Backyard Survivor – open flames and tiki torches lend atmosphere

The trend towards extending the living space to the great outdoors continues. Themes for your backyard decor are increasingly popular – for everyday, not just parties or special occasions. One couple has gone as far as turning their back yard into a tropical paradise, complete with tiki huts, waterfalls, and fake volcanoes. But what really makes or breaks the effect? Open flame.

“You’ve got to have open flames,” Brady says. “It adds to the whole tropical feel of the place. It just wouldn’t be the same without some open flames, and the tiki torches provide that.”

Read Fanning the fire of backyard decor for the latest on torch and lantern decor, complete with safety and maintenance tips. Just don’t get voted off the porch ;) .

Contractors speak: why good help is hard to find

A while back I read an article on SFGate.com answering a question from a homeowner who was having a hard time finding a home improvement contractor. She was trying to get three bids with references, without success.

“While it sounds prudent, I live in Vallejo and I can’t get a single pro to come out to my house, let alone three of them. I have been stood up many times and have been disappointed with the few that have come out.”
Burnett Brothers Q & A, San Francisco Chronicle

The writers advised her to work her network (friends, family, coworkers, etc.). Then try local real estate agents, who usually have a stable of professionals to call on when getting homes ready for sale. Finally, they suggested checking out Angie’s List, an online home improvement review site that has been getting good publicity.

Their observations on the root of the problem:

In our minds, the cause of the dearth in tradespeople is twofold: the real estate boom and the lack of skilled workers — especially those willing to take on home-improvement projects. It’s simple supply and demand. Too many jobs are chasing too few workers. The good contractors can afford to cherry-pick, and you don’t want the bad ones.

Since then, they’ve published a follow up article with more suggestions from readers such as trying other websites, homeowner associations, the BBB (Better Business Bureau), and even the NARI (National Association for the Remodeling Industry).

The most interesting thing about this follow up, though, was the responses from contractors.

You know you’re supposed to vet contractors before you hire but did you know they also vet you?

Trust. If the contractor doesn’t think the homeowner trusts him, it will be an uphill battle to get the job done. So some will turn it down. Do you blame them?

How did they find me? Contractors trust referrals from people they know more than from the internet … just like you do.

I decided to do a bit more digging and found this thread on ContractorTalk.com. The question for discussion: Should homeowners have to provide references for contractors? “To find out if the Homeowner was a good customer, or a PITA or Deadbeat”. An interesting and insightful read, if you dare.

Multiple bid situations are not a desirable situation for a contractor. It takes a lot of time and effort to put together a bid … to not have a realistic chance of getting it. As one anonymous contractor said “why compete when the market doesn’t require me to?”.

Operating costs. Doing small jobs doesn’t make financial sense. And estimates aren’t really free. “The cost of visiting the job and performing the estimate has to be worked into the cost of the work”.

“Next, there is a cost to everyone from selecting the too-low price. The last thing you want on your job is a contractor who is not making any money. When people realize what they are doing isn’t profitable, they take all kinds of shortcuts to make up the loss.

“If you sound like you know what you want, and it’s a clear, straight-up process, a contractor will be much more likely to spend the time bidding and communicating with you because they know it is more likely to be a successful job.”

The last word from the Burnett Brothers:

The bottom line is to define and communicate the scope of the work. Change orders are expensive. And expect to pay a fair price. If you do this, you’re more likely to get a contractor to show up when promised, actually do the work you want and charge the estimated price.

Read more: Contractors weigh in on why good help is so hard to find on SFGate.com

Aussies go with the flo – to ban incandescent bulbs

Australia has taken a ground-breaking step in reducing energy consumption and addressing the “climate change challenge”(global warming). The government has committed to phasing out traditional incandescent light bulbs by the year 2010.

“A normal light bulb is too hot to hold. That heat is wasted and globally represents millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that needn’t have been emitted into the atmosphere if we had used more efficient forms of lighting … These more efficient lights, such as the compact fluorescent light bulb, use around 20 percent of the electricity to produce the same amount of light.”
– Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Interesting. I wonder if other nations will follow suit. Apparently, similar legislation was proposed in California last month.

Read more – Bright idea? Australia pulls plug on light bulbs.

Home Depot Exposed – Gouging Customers for Remodeling Projects

For some people, the Home Depot brand is synonymous with Home Improvement. But in the last few months, at least in California, the once trusted brand has become associated with far less desirable words – “nightmare”, “horror story”, and now “fraud”.

Home Depot is being investigated by KNBC in Los Angeles for ripping off customers.

KNBC (NBC4 TV) reports that these allegations are backed up by statements from Home Depot insiders (former salespeople and subcontractors).

NBC4 has heard from customers in 22 states and from insiders from across the country, who have given NBC4 a paper trail of internal documents, suggesting the company overcharges customers on window and siding installations, kitchen remodels and on roofing jobs.
Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg, NBC4 TV

In October 2006 when the investigation started, KNBC’s focus was on service issues in California. Now, it’s gone all the way to outright fraud, with complaints from across the nation.

Home Depot’s response to this latest charge has been to apologize for the situation and promise to investigate. “We have no practice overcharging customers in any way, shape or form”.

It’s a fascinating, if unsettling, read. The video should be up later this morning.

Home Depot Investigation – Part 3 – Article and Video on NBC4 TV

Home Depot Investigation – Part 2

Home Depot Investigation – Part 1

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