Friday, January 22, 2016

Glen's Renovation Series: Part 5

Congratulations. You’ve received the quotes and/or estimates from the contractors you have invited to look at your project. You’ve done your end of the arrangements by being prepared and clear on what you want included in the work to be done. Your thoroughness will have paid off for you at this time. Now it’s a matter of reviewing the information they have provided to you. Obviously, what you are about to do is a comparison of each and it is important to be sure that all of the items that you listed are included in the list you get from the contractor. Some may have actually added a thing or two because they thought of that necessary item only when they sat down to crunch the numbers. What you need to do when reviewing them is reduce the basic information down to one sheet for yourself. Lets call it the “Comparison Page”. For each of the contractors it would include their company name, their pricing, extras or omissions of requested items, notes on how you felt about the experience they have given you thus far and any other notes that are important to you. Be sure to write down in their column any questions you have for when you call them back. 

You will immediately find that the format of what you have received differs from contractor to contractor. Each has their own style and method of how they provide you with the information. Common to all of them is the “bottom line” or, how much the work will cost in the end. Also, it must contain the key components like proof of insurance, GST/HST Number, etc. Be sure to check if taxes are in the final line. That’s a common detail that gets overlooked. Some may list out each item you have requested. Some may give a brief description of the work in a paragraph. Some may list all the items and pricing for each. Some may include no information with the exception of the bottom line. Review them all and get that information into the Comparison Page. Once you look at it you will have that information in your mind and easily referred to rather than flipping through multiple documents. With this finished document in hand you now have the big picture. If you need any more information or clarification on an item drop the contractor an email then get that info down on the Page. Now its time to decide. Just how do you do that anyway?

There are lots of opinions on how to select the best contractor from a list of others. Do I go with the lowest quote? Do I discard the lowest quote? Why is this quote so high and that one so low? All things being equal, of course you will always go with the lowest. However, none of them will be the same. There are always differences.  

Quality is the first thing to go when it comes to lower pricing. Do they take their debris to a landfill or throw it at the end of a road somewhere? Do they protect your home from dust and damage when on site? Workmanship is another factor on pricing. Like, “Wow, that drywall looks really horrible!”, just when you see their tail lights leaving your driveway… forever. You can expect that in most cases the workmanship is of a lower standard on the lowest price. Its not a rule but is generally accepted.

What about the mid-price? You’ve likely heard that this is the one to choose, again with all things seeming equal, there is some truth to this. To understand this you need only to look at the next level of pricing and why the highest got to be that way. Again, generally speaking, the highest bidding contractor is busy. He has lots of projects on the go and it is possible that your job may stretch his human resources to an uncomfortable point. He may also rightfully think that he is worth the extra money. After all, if he’s busy that means his services are in demand and therefore worth more. Having said this, the mid-range option just might be your best option. He’s hungrier, fair and confident enough not to under price his work. There is, after all, no bottom to pricing and those who use the lowest price as their main selling point generally don’t give the best work.

With all of this in mind only you can know through your dealings with each contractor on your list which will best suit your requirements. It’s a holistic approach that I have laid out for you and you’ll need to make your decision based on that accumulated knowledge.


It is now a good time in the course of this series of articles about home improvement to talk about ethics. When dealing with your money it is natural for you to want to keep as much of it as possible. When you are at this stage; about to negotiate with contractors on final pricing and scope of work, you’ll think of creating ways for them to sharpen their pencil. There are methods that customers use very frequently that have no place in negotiations and it is not because they are evil. It is because they don’t see the implications to themselves, the contractor or society at large. They genuinely just want to save some money and mean no harm. Let me give some examples of what should never enter into the negotiation. 

Can we do this without paying the sales tax? Now lets look at this closely. First, you have put this fellow in an awkward position because if he complies he would be breaking the law. By refusing he is at a competitive disadvantage. Secondly, do you really want a contractor in your house, doing thousands of dollars of work hiding money from the government? If he is that dishonest then you shouldn’t have considered him in the first place. Tax evasion is a serious problem in our country. Don’t ask the question.

Do not reveal the other quotes until you have rewarded the contract. The successful basis of the bidding process lies in the fact that the bidders are putting forth their best estimate of what the job will cost all the while considering that the other bidders will be competitive. How ethical is it then to tell the highest bidder that if he lowers his price to the lowest bid he can then get the job? The lowest bidder put in great effort to tender his bid and has disadvantaged himself already by coming in at a lower price. Now he has no work and the big guy gets the job. Meanwhile the middle guy is out of the picture too. So, after all of the effort that the GCs put into the bidding process, it gets short circuited by an unethical approach by the customer. Its not like buying a consumer good where the price is known beforehand. The effort that the contractor put into the quote is real. The bid that the contractor supplied to you is actually an accumulation of years of knowledge tailored to your exact needs. Pricing a job correctly is a skill that requires a vast amount of trial and error, failure and success. GCs wouldn't go through the process of bidding if they new that their own bid was going to be used against them. After the contract is rewarded it is actually good practice to inform the other bidders where they were in the cue. It helps them to stay competitive on their next bid. So keep those bid numbers secret!

Why do I mention this soap-boxy stuff? Because in the end it actually protects you. By being unethical you will have set the tone for the rest of your dealings with the GC. Keep it professional and you'll have a great project.

So what can you do to get the price down a bit after the bids have been tendered? The simple way is to just ask. Tell the contractor that his bid was higher than you had budgeted for and could he adjust his pricing. He may have had more time to think about your job and may be happy to trim a few dollars off to get the job. Let the others have that same opportunity. All of this is fair and is simply an ask. The GC has every right to stick to his pricing or adjust it at his will. It keeps the tone civilized when you act professionally.

 Your next step after you have made your decision on selection of a general contractoris to prepare a contract. You’ve heard it before; “Get it in writing!” Well, its solid advice even for small jobs. It protects both you and the GC and keeps you both on same page should a detail arise about who said what. The job can be small but think of the damage that can be done to your home during a renovation. Also important: call your insurance company and inform them of your plans to renovate. I know what you are thinking. “They’ll increase my premiums if I tell them I’m making improvements.” Not necessarily. For something like an average bathroom or kitchen reno they don’t really care. But if you don’t tell them your property may not be insured if something were to happen during or after construction. 

I’ll go into the contract process in more detail in my next instalment. Ill cover things like the contract itself, specifications, extras, addendums and holdbacks. All very exciting!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Keeping the Lights On

Over the course of the last few weeks nearly a half million Canadians have lost their power and some for more than a week. The ice storm that blanketed large swaths of central and eastern Canada caused more than minor disruptions; this was major. Power crews were worked past the breaking point to restore electricity to customers in an almost war-like movement of men and equipment. Meanwhile, in an attempt to stay warm, cook or keep the refrigerator running, people perished from carbon monoxide poisoning. Burning fossil fuels inside or near the house proved to be as dangerous as the equipment labels said.

This entry is not going to be about d├ęcor or the best countertops for your kitchen. Its going to be about how to prepare your home for a prolonged power outage and how to keep you and your family warm, safe and fed. If this weather is the new normal then we need to prepare.

First, lets deal with electricity. There are appliances in your home that can only be without power for 24 hours before things start getting bad. Specifically, these would be your refrigerator, your deep freeze and if you have one, your well pump. With your food, the Red Cross states that after 24 hours, some refrigerated foods start to develop bacteria harmful to human health. With the prolonged outages that we’ve just experienced, refrigerated food would need to be disposed of entirely. 

A simple solution is to simply purchase a generator and run your refrigeration units off of it. However, running your well pump off of a generator involves opening up your electrical panel. This is a real no-no for a homeowner. Even if you think you know what you are doing a problem may still result. If that problem involves a fire, your insurance company is going to thank you politely for your business and you’ll be stuck for the bill for any resulting damages. 

Let me suggest a more civilized solution. Consider a Transfer Switch. Very simply put, an electrician installs this unit beside your existing electrical panel. It looks like a normal electrical panel but it does so much more. Into this panel he wires in the circuits that really matter in your house. I’ll provide a list:

  • Refrigerator
  • Deep freeze
  • Internet router
  • Well pump
  • Oil furnace
  • Lighting
  • Essential receptacles
  • TV! 

When the power goes out you simply go to the panel and flip a switch. This isolates these essential circuits from others in your home. So, how do you get power to these isolated circuits? The answer is, of course, a generator. For this you have many options. There are too many brands out there to list but if you stick to the recognizable ones like Honda, Husqavarna, Kawasaki, etc, you will have great luck. The key feature you’ll need to consider when choosing a generator is wattage. You can get a generator that will power just your TV or you can get one that will power your whole house or neighbourhood! If you are considering a transfer panel for your home the very lowest wattage rating you’ll get away with is 4000. This will run the items on the list above with just a little bit of headroom. If you want to power your electric hot water tank you’ll need to add at least another 2000 watts to your generator’s output capacity. A nice touch for prolonged outages. 

Once you have flipped the switch you simply plug your generator into a special plug on the outside of your house and then start your generator. Voila! You are up and running. The cable that runs from your generator to the outdoor receptacle will be provided by the electrician who installs the panel. A standard extension cord must not be used here. This heavy gauge cord should be of adequate length to keep it well away from your home and others. Preferably down-wind. These units generate carbon monoxide so correct placement of these units is paramount. Note: You will notice that aside from providing a little power to operate your oil furnace, there is no mention of electric heat or cooking appliances on the above list. The reason for this is that the requirements for adding even one electric baseboard to this list would swamp your 4000 watt generator. We’ll cover this heating challenge next in… 


As we Canadians know, if there is going to be a power outage its likely going to be in the winter time. Therefore, our ability to heat our homes is compromised with most types of heat. Obviously electric baseboard heat is not going to work but neither is the blower on your oil-fired furnace. Forced electric air heat is also out of commission.  

Many Atlantic Canadians heat their homes with a wood stove. If you’ve got one of these and a stack of wood then you’ve obviously got the heating thing covered! Wood stoves are the ultimate off-grid heat solution. However, many people don’t like the hassle and mess that wood brings. It is a messy endeavour and labourious to say the least. I’d like to propose a nice solution that has benefits even when the power is on. A propane stove! While not economical as your sole heating source it will heat a large portion of your home when the power is out. And when the power is on it can be used for romantic TV watching! For those who haven’t the room to store wood or posses the will to lug it, a propane stove is a great option. A tank sits outside of your home. Unfortunately, they do not generate enough heat on their tops to cook on. For that, consider the barbecue outside or a small camp stove that you can run near an indoor area that is vented to the outside like a window or even your range hood if it is wired to your fancy new panel. 

Another option is a pellet stove, also requiring power to run the pellet-feeding auger and fan. Of course you’ll need to store the pellets in a dry area. 

So what is this going to cost you ask? Let me break it down: 

Installed transfer panel:  1-2000 dollars. Depending on load capacity and other factors like ease of installation . 

Generator: $1700 and up. Consider the Honda super quiet model so as to avoid angering neighbours. It’s a bit spendy but you can run it at night and no one will even notice. They are that quiet. You can also get models that run on propane, in tandem with your stove. 

Propane Stove: $4000 and up installed.

So, for $6700 you can essentially run your home indefinitely without grid power. That’s a good feeling to have for a one-time investment. Obviously, the solutions I’m providing here are of an entry-level nature. If you want to spend more on things like automatic switching or whole home generation you can, but this is the solution that I feel fits the bill for keeping homeowners safe, warm and happy during a power outage. 

Again, these are not DIY jobs. You’ll need get an electrician and a licensed propane appliance installer for these items. No exceptions!

I hope this inspires you to think about what you can do to prepare for the next outage. Its coming sometime, so be prepared.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Glen's Renovation Series Part 4. Choosing a General Contractor

What is a General Contractor? This is a seemingly easy question to answer but allow me to explain. The TV version of a General Contractor is that of a man in nice, clean blue jeans and a plaid shirt that shows up on a jobsite in his shiny pick-up truck with clipboard in hand. He manages all of the sub trades on many different jobsites and ensures that his own employees are moving smoothly too. This may actually be the case in larger centres but for us in the Maritimes it’s a little different. Yes the General Contractors here do manage the sub trades (electricians, plumbers, dywallers, etc.) but here they are likely to be found doing many jobs themselves. It short, they are like one of their own crew who lugs lumber and shovels dirt, but they are the boss. At night they clean up and do paperwork. There are very few Bob Villa types in these parts. This is good news for homeowners because the guys with dirty hands know how to get stuff done better.


For first timers, choosing a contractor is likely the most daunting part of a renovation. For those who have followed the instructions on my previous articles it means that you've been doing a great deal of work yourself laying the groundwork for a successful project. Choosing a contractor means having to now deal with people, showing to them your plans and negotiating with them. So how do you even start this phase of your project? Where do you look? I'll show you where I deem the best can be found and it may not be in the places you would think to look. The pre-amble that I'll give here is to take the word of mouth route first and make a list of recommendations. Then, check out their presence online or in the Yellow Pages next. If they are not in these areas don't immediately exclude them. It may just mean that they are really good and therefore busy enough that they don't need to market themselves. Don't do this step in reverse order or you'll get swamped or lost quickly. There is a mess of guys on Kijiji who are completely fly by night and will not give you the final project you deserve. So, here is where to look for your dream contractor:

At Work: Yes! You will not be the first or the last to have work done on your home so tap this resource first. Word of mouth remains the best way to get a great contractor. E-mail your colleagues or spend some extra time around the water cooler to talk about important things, like your new bathroom! Ask your workmates the usual questions like "were they on time and on budget?", but be sure to ask them the questions on the list below.

Neighbours: Again, a word of mouth thing, but if you've noticed a neighbour who has recently had some work done at their home ask them who did it and if the experience was positive. Many contractors end up having a lasting presence in a neighbourhood because their first customer there was so happy with the work.

Social Media/Friends: Although they may not have had work done they may know someone who has and what their experience was like. Also, if you have friends who own residential plumbing or electrical businesses they are a wealth of knowledge. Undoubtedly they have worked for several general contractors over the years and may be able to recommend the right one for your job.

So, after you have done the legwork on the word-of-mouth side you can then check out their presence on:

·         Social Media

·         The Yellow Pages

·         Websites

·         Kijiji

Narrow your list down to three solid choices. Any more than three will be a waste of your time and theirs. To a contractor a long list of bidders means that the customer is looking for the absolute lowest price and that will make the good contractors walk away. If he is one of just a few, it makes him want to participate and still be competitive.

Now its time to contact the General Contractor. This first contact is extremely important as it sets the tone for what will be a true relationship. Think about this point carefully: this person will be in your home when you are not there, be around your pets and possibly your children. Also, you'll be entering into a contract with one of them where money is on the line. Now is they time to convey your seriousness about the way you do business. I strongly recommend calling them on the phone first to gauge what the person is like. That e-mail stuff is for later. If he doesn't answer then give him until the evening to call back. He may be too busy to return calls and possibly did not hear his phone as he was in a noisy environment. Give him a brief description of your job and arrange a meeting. Most GCs (that’s General Contractor) do evening sales calls as they know most of their customers work during the day. They also like meeting on the way home from a jobsite. As a courtesy to the potential GCs schedule meetings far enough apart so that they do not have to park together in your driveway. General Contractors are extremely competitive with one another and if you take away any awkwardness from your dealings with them you further cement your professionalism. Also, when they are meeting at your home they’ll be concentrating on you and not if the competition is watching his every move.

What did you take away from your brief telephone conversation? Was he pleasant, was he willing to accommodate a meeting time easily? Did he step away from the loud backhoe as a courtesy to you? Look for these things as indicators and file them away in your mind. You'll be surprised how much a first impression really does matter in the end. 

Meeting Day! When you do meet be prepared. Don't come to the door in your jammies with the television on. Have your materials prepared and on hand. This is a business meeting. Shake his hand and be professional. He is interviewing you as much as you are him. Remember, you want to get the good guy, not chase him away by presenting yourself as not being serious.  

Show him the physical space of your project first and then sit down to the materials you have assembled. Offer him a coffee. They all love coffee. Don't be shy to ask him if he sees any downsides to the plan you have at hand. He can say for certain if there are things that need tweaking. At this point it is a good idea to check your pride at the door and allow the GC to make his points freely. What may seem like an up-sell to you may be just his hard-learned opinion that he wants to offer. In my experience, most GCs just want to do a good job and leave behind a happy customer who will give glowing recommendations of him and his work. It is also my experience that a GC will also give pointers on less expensive options that will give you near the same results. Listen closely during this phase. Even if you don’t choose this particular fellow, his advice may improve your project’s results. 

Once you have shown him your proposed project its now time for you to ask for an estimate or quote.  This is a tricky part and it forms the first part of your negotiations. An estimate is a very educated guess on price that considers all of the parameters of the project. In most instances you can count on this number being the final cost. A quote is a hard number and it takes into consideration all of the specifications that you have listed. This is the price that you will pay at the end of the project. So what is the difference between a quote and an estimate? On a quote the GC has no option but to protect himself from the unforeseen and therefore add a percentage to the final price that he calculates. With an estimate you pay the unforeseen. And here is the even trickier part: if there is a really, really unforeseen thing like a huge structural problem that reveals itself after a wall gets opened, the customer still pays for that because it was outside of the original specifications that your presented. So, is it best to ask for an estimate or a quote? If your specifications are clearly defined and there is a design for the project that details everything, you could go with a quote. If things are still fuzzy for whatever reason you could ask for an estimate, just to get an idea of what you are in for in terms of cost. Ask for him to include the following when he delivers the estimate/quote:


·         Proof of liability insurance.

·         Letter of good standing with Worksafe (New Brunswick) or other workman compensation agencies if you live outside of New Brunswick.

·         GST/HST number.

·         E-mail addresses of three of his previous customers who have had similar work done.

·         The Warranty.


Be prepared to wait for your estimate/quote. If it’s a large project with many details like a finished basement with bathroom and home theatre, expect to wait a week or more. The GC will need to confer with his sub-trades and crunch many different numbers in order to be accurate. For a job like that he may need to commit a whole day to achieve an accurate number. 

So, now you have some useful information on what a General Contractor does, how to find one, how to deal with them in person, what to present them with and what to ask them for after your first meeting. You are now well-prepared! I’m looking forward to my next instalment when I’ll walk you through what you need to know after the quotes/estimates come in.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Glen's Renovation Series: Part 3.a

The digital age has brought the homeowner many tools for helping turn their renovation design concepts into a workable plan. Not so long ago the final product remained fuzzy in the mind of even the best designer until it was complete and the paint was dry. Nowadays that uneasy "am I doing the right thing" feeling is greatly alleviated by some nifty technology found on-line.

Since my last post on Design, I've found myself using three on-line tools to help my customers better visualize their project. These are quick tools that help narrow design choices. This is great because there is so much out there to look at and tools to narrow your search are valuable time savers.

My first joy to share is Houzz. This is the one website that could kill the design magazine. What it does is offer photographs of anything to do with residential spaces. Bathrooms, kitchens, fountains, porches, you name it. And these aren't just boring smart-phone shots. The site is populated with gorgeous images of submissions from designers who want to showcase their work. Anyone looking for ideas can get lost for hours in a dreamy state of home-improvement bliss. But if you don't like getting lost, you can very easily customize your search to different styles, colours, materials, etc. Houzz is definitely on my list of highly recommended reno stuff.

My other two tools I've been using allow you to let you discover what different colours and materials will look like on your project. Now, I must warn you that these sites are a little clumsy but they seem to be the best ones out there for the application. For interior paint colours I use the Benjamin Moore site. It allows you to upload a photo of your own project, or maybe one you've found online, and play with wall colours. You get to see very easily how colour can really change the language of your space. For interior and exterior home ideas you can try Home Hardware's Design Centre. Here you can go way deeper than just colour options. You can design closet storage solutions or even a whole kitchen. Like I've mentioned, they are a bit clumsy but they are both free.

So, this is my design update to help you with your project. Use them wisely and you will be inspired.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Glen's Renovation Series. Part 3: Design

Welcome to this next stop along your renovation journey! Design can be tons of fun as it puts you in charge of what your finished project will look like. The concepts that you have gathered before, combined with a dollar figure you have for a budget, are what you are going to be relying on in this stage. Your torn-out magazine articles, napkin sketches, fabric swatches and colour ideas combined with your cost estimates are tools that will assist you in this phase. You will soon have the vision now sitting in your head transformed to something tangible to show to the world! 

No doubt if you didn’t have an artistic flair before all of your conceptual work, you will have more creative confidence now. You may even feel that you have cheated a bit - that your design may closely resemble one you saw in a magazine. Don’t worry! After all, great ideas get stolen all of the time. No great musician, painter, architect or designer would not cite a borrowed inspiration or two along the way.  

On the flip-side, there is also a tenancy for some to attempt to” build a better mousetrap” when getting into a project. Keep it simple and uncomplicated where possible.  Don’t go down any rabbit holes where you can lose your focus and potentially stall the project. Stick with a reasonable vision and get to the end cleanly and efficiently. Tweak at the end, not in the middle. 

When designing living spaces why not consider the following.  Choose the design components (colors, materials, fixtures, etc.) for the space that speak a common language and assemble them in an order that makes them sing - I just came up with that J   

Nothing says bad design like materials or colours that have no business being next to one another. Creating a country kitchen? Corinthian marble tile on the floor next to rustic cabinets is an out-of-tune ballad of design.  Just as Victorian wallpaper with colonial trim-work makes me shudder. Just plain bad. Stay inside your particular choosen design ascetic and perhaps introduce another element here or there at the end if it suits. Contrast  and tension in design is good but there are rules. Unless you are a skilled designer, this can go bad quickly.  Keep it simple and harmonious. 

As a little aside, you may want to keep with a classic, enduring look if you are not relishing the idea of another redesign or reno in 10 to 15 years.  Trendy design is just that.  A trend.  Ten years from now, it will no longer be a trend. Consider keeping your flooring, fixtures and other permanent elements neutral and timeless. You can then change paint, fabrics or accessories to capture the new trendy looks and not break the bank. Just something to think about. 

Another tip that can save you big dollars:  During the design phase you need to know that moving the location of plumbing fixtures and moving walls, especially load bearing walls, will lay a serious hurting on your budget. Keep this in mind when you do your design and try and work within the existing footprint to save money. 

OK – you’ve got your design vision finalized, your budget drafted, and you’re are ready to start.  What now? Well, many designers like to assemble some hard plans and documents from which to work.  Here’s some items to consider: 

*Artist Rendering: This is a drawing of what the finished space will look like. It isn’t a floor plan. That comes later. This is the person’s eye-view of the space and provides a creative conceptual vision of layout, colours, fixtures, accessories, possibly furniture, flooring, lighting, etc. The detail needn’t be photo-realistic, and almost never is. Not an artist? Well don’t let that bother you. You can even skip this step if you want but it does help to have it down the road.  If one of the magazine articles features a photo that closely approximates your design, then use it and make some notes of the changes underneath. If you are ok with physically drawing something then go head and do it.  This doesn’t need to be exact scale but the lines suggesting the above items with some colors (paint, colored pencils) splashed in is nice to have on hand. There are also computer programs that are extremely helpful in creating a rendering in the digital realm. In my opinion there is none better than Google Sketch-Up.  I’m going to go into a bit of detail about it as it has become an indispensable tool that I use and I want to share it with you.

Google Sketch-Up is a free, downloadable 3D sketching software program that has proven immensely popular. It allows the user to create a space into which you can actually walk into, pan around and zoom in on. You can import common items like fixtures, furniture, plants, cabinets, people, whatever. You can also “paint” surfaces and choose flooring. You can get into as much or as little detail as you want. Its easy to use right out of the gate but I recommend the excellent video tutorials. I give it the “Echelon Stamp of Approval.”

*Floor Plan: Google Sketch-up allows you to create one once your design is complete, but I get the most bang for my buck out of good, old-fashioned graph paper. It allows you to create a scale plan in the tolerances that are required for most projects. For lines that are square to one another you need no measuring tools because you can simply count the squares for your measurements. For a single room you can use four squares per foot, thereby giving a value of three inches to each square. For lines on angles it helps to have a ruler or even a scale since you can’t calculate measurements by counting squares on a diagonal.

For fixtures like shower units, tubs, or sinks, you can get the dimensions of those products online or on the spec sheet. In almost every case you will come down to instances where inches really matter. Sometimes even an inch over on a fixture will send you scrambling for a solution. You’ll become very familiar with your space in this phase and making everything fit in will be your challenge. Always show your measurements as pictured in the diagram. This is where the rubber meets the road. Your builder will find these measurements of the greatest importance as many of his calculations will be based on them. 

*Material Samples: Pick them up during your design phase.  It is also very useful to have these later on for when the purchase is being made as it serves as the ultimate reference. For your fixtures, flooring, tile, fabrics, wallpaper, paint, hardware and countertops you’ll want a physical or pictorial sample of each. With each of the samples you’ll want to attach the following information:

  • Name or number of each
  • Product Line
  • Finish selection
  • Supplier name
  • Quantity or amount required

So for your paint sample you would have a paint chip labelled “Emerald Mist, Aura From Benjamin Moore, eggshell, 2 gal.”  For your flooring it could be “Maple, 3 ½” tongue and groove, natural finish, Home Hardware”.  You get the picture… 

Any additional info can be written on these that may be helpful - like the salesperson you spoke to or even the price you were quoted. Also, when you’ve picked out your fixtures, get the manufacturers sheet on each by either downloading it from their website and printing it off or picking up the sheet at the store you saw it in. If it’s not with the show unit on the floor, then ask the salesperson to provide it for you. 

Detailed Specifications: These are the fine details that you want your builder to be aware of. It would go like:

  • Baseboards to be coped at corners
  • All baseboard and casings to be filled with painters caulk
  • Tile spacing at 1/8” in shower. Non-sanded grout.
  • Tile spacing 3/16” on floor. Sanded Grout
  • Doors to be spray painted
  • And anything else that you want your project to have and you expect your builder to do. Remember, builders usually don’t have ESP.

And that covers it.  Now here is the most important part. Put the whole thing into one kit. This will be a physical, not digital, collection of all that you have created and assembled. It can be in a binder, a box, an envelope or whatever, but it has to all be in one place so that it can be accessed trouble free by whoever needs the data. If any component leaves the kit then put a note in there of who has it and what it was. 

So you’ve read all my tips and you’ve completed homework. You’ll be glad you did.  You can expect to have a smooth renovation culminating in the final product you dreamed about.  However, if you have jumped into a redesign and haven’t done all this, I do have some good news. A good builder can walk you through much of this by asking you the right questions providing you supply the correct and appropriate answers. The downside with this route is that you don’t get the pleasure of creating a well thought-out plan.  You avoid the possible panic mode you will feel when your builder is calling you from the plumbing shop and while sending photos from his smart-phone asking which tub you want.  All the while you are driving the kids to the doctor on your lunch break and the report to your boss is due this afternoon. Argh!!!!  Unless you crave chaos, you’ll be happy you took the time to surf the net, read design magazines in your jammies, and make the required decisions on your own time - well in advance. 

On a final note, get someone whose taste you trust to sanity check your plan. First, they’ll be super impressed and jealous that you are so organized and thorough.  But they also may help you discover a hiccup that you otherwise may have overlooked.

With your design in hand you’ll be ready for the next phase which is “Choosing a Contractor”.  Your organized kit will be a welcome sight to a guy who is used to holding hands all day. Don’t be surprised (or insulted) if he suggests a change or two to help you keep your costs down.  More than likely however, since you did your homework, he’ll simply need to ask a few questions for clarity, give you a quote and you’ll be off and renovating.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Glen's Reno Series. Volume 2. Budget

Now that you've had your fill of DIY shows, magazine reading and net surfing, you probably have an idea of what your project will need to look like. Your fuzzy vision of what you wanted in the beginning now looks much sharper and now you can bring that vision even more clarity by entering into the next phase: Budget.

You may ask yourself why you are doing a budget at this stage. Shouldn't I just be going to a contractor and asking him how much it will cost? No, no, no. A budget does two main things. It clarifies what you want instead of the contractor trying to imagine what you want. Secondly, it prepares you for the design stage and forces you to be realistic about what you are trying to achieve. Sure that vanity is a stunning piece but substituting it for another less expensive one means simply changing a line item on your spreadsheet and moving forward.

By no means are you going to be locked into this number that you initially arrive at. Budget numbers move up and down constantly, but if you have your spreadsheet handy, its going to save you a lot of guesswork and keep you from the inevitable denial that can happen when you let costs go out of control.

For the purposes of this exercise we are going to use a bathroom project as an example. Because there are so many options for materials and fixtures in a bathroom it provides a great way to show how a budget will typically get accomplished.

To install a modest bathroom we will start at $4000. This will include a five foot tub/shower unit, a vanity/ sink, and a toilet.  Accessories like towel bars would also be included. Flooring would be vinyl. Anything like removing old fixtures and flooring, moving a wall, adding a baseboard heater, lighting, moving plumbing lines would be extra. This is about as basic as it can get. Any movement from here is going to be up.

In a bathroom we would begin with a list of fixtures and the cost. A spreadsheet would look like this:

Bathroom Project 2012
Vanity/ Sink300
Tile in Tub/Shower600
Shower Fixture300

Like I said, this is the bare minimum. No fancy stuff at all but it gives you a good baseline from which to begin.

So, that two-page spread of your dream bathroom that you saw may not be the one priced above. Look at that tub online and you may find that its a fifteen hundred dollar fixture and not the three hundred dollar entry level one. In bathrooms it is very common that a premium fixture is ten times the cost of an entry level one. That fifty dollar faucet for your sink can easily be replaced with a five hundred dollar one. Apply that to your whole budget and suddenly you have a forty thousand dollar bathroom. Think that's crazy? Well you may just be right, but it is happening every day.

Budget is a good time for substituting materials from your concept and moving them up or down. Want something a little fancier for your vanity than laminate? Throw in a few hundred bucks extra for a Corian counter top. That glass mosaic tile may be nice, but boy is it pricey! Try some subway tiles and watch your price go way down. Deciding now on budget realities can clear your head for when it comes to design time.

So here is the real issue: How can I know how much this will cost me roughly before I talk to a pro? Well, there is the Internet and items like tubs and sinks can be easily priced. But what about services? Most people have no idea how much a plumber charges. Fortunately, someone has done a lot of work to compile this information and it lists just about everything you could imagine that you'd want done around your home. The market that these prices are listed for is very similar to our own and it'll give you a great basis from which to go on to the next phases of your project.

When calculating your budget, try to think of every possible thing. Will I need ventilation for the bathroom? Does the electrical meet code? Will I need to re-install the drywall after I tear off the old wall-paper? Be realistic and don't cheat yourself now and be disappointed later. Make that list as long as possible. Look at every item. Flooring, paint, electrical, demolition, tipping fees, everything. Put it all in the spreadsheet.

Moving into the next phase, design, you'll be coming back to the budget and tweaking it a little. Keep your spreadsheet handy so that you can update your changes.

The design phase is exciting and you'll get to express your creativity. I'll have some great tips on this stage so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Some Music News

Its not all work around here at Echelon. My wife, who is involved with a marketing group, was producing a for-broadcast commercial. They needed a jingle for "The Give" campaign at the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation. So, after a few hours of writing and recording I "Gave" them the 30 seconds of music behind this commercial... that was my donation.

I know all of the folks who pitched in on this and its nice to know that I have some truly creative friends. Somebody nominate these people for something! My wife made the clouds!

I love the home-spun feeling on the piece itself. Its very Maritime-y.

If you are inspired to do so after viewing, maybe you'd like to make your own give.