A guide for homeowners doing renovations.

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

Showing posts with label Featured. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Featured. Show all posts


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!





These are all very important, and whether you like it or not, you're paying for these things in some way. 

TIP #7 - Give your contractor ample notice and freedom of schedule.  

You catch more bees with honey so they say...
"Be Nice".

The more available the project is as filler, the more likelihood overtime will not need to be paid AND the more the schedule can be more easily filled up to keep crews busy(sometimes an added perk).  At the same time, you need to COMMIT to the job way ahead of time.  Jobs that come up in peek demand get quoted high if the schedule is too full.

TIP #6 - Don't offer or say you're going to do some of the work yourself.  

Contractors don't want to work with DIYers.  If a DIYer wants to even paint or do demo themselves, that means I need to pad MORE for delays in scheduling, excessive demo work.  I might have higher standards than you and I have to put my name on it.  How can I warranty your work?  Also, in some cases, I need to start dissecting things more thoroughly since some jobs have the profit divide up to sub-scopes and if you're doing part of the work, well now I need to know how much that in theory should take off.  This is a whole lot of work, especially if we are trying to make changes with square footage rates.

TIP #5 - Don't pick your contractors sub-trades for them. 

Quite often I'll have regretted not spending the extra time vetting a client's own "go-to" and in hindsight, a lesson learned is I should add minimal padding if they request to use someone I'm unfamiliar with for warranty, liability, & double/triple checks for QC.

TIP #4 - I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Get drawings.  

I do cheap, to scale drawings if not for the permit, for communication purposes and also as a record to sign off on so that we are in agreement on spec.  This is guaranteed to save you and your contractor money from better communication and organization.  This increases my margins without charging you extra.

TIP #3 - It's ok to change your mind.  

The thing is, some jobs it's expected and some it isn't.  Make sure your contract reflects the kind of job that is being done.  Bathrooms, Kitchens & Additions all are prone to mind changing and the contract should clearly and easily reflect that.  Don't get "Smart Quoted."

TIP #2 - If you've chosen to get your blueprints drawn up without consulting your contractor, make sure your contractor likes them.

There's sometimes cases where I've saved my client lots of money because we deviated from the plans to the way I know how to build better.  Not only that, sometimes, people are accustomed to the hard way or old way.

TIP #1 - Be nice to your contractor.  

It's way more likely your contractor will go above and beyond if you've treated them well.  There's been a lot of cases where I could have and should have charged as per our agreement but I gave them a deal!

BONUS: If your contractor is given you a price...don't do these

  • Use prices from other contractors as leverage saying "he'll do it for less"  - this annihilates #1 advantage.
  • Say right off the bat, you're getting other quotes. - This turns the opportunity into a "smart-quote" environment.  This is really bad for your budget!!
  • Ask for line item break downs.  This smells of "price-checker" free consulting.
Any of the above and you become hard to bargain with and ultimately I need to charge more for spending more non-billable time on paperwork and math than I should.  Or I think there's no money to be made here and I quote high for safety and move on.



It's not enough that you can trust them(ie: your contractor)  which is why I think this article will save you thousands of dollars.  It's applicable to all combinations of renovations involving bathrooms, kitchens or multiple trades.  Any time you're selecting from materials or look to make changes "on the fly".

Let's start with a given project...say a bathroom renovation - because they're among the 

Take your time, work with your contractor on a budget and a plan.



The first question you're going to ask yourself is:  

On average, how much does a bathroom renovation cost?  

You'd probably ask the same thing if it were a kitchen, garage, addition or house.

It's next to impossible to answer.  I've done a lot of bathrooms and they're all different - but that's only part of the problem.

"It's not like picking a car with features to select from, bathrooms are more like picking vehicle parts and seeing what kind of vehicle you can get."

Make sure you have a budget
AND plans.


The problem is there are TOO MANY VARIABLES

 Contractors can't predict:

  1. What is in the walls 
  2. If "Smoke & Mirrors" by a previous owner/contractor was used to do terrible work
  3. If you are going to want to change your mind and when.
  4. What it is YOU want unless they spend a ton of time with you. 

To mitigate this we use what's called "padding" on our quotes to cover contingency funds.  This is standard. 

HOWEVER, with bathrooms and other multi-trade projects, this isn't ideal.  If you add all the padding up and it to your costs, then the price, or quote, might not be competitive compared to contractors who are using proper methods.  


If you do think you are getting a good price, you are likely getting "Smart Quoted".  

If you aren't getting "smart quoted" and you trust your contractor, then it's only a matter of time before the quoting will catch up with them.  Arguments, tension and unpleasantness will ultimately be associate with your reno.  Unless you're really lucky or they are really lucky.

Why quoting is a terrible idea

Bathrooms and other multi-trade projects are prone to problems and none of them you're going to be able to mitigate.

  • They use up contingency funds (unless you're lucky)
  • Multi-trade jobs are highly susceptible to trade cost fluctuations
  • They are prone to having warranty issues.
  • Price creeping happens with the selection of fixtures and materials.
  • Don't scale well.
  • Therefore, are extremely prone to going over-budget
I would say you have a 90% chance of going over your budget! 

OR not getting what you want. OR not getting your job finished and that's if you hire a contractor.  It will be even worse for YOU if they smart quoted you or if you decided to do the project management yourself.  

Problematic Scenarios

Part of the problem is if you want to change your mind on the fly(maybe you see a deal) on a counter top or floor (or whatever it may be).  This is when it will hit you and discover that you should have done more research.  You'll realize that things get messy fast.  And your contractor is going to put up a resistance to any changes that are expensive OR they will be thrilled that they charged you a change-order hourly rate - better hope it was low! (hint: it never is because change orders are also inefficient)

Now, let's talk about project management.  
There's 5 scenarios you will have to choose from.

Scenario 1 
General Contractor Provides You With a Quote

We just went over it. You're going to be over budget or bad things are very likely to happen.

Scenario 2
Sit down, have a chat, and discuss your ideas.
Check if you and them are a good fit.
General Contractor Provides You With a Proper Contract

You know how to price shop and compare apples to apples. (A different article)

Scenario 3
The Sub-Trade General Contracts
And sometimes they'll share that burden with you - that's worse.

You get the plumber or the HVAC guy or the electrician to project manage.  This is bad for you.
It's bad for scheduling, it's bad for the warranties that might come up later, it's bad for quality control and most of all, it's bad for your budget.  It's all of THEM vs YOU.  Let me ask you this.  Does the electrician know or care about what counter tops you are going to chose?  Or how waterproof your bathroom floor needs to be?  Are they going to care how much another trade is going to cost? Probably not as long as they get paid first.  Construction phases overlapping and re-work are going to be prone.  This is very bad for you!  Even if you trust them, and they trust each other.  It only goes well until something goes wrong, once.

Scenario 4
You hire the carpenter

This is your next best option.  It's not ideal, but the good news is: you're probably going to get your bathroom completed.  Budget, warranty and scheduling are all going to be iffy though.  A well rounded carpenter is the only trade that's going to be able to salvage a mess but depending on your contract it could cost you or them.

Scenario 5
You are the General Contractor

Don't ever try and project manage a bathroom yourself unless:
 (and i stress that you shouldn't)

  1.  It's your bathroom.
  2.  You have deep pockets.
  3.  You have a lot of time
  4.  You don't care about warranty
  5.  You are well connected.  (this is dangerous because you might be falling into scenario 3)
  6.  You are a carpenter.
  7.  You aren't doing much for upgrades.
  8.  You have a bail-out plan.

Follow this simple checklist of tips

  • If they give you a quote, that's a flag- you're being smart quoted or one/both parties are going to be unhappy.
  • If they are sub-trades other than MAYBE a Carpenter. that's a flag.
  • If they aren't doing a budget, that's a huge flag.
  • If they are cheap - might be a bad choice. (check if we have an article on finding the best prices)
  • Finally, if you DON'T have ONE CONTRACT for the whole job, you need to find someone else.
Thanks for reading and I wish you luck!


I've coined it the "Smart Quote".

In its simplest terms: "a quote that is designed to fool you". 

I've learned that some people call it "bid low, invoice high" which in their mind, they are "out-smarting" their competition at the cost of deceiving their customers intentionally or not.

Here's how it works and how you can tell if you might be getting smart quoted.

Let's say you are getting your bathroom renovated and you've gotten some quotes.  We'll say you have 3 quotes to select from.  (By the way, you shouldn't be getting quotes on bathrooms, I'll be writing another article on why)

Scenario "A" is the lowest quote.  "B" is the middle & "C" is the highest quote.  Most people toss away the "C" quote and decide between "A" & "B".  We won't get into how to choose the best quote.  For the sake of the argument, we'll say "A" & "B" are the two you're going to seriously consider.

Now we will use a job scope which is designed to make the point.

  • Replace the bathtub & shower unit
  • Replace a toilet.
  • Replace a vanity.
Now in the world of residential construction, the paperwork is a big indicator on the vulnerability of homeowners.

If the job scope items aren't specified, you're at higher risk of getting "smart quoted".

Contractor "A" says $4,000 (and I'm just throwing numbers at this)
Contractor "B" says $5,000.
Contractor "C" says $6,000.

Contractor "A" says to make changes, then the hourly rate factors in at $150/hr (again throwing numbers at this)

Contractor "B" doesn't say anything about if you want to change your mind AND you think you know what you want.  They, however, throw something in called an allowance though. The allowance schedule shows a breakdown of each fixture and how much they will cost, but if you want to change the fixture and it's more or less then the actual amount you pay is adjusted accordingly.
- "Some people call that clever, 
some call it strategic bidding. 
I think it's deceiving."

You chose an option and here's what happens.

The job has started.  The vanity has been purchased and installed and the tub/shower is on order.  A toilet is brought in and then the plumber says the drain is too close to the vanity or won't fit.  Now what.  We need to replace the vanity(but the contractor doesn't want to pay for a custom vanity OR move the drain.  If you decided to project manage yourself, you're in big trouble.

If you chose contractor "B"... They knew the drain was going to need to be moved but didn't include it in their price.  Despite you not know their hourly rate, they say it's going to cost $1,000 to move the toilet at $100/hr for 10 hours.

If you chose contractor "A"... well they predicted the drain was going to need to be moved, inflated their hourly rate to compensate for their lower price and didn't include it in the scope of work.  They told you their umbrella hourly rate and unless you want things to go sour right now, you need to pay: 10 hours at $150 = 1500 extra.  Some people call that clever, some strategic bidding, I think it's

So updated new "out of pocket" amounts are:

"A" $5,500
"B" $6,000
"C" $6,000

Now that the floors have been jack-hammered, there's a small amount of flooring that needs to be replaced.

Both "A" and "B" didn't reflect that in the job scope and you end up paying $1,000 more for the new bathroom floor.

Updated "out of pocket" amounts:

"A" $6,500
"B" $7,500
"C" $6,000

Now you're going to love this, it's not over!  The biggest part and easiest to control is allowances. Windows are bad for this.

The tub/shower unit shows up and guess what, it's so shallow you can barely get water on you after you fill it or it's uncomfortable, hard to clean, etc etc etc... You want to return it.

Well, contractor "A" says again, to replace this is going to cost $150/hour (say 5hrs) to change the valve accordingly and you need to wait 3-6 mores weeks for the new one to arrive but nothing was said about the cost to upgrade it.  Your contractor refuses to pay for the upgrade. (+ $250)  But now there's tension and conflict and the job isn't even finished because trim, drywall and paint still needs to get done.

Contractor "B" says, ok, $100/hr to replace the valve and the upgrade is reflected in your allowance so you'll have to pay more in this case as that was the deal.  It's not messy, just it costs more.

New updated "out of pocket" amounts are:

"A" $7,500
"B" $8,000
"C" $6,000
The intention is not necessarily to deceive the homeowner, but instead, just to win the bid against cut-throat competition and tradespeople working out of their truck.

At this point you realize you've been "smart-quoted".  Options "A" & "B" ARE going to get out of hand and option "C" might have been the right choice (in this case).

Option "C" is the more attractive quote! 

HOWEVER, this is still terrible for bathrooms and you're going to be disappointed!

Learn why Contractor "D"(the option you never knew you had) is the right choice for bathrooms in another article.



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


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Get more knowledge. Get better. Keep an open mind. Tactfully debate what you think is incorrect and together we can learn the best procedure, product or building philosophy.


  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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