More professional advice for the DIY General Contractor

This article features advice from DIY General Contractor expert Pay Fay, author of The Pat Fay Method: How to Manage Your Home Remodel or New Construction Without a General Contractor to Save Serious Money.

Mr. Fay offers some interesting insight into the growing trend of do-it-yourself General Contracting:

The actual cost of home improvements is not aligned well with the prices being charged, the quality of work has been declining and the working general contractor is slowly disappearing. Many now simply arrange subcontractors and provide minimal supervision. Quite frequently, general contractors will take the cost of the materials, add labor, then triple it. People are being charged $200-$250 per square foot for projects that can be accomplished for half that price.

Read How to do it yourself – as a general contractor on the Seattle Times.

Read reviews for The Pat Fay Method on Amazon.com.

See my previous post, The Top 5 Unexpected Pitfalls of being your own General Contractor.

Innovative leveller sytem stabilizes wobbly and unsafe ladders

Base Mate Professional Ladder Stabilizer

The Base Mate Professional Ladder Stabilizer is a “revolutionary” solution to unstable and unsafe ladders for both do-it-yourselfers and home improvement professionals.

The Basemate Ladder Leveller … is an ingenious arc of hardened steel that cuts the risk of falls by allowing ladders to remain stable on uneven ground.

Opposing locks on each side of the arc replace the feet of a standard ladder. As the locks are released, the arc slides over until its rubber treads are firmly on the ground while the ladder stays plumb.
- Vancouver Sun

It looks easier to use than traditional ladder levellers. To see just how easy, watch the video available at the Base Mate website. You lean your ladder, tap-release the lock with your foot, and start climbing. Pretty cool!

The Base Mate Professional Ladder Stabilizer has been tested, used and now endorsed by Mike Holmes who calls it “the smartest foot system of any ladder leveler on the market”.

Some Specs & Features:

  • wider base which gives added support / stability to extension ladders
  • strong enough for the heaviest construction ladders
  • exceeds Grade 1 CDN and type 1A USA ladder requirements by 20%
  • made of hardened steel
  • insured by Lloyds of London
  • patented triple action locking system with one foot operation
  • installation to most fiberglass, aluminum and wood extension ladders (12” to 20” rung width)
  • weight tested to 1,200 pounds

Check it out at the Base Mate website. The Base Mate Professional Ladder Stabilizer is available in Canada and the UK. Hopefully US distribution will be coming soon; the distributor plans to launch in the US after finding success in other markets.

Note: The system was originally developed in 2001 by home improvement contractor Martin Dennis (Surrey’s Precision Gutters). It received the “most innovative product” award at the Canadian Hardware and Building Materials Show the same year but hasn’t been professionally marketed until recently. Just goes to show you that brilliant ideas do not go out of style.

Sound Proof Drywall: a high performance, low cost soundproofing alternative

Have a home theatre room that needs soundproofing? Want more privacy for (or from) mancave powertool experiments? Have kids with rock’n'roll dreams you can’t wait for them to outgrow? You can have it all and your peace and quiet too. The answer lies in using soundproof drywall where needed in your home.

Traditional soundproofing methods have been labor-intensive, lengthy processes requiring specialized knowledge. Soundproof drywall, such as QuietSolution’s QR-525 product is a significant leap forward in ease of use both for DIYers and home improvement / construction professionals. The benefits …

Ease of Use with Low Cost

QuietSolution soundproof drywall is “score, snap and hang” – no special training, tools or equipment required to install. Accessible for DIYers, an efficiency gain for professionals.

High Performance

A single layer of QuietRock QR-525 offers the same sound protection as 8 layers of standard drywall with a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of up to 72. QuietRock’s patented technology uses 3 layers of viscoelastic, ceramic and gypsum material but still manages to be “eco friendly” and fire-rated.

An Award Winner …

I’m thinking along the lines of QuietRock QR-525 soundproof drywall – a Hanley Wood Most Valuable Product award winner.

“Each of these products will make a strong impact on the way builders and remodelers do their job,” says Jean Dimeo, Editorial Director, ebuild and BUILDING PRODUCTS. “From improving efficiency to cost-savings, the winning products represent the best new products to enter the housing industry over the previous year.”

With High Profile Press

QuietSolution soundproof drywall has been featured on Holmes on Homes (video snip from QuietSolution website), the CBS Early Show, and HGTV’s I Want That.

Check it out. See complete QuietRock drywall product specs & information on the QR website.

Renovation’s Seven Deadly Sins

Deadly to your project that is. Came across an interesting take on the Seven Deadly Sins … at least as they apply to renovation and remodeling. They are:

  • DIY Pride can come before a fall,
  • Contractor Lust,
  • Greed,
  • Gluttony,
  • Anger,
  • Sloth, and
  • Envy.

For the full explanation (and an entertaining read) with insightful professional advice on how to “absolve” yourself of these failings read How to Avoid the “Seven Sins” of Remodeling on the Palisadian Post.

DIY vs DFY (Done For You) – the DIY backlash has arrived

DIY Disasters have become on cottage industry for both home improvement television and contracting consultants. The DIY backlash has arrived on these shores and – surprise! – it has a Scottish accent.

The charge of the alternate “DFY” (Done For You) brigade is being led by two Scottish interior designers who have recently made Toronto home.

Their advice to do-it-yourselfers? ” … get out the Yellow Pages and get out of the way.”

McAllister and Ryan worry the renovating public has become overconfident. They wonder if certain Martha Stewart-style television shows, home decor magazines and even the ads for hardware stores are complicit in making the rather complicated task of installing kitchen cabinets, for example, seem like a no-brainer.

“Do not inflict yourself on your home. It’s most people’s biggest investment, yet they too often treat it badly,” says McAllister.

I smell a PR grab. They are saying what some have been thinking. It’s just a shame they have to be so arrogant about it. But hey that’s what gets the press.

Read the source article Don’t try this at home on TheStar.com

The Top 5 Unexpected Pitfalls of being your own General Contractor

Acting as your own General Contractor is a DIY option which sounds good on the surface. What a great way to save lot of money on your renovation (typically 15%) by replacing the General Contractor. How hard could it be?

Hard. Here are your responsibilities as your own General Contractor:

  • managing the details of the renovation project,
  • securing the required building permits,
  • hiring, firing and scheduling subcontractors,
  • ordering building materials & supervising installation,
  • inspecting the work of subcontractors,
  • coordinating formal building inspections (with the permit office),
  • ensuring work is done to code, and
  • troubleshooting design or logistics issues.

That’s a tall order. It should be clear from the job description that not every homeowner is suited to being a General Contractor.

Acting as your own general contractor works best if you’re highly organized, detail-oriented and have a clear idea of what you want in your home.
- Bankrate

Even if you’re “organized”, you still need to decide if it’s truly worthwhile as the pitfalls may eat up your savings handily and then some.

“Don’t do it just to save some money,” he said, “because it’s a lot of work and a lot of research. If you’re not interested in the process, if you don’t want to learn more about construction than you thought you’d ever want to know, then don’t do it.”
- Graham Irwin from Remodel Guidance, SFGate

Ok you’re highly organized, good at planning and management, and really want to learn the ins and outs of construction. Most people understand that they will pay more for supplies which seems to be an acceptable trade off for the control they gain over the process. And everybody knows they have to do their research when hiring subcontractors. But are they aware of the surprise gotchas?

Here are my Top 5 Unexpected Pitfalls of being your own General Contractor.

1. Not having the same relationship with Subcontractors

A reputable general contractor usually has a good long-standing work relationship with the subcontractors, the ones who actually do the work. The general takes care of them and the subcontractors make an extra effort to do a good job on schedule.

If you are your own general contractor, the subcontractors will not have the same allegiance, so you can plan on running behind schedule a little. This can eat up at least 5 percent of the savings
- Ms Builder

That’s 5% gone …

2. Not having the time to closely monitor the project.

You need to be available to spend time on site. When needed. Could be anywhere from 10 to 40 hours per week, depending on the stage in the process. If you have a demanding full time job, be prepared to take time off. You must also

… have an intimate knowledge of the plans so that you notice any accidental deviations. If you miss something early, repairing or modifying the plans later, to accommodate the error, can use up much of your 10 percent savings. …
- Ms Builder

Ok so now your 15% savings could be gone and maybe some of your vacation time. What’s next? Ah yes …

3. The Building Permit Maze

Many people underestimate the time it will take to get building permit approval.

“Sometimes half of the project is just getting the permits … Go into the permit office as early as possible in the process to find out the restrictions. That way, you’re not spending time and money developing plans that you can’t get permits for.”
- SFGate

This homeowner relates how his building plan estimate went south because of permit problems stemming from a lack of awareness of the local building regulations, among other things. “My conservative estimate of six weeks for plan approval was woefully inadequate”.

4. Liability Insurance, Workers Compensation & Lien Laws

When you act as your own General Contractor, you become responsible for any third party injuries that may occur on your property or damage to property by subcontractors. If they aren’t covered the claim could end up landing on your homeowners’ insurance … or worse. Also, if your subcontractors don’t pay their suppliers or subcontractors, a lien could be filed against your property.

And finally, on a personal note …

5. It can KO Your marriage.

Anderson, the Oakland homeowner, remembered a book that “quoted a higher than normal percentage of DIY construction couples ending in divorce,” he said. “Be sure you’ve got a strong relationship and that you’re in 100 percent agreement about doing it yourself.”
- SFGate

Summary Judgment:

This testimonial summarizes the pitfalls very well:

While we learned many things while serving as our own GC, the top three lessons are as follows: first, if you are looking to save time, don’t be your own general [contractor]. We can easily say that the project took twice as long due to our lack of experience and limited time. Second, be sure that you and your spouse can work together and are like-minded when it comes to what you are looking for in a finished product. Last, what we saved in money we paid for in sleepless nights worrying about what needed to be done before the next subs arrive, lack of free time, and lots of other unforeseen costs.
- Jonathan Norling

How can you act as your own General Contractor, get around these pitfalls and sleep better at night? I would suggest hiring a Renovation Advisor to help bridge the gaps in your knowledge and experience. Yes it’ll cost you a few bucks but in return you might be able to keep more of your General Contractor savings, a good return or payback on your consulting investment.

Diagnose your roof repair

Roof Repair isn’t recommended for anyone but the most experienced do-it-yourselfer. Still, it’s good to know how to troubleshoot your roof for potential leaks.

… knowing how to do small maintenance jobs and what to look for to detect potential problems can prove to be priceless. The sooner problems are detected on your roof, the sooner a roofer can fix them and potentially save you from also having to fix interior damage.

Read DIY Roofing Repairs by Rosie Romero on ArizonaRepublic.com.

Pump up your Home Remodel with a Renovation Coach

Browsing the news, a phrase caught my eye – “Renovation Coach“. What a marvelous idea! Personal coaching & training has been all the rage. So now you can get a coach for your home improvement projects?

I imagined a “Renovation Coach” as someone who calls you early on Saturday morning to get you back on the renovation horse when you’ve fallen off or have an unpleasant maintenance job to do. Or gets you up at 6am to go to Home Depot for those needed materials. Or trains you with that nifty new nail gun before you hurt yourself.

Well … not really. A Renovation Coach is the same as a “Renovation Consultant”, which although less catchy is every bit as useful. In 2007, the Renovation Coach or Consultant is an idea whose time has come.

Previously, I wrote posts about the rising number of DIYers needing to be bailed out by professionals. And interviewed online “Electrical Coach” Wayne Gilchrist. But it’s not only the DIYer using and needing this type service. People who are going to hire someone to do the job are also discovering the benefits of a little “renovation coaching”. This Old House goes so far as to call them “a new breed of therapist “.

“The thing about home renovation is that very few people have been able to practice for it,” says Irving, who honed his skills working on 33 whole-house projects in his 17 years with the show. “They get wound up and ner­vous, facing this potential money pit, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

I second that emotion. An experienced Renovation Coach can help with …

  • setting goals or developing a vision for your large home renovation
  • determining the return on your renovation investment – Cost vs. Value or Move vs. Remodel – to help you decide
  • identifying the professionals you will need (like an Interior Designer) for a quality renovation
  • giving you a ballpark figure against which you use in evaluating quotes from contractors
  • navigating the building permit maze
  • a wealth of experience about products & approaches, pros and cons
  • negotiating or communicating with contractors during the process
  • planning and project management
  • Quality Assurance to ensure a job well done and up to code
  • mediation in disputes with contractors

And yes, he or she can even go shopping with you for building materials and supplies if need be.

Although they work on an hourly rate, and they usually don’t come cheap, the benefits of using a Renovation Coach or Consultant are numerous. They bring planning, project management and experience to both flesh out and ground your renovation ideas. The result? More understanding for you the homeowner. More control over the process and your budget. A successful project. An empowering DIY experience. And of course, a beautiful renovation. All you need to be “home improvement happy”. And put in that context, well … maybe they are therapists after all.

The #1 source of Home Improvement related injuries?

Your trusty lawnmower. Although nail guns are in the news, ladder falls and lawnmower-related injuries are far more common. So while spring means getting your home improvement projects off the ground, it can also mean an unexpected trip to the hospital emergency room.

Lawnmower injuries tend to be foot and hand related.

People slip on a hill or on wet grass and their feet slide underneath the lawn mower … lawn mowers can shoot out projectiles. Especially for children, playing in the yard is not a good idea if you’re out cutting the grass.
Dr. Jon Olsen via Patrick Kampert, Chicago Tribune

Ladder injuries tend to be fractured legs and feet, with 10% of the people injured needing hospitalization.

Nail gun injuries are in the news because they’ve tripled in the last 15 years, reflective of an increase in DIY activity and the greater availability of nail guns to the general public; contractor and construction worker rates have stayed about the same. The nail gun seems to be a manly thing too, with men accounting for 96% of the injured.

According to other researchers:

Injuries included puncture wounds on hands and fingers, eye and nerve damage, fractured bones, and in severe cases, nails embedded in the head. Few were hospitalized, though.
Tracy Wheeler, Beacon Journal

Why the increase? In addition to the usual suspects (DIYer inexperience), researchers point to nail gun safety as a major factor. They say better safety mechanisms (such as a sequential trip trigger meaning you have to press the trigger for each nail “shot”) would have prevented about 50% of the accidents.

From the Consumer Reports blog:

The study suggests that the increased number of injuries stems in part from the design of the dual-action firing mechanism — in which the manual trigger and nose contact element are both depressed for a nail to be discharged to allow for the rapid fire of nails and speedier production.

The study urges consumers to buy nail guns that use a sequential-trip trigger, which requires the nose contact to be depressed before the manual trigger, rather than simultaneously. Thus, it’s less likely for unintentional nails to be discharged. If you already have a gun, the study suggests you buy a kit to convert the nail gun to the safer sequential mode.

Read the original CDC Report on nail gun injuries.

Read Toolbox Talk: Hammer Home Nail Gun Safety, a good article on general nail gun safety from the National Association of Home Builders.

What were zey sinking? SinkPositive for Water Conservation

SinkPositive

SinkPositive is a new kind of “multipurpose accessory sink” for your bathroom that helps you save & recycle water, promote hand washing, and more. It lives on your toilet bowl as pictured left. It’s also an easy DIY & green project because it works with your existing toilet and plumbing and you don’t have to be a plumber or engineer to install.

So it’s on the toilet eh? Where’s the water coming from? Rest assured the water is clean and comes directly from the water supply line. Flushing the toilet triggers water flow from the sink faucet so you can wash your hands. From there, the water drains into the toilet bowl (not the tank), if properly installed.

As noted, it starts and stops automatically after each flush. So no faucets to touch ( a features that germophobic TV detective Adrian Monk would love). Coming from a family of compulsive hand washers (both parents in the health professions) this is a big plus … well in other peoples homes anyway (kidding!).

Think different. Think green. Think clean. SinkPositive.

Found on the freshhome blog. Who found it on the Core 77 Design blog.

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