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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Finding the Right Contractor

Reaching the decision to update your house is the easy.
The hiring of a reliable contractor to accomplish your dream renovation may not be.

Unfortunately, scam artists frequent the industry, leaving in their wake unfinished or poorly executed projects and homeowners little to no hope of recovering payment.

Recognizing the scam
Be wary of so-called contractors knocking on your door to present their services. Most reliable businesses do not.

A contractor of merit needs to view the project, like a garage needing painting or the bedroom with the bump-out bay windows. Anyone who figures a price blind is probably thinking how to rob you blind.
If a contractor uses hard sale techniques to get an immediate verbal okay or a signed contract, smile, say thanks, and close the door. Any professional will give a potential client at least a week to consider a bid.

Smacking of fraud are offers to lower the price with other jobs’ leftover materials or for cash-only payments. There is a possible use of stolen goods and the desire to avoid tax payments.
Where are honest contractors?

Find the contractor who will provide expertise at a fair price through word-of-mouth.
Ask the opinion of those you respect from neighbors to friends and family. If the job went well, they will tell you. If not, your search time needs to include time to get an earful of grief. At least you will definitely know whom to avoid.

Most local building departments have lists of contractors. Do not expect recommendations or warnings, but most legitimate businesses are not going to file their information with local government agencies.
The Better Business Bureau lists over 100,000 general contractors. Alphabetic ratings result from a contractor’s willingness to resolve a customer’s issue.

Do not depend too heavily on the opinions found on numerous consumer websites. Unfortunately, many resort to having fictional favorable reviews placed on their sites. One, Angie’s Lists, says its reviewers are never anonymous. That said, on Craigslist, and other sites, jobs for compensated reviewers pop up frequently.

Navigating the bid process
Call at least three contractors for bids.

Each needs to contain the exact same information including the types and brands of materials and appliances used.  
Rather than seeking references, ask for addresses of current job sites.
Go straight to the homeowner, introduce yourself as a potential client of their contractor, and ask direct questions.

·        Is the project keeping on schedule and if not is it a problem with the contractor’s scheduling or an unforeseen situation like weather?

·        Has the contractor kept to their original bid without resorting to substandard products? The latter question is especially important when evaluating the lowest bidder. To your

·        Does the contractor respond to phone calls/texts/emails in a timely manner?
Ask to see proof of their insurance. At minimum, a legitimate contractor has worker’s compensation on all their workers.

Constructing a contract
Once comfortable with your selection, draw up a contract with all the project’s components in writing. Relying on verbal agreements could mean major future problems. Contract templates can be found on the website of the Associated General Contractors of America.
List start and end dates. Be sure to include materials used, payment schedules, and budget. The latter can change should material costs rise, like lumber, or specialty items such as an appliance, be upgraded. Avoid nasty surprises by having both parties agree to sign change orders prior to any adjustments.

Remember to include lien waivers in the contract. Periodically, have the contractor produce them as proof of payment to subcontractors. This protects you from subcontractors who did not rightfully suing for compensation, regardless if the contractor neglected to compensate them.
Typically, contractor payments occur periodically during the project. Some ask for a down payment ranging between five to ten percent of the entire bid to buy materials. On large projects, progress payments occur after significant intervals like demolition or a major installation. Final payment comes with assurance every item in the contract has reached the homeowner’s satisfaction.

You might want to hire a lawyer to go over a contract before signing it.

Communication is the key to success
Be clear on everything – even when confused. If unknown acronyms or phrases are used, ask –unembarrassed - for a better definition.

Never leave any request to a loose interpretation. Clarity among all parties means fewer problems and less chance of costly changes.
Make sure your modes of communications mesh. If texting is your choice, however your contractor prefers voice mail settle on one before the project begins.

Finding the right contractor keeps your project and your sanity intact.




Friday, October 12, 2012

LED Lighting: 50 Years of Continuing Innovation

Visible LED lighting’s discovery recently hit its half-century mark without much fanfare or even a celebratory cake.
No matter, as over the decades the little light-emitting diode that could, it pushed past its initial high priced sole laser usage. Currently, with product prices decreasing, LED lighting’s position in the General Lighting market (including lamps and fixtures) is growing,

Residential projects, inside and outdoors, benefit from long-lasting and low heat emission products offered by the Juno Lighting Group.
Their Pro-Series’ under cabinetry lighting brings illumination to all kitchen tasks, as its dimming control adds an element of safety for those in search of a midnight snack or coming in late. 
Mounted to the cabinetry’s flush lip or against a rear back splash the LEDs uses 1/6th the energy of halogen and xenon units. A major plus for homeowners are the units’ maintenance-free 50,000 -hour life.

Energy savings are a big plus when selecting from various Juno’s VuLite Retrofit trim units, for recessed lighting projects. Compatible to most incandescent and electronic low voltage dimmers the LED retrofit module leads the wattage usage bonanza by requiring less than 80% of the former.
Designed for easy installation the all-in-one unit mounts directly to the trim. Its diffused lens hides the LED from view without diminished luminance.

Six decades later LEDs continue to inspire innovation to light up our lives.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Autumnal Landscaping Care
Cool breezes and colored leaves now rustle through manicured lawns and remnants of carefully tended gardens.
Before plunging temperatures, snow and ice make it impossible, a bit of work outside assures Mother Nature’s glories will blossom again next spring.

·        Dead leaves smother lawns, especially newly seeded ones. Clear them away with a bamboo rack versus a more rigid model made of steel. The springiness of bamboo catches and collects the offending leaves without ripping up tender leaves of grasses.

·        Admittedly, a grubby job, ridding your lawn of grubs is a necessary fall landscaping task before they burrow deep in the ground for a cold weather feast on grass roots.

¨      Grub patches appear as brown patches. The use of insecticides is a common practice as are organic treatments such as applying neem oil.

·        Assure a vibrant spring, tinged in yellows, red and pale pinks among other hues, by planting bulbs in clusters and pointy side up - now when the earth is cool.

¨      When looking for new places to enjoy the beauty of tulips and daffodils, to scillas, crocus ad hyacinths keep in mind the old Dutch saying, "bulbs don't like wet feet.” Plant them in well-drained and sunny areas taking into account the absence of leaves on springtime trees.

¨      For fuller floral displays, sow bulbs in clusters and with consideration to their full-grown height. Think of butter-colored tulip heads dancing over masses of purple crocus.

¨      Since squirrels and other uninvited guests sometimes unearth bulbs for a winter nibble, consider planting more than you think you will need

·        Hardy mums, as their name implies, last several seasons. Use them as focal points or accents in autumnal planter displays with ornamental kales, pansies, or peppers.
The return on a current investment in landscaping care comes with the first bud of green next year.

Three Things to Consider Before Remodeling

You envision your property’s old barn, detached garage, or even garden shed transformed into everything from an artist’s studio to a guest cottage.
While your imagination is fertile, often the remodeling plan is futile due to the structure itself.

Remove your rose-colored glasses and face the building in harsh daylight.

If when the wind blows, the structure leans, like an iconic Italian tower or creaks worse than great aunt Tilly that might tell a story – a horror story.
How can you decide if a remodel is possible?

First, call in an architect.
Their inspection determines if the battle against time and gravity has been lost or gives the okay to proceed with the remodeling project.
Second, before swinging a sledgehammer there are important steps you must address.
Avoid future problems by establishing your budget.
Armed with your remodeling wishes, the architect can offer estimated design and material, labor and installation costs. A little legwork, online or in person, will determine appliance and d├ęcor prices. A general rule to remember is if replacement of current key elements such as roofing, HVAC, or electrical systems is 50-percent or higher, they must adhere to current building codes.
Building codes, permits and insurance are expenditures many fail to calculate into the budget.
Local building departments require insurance on the structure and its workers - even if the remodelers are you and your friends and family. The need for statutory workmen’s compensation insurance is a possibility.
Third, accept obtaining government approval and permits is often an arduous task.
Be prepared for setbacks, like design adjustments. This can occur should a zoning variance, perhaps when the distance between your property line and remodeled building, fails to receive zoning approval.
Getting organized and staying focused on the finished outcome keep any remodeling hassles to a minimum.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Conserving Water

For both new or renovation home design conserving water is a major sustainability component.

“Over the past five decades, our need for water has tripled,” says Thomas Leigh.

As this precious commodity’s supplies dry up, the Peekskill architect states designers, contractors and homeowners have numerous procedures and products to conserve water.

Whether performed by professionals or as a DYI project, every house benefits from a water audit. Prices can start at less than $10.00. Locating even a small leak in a toilet can save up to 200 gallons being lost daily.

Want up-to-date information at the drop of a drip to prevent high water bills or other problems?
Companies, like Water Hero, offer sensor units. When strapped to existing water meters they monitor water flow, calculate water savings and detect leaks. Interconnected with WiFi, the app delivers instant information to any device.

Updating equipment also saves water.

If a commode dates to the early 90s, the time to retrofit is now, Leighs advises. Long gone are the days when a flush used up to seven gallons.  Swap out for higher efficiency models, The results are just the same with as little as 1.28 -gallon capacity. Additionally, faucets’ designs, in baths and kitchens, now enhance the preservation features.

Why waste up to 30% of household energy usage waiting for water to heat up? 

An investment in a recirculation pump or a gas-powered tankless hot water heater gives instantaneous hot water.

Get more green by killing off the turf and going native. Replace the lawn with depressed beds of plants natural to the region. Drought stricken areas and those with excess rain runoffs both benefit without losing luscious landscapes. Employing moisture-sensing control systems are gaining popularity among many water conservation-conscious homeowners and landscape professionals.

There is no denying water’s scarcity, but implementing new practices and equipment will save valuable resources and inspire future conservation methods.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Construction Industry Economic Influences

Congratulations on surviving, so far, this unprecedented recession.
According to Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, contractors have focused on cutting costs and increasing efficiency.

They have “learned how to do more with less,” he said.
How do firms continue through lean times armed with their hard-earned practice of lessened resources?

By recognizing how important economic influences, ranging from global to local, influence businesses in the construction industry. Traditionally, the industry has always been analyzed by the components of construction costs and materials, labor and mark-ups. During the past decade’s massive instability an additional component, that of economic influences, has been added.
Unlike trying to decipher the widely contradicting predictions of economic recovery, understanding the economic influences for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013 provides a clearer view of how a firm’s resources are best utilized.

Current economic components influencing construction are:
Improving GCP and personal income
  • Rising vacancies for office/retail/hotels
  • Serious spot credit access problems- muni bond market is up and bank lending is still down
  • State and local tax shortfalls with deeper spending cuts
  • Federal ARRA projects’ funding slows
As the economy recovers with the uncertainty of materials’ prices it is likely contractors will start including larger contingency/reserve factors in the bids.

Beyond 2012, domestic materials’ costs are expected to increase 2% - 4% with a 3%-5% overall bump on all materials prices. Other issues to be considered are fast track schedules and project delivery like IPD, and CMAR, and the continuing technical education of an aging workforce
Positive indications are on the horizon with airports, medical, and school bonds among other authorized “cloud” construction projects waiting for fast approaching funding.

In planning for the future the biggest factor to accept is that few practices or financing from pre-2007 still exist. The new normal, born of hardships, compromise, and resilience, is leaner and smarter.

This article was written for Sierra West Group

US Construction Materials Costs Drop

April and May 2012 saw a price drop in construction materials and ancillary supplies, like diesel fuel, according to Associated General Contractors of America.
Rising 0.1 percent and 0.3 respectively during each month caused the producer price index to increase to a maximum of 2.5 percent over the past 12 months. The latter number represents the smallest year over year increase since 2009.

While Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, noted the recent decrease allowed contractors to recover from earlier 2012’s price spikes, he also acknowledged, “workloads remain uneven by segment and geographical region.”
In May contractor’s fees on new projects remained flat having increased between 3.1 and 4.3 percent for the year. Again, negative information contrasted with positive reports of gypsum and lumber price increases. The latter indicates growth in new residential and commercial remodeling markets.