A guide for homeowners doing renovations.

Specifically - Hiring Contractors, How to Save Money and Disaster Prevention.


Quite often, a hurdle many clients have is recognizing what their real priorities are.  Priorities that will lead to not just a completed project but a successful one - in which they are the happiest they can get.

Trying to decide on your priorities takes knowledge and experience input from your contractor.  Your contractor should inform you of some simple, obvious priorities but the number one priority is always the project cost.  Everything else comes secondary.  Usually I find that because this is at the forefront of everyone's mind, it triggers an "I don't know where to begin" issue.  Someone will want an addition but they don't know what it will cost and so they don't know what can be designed.  It's a classic issue.

In terms of a big reno, really, the first step is finding out what you're approved for and then vetting and finding a contractor you can trust who will help with the design process.

The fact that there's a looming, forced changes to building code that is going to happen, should be secondary on everyone's mind, but too often I'm finding that builders/contractors are building spec which doesn't address a client's future needs/priorities, but simply based on past market trends.

Aside from the changing building code and the shift to cleaner, greener, energy efficient buildings, here are some other priorities often missed.

Classic Examples of poorly planned priorities

Example One: The Pergola or Roof over a deck without adequate footings.

I often show up to bid on a pergola only to find out that the deck footings/structure was never planned for the load bearing roof/structure load despite either knowing the request from the beginning and not sharing it with the contractor or not thinking about the extra features and instead having a "we'll discuss that afterwards".  

Example Two: A newly designed basement,  home office or den without thought going into storage space.

I understand how it happens which is why I always ask what the priorities are because sometimes clients will realize they really wanted their clutter out of the way or out of sight or they want to be organized.  What sometimes happen is you get a newly renovated space that looks like a plain box with some nice paint, a floor and some trim.  It's usually neglected that there could have been a nice set of shelves "built-in" for optimal space or perhaps a simple storage room or storage under the stairs.

Example Three: Your bathroom isn't as easy to clean as you realized you wanted.  

So now you have a bathroom or ensuite.  It's what you've been waiting for but after awhile the novelty quickly fades away.  You've discovered that your dream bathroom is hard to keep clean.  Everything is just a little too tight, the grout is getting discolored and it shows because the grout lines are too big.  The vanity is just off the floor enough to trap dust and hair under it but you can't get under it easily to clean.  The toilet is too close to the vanity and tub and you can't get behind or around that either.  Your shower doors are really bad.  You realize the door style you chose is very hard to keep clean and the caulking is hard to access to re-caulk.
Really, the majority of these issues can be addressed early on.  It's only after you've started and ordered fixtures and decided on a floor plan that it starts to bleed money to make the changes.

Example Four: Realizing the priority that you didn't know you had is actually the top priority.

So you start your project.  You love the floor; it looks amazing.  The counters are incredible, and they're quartz!  The bar feature is everything you had dreamed of.  The only thing is that you are now at 75% of your budget but only 50% of the floorplan is completed.   So now, you need to cut down everything in that remaining bathroom just to be able to come in 10% over budget.  But if your budget is maxed out then your left with either an incomplete room or you end up with one "gold room" and one "bronze" room when maybe you should have just had one "silver room" however 100% completed and on budget.  

The moral of these stories is sometimes you shouldn't go with what you want because it looks good or it's cheap but choose more according to your priorities because your priorities are much more important for the longevity of your reno and in some cases resale!

Thank you for reading!

-The Bird with the Hammer


Big projects have big risks.  Think you can project manage your project by yourself?  Think again.  While you might think you can take on this task, it's true you can, but just how well do you think you can project manage and do you think you'll actually save money?

The answer is...no.  In fact, I'm so sure you will lose money that I'm afraid that we'll both lose money.  A good contractor will save you more money than you spend or at least break even.  It's pretty arrogant to think you can do someone's job better than they can.

Here's why:

  • What do you know about contingencies? How can you tell how much your contingency should be?
  • What do you look for in a plumber? An electrician? A carpenter?
  • How can you tell if something is taking too long?
  • How long do you think YOUR project will take?
  • Are you trained, educated and experienced in construction?  Can you tell if we need engineering or a crane?
  • Think you can improvise on a budget? 
  • Do you know what can be done in a practical sense?
  • Can you tell if you are being "smart quoted"?
  • Do you know what is considered sloppy?
I hate to break it to you, but if you think you can project manage yourself, you can, but brace yourself for a ton of stress.

I remember searching for a home to buy with my wife.  We booked a viewing and it was for an older house we heard had been fixed up. 

When we got there, we immediately realized that the renos were DIY.  The owner wanted to DIY for cheap and charge top dollar for their renovations but to us, we could tell the work was unprofessional and were immediately turned off since in our minds, the price wasn't even in the ballpark.  The homeowner had clearly put their heart and sould into the reno I'm sure, but since so much was re-done, we knew if we wanted these deficiencies gone, we'd have to redo everything the homeowner had done.  Heartbreaking for the seller and for us, an easy deal-breaker with sympathy for the homeowner.

Reality is you will pay more, get an inferior product, it will take longer AND you'll be LESS happy than if you made the right choice spending your time vetting and selecting a competent, experienced & skilled contractor.  And your house will be worth MORE.

Honestly, I tend now to either decline jobs that homeowners choose to project manage themselves or I charge an hourly rate because things will be so inefficient that I'll be working for pennies.  I'll also be in fear of not getting paid or paid on time.  Either way, I tend to lose.  Either I protect myself and the homeowner pays needlessly more for hard lessons and is unhappy OR we both lose money and are both unhappy.

That's a terrible outcome!
Thanks for reading!

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If you're like every homeowner, you probably think that you need to get 3 quotes and decide from there.
I'm here to tell you that you're going to have a really hard time deciding accurately between all the quotes.  They're NEVER apples to apples.   In fact, it's more like comparing apples to grapes to watermelons.

Defining some terms

  • Quotes are NOT Estimates.  Know the difference and we've explained them here.
  • Allowances:  Is a sum of money or "budget" included with a bid to allow for the purchase of materials, fixtures or some other aspect that may be uncertain at the point in time of the bid submission.  Generally, in a perfect world, all allowances across all quotes should be the same but they never are.
  • Quotes can be define as a "fixed" amount, therefore you should know the context.  Contexts can be from "lump sum", "cost by unit of measure -( ie: hourly rate or cost per sq.ft.)" and "fixed cost of labour" AKA "Quote on Labour".
  • Draw Schedule:  Is an schedule of payments you issues to your contractor, usually at a stage of completion or after a certain amount of time.  They are sometimes regular or irregular time frames.
  • Holdbacks: Withholding amount that you keep until the job is completed.  This is usually 10% of the job.
  • Deposit: Can range in terms of the size of the job.  This in some cases may be non-refundable if it's towards securing a schedule.  Deposits are a whole topic I will write an article on eventually.

Steps towards deciding on a quote

  1. Your first step for getting quotes is to identify the scope for your contractors to bid on.  The only best way for you to accomplish this is getting a set of plans for each contractor to quote on.
  2. The next step is to ensure that the project schedule is roughly the same across each quote.  What I mean by this is it needs to be able to be evaluated so that you can tell if you are paying a premium on the speed or a discount because it may take longer for example.  Example: 1 worker taking 4 weeks vs 4 workers taking 1 week.  Even though these add up to the same, they influence contractors risk assessment and scheduling difficulties.  The later scenario might be padded for overtime for example which could be unfair to you if your schedule is flexible.
  3. Now you need to do a little bit of homework.  Actually a lot.  You need to read this article on getting "smart quoted".   Ten minutes of reading might save you thousands of dollars.  
  4. Convert each quote to not include the "allowances".   You'll have to subtract the allowance amounts off of each.  Also, if you notice a big discrepancy on the allowance amounts then you might be getting "smart" quoted.  It might be a good idea to try and get a "budget" for allowances.
  5. The next few things you'll need to do are all things that you weigh according to what you're after.  Warranty.  Safety.  "The Basics".  Ideally, each quote should include the basics and you can use "finding a contractor you can trust" as another resource or way to help you make a final decision.
By the time you've gone through those 5 steps, you should have a pretty good idea of which contractor to choose from.  

The important thing to remember is try and put the quotes in the same terms, then see where the extra value is - or lack thereof!

I hope that helps you!




25 Foot Beam Vaulted Ceiling Convert
You've discovered that wall you want removed is load-bearing.  At least we're going to assume that through consulting various sources you think that it is.

There's only one professional that is now allowed(at least in my area) to provide a solution for doing this despite general contractors, some carpenters and some knowledgeable DIYers that can tell if a wall is load-bearing and maybe offer a good way of safely removing the walls and replacing them with some other structural means.

That professional is a structural engineer.

They cost a lot and it's by the hour.  It's going to depend on  too many variables to get a rough estimate but $1200 or more is likely.  I've had some clients though that chose to hire me and I saved them a ton of money because I know stuff that I can tell a drafter and save on engineering costs in multiple ways.  Not only that, after they've worked with me, they end up changing their minds and getting something more that they want and better value on occasion.

Now, since it's just one wall you might want to hire that engineer and then get your pricing for the execution part later.  That's just a time saver but really, on bigger jobs or if you are doing lots of work then really, you should just call a general renovations contractor and they can tell you what is practical and start budgeting!

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You're about to start your renovation but you have no idea about the cost. So what do most people do?  It's the worst way people get reno cost information.
*Hint*:  They might google it(and that's not always terrible but inconsistent) but aside from that?

As a contractor, it's probably one of the most frustrating problems in the industry because cost is usually priority #1.

I'm am sometimes already at a disadvantage because my potential clients have sought out finding the ballpark cost and that gives them false expectations.

Likely, saved budgets are on the edge of this false information.  When time comes to start the job, there's no contingency or room in the budget for doing things properly or getting that extra feature that really makes you happy.

Luckily I've found ways to get past that problem but 90% of other contractors I believe still follow bad practices and give low-balled information that's used as bait.


Everything is in theory until plans are drawn up.  In a perfect world WE KNOW, there's no red ink from your city's building department.

So the worst way to get information on "how much does a renovation cost" is to: "ask for an estimate".

So they get estimates.  And wrong ones.  Let me ask you this.

Aside from the main differences between quotes and estimates, which one do you think has more reliable information?

It's simple, a contractor is going to do a way better job of quoting because it's on them if it's wrong.  I "sweat bullets" sometimes when I give a quote - I certainly lose sleep on occasion.  I don't quote on imaginary blueprints either because the risk is on me and if I mitigate that risk, it just means you're going to be unhappy paying the extra costs.  And since I don't play at unethical "Smart Quoting" games, I sometimes lose jobs because low-balled estimates are used to bait homeowners.


So the best way to get information on your renovation cost, is to, and by far:

Develop a budget.

One thing I've learned over the years, is that I can strategically play "the game" very well but I choose not to and to operate differently and ethically.


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  1. Decide on a project priority
  2. Find some features you like
  3. Research the kind of contractor you need
  4. Research the kind of plan maker you need
  5. Consider finding & including a contractor in the designs for big projects
  6. Develop a budget from the concept designs
  7. Tweak your concept and budget until it's affordable
  8. Continue saving for more contingency until the project is ready to start!

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