you, the consumer.
2. Payment Schedule: Never, ever work with anyone that requires substantial sums ‘with commencement’ of anything (unless you are ordering a custom item, like cabinets). A good Payment Schedule is hinged upon Completion of stages of work, not commencement of them.
3. Success leaves clues: if the contractor is indeed professional, experienced and competent and has been doing this for a time – what does he have to show for it? Did he receive any awards? Any positive media recognition? Talk is cheap – the proof is what you need to look for.
4. Scope of Work: how detailed and complete is the Scope of Work? Worry of its not. Did you hear the sentence “don’t worry about it” once too often? Worry about it.
5. Portfolio of work: well, first many construction companies in Los Angeles (and I’m certain, elsewhere) don’t have a portfolio of their work, but may be doing great work. If you did not look through a portfolio ask and go look at projects (recommended at any event). The point here is about those who do show you a nice portfolio. Are these pictures of projects these contractors actually did or are these pictures off the internet, manufacturer’s brochures and so forth? A keen observer should be able to tell.
6. Deposit amount: are you being asked for an unreasonably high amount up front? That’s a big red-flag. In California, the deposit cannot exceed $1000 or 10%, whichever IS LESS!
These are just some quick examples of indications you might be heading into troubled waters. Remember that in remodeling the amounts involved are relatively large and the ‘entry threshold of membership’ is very low (it doesn’t take much to present one self as a contractor or even to procure a license to be one). Together, these two factors are a recite for trouble.
A proactively cautious homeowner that is diligent and careful about any hiring decision will likely end up fairing better with regards to the project than those owners that are not.