Home Improvement – Should You Be Your Own General Contractor?

For those planning a home improvement project for which keeping the budget modest is a major factor, the question often arises, “Should I be my own general contractor?” Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

First let’s look at what a general contractor is and does.

In a nutshell, a general contractor, or GC, is the person responsible for the overall, successful completion of the project. On a small home improvement project that could mean doing the actual construction work as well as managing the details such as permits and staying on budget.

For a larger project such as a room addition, a major structural remodel or building an entire house, it falls to the GC to hire, manage and pay the sub-contractors (the workers who will be building the moulds, pouring the concrete, doing the framing, etc.) as well as making sure the job gets done on budget, on time and accurately.

If you are thinking of being the general contractor for a large project, having at least an intermediate level of knowledge of the construction process, including pulling permits, local construction codes, contracts and proper insurance is very important.

Also, you need adequate time to supervise the goings on at your site. I don’t know many people with the free time away from a job to successfully manage this type of large undertaking. If you are short on knowledge and/or time, but are still thinking of acting as GC on your major home improvement project, I wish you good luck. This is not to say you can’t do it, but the headaches might not be worth the trade off.

Let’s not forget that the main reason to act as your own GC is potential cost savings. Since professional GCs generally mark up every piece of material and every sub-contractor salary, sometimes by as much as 30% or more, if you can save some of that money by acting as your own GC, by all means do it.

But if you are not familiar with the details of completing your project, those potential cost savings can turn into cost overruns in a hurry. With a smaller home improvement project, however, the stakes are not as high and so the potential benefit is there without the same degree of risk.

But even with a smaller home improvement project, there are qualities a GC should have that are important.

Unless you’ll be doing all of the demolition, sawing, nailing and finishing yourself, as GC, you’ll be hiring, managing and paying the sub-contractors. People skills, knowledge of finances and a healthy dose of common, good sense are necessary.

If you’ve never done a home improvement project similar to the one you will be taking on, a willingness to ask questions – even ones you think are just plain dumb – is vital. Also, having a “can do” problem-solving attitude is recommended. After all, you’ll be the one everyone looks to when a fix, change or solution is needed.

The main argument against being GC on your own job is a big one. If you don’t like the finished job, you have no one to point the finger at (or fix what you are unsatisfied with) but yourself.

The value of a good GC is his or her experience and ability to solve problems. While there will certainly be extra cost involved in your job by hiring a general contractor, in the end the peace of mind might be worth the expense.

Home Improvement – The Top 10 Home Improvement Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Although a major home improvement can prove to be a rewarding project, it can also turn your life upside down if you are not prepared. I’ve heard of some worst case scenarios involving people who have lost their homes because they got in over their heads and others who ended up with incomplete project nightmares that cost them thousands of dollars to correct.

Following is a list of the top ten mistakes homeowners make when undertaking home improvement projects and tips on how to avoid them:

1. References. Do enough research and background checking to satisfy you. Walk away if the contractor is not willing to provide references from former clients. Do an online search of the contractor’s business and personal name. Check with local courts for judgments filed against them and with the Better Business Bureau for any consumer complaints. Look at previous work completed (in person). Check with material suppliers since a good contractor will have a long-standing relationship with suppliers. Contact other contractors who have worked with them before. Check their credit standing – contractors with bad credit are often disorganized and don’t manage their business well. Inquire about insurance, workers compensation and licensing.

2. Project management. You need one person to help you manage your project. Most issues occur when inexperienced homeowners try to manage their own project. A project manager is a single point of contact between the homeowner and other contractors and is responsible for scheduling and workflow.

3. Contracts. Make sure your contract is solid. As obvious as this may sound, failure to get a contract or signing an incomplete contract is one of the most common mistakes. Put all the details in writing – never take someone’s word for it. Following are items that should be included in the contract: (1) the full name of the company and the person you are doing business with and their contact information, (2) an addendum consisting of the complete set of plans, (3) an addendum consisting of the materials to be used, (4) the price of the goods or services, (5) the manner and terms of payment, (6) a description of the work to be performed, (7) a start date and an estimated completion date, (8) a default clause in the event either party defaults that specifies how damages will be calculated, (9) warranties and (10) signatures.

4. Warranties. Make sure you receive a warranty with detailed terms and conditions. Don’t accept a contract that simply states that all work is guaranteed. There is often confusion as to who is responsible for the warranty. Get the following in writing: (1) Who is backing the warranty? (2) What is covered and what is not covered? (3) How long is the warranty valid for? (4) What can void the warranty? (5) What is the process for placing a warranty claim?

5. Changes. During the project, you may change your mind on certain design aspects which may require more or less work from contractors. It is critical to document every change order and note the exact cost or savings. Changes should be signed and dated by all parties.

6. Plans. Get a clear description on what will be done, how it will be done and the materials to be used. For smaller projects, contractors can draw up plans. For larger and more complicated projects, find a qualified designer or architect. And, for example, if load-bearing walls will be altered, find an engineer to review the structural side of the plans.

7. Costs. Estimating costs tends to be a big problem because people do not make realistic comparisons. Homeowners may hire the contractor with the lowest price but that price may turn out to be much higher in the end. “Allowance items” tend to be the main culprit in estimating costs. For example, contractors may give you allowances for flooring, lighting or hardware that are artificially low. The bid looks enticing until you examine it closely. Request a line item for straight costs on materials and labor since some contractors mark up materials and labor so they can make a profit on it. Ask the contractor to pass along costs to you and to add a line item for their fee. This creates a more clear and honest assessment of the job.

8. Financing and payments. Before signing the contract, figure out how you are going to pay for your home improvement project. Make sure you maintain control of the money – don’t let your project manager or contractor control the money. This sounds obvious but many homeowners allow contractors to make draws on construction accounts only to realize that the draws were not used for the intended purpose. What does this mean? It means your contractor scored a new truck, you’re out of money and the project is incomplete. Tips: (1) don’t pay a lot of money up front, (2) pay when materials are delivered, (3) pay when work begins and (4) pay as work progresses. Pay only after work and materials are inspected and approved.

9. Inspections. Don’t wait until your home improvement project is almost complete to do the inspection. Plan phased inspections along the way so work doesn’t need to be re-done. Don’t rely on city and county building inspectors to protect you since the codes they enforce don’t guarantee quality (and they often miss things too!). Before paying for work, hire an independent inspector to do periodic phase inspections.

10. Materials. Stick with products that are tried and true. This rule especially holds true when it comes to windows, doors, framing materials, roofing products, concrete coverings, epoxy floors, plumbing, light fixtures and electronics. You don’t want to be the guinea pig that test runs the supposed latest and greatest new products or materials only to find out that these items don’t last or turn out to be fire hazards!

10 Laminate Flooring Installation Questions – Discover Hardwood Floor Solutions

A laminate flooring installation should fit extremely well into a busy household, where cleaning chores need to be simplified as much as possible. Provided that you follow the installation and maintenance instructions carefully, a laminate hardwood floor is likely to save you time while adding elegance and style to your decor. Here are the answers to ten of the most frequently asked laminate flooring installation questions.

1. What Is Laminate Flooring And Can I Install It Myself?

If you have an affinity for real hardwood floors, but can’t afford them and prefer not to have the maintenance misery associated with them, you will love the laminate flooring. The quality of these floors is now such that it is difficult to distinguish between real wood and laminates. The grains of the different woods are emulated to perfection, with texture and weathering threw in as a bonus.

Laminate flooring planks consist of four or five fused layers. The base layer is normally reinforced with melamine. This is followed by the core of high-density fiberboard, impregnated with sealing substances. Then there is the design layer, followed by the tough wear layer and an aluminum oxide finish. The planks are resistant to stains, fading, scuffing, and water.

Innovative engineering has led to the development of glueless laminate flooring installations, popular among do it yourself, enthusiasts. The planks have a tongue and groove design that simply click or snap together for an amazingly simple and quick installation. Although professional flooring contractors can be involved, this isn’t necessary. Even a novice can tackle this home remodeling task with confidence.

2. What Is An Expansion Space?

A laminate flooring installation is a floating floor that is not affixed to the sub-floor. These hardwood floors always contract and expand due to humidity and temperature changes. To make provision for these shifts, laminate floors are never installed with the planks fitting snugly against walls or cabinets. It is vital to leave a space right around the perimeter. If you neglect to do this, you will soon be confronted with a buckling floor.

Every manufacturer prescribes the exact expansion space needed for their particular product. You will be able to use spacers to ensure that this provision is accurate. The size of the floor you are tackling in your home improvement project will also dictate the size of the expansion space. Make sure that you get this right if you want to retain the looks of your flooring.

3. Will I Be Able To Install Laminate Flooring In A Bathroom?

Many laminate flooring products are suitable for use in bathrooms and kitchens, where there is always more of a moisture risk. Check with your supplier if you are unsure. The most important factor here is your diligence during the installation process. Every expansion space needs to be sealed perfectly with your caulking gun, to ensure that moisture can’t seep into the core of the flooring. Once this happens, you will have problems with buckling, warping, and blistering.

In the case of bathroom and kitchen flooring, the recommendation usually also is to use glue in the joints. This will act as an additional sealant, helping to protect your flooring.

4. How Do I Finish The Areas Around Doorways?

All the manufacturers supply ranges of color-coordinated decorative moldings for use in doorways, for transitions between different flooring finishes, and around cabinets, basins or tubs. These make it straightforward to ensure that your flooring has a professional finish. In a doorway, you will install a T-molding.

5. Is It Safe To Install Laminate Flooring On Stairs?

A laminate flooring installation can be done on stairs. In this case, however, you don’t need an underlayment. The flooring planks adhere to the subfloor with glue. As a finish, stair noses are glued and nailed to the stairs. Just be very careful if you have been cleaning the flooring. Any dampness may cause the stairs to be extremely slippery.

6. What Is The AC Rating?

One of the most important aspects of a laminate hardwood floor installation is matching the flooring to the traffic it will be bombarded with. Using a low quality, the thin floor in a high traffic area will be disastrous. The AC Rating has been devised to help consumers when they have to make a buying decision.

The AC Rating of between 1 and 5 gives an indication of the suitability of the flooring planks for a particular area. In most residential situations, an AC Rating of 3 is high enough to ensure durability. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a higher rating will give your flooring a longer life. While this may be the case, a higher rating also comes with a rougher surface texture that can be tough on bare feet and socks.

7. I Love A Tiled Look. Is There A Laminate Flooring Option For Me?

A fairly recent development in the laminate flooring installation industry is the introduction of planks with an extremely authentic ceramic or stone tile appearance, complete with realistic grout lines. Just imagine getting the tiled look you adore, without any of the grout messes. No more cracking, moldy, discolored grout to spoil your hard work. Just a smooth, multi-hued tile look clicked together within a day. This truly is a decorating and interior design dream come true.

8. Doesn’t Laminate Flooring Have A Plastic Look?

With the latest engineering, the days of plastic, fake-looking laminates are over. You will be amazed at the authenticity of the real wood or stone tile designs. Textures can be refined to be completely realistic. Planks are now beveled to come even closer to the real thing. In addition, weathering has been brought in to give that unique warm and rustic real hardwood appearance.

9. Do I Need To Acclimate My Laminate Flooring Planks?

Some manufacturers stipulate that the unopened boxes of flooring planks should be stored horizontally in the room where they will be installed, for a period of around 48 hours. This gives the plants a chance to acclimate. Your supplier should be able to give you the correct instructions. Alternatively, you can go to the manufacturer’s website for more information. Make sure that you allow for this period when you do your planning. Don’t rush into the installation. Follow the instructions to the letter if you don’t want to void your warranty.

10. What Do I Do If There Is A Nasty Scratch On My Floor?

One of the main benefits of a laminate flooring installation is that you can repair minor mishaps with ease, and replace a whole section of flooring in the event of a serious calamity. It is always better to try and prevent scratches by using felt pads under furniture, keeping pet nails trimmed, and avoiding spiked shoes. Entrance rugs are also a good idea, as they catch some of the gravel and grit before it gets onto the flooring. If there are scratches, color-coordinated pens are available to make them less conspicuous.

For more noticeable scratches, a filling putty can be used. Neaten the edges of the area with a small, sharp knife. Fill it with putty, and smooth the surface gently with a plastic scraper. Wipe excess away with a damp cloth and your floor should be as good as new.

Follow the laminate flooring installation guidelines to the letter, give your flooring the tender loving care it deserves, and you will enjoy its good looks for years to come.