A guide for homeowners doing renovations.

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

Showing posts with label Answers to your Questions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Answers to your Questions. Show all posts


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!

If you found this helpful, please leave a comment, share or like, thanks!




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.


Please "like" or "share" this post if you found it helpful and leave a comment if you like!


This is a giant money saver if I ever heard one.  So you might have ideas and a budget for your renovation - now what?  There's so much bad information out there it's no wonder there's a problem with the industry.

If it's a big job involving lots of trades, then option "A" is by far your best answer.
If it's a deck for example, a designer is your next best option.


Multi-Trades Involved Or Large Size/Scope

Hire a General Renovation Contractor first, who works with a Designer(BTW, Not an Architect or Engineer). 

Option: "B" (Not as good)

Not as good: find a designer (or worse yet on the wallet: an architect, engineer), get drawings, then find a contractor who will agree to follow them


  1. Research contract types:  "Fixed Price",  "Unit Price" & "Cost Plus" for example and understand which one you should use.
  2. Research General Contractors in your area for "The Basics" and read "How To Find A Contractor You Can Trust"
  3. Get an idea of how much designers typically cost - but don't hire them unless you're doing Option 2 above.  It's sometimes best to let your contractor pick the designer so you have an option to hire one that has one "in house" 


  1. Don't get an estimate period - it's just a good way to have false information.  
  2. Don't waste/frustrate contractors with back and forths with estimates or quotes when they don't have the job or plans.
  3. Don't get quotes UNLESS the job is a NOT multi-trade and you're hiring for say doing a deck structure.

If you found this helpful, please "like" or "share" or leave a comment below.




Note there are constantly new caulking products that mix recipes or overlap usages.  Their drying times, health hazard/risk, traits and usage significantly change by caulking type.

Silicone, Acrylic, Butyl, Polyurethane & 2-Part Epoxy are all kinds I'm familiar with.

This article is about Silicone & Acrylic caulking (see below).

To decide which you need to use, there is one critical piece of information you need to understand: usage.

Caulking purposes in residential:

  • Waterproofing, (Most Common)
  • Gap filling (Most Common)
  • Vapor Sealing
  • Soundproofing (not going to cover that in this article)
  • Fire Rating (not going to cover that in this article)


  • Are used primarily in "finishing" environments,
  • Are "waterproof" but not recommended for the primary waterproofing,
  • Are paintable (hence "finishing") but comes in a variety of colors,
  • Great at Gap Filling,
  • Easy to clean up with water,
  • Comes in a variety of colors.


  • Is typically NOT paint-able BUT you can buy expensive ones that are,
  • Typically Clear, Translucent or Transparent but you can get them is different colors as well,
  • Is sometimes great as an adhesive for things like back splashes, counter top anchoring, mirror anchoring, and other smooth surface to smooth surface "blob" gluing,
  • Highly flexible, 
  • Resistant to shrink/expansion,
  • Doesn't want to dry out or crack.
  • Smells powerful and is hard to clean up.
  • Used as the primary waterproofing caulking.
  • Resistant to mold.
  • Reacts with neoprene washers (turns yellowish).
  • Can get Fire Rated Silicone based caulking.

Here are some quick test questions to help you understand the differences.


1. Question:  What kind of caulking would I use around a tub surround?

Answer:  100% Silicone

2. Question:  What kind of caulking would I use with a window installation?

Answer:  Behind flanges for example, use silicone.  Behind any trim use either silicone or acrylic.  Visible sections around trim or flashings, use acrylic.

3.  Question:  What kind of caulking should I use around a sink?

Answer: Use Silicone.

4. Question:  What kind of caulking would I use on a metal roof?

Answer:  Drying times, UV(Ultra-Violet) ratings & specific usages make a difference here.  Typically Silicone is handy, especially with flashings however,  a Butyl caulkings is sometimes better.  For shingles, a Polyurethane caulking is more preferred.  However, there are cases where either can be used however, pay attention to UV rated products, drying times and what you're adhering to.  Epoxy caulkings are also an option however, they are way more toxic, cost more and are good for mortar/concrete solutions.  

A lot of the time you just need to know about Silicone and Acrylic because it's the most common for homeowners.  

You can read the backs of the tubes for the more specialized, usage specific types.

Don't use acoustical sealant (because it's black and water resistant) on a roof!  That's for sound & vapor barrier penetrations!

Please "like" this if you found it was helpful and leave a comment if you have any questions.




OK.  This is important.  So the moisture is the problem but what's causing the moisture?

***Flowchart - Coming Soon***

Before I really get into the troubleshooting, you're going to need to know a few things.

We are trying to find a dew point.  It's the point at which the hot air meets the cold air with the humidity typically higher for some reason. (ie: bathroom showers, kettle boiling, fish tanks etc.)

Here's the process of troubleshooting:

STEP 1. Checking for Window Argon Seal

Check for condensation or frost in between the panes If there is condensation on the inside, then the argon fill seal is broken and your window might be covered under warranty.  To my experience the Argon seal breaking has a warranty of 2-5 years.

Keeping your bathroom fans' vents
clean goes a long way!

STEP 2. Check wall insulation/penetrations for air leakage via conduction through the wall or through a breach in the vapour barrier

If there isn't any, then check by feel(or use a surface heat thermometer $30) to see if the wall under the window is cold (properly insulated) look for areas near plugs for cold air in the winter, hot in the summer.  You might have a floor register that is mixing with outside air and creating that dew point OR it might not be causing enough air flow in your home(see #3).  Typically, if it's JUST the floor register and your walls are well insulated, the condensation in the wintertime is from the Argon seal breaking.

STEP 3. Checking air flow - lack thereof

If none of those cases are present then more than likely you have a humidity problem and poor air flow.  Also as mentioned, that can be caused by blinds, curtains and an unintentional "passive solar/heating effect." I suspect your humidity is too high given your airflow.  You may need a dehumidifier.  Check your bathroom fans too...Have some fish tanks?

STEP 4.  Checking temperature consistency in each room. (To figure out if it's one window vs all windows or one room vs all rooms)

Try opening all your vents for a while, enough that your furnace is working to heat each room consistently, grab a $30 surface temperature gun or digital thermostat and check to see if your rooms of a single story are all the same temperature, then check the room with the window.  (might as well point the surface detector at the wall and check a reading for #2 relative to other walls.)

If it's all windows or all rooms, you have a furnace/heating/air circulation problem. Call the HVAC guy.  If it's just one window or room and you're sure it's not #4, then it's #5 below.

STEP 5. Unlikely but poor window installation - specifically between the rough opening (R.O.) and the window.

In some cases, the perimeter of a window installation can be prone to being poorly insulated: either lack of acoustical sealant on the V.B., or no insulation between the window and the rough opening.  Pop the casings off and check, maybe spray some low expansion spray foam in any gaps.  Use silicone caulking around the perimeter if you can't spray foam.

STEP 6.  If you haven't solved your problem, I'd like to know! 

Email me your situation and I'd be happy to learn with you.

PLEASE, DON'T REMOVE SIDING - You don't need to unless you're getting damage from water and the above situation is dew point related - not water shedding related.



The Cost of Drawings Will Be...

Well It Depends of course! (But I can still give you an idea)

One question that always comes up is how much are drawings going to cost? And it doesn't end there!   Let me explain why such questions are hard to answer.

It will depend on a number of factors, and they are all huge.

  1. Are the renovations an addition or adding a story or simply moving interior non-load bearing walls?  Will roof changes be required?
  2. Designers charge typically by the hour and the amount of revisions you need will heavily impact the price. Are you picky? Decisive? Also, changing your mind once say during permit-submitting ready drawings are completed and going back to slight concept changes that need re-rendering might also heavily influence the price.  You might need more "details" or "cross sections".
  3. If you count an engineer's drawings for structural, you're going to be spending substantially more. Same goes if you get an architect to design you a shed for example if you get my point.
  4. You are also going to have to pay for numerous "details", "cross-sections" and more than likely a "site" plan as well.  Minimums will be required by your municipal district and extras by your contractor (If they're good they'll have a fine line threshold but again, it depends on #1 & #2 mainly).
That all being said:

To Answer the Question

Sometimes designers will provide a cost per sq. ft.

    On average, I'd say you are going to be paying somewhere between $1,000-5,000 + engineering.  I develop a budget and work with my clients to ensure that minimal revision costs are saved and I can help eliminate expensive concept changes by providing information on what's practical to meet your overall budget.  I also have a whole bag of tricks to help save on these costs.

    Best of luck!


    It's a huge industry.  No wonder these problems exist!

    Renovations & new construction is a huge part of everyone's lives.  I feel like 1 person out of every 5 people I know is doing some sort of work on their home while a staggering 9 out of 10 people is either doing something OR knows someone who is at this point in time.

    It's not surprising that with such demand in affordable housing there is this problematic and stressful problem homeowners face.  

    Homeowners put their soul into their house, it's where most people spend the majority of their time.  It's where they feel safe and take care of their families.  The risks with hiring a bad contractor hit sensitive nerves for the homeowner. 

    Have you heard about the stories below?

    You might have heard this horror story if not from social media or the news, perhaps from a friend or family member.  

    In a nutshell, some contractor ended up being caught on camera emptying his bladder into the kitchen sink.  Gross.

    Maybe these stories: 

    • The family goes away only to return home to see their belongings are gone.
    • How about the renovation that never ends? 
    • The budget blown right up.
    • The no show.
    • The mess. 
    The list goes on.
    There's 1001 ways a renovation can go wrong and probably half of them for another reason I won't cover today.

    You need a contractor that you can trust.

    Question: So how do you know you can trust them?

    Answer: Now there's exceptions to every rule however, you should have a really good chance of properly vetting someone by following the directions below.

    The first and obvious is vetting by seeing or hearing someone else vouch for them.  In most cases, that would only give you a good character reference though unless that reference knows smoke & mirrors from solid good construction practices.

    Sometimes organizations will vouch for a contractor, this is pretty good way to get a solid option however, sometimes price is another story.  Expect to pay a premium for the "auto-vetting" that took place.

    Another option is slow incremental steps.  Hire them for something smaller, then see how they do.  It's a little riskier at first, but you can learn a lot about someone very quickly.

    Here's the last way for vetting character.  You meet with them.  In person.  You ask about their family and look into their background as a person.  Ask about their education, their favorite things to do  and maybe where they like to dine.  Stay away from politics and religion though as that has no bearing whatsoever if they are a good fit towards getting your renovation completed.  Check their social media.  Does your dog like them?

    Checking for qualifications is pretty straight forward.

    Don't fall for the "I've been doing this 40 years".

    Beware the billion years of experience though.  I've hired two 40+ years of experience workers/carpenters and let me tell you -- opposite ends of the spectrum.
    You want a contractor that is diverse, knowledgeable, and has enough experience for you to know they can do the job well.  I would say 4-6 years as a carpenter is a good guideline and a few years as a contractor depending on the job but really, it just depends.  A good contractor will have a network of trades and reliable resources that provide aide in specialized scenarios.

    Check for certifications(use this tool), insurance & workers' compensation clearance.  Ask them why they will or won't pull a permit.  Not pulling a permit when they should is an easy red flag. Check with your "city - buildings department" online or call them to find out or check if another contractor disagrees. (Although I've been the odd one out on occasion, I was 100% certain a permit should be pulled and one wasn't)  Don't listen to what you want to hear and be objective.

    Another thing to consider is what trade they are in.  Let me tell you a few things about general contractors and sub-contractors.  Know the difference.

    Make sure you hire a general contractor with a red-seal carpentry background.  In the last 15-20 years, qualified but "non-certified" contractors have been phased out due to retirement.  Any general contractor in today's world should ideally have their red-seal carpentry ticket plus any project management degrees or diplomas etc. for bigger jobs, especially commercial.  Building Science is now a relevant field as well.

    The sub-trade saying they can project manage or "you can do that part" but they know the trades and can hook you up...that's a trap!!

    Here's why:

    Red-Seal Carpenters are prone to being very diverse.  

    They know a whole lot about: 
    • concrete(maybe 30% curriculum), 
    • framing(mabye 20% curriculum), 
    • finishing,
    • building envelops,
    • blueprints,
    • And, most importantly  They also know a bit(enough, if not a lot) about all of the sub trades.
    Those reasons are why carpenters make great general contractors in construction.

    It's not uncommon for trade after trade to come in and find the previous trade had cut wires out of the way, or plumbing drains/lines to make way for ducting.  Dry-walling over receptacles, not know where another trade puts their stuff is almost never a problem for a carpenter since we're the ones that are usually called to frame chases or but a bunch of back framing bulkhead, or backing etc...Every site needs a multi-purpose carpenter and it's natural for that person to be the General Contractor.

    Here's another MAJOR reason to pick a General Contractor over a Sub-Contractor that can hook you up:

    General Contractors(and sometimes Carpenters) care and KNOW about the budget. They will know if a crane is going to be needed on site.  They know fans, drains, switches and have a pretty good idea of what it entails to make changes.  While a decorator, or architect, or designer might be familiar with sub-trades, they may not know from a practical stand point of what it's actually going to cost or how long it will take to get a specific job scope done. Do you think the electrician or plumber is going to care about how much the counters cost?  Or how water proofed something is?

    The last few things are pretty easy flags to check for.  

    Basically, it's their paperwork.  Know that prices are different from contracts.  Contracts and prices get determined BEFORE the job starts.  Everything should be in writing however brief it may be.

    Bathrooms budgets are very vulnerable to being blown right up! 
    In summation, here are the indicators you can use as a checklist.

    1. Check References, Testimonials or Reviews. (This is for character)
    2. Don't hire sub-trades to pose as project managers. Don't do the project managing yourself, let me explain why in person or another article.
    3. Check for Red-Seal Certification, Worker's Compensation Clearance Letters, Homeowner's Protection Licencing for new builds.
    4. Ask if they are going to pull a permit.
    5. Ask if they are going to have designs drawn up.
    6. Look at their paperwork(bid, contract, invoice, budgets, schedules etc.. for organization & thoroughness)
    7. Finally, meet them.  Twice.
    Don't bother price checking until you have a roster of 3 contractors to chose from.  Price also won't be a factor at this stage however, I will post another article on how to determine if you are being what I call "Smart Quoted" or "Bid Low, Invoiced High".  A good contractor knows that a poor reputation will catch up with them and to place trust means to have good numbers. 

    Best of luck!

    Helping homeowners with their renovations



    Advice (12) Answers to your Questions (8) Contracts (2) Cost of Average (4) Credibility (2) Designs (1) Money Savers (8) Pitfalls (9) Pricing Agreements (5) Tips & Tricks (5)

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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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