A guide for homeowners doing renovations.

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

Showing posts with label Tips & Tricks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips & Tricks. Show all posts


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


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.





It really drives me crazy sometimes when I hear "professionals" treat quotes like estimates or vice-versa; so much so, I decided to write about it.

What is a QUOTE?

A quote is a "fixed" price contract.  This essentially means, you can write me a check for the amount of my quote before I start the job.  Once the job is completed, you could give me the check without having to re-write it.

If I give you a quote, I take ALL the risk if something goes wrong during the scope of work as stated in the quote.  Sometimes, there may be clauses to mitigate certain risks.  For instance, I might put things in the quote like "not liable for damage to sprinkler heads".  Quotes can be high risk for certain kinds of jobs.

So what's an ESTIMATE?

An estimate is a flexible price.  It's purely a guess at the costs a project entails and ultimately you could pay more or less than an estimate when the job is completed.  One major thing to note, there's absolutely nothing to fall back on to determine what's actually going to be charged.  Some might say "customer service" is the only thing that you as a client has as leverage.  Quite often estimates create conflict between contractors and homeowners who use the terms quotes and estimates interchangeably.

In Summary:

Complicated, unpredictable jobs should never use estimates or quotes for the contract. (There are other more appropriate contracts out there).

Jobs like a framing a deck or doing a foundation are jobs that can be quoted as there are specs/drawings that show all the necessary information.

Estimates should never be used for "the contract" but instead for determining a "budget" where your actual contract should be "time & materials" or a "mark up".





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.



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.


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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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