How to Protect Your Family from Asbestos Exposure

If you currently live in a home or are planning on moving into one with any part constructed before 1980, it is a good bet that there are asbestos-containing materials in the structure. If you have watched television at all in the past twenty years then I’m sure you’ve seen the scary commercials which talk about the risks of asbestos exposure – mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other very harsh lung diseases. Fortunately, you are usually not at risk in your home, and these commercials target people who worked around asbestos on a daily basis (think dock workers, certain military, pipefitters, etc.).

The only absolutely surefire way to avoid asbestos entirely in your house is to build a new one and verify that each tradesman is not using any asbestos-containing materials. In the past it was frequently found in insulation, drywall, flooring, roofing, and even many home appliances, so you would need to keep a close eye on much of the work. It would be an overreaction however to build a new home just because you’re afraid of asbestos exposure. The thing to keep in mind is that as long as the suspect material is in good condition and isn’t going to be disturbed, you are really not at risk for any of the dangers caused by exposure to asbestos.

In this article we’ll cover how to determine if your house has asbestos in it, what steps you should take to protect your family if you find any suspect materials, and provide some simple, bottom-line rules to keep in mind. The risks of asbestos are real and using this guidance will help you and your family rest easy knowing that those risks are safely mitigated.

What is Asbestos and How Do You Identify It?

The term “asbestos” refers to a set of silicate fibers which are mined from the earth. These fibers had a wide variety of industrial and construction applications due to being strong, flexible, fire-resistant, and relatively cheap. Once hailed as do-it-all material, the ill effects on health started to be recognized fairly quickly when workers in asbestos mines had incredibly high rates of fatal lung diseases.

Asbestos is totally safe in a dormant, undisturbed state as long as it is left untouched. It becomes dangerous when the fibers are kicked up into the air that you breathe during renovation or removal. If the fibers are inhaled then they will settle in the tissues of the lungs and begin to aggravate and scar them. If this happens frequently and/or in large quantities the affected individual may begin to experience some of the symptoms and diseases that the commercials talk about. While it is safe in the majority of applications, the consequences of asbestos exposure are severe and can be fatal – take them extremely seriously.

Identifying asbestos is a bit of a guessing game until you take a sample and have it tested by an officially licensed laboratory. The rule of thumb is to treat any material you are suspicious of like it contains asbestos – do not touch it or disturb it in any way. Luckily, this test is inexpensive and has a short turnaround time. The procedure involves taking a small portion of the material in question, bagging it and labeling with the date and address, and sending it to a national testing lab via a local company. You will hear back within a week or so and get a simple “yes or no” report on each material you sent in. This is the only guaranteed way to determine if a material in your house contains asbestos.

Steps to Take if You Find Asbestos at Home

Once your test comes back, it is time to review the results. If the tests are negative then it is safe to handle them or remove the materials. If the tests come back positive then it is time to think about which course of action you’d like to take. Asbestos abatement can be an expensive operation because there is a lot of training for crews, site protection, and methodology for proper disposal that needs to happen for a successful project. You should have a good reason for why the material needs to be disturbed.

You only need to be concerned with asbestos-containing materials in your home under two conditions: if you are planning on remodeling or disturbing the home with some sort of construction, or if the material is crumbling or otherwise in a state of disrepair. The amount of traffic an area with asbestos goes through is also important to consider when determining how to proceed. If the insulation in your attic for example contains asbestos but you have zero plans for construction or storage up there, it really is best to leave it alone. If the floor tiles are crumbling to pieces in your children’s future playroom however, that would be a prime example of when to take action and plan an abatement.

Professional remodeling contractors will never put your family or their crews at risk during a renovation which would potentially disturb any asbestos products. The long-term health risks are just not worth circumventing the abatement process. Your contractor should usually have a good idea of what materials contain it and have everything in the work zone tested and abated before the renovation work gets underway. If your remodeling contractor comes in and starts performing demolition without testing for asbestos, that could be a warning sign they are inexperienced or careless and they may be putting everyone in the home at increased risk.

Here’s a brief checklist to guide you through the entire process and protect your family:

  • Identify any suspect materials in your home that you believe may contain asbestos
  • Contact a licensed and insured testing contractor to sample the materials and safely protect the site until the results can be obtained
  • Keep your family away from any rooms with the material in questions until results are in
  • Go over the testing results with your company and decide if you need to have an abatement performed or if it will be fine as-is
  • If you go through with an abatement due to a construction project or because the material was in a high-traffic area, make sure to hire a trusted firm with good reviews and credentials

The Bottom Line for Protecting Your Family from Asbestos

Following a few simple rules will keep your family safe from asbestos exposure in all but the most extenuating circumstances. Assume that any material you suspect contains asbestos does so and treat it with respect. Do not touch, try to remove, cut, or otherwise disturb any suspect material as this can throw the fibers into your home’s air where they are at their most dangerous. Have a professional, trained, accredited abatement firm handle the sampling and testing of the material(s) you plan to interact with. If a test comes back positive for asbestos, contract the trusted firm that did the testing to perform the abatement and removal so you are positive your home is safe going forward.

The rule of thumb is to assume that any material, especially if the house was built in the Seventies or earlier, does contain asbestos. Treating it with respect and caution and keeping every member of your family including adults, kids, and pets away from it is the best practice.

What to Expect When Meeting with a Professional Residential …

This article covers a list of items that we think people should know about before they meet with a professional residential remodeling firm . There are some common misconceptions that we run across frequently and we wanted to take a closer look at some things you can expect from a quality company. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it does cover topics that we answer questions about a lot. Check out the list below and let us know if there are other topics you would like discussed in the future.

They Meet During Normal Business Hours

When setting up your initial site visit where a remodeler comes out and reviews your project and your property, please expect to meet during regular business hours! “Do you have any appointments available after five o’clock, that’s when I get home from work?” is one of the most common questions we hear. People for whatever don’t realize that the contractor gets done with work at 5pm as well, and they want to go home and eat dinner with their family just like you.

People take an hour or two off during their workday for every other type of appointment – doctor, dentist, auto mechanic, meeting a lawyer, or letting the babysitter in after they forgot the spare key. But when it comes time to discuss the future of their home, suddenly they can only meet after 5pm or on the weekend – what’s up with that!?

While contracting in general sometimes gets a bad rap due to a minority of dishonest companies, the industry as a whole still deserves the right to work during normal business hours and have a family life. Some newer or smaller companies may jump at the chance to meet you whenever possible, even if it is on a holiday weekend or 8 o’clock at night, for a chance at earning your business. This can lead to burnout pretty quickly and harm the personal life of that owner in other ways that can eventually affect the business as well.

They Provide Sound Project Investment Advice

A question that often comes early in the remodeling process is “how much will my investment in my home improvement project return if we decide to sell it down the road?” Asked another way, “What will this remodeled bathroom do to the market price of my home?” This is a logical question, especially when a project may cost many thousands of dollars.

An honest contractor will give you the advice you need to plan your remodel around how long you expect to stay in the home. R. L. Rider Remodeling typically advises that you stay in a house at least five years if you are considering a substantial remodel. These are projects that should be done for the experience and your own enjoyment, not to spruce up the house to attempt to raise its value in the eyes of the market.

According to the Cost vs. Value report published each year by Remodeling Magazine, there are not any projects that you can expect recoup your full investment amount when reselling. A bathroom remodel that costs $20,000 for example could expect to add about $14,000 when reselling, or around 65-70% of your investment. Replacing a garage door with a nice, metal one recoups 95% on average. It is not wise to do a remodel right before selling, but it may make sense if you plan to sell in 5+ years as that remodel will still add value to the home and improve it on the market. Plus you get the benefit of enjoying your new kitchen or bathroom or addition.

This is why we almost never advise upgrading or remodeling your home before selling – only repair or replace any pertinent items that will cause the home not to sell at all. You should be able to rely on a professional contractor, and part of that is receiving accurate advice about when you should perform a project. You should not get “sold” every time and get coerced into doing a project that isn’t right for your circumstances.

They Utilize Subcontractors as Part of the Team

Construction is a field that requires many different types of trades working congruently to deliver a successful, complete project. Sometimes clients feel taken aback that not every single person who will be working on their house is a direct employee of R. L. Rider. Just because a company subcontracts out portions of your project does not mean they care any less about the quality of work or are “passing it off.” A good contractor spends a lot of time evaluating their team of subs, ensuring they provide continually high standards of work, and searching for new ones if their standards are not strictly upheld.

There are so many different licenses, insurance requirements, and areas of expertise that it would be nearly impossible to keep up with everything. It would add a large cost as well because instead of just being an electrician who can focus on that field and benefit from economies of scale, it would be one or two staff in the electrical department, one or two more in the HVAC, another two in the plumbing division, and so on. Estimating, training, recruiting talent, and performing the job well all need to come together (with many other factors as well) for a tradesman’s company to perform effectively. If you split that up into divisions within a single company, then it quickly gets convoluted and inefficient.

Some people seem to think that “subcontractor” or “trade partner” are dirty words, but this is a narrow point of view. I like to compare the general contractor’s (remodelers fit in here) relationship with subs to a doctor of general medicine’s relationship with specialists. When you go to your primary physician they will treat your overall health and keep track of all your vitals, your health history, etc. If something specific is going on like you are having trouble sleeping or your skin is having an issue, your primary will refer those tasks out to specialists who are better-suited to help you – in this case perhaps a sleep study clinic or a dermatologist.

While building or remodeling a home is a lot more straightforward than keeping the human body healthy, the comparison is illustrative of how subcontractors work with the generals. Why would a GC risk modifying an electrical system when he can call in the experts who are properly trained, correctly insured, and much more knowledgeable in the area? It doesn’t make sense and would be an arrogant decision to NOT use the subcontractor’s team in that situation.

They Have Expertise in Their Field and Location

When it comes down to the brass tacks, your contractor must know how to do the job you are asking of them. Further, they need to be able to guide your dream scenario in a realistic way based on budget and what is possible from a construction standpoint. A “yes man” is the last thing you want for a complicated undertaking, only to find out when your house is torn apart that they didn’t anticipate a critical problem with the proposed design. You can verify if they truly have the knowledge they claim by reviewing their past project photos, asking for references, and giving them a sort of “interview” to see if they can answer your questions satisfactorily.

A good remodeler will also have knowledge of the area you live in and how that relates to your project. They will have an idea of the state of the housing market, what kinds of projects other people are doing in your neighborhood, how much value you can expect from your project, how the weather affects construction, and so on. You wouldn’t want someone from California coming to Michigan and building your house because the codes vary drastically, plus they wouldn’t even know what seasons are! Changes from region to region, and even city to city can have a large bearing on what it takes to make your project come together successfully.

They Know Why It Pays to “Have Your Guy”

There are many fields where it pays to have your go-to guy where you can call and ask them questions (and feel confident in the answers). I frequently call my mechanic for quick advice on my vehicles and my doctor if I have a question about my medication – it is really nice to have a trusted expert for my house, too. Remodelers must have a general knowledge of every aspect of homes both new and old. They have an additional advantage if they are familiar with your house from past projects and will be able to provide you even more accurate, customized guidance.

What you’re really paying for with an expert is peace of mind and confidence in your decisions, not necessarily the knowledge or the work itself. No one can know it all or have experience with everything, but if you know and trust someone in each important area of your life you can effectively expand your knowledge base exponentially! Knowing that someone has both the knowledge and skills required to get a job done is nearly invaluable, especially in an industry like remodeling where one mistake can spell catastrophe for a project.

Having “your guy” pays, and though it might not happen overnight, we advise developing your relationships and investing time into finding the right team to surround yourself with. Much like a contractor finding the right team of subcontractors – it takes some time and effort to weed through the bad fits but is well worth it in the end.

Differences Between Custom and Generic Home Finishes

If you are shopping for an item and searching solely for the cheapest price, there is no doubt that you will be able to find some excellent deals if you look long enough. There are opportunity costs to choosing a generic item with a budget price however as opposed to having a custom item made and installed instead. As is often the case with home improvement projects every situation is unique and there are no “one size fits all” solutions. Sometimes you just need something basic that will fill a need, and other times it would be better to go the custom route. We will cover some of the main differences between custom-built home finishes (e.g. a bathroom vanity designed and crafted by a carpenter) and more generic ones like you might find in a big box store.

Freedom of Choice for Each Component

Continuing with our bathroom vanity example, there is a really obvious difference between custom and generic ones that we’ll cover first. If you haven’t guessed it already… the custom vanity route allows you to customize every aspect of your new bathroom centerpiece whereas the one from the box store comes preassembled with no freedom of choice. You could probably swap out the door hardware easily but if you preferred a different style of sink or countertop it wouldn’t work out that well. Not to mention it would likely void any warranty the vanity came with if you modify anything.

If you start from scratch with a vision and hone the design with our team as you go, you get to choose every aspect of your new cabinet. The species of the wood, how thick (durable), what the base will look like, any designs/detailing, countertop material, cabinet hardware (hinges and pulls), style/color of sink, faucet style and location, paint/stain color, etc. All of these will be under your control. For some people that is overwhelming and they would prefer to just choose a nice, prefabricated vanity. But some other people demand unique items that reflect their personality and their every taste!

Truly Custom Fit and Options

Box store vanity units have to come in some preset sizes and options that sell the best. There is only so much store and warehouse floor space in which to keep them and it would be impossible to build too many types and options in a factory environment. While economies of scale such as this will always lead to a cheaper cost, they sacrifice the custom nature and fits that are key signs of a well done, cohesive construction project.

When shopping online for your bathroom vanity you may see they come in sizes of six inch increments, all have the same three material options for the countertop, and use the same hardware no matter which cabinet you look at. Going the custom route allows for a custom measurement and fit of your existing space (or a new one if you are performing a more substantial bathroom remodel). There won’t be any awkward bumping into the door trim or funky rocking because the floor isn’t level.

The customization goes a lot deeper than sizing as well. You can literally choose the exact slab of granite or quartz or marble that will then be fabricated into your countertop. Not to mention if you want a backsplash or accessory pieces that match your countertop, that is all on the table. You can pick those pieces out too! After speaking with a designer about how you use your current bathroom storage and what you would like to see improved, we will make sure your new vanity has the shelf and drawer layout/functionality that best suits your life. That is an experience that you will not be able to find shopping generic items and one that will last you for as long as you live there.

Skill Level of Construction and Installation

One of the main things that will influence your enjoyment of your home remodel is who you are working with and how good they are at what they do. Do you want to work with a skilled craftsman who is building and installing your vanity cabinet from start to finish? And in R. L. Rider’s case, when you talk through the project with our designer who then makes 3D drawings for you – you get to see him construct the cabinet in addition. It is a process we truly handle from start to finish, concept to completion.

You will not get the same joy out of ordering a vanity online or going to pick one up in store. The product was likely sourced from many different countries to locate the cheapest components, assembled by a low-wage worker, and then shipped overseas to the U.S. Somebody still needs to get the cabinet set and the sink connected to your plumbing once you get it to your house. Usually the box stores use local subcontractors who don’t have as strict of standards for quality and training. Maybe they are used to working in empty flip homes or apartments instead of nice houses with families in them. They may not have the experience, people skills, classes, and tools to be successful which will just add aggravation to your project. Or you can attempt to install it yourself which is great if you’re handy, but can turn into a DIY nightmare if you’re not.

Longevity and Warranty

If you are putting any amount of money into a specific product or even an entire room renovation, you are going to want it to last for a long time. Not just last, but function properly each and every day. The old adage “you get what you pay for” almost always holds true in the construction industry. There is simply no substitute for using better base materials and techniques to build and install when it comes to ensuring a product will last a long time. No tricks will be able to cover up the flimsiness of a thin, cheap piece of lumber as opposed to a solid, ¾” or thicker piece of cabinet-grade wood.

And if something goes wrong with your new vanity that you ordered online, how long is the warranty period and how many hoops do you have to jump through to get it taken care of? A local, custom contractor like R. L. Rider Remodeling offers a 2-year, hassle-free warranty on all parts and labor – we make it right quickly and with no stress or hoops to jump through. If you have had any bad warranty experiences before, know you are not alone. You have to find the number, sit through lots of calls and transfers, register your product, take photos, figure out how to ship it back, pay for return shipping, the list can drive a sane person crazy! Who knows how long a poorly made product will last… we stand behind ours for years and are we work locally so our reputation depends on your satisfaction.

Function or Form? Why Not Both?

Choosing between basic functionality and beautiful design usually results in having to give up one for the other. If you have the discretionary budget and are not simply trying to repair or replace an item for pure functional use, why not invest in something that has a story and that means something to you?

Knowing that you are buying the best quality and supporting local business and craftsmen is something that adds character to your project. Your investment will result in better functionality that is designed and engineered from the start especially for you. If you choose to have us build the cabinet out of wood from a barn that has been on your property for years, then you will have a story to tell that is completely unique to you. You will have a piece of art that no one else can copy instead of a vanity kit from Home Depot that every house in your subdivision has. Obviously this isn’t for the rental property you have across town, but if you are planning on improving your home and want to experience something new, this is one way to enjoy your house for decades to come.

Which Experience is Right for You?

While we used the example of a bathroom vanity for our discussion on home finishes, the above points will apply to nearly any item you would put in your home that has custom and generic options. It also is meant to highlight some of the factors you might want to think about when considering a home remodeling project. What is right for you and your family? Is lowest initial cost the most important thing or overall quality and longevity? What kind of experience are you looking for? As mentioned, everybody and every project is unique so you need to choose based on your specific circumstances. If you have any questions or wish to discuss your project and see if R. L. Rider Remodeling is the best fit for your job then please call us at 517-487-3713 and we will be happy to help you!

Aging in Place in Your Lansing, MI, Home

Even the healthiest body will succumb to the wear that a long life well lived will bring, and this wear can require that daily activities require more care than before. Of course, you could get this kind of care if you moved into an assisted-living facility, which could make all manners of daily activities safer:

  • Bathing
  • Moving about your living area
  • Getting up and down the stairs

However, you don’t have to move into an assisted-living facility in order to enjoy these safety features. After all, with aging in place installations, you can continue living as safely as possible in your Lansing area home thanks to a number of great installations. Call your remodeling contractor if you want to have any of the following installed:

Stairlift Systems

If your home is more than one story tall, then you may find it hard to get to all parts of your home if late-age mobility issues begin to affect your ability to go up and down stairs. Without assistance, this issue could require that you essentially lose access to certain parts of your home at a certain point in your life.

Fortunately, you do have assistance when it comes to going up and down stairs after chronic mobility problems have set in. This assistance comes in the form of a stairlift system, which will allow you to safely and conveniently go up and down the stairs with just the push of a button.

Grab Bars in the Bathroom

You don’t exactly NEED to go up and down your stairs to live a full and healthy life, of course. However, there is one thing you can’t avoid in order to live such a life, and that thing is bathing. Unfortunately, even this activity can be rendered a threat to your safety as age and mobility issues begin to afflict you.

That’s another way in which living in place installations can improve the quality of your life and keep you as safe as possible. With grab bars installed in your bathroom, you can safely move about your bathroom and lift yourself up and down as needed in order to handle all of your hygienic needs.

Step-In Shower/Bath Unit

While we’re on the subject of maintaining your safety in the bathroom, we can’t overlook the greatest threat to your safety in there: the shower. With its sleek design and presence of water, your shower poses a high threat of causing you to slip and fall — which can be a serious threat to your well-being after a certain point in life.

Of course, you can’t simply avoid your shower for the rest of your life. Doing so would only lead to its own set of problems, wouldn’t it? To avoid those problems and the safety issues that your shower can present, simply get a step-in shower/bath unit installed in your Lansing home’s bathroom to reduce the likelihood of dangerous falls.

Zero-Step Entrances and Doorways

Your shower is not the only place that poses serious problems if you were to fall. Falling ANYWHERE could spell disaster if you’re prone to broken bones and that sort of thing. So, you need to ensure that your home is equipped, from top to bottom, to reduce the likelihood of falls.

An important and commonplace area to prepare for this purpose is your doorways. Thresholds can pose an unexpected but very serious trip hazard, so you need to set them up to avoid that hazard. To do so, you need to call for zero-step entrances and doorways that will allow you to move about your Lansing home as safely as possible.

Comparing and Contrasting Different Remodeling Experiences

There are so many different types of contractors to choose between for your project: remodelers, general contractors, builders, handymen, trade specialist subcontractors, and other specialties (such as insurance restoration). Check out our blog post on the types of residential remodelers here. It can make your head start to spin when trying to pick between them for your specific project’s needs.

We want to give an example of a kitchen remodeling project in which you want a substantial, full-gut update on your home’s kitchen and dining area where we contrast two different remodeling experiences. For our example will we look at a professional design/build contractor vs. a smaller general contractor with handyman services. R. L. Rider Remodeling is a full-service design/build firm where the entire job and every detail is handled from start to finish so we are in the first category. On the other hand we will take a look at a generic, less-experienced company.

NOTE: This is not meant to disparage any company or suggest that you will always get the type of experience that we discuss below. It is simply a general overview that explains the differences we have heard from clients in the past about how our company was able to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Some of these examples are worst-case scenario and not indicative of what to expect, but unfortunately we hear all too often that the items below frequently crop up in the remodeling process.

Let’s jump in and start with your hypothetical kitchen remodel that you want to have performed in your home. We’ll begin with you researching companies and go through every stage of the project, ending with the final warranty!

Initial Research and Trust Building

In the digital world there is an enormous amount of information available to research before you even start calling around to companies about your project. Online presence such as quality of their website, reviews on Google and elsewhere, and photos of past projects can allow you to build an initial comfort level and get an idea of the projects the contractor is qualified to work on. If their website is poor or non-existent then that should be your first warning sign that the company you’re looking at doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Reputation around town e.g. asking your neighbors or the company having a network of past referrals is also an important method. If you keep hearing terrible things then maybe it is time to second guess calling that firm. Likewise raving reviews are a good initial sign that you will get your kitchen designed and constructed the right way. Other questions can be answered online such as if the firm is licensed, insured, a member of local organizations like the Home Builder’s Association (HBA), etc. It all adds to the “trust factor” and level of comfort that is crucial to a successful, on-time project.

The design/build firm such as R. L. Rider Remodeling will have a nice, informative website that is frequently updated with lots of reviews and photos. The other guys… maybe not so much on the website and reviews will likely be less enthusiastic. Not to mention insurance and licensing… make sure you take the due diligence phase seriously and do what makes you feel comfortable.

First Contact and Conversation

After doing your due diligence research on local companies, it is time for the real first impression – reaching out via phone or email to discuss the work you’d like to have completed. We strive to respond quickly, be polite and informative, and ask a lot of questions to make your experience pleasant and ensure we are the right fit for your job. If you can give us a general overview of what you’d like done, we can provide rough budgetary estimates right on the phone based on past experience with similar jobs. We also will explain our process and suggest a recommended course of action to move forward with.

A smaller company may not be able to get back to you in a reasonable time frame and provide a lot less information when you are speaking with them. They might not have the time to train their staff to be as helpful or not have the building expertise to offer a useful budget number. Again, this is just based on what we hear from our customers but it comes up often enough that we know it is a common occurrence. Just like any other industry, there are lots of different companies and they have varying skill levels and areas of expertise they are most comfortable in.

Communication and Availability

This is a big one we hear customers complain about all the time – they just don’t hear back from many contractors that they call. It seems crazy but as the economy continues to improve and everyone gets busier, the number of calls that fall through the cracks increases exponentially. If you don’t hear back while trying to contract someone and provide them work, how do you think the communication will be during the project once they already have your down payment?

It is a priority that R. L. Rider Remodeling’s communication before, during, and after a project is stellar. Construction inherently is a messy, dusty business and sometimes it is unavoidable that issues arise throughout the process. Remodeling in particular can have a lot of unforeseen circumstances due to the nature of working within existing structures instead of building from the ground up. We feel that it isn’t necessarily avoiding every single problem as that would be an impossible task. Rather a key sign of a great remodeler is how they handle the issue once it’s discovered.

Do you want to be able to call, discuss the problem, and immediately get a plan of action for how it will be resolved? Or would you rather get your call sent to voicemail five times over three days as you sit there with an incomplete project?

Design, Idea Implementation, and Product Selections

Remodeling your home is a large undertaking and an important investment. A design/build firm must be able to listen to your ideas, discuss how realistic they are, guide you within your budget, and provide the final specifications and drawings to make it come to life – all before you commit your hard-earned money to invest in the work. Our team is ready to help you with every aspect of that to ensure you feel comfortable moving forward and that you receive the kitchen of your dreams.

If a company is truly offers full service they will be able to provide you with architectural drawings ready for construction, a detailed scope of work and material specs, 3D CAD (computer assisted drafting) drawings that show what the project will look like, and the help of a designer to pick out cohesive materials and finishes. Smaller companies will usually not have the team in place to assist with any or all of these important components, and that can compromise the project before it begins. This isn’t as important for a small job like an exterior repair, but is highly advisable for a new kitchen.

Accuracy of Budgetary and Final Estimates

Part of being a quality remodeler is accurate budgets and guidance throughout the job. They must have confidence in their numbers as well as the knowledge to modify and apply them appropriately and on the fly for a given scope of work. We seek to give customers budgets at every crossroads to make sure things are moving along in a realistic way.

The first budget, as mentioned above, comes right away on the initial phone call so you can get a feel for where we have been historically and if that fits into your expected range. The second, more accurate one comes on site after we have talked through the job, made some suggestions, and gotten a general feel for what you’re expecting. The third, more accurate and detailed still, comes in the form of a detailed line-by-line item estimate covering the entire scope of work and hard numbers. Any revisions thereafter will be minor as we dial it in based on your requested adjustments for the final contract.

This peace of mind comes at a resource cost to R. L. Rider because of the time and software it takes to track and compile our historic numbers. We feel it is important to offer to our clients because pricing is only useful if it is accurate. Many smaller builders may not be able to provide this type of service due to lack of experience, staff, tracking of estimates and quotes, or a number of other reasons.

Contract and Payment Schedule

Proper contracts are there to protect both the contractor and the homeowner from a variety of situations and a must-have for any large remodeling job. They provide legal protection and avenues of recourse if any sticky situations come up for both parties. A further component in addition to the legal language of a well-done contract is a payment schedule as these also work to provide protection for both parties.

The builder is able to collect money as he completes each stage of the work. This ensures that he or she doesn’t fall behind on payments in case the customer has an issue with their funding. It serves to protect the client by holding the contractor accountable at each stage of the project, not having large chunks of money due all at one time, and holding a final payment in reserve until the punchlist is completed.

A common contract layout that less experienced contractors use is the 50% down/50% upon completion format. This isn’t bad per se, but customers dislike it because it is one of the easiest ways to pull a scam. If a dishonest builder can convince a homeowner to provide lots of cash up front he is able to drag his feet or never even perform the work and just steal the money. It isn’t ideal for the contractor either as he “gets ahead” with the initial billing but then “falls behind” at the halfway point of the project. While it is easier and a few less checks to write, both client and builder should take advantage of proper contractual protections and payment scheduling.

Final, Bottom-Line Cost to Customer

One area where a small remodeler will almost always have the advantage is final cost of the project to the customer. Whether it is because of less overhead (less staff, no office/shop/warehouse, no insurance, etc.), use of cheaper materials, no warranty of work, whatever, there are a huge range of reasons why we see this on a consistent basis. While this may be appealing on the surface, a lot of times there are hidden costs to using a cheaper contractor.

A huge advantage of our detailed price tracking and confidence in our estimates is that once we get to the final, fixed contract price, we do not ever write change orders unless the customer changes something after the contract is signed. An unfortunately common practice we see is “going in low” on a job to win the contract just to make it up with change fees after the job has kicked off. Asking for money is not fair to the customer, especially if it is to complete the job to the standards that were initially promised. It can feel like being held hostage as you stare at an incomplete job site with your life disrupted while the builder is holding out his hand for more money. This is a negative, stressful experience that we feel has no place in the remodeling world.

A common contract layout that less experienced contractors use is the 50% down/50% upon completion format. This isn’t bad per se, but customers dislike it because it is one of the easiest ways to pull a scam. If a dishonest builder can convince a homeowner to provide lots of cash up front he is able to drag his feet or never even perform the work and just steal the money. It isn’t ideal for the contractor either as he “gets ahead” with the initial billing but then “falls behind” at the halfway point of the project. While it is easier and a few less checks to write, both client and builder should take advantage of proper contractual protections and payment scheduling.

Capability to Handle All Aspects of Projects

When searching for a remodeler to hire it’s good to ask yourself if your contractor can handle every portion of the project. Said another way, is the firm you’re hiring truly a one stop shop or someone who is going to have to take bits and pieces and leave you to handle the rest? Or maybe our kitchen project is just too big for them handle in the first place? Some clients prefer this avenue, but most don’t want to playing general contractor in their free time.

Team composition is important, and a small shop is unlikely to be able to keep on top of all the administrative, sales, and job management responsibilities necessary for a quality customer experience. Larger teams with the right players that are comfortable and skilled in the type of project you are desiring are much better suited to tackling a full-gut kitchen as opposed to these smaller outfits. The team must be composed of trained design staff, salesman, and of course carpenters and tradesmen to perform the project the right way. Is this something you’re confident your budget firm can handle?

General Construction Knowledge and Code Adherence

Remodelers who want to run a successful business must stay at the forefront of the best building practices consistently or risk being left in the dust. Continuous advancement of knowledge and commitment to using the latest, cutting-edge techniques is a great sign that your builder is prepared to offer only the best service to you and your home. Knowledge of these new tools is gained by subscribing to industry magazines, attending seminars and trade shows, and sending employees to classes in which they can learn and practice the skills.

Staying up to date on the latest in remodeling does require investments of both time and money. It is easier to not review the newest edition of code changes. It is easier to not schedule a trade skills class and take your guys out of the field for multiple days. And it is easier to let your company slip on paying attention to the “latest and greatest.” Whether due to time constraints, not wanting to spend the money, or lack of serious commitment to their craft, it is usually the less-experienced, smaller companies that are unwilling to invest in the future – both the clients and their own.

Project Management and Updates

Managing the project and seeing it through to an on-time and on-budget completion is arguably the most important aspect a remodeler must bring to the table. It doesn’t matter how nice the sales and design team were if the workers can’t swing a hammer and see it through. A secondary component of this is a project management team that keeps the customer updated throughout the job and loops them in for any important decisions on a daily or weekly basis.

Once we again we come to the time and resource constraints of a smaller outfit who is unable to properly manage and keep a job on pace in addition to all the other tasks a remodeler must complete to keep the business working. It takes a dedicated, professional team who takes their role as a consumer’s advocate seriously. For a small job that just has a little repair or improvement you don’t need all the bells and whistles a larger remodeler offers – it just isn’t the correct fit. But for your kitchen remodel, or substantial addition for example, the people and processes need to be in place.

Realistic, Accurate Schedule

There are three components to successful scheduling: setting a realistic initial schedule, working with your in-house team and subcontractors to incorporate everybody else’s schedule, and working the plan consistently until the project is completed according to the date set. Scheduling a remodel increases the difficulty as there is often at least one trade that doesn’t go quite according to plan. There are ways to mitigate the impact such as scheduling in “slack” or make-up days, but these add time to a project. The only real way to handle it is to expect the unexpected, keep clients updated frequently, and keep a finger on the pulse of the project is with a management team that has seen everything.

Punchlist Completion

A punchlist is the final checklist that covers the completion of finishing touches on a project. We call ours a “Pre-completion checklist” because the term “punchlist” has gotten such a bad rap over the years and wanted to differentiate our process. This is mostly due to the reputation of unsavory builders letting a punchlist drag out because they had collected all of the money already and had no financial incentive to send their guys back there when other profitable projects were set to start.

Small builders can get stuck in this trap because they don’t have the manpower to see a job all the way through and must get on the next job to keep the lights on. We combat this with our excellent communication and attention to detail, but there are always a few minor items left at the end to “punch a job out.” In order to complete each punchlist is a timely manner, R. L. Rider sets a final walkthrough with the client where our project manager literally walks the job site with them and lets the client point out any pending items. As mentioned in our payment schedule section we keep a final retainer in the draw fund to make sure you know we are coming back and not collecting final payment until the job is 100% complete and to the client’s standards.

Final Warranty

Lots of companies in every field go out of business (especially when the economy isn’t as strong as it has been the last 4 or 5 years) and cannot support their promised, extravagant warranties. Or they offer an extremely limited warranty with lots of “gotchas” like only covering defective material (but not the labor to replace it). Or they don’t offer a warranty on their work at all and you are left in the dust if something is not quite right.

R. L. Rider Remodeling has been continuously serving Lansing and surrounding communities since 1924, and we know what it takes to keep our business healthy and serving customers for another 100 years! We always use the materials specified in our detailed line-item estimates and don’t shortchange the customer to make an extra buck or two. We have a hassle-free, 2-year warranty where you call and we quickly make things right – no ifs, ands, or buts. This isn’t to say that lots of remodelers don’t offer similar or better deals, but the question is can they back up their claims with experience and reliability? Not to mention staying in business long enough to ensure their clients will be taken care of now and well into the future…


As always – it depends on what you are looking for and what your specific project needs to be successful. There are plenty of jobs where it would make more sense to higher a smaller, less experienced firm or handyman type as they will be cheaper and probably able to get to the job sooner. In other cases, such as your full-gut kitchen remodel, it is probably best to go with the professional firm because we have heard too many horror stories to recommend going with anyone but a reliable contractor. Hopefully this overview has been enlightening to the differences between different remodelers and why pricing can vary so much. It truly does take an entire team with the right skills to make your job happen exactly the way you are dreaming of.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss your project and see if R. L. Rider Remodeling is the best fit for your job then please call us at 517-487-3713 and we will be happy to help you!

Whole House Remodeling: Why You Should Renovate Your Entire …

Having a whole-house remodel performed can be a large undertaking, but R. L. Rider Remodeling has an experienced team and process that makes it simpler and stress-free. If your entire house needs updating then there are a lot of good reasons to have all the scopes of work done simultaneously. In this article we will cover why it is more efficient and cost-effective to renovate large portions of the house in one fell swoop. While we understand that sometimes it is not feasible for financial or planning reasons to have your entire house remodeled at once, doing as much of a project as possible at one time is very advantageous to home owners and builders alike.

Faster and Simpler Financing

Once we work together and establish all of the scopes of work you would like to have completed, that can all be packaged into one easy package to present to your source of financing. Clients frequently rely on their bank to help them take out a home improvement loan against the current value of their house. If you have obtained a loan recently then you know that there is lots of paperwork, meetings, and approvals – lots of hoops to jump through before you can get the money for your project secured. If you divide your projects up into separate phases to be done over a period of months or years, you will usually need to get separate financing each time you wish to start a new phase. If you take our package all at once then you can eliminate lots of these annoying trips and meetings.

More Efficient Permits and Inspections

The permitting process for a substantial remodel will cover one or more of the following permit/inspection cycles: building (structural), plumbing, mechanical, and electrical. Each permit will require a rough and final inspection from your local city or township municipality. If you have all your renovations performed at once then the process is a lot shorter as you can stack the different inspections efficiently and have less applications and approvals to run past the municipality. If you split up the work then cost can be added because the number of permits and inspections must be multiplied by the number of phases. This adds time for each phase and costs will rise as there is a standard base fee in addition to additional fees based on the cost of the work overall. Time must also be accounted for the meeting with the inspectors, preparing the permits, sending/modifying the application, etc. It is always more efficient and cheaper to bundle tasks together if possible so we recommend doing as few phases of construction as possible to avoid this.

Cohesive Design with Fewer Limitations

One of the trickier tasks that remodelers must succeed at is blending a newly renovated area with the rest of the house. You may have seen projects that less experienced design/build contractors have performed where a freshly remodeled kitchen or bathroom sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the house. The finishes don’t match, the new design motif clashes (e.g. modern bathroom juxtaposed with farmhouse-style living room), and you generally feel a “jolt” going from room to room. If you do a large remodel or tackle the updating the entire house all at one time then it gives our designer a lot more to work with to make your vision come to life. There are always tricks and methods to make sure that your house still feels like home, and our design team will make sure you are getting a beautiful final result no matter the size of your scope(s) of work. But experience has shown us how nice it is for the customer and our staff to be able to work together on a cohesive canvas to ensure that everyone is satisfied with their remodel.

Less Expense on General Conditions

General conditions exist for every construction project, large or small. If you divide your scopes of work into phases e.g. common bathroom first, then the master suite, then the kitchen, you will multiply the general conditions and set up time for a given project. We already covered one in our discussion on permits and inspections above, but there are quite a few more general items that must happen for a successful remodel. Some common items on-site are the dumpster and debris disposal, set up and tear down of the site protection products like floor protection, dust control vacuums and mitigation systems, and site cleaning/final clean up of the job site. You must also consider the office and administrative time that goes into setting up a job – permits, inspection meetings, design time, material ordering, scheduling of trades, the list goes on. Any time you can combine these general condition costs into more efficient groups then you will see the bottom-line costs to you decrease.

Faster Overall Project Completion Time

There are a couple of ways that combining project scopes into one substantial whole-house remodel will make the overall time to project completion drop significantly. For one, our individual tradesmen’s scopes of work become a lot more efficient and less expensive the more they do. Tasks like drywalling and painting are based on economies of scale – the more there is to hang the cheaper the cost per square foot is. They must account for the same conditions as general contractors do and consider how many trips they need to make, how much material to buy, and how much time it will take their crews. An electrician doesn’t care if he is installing one light or twelve, he still has to order the material and send his team out to get the job done.

The trades that need to modify and expand house-wide support systems like your heating and cooling or plumbing can do their job a lot more effectively if they have the entire scope ready for them at one time. Think about an item like your electrical panel: it may need modification or even a new, expanded unit to handle the enhanced work load due to a remodel or addition. If they can do that at once instead of piecemeal it will make it easier to just take care of it ahead of time in anticipation of the new layout. If the HVAC team needs to modify the ducting to a new bathroom, then cap the ducting and wait for the next phase of the addition to start, then it will be less efficient than doing it all in one trip.

Less Disruption of Your Day-to-Day Life

The overall project is done faster and less disruptively when you perform the entire house at once because there are no “pauses” in the project between phases. If you do your bathroom, pause for a few months before starting the kitchen, and then pause again for a few months before starting the master suite then it can feel like your house has been under construction for an entire year. And at that point is has been! One reason clients love R. L. Rider’s process and team is because we can offer you expert advice and help make your experience as fun as possible. We have seen in the past when clients divide up their scopes they can start to get “remodeling fatigue” as you get tired of living on a job site with your life being disrupted with construction. The more you can minimize that by combining phases, the better.

When Should You Renovate Your Whole House at Once?

Remodeling is always at least a little messy and time-consuming, but R. L. Rider Remodeling makes it fun and exciting to get the home of your dreams. Since we have helped so many homeowners in Lansing and the surrounding areas over the years (since 1924!), we feel confident when we advise our clients on the best course of action for their needs. The first advice we always give when a project’s scope keeps on growing is to look for another home to move to. We never suggest or recommend a huge undertaking if the client would be better served by moving into a different house that meets their family’s needs. If you absolutely love a house (maybe you are tied to the area/schools, it has sentimental value, or it is a beautiful historical home) and want to remodel large portions of then we have the team to help you! Any time you have more than one scope of work to perform we recommend you have it completed all at one time under the umbrella of a single project for the reasons listed above.

Pros and Cons of moving out vs. staying at home during a rem …

Deciding to move forward with a large remodeling project is an exciting time – you’ll finally get your house exactly how you’ve envisioned it! Once the choice is made and the contract is signed, it is time to think about your living situation for the duration of the project. A lot of this depends on how substantial the scope of work is – obviously remodeling a single bathroom is less intrusive than renovating the entire home. We’ll cover some general pros and cons of staying at home versus moving out, timing considerations, alternative living options that clients have used in the past, and some advice on when we might recommend moving out.

The Pros and Cons of Moving Out During the Remodel

There are some definite positive aspects of moving out when the project begins – let’s cover those first. If you don’t think you can deal with any of the noise or dust that accompanies construction, then it is probably best to get away from the situation entirely. No matter the tactics and technologies we use to limit/mitigate those inconveniences, there is always some disruption that inherently accompanies tools, demolition, machinery, etc. While we do everything in our power to schedule noisy portions around your life and isolate/eliminate dust, there is no way to get it to zero. If that is a deal breaker it is best to move out for a little bit.

Moving out can actually reduce the cost of the project – provided your temporary lodging doesn’t cancel out that cost (e.g. staying with family or friends). For example, if you move out during a kitchen remodel our crew wouldn’t need to work up a temporary kitchen with your old appliances or worry about resetting plumbing fixtures each night during a bathroom remodel. The work hours could be extended earlier in the morning and/or later at night (provided that is okay with your local ordinances) to make for more efficient work days and a shorter overall project schedule. Our crews don’t need to worry about working around your family or pets and can work in a straightforward, efficient manner. (Not that we don’t love interacting with families and pets!)

The cons of moving out mostly deal with the cost and hassle of finding and living in an alternative to your home. We cover some options later on but it really can be like a minor move as you need to collect all the items that you’ll want day-to-day like school supplies, entertainment, your favorite pillow, whatever. Even if you get lucky and can stay somewhere inexpensively (or free), I don’t think you ever get as good of sleep when you’re not in your own bed. It’s not like you can’t come and go from your house even as our team is working but if you stop in every day then why move out in the first place? The added cost of moving out if you need to rent your lodging can be a deal breaker and should be carefully considered in the context of what the project itself is going to cost.

Positives and Negatives for Staying in Your House During a Construction Project

Priority number one is getting to sleep in my own bed for me to feel comfortable and personally I would be hard-pressed to leave my house during any sort of remodel besides a complete, total gut of my home. Even if it is a little messy and disruptive I would take that over the hassle of moving my family during a remodel. Another big aspect of remodeling is the interaction and participation you get you to have with our team. We like to work with the best carpenters and tradesmen and truly believe they provide a remodeling experience, not just an average construction project. Part of what you pay for when you hire R. L. Rider Remodeling is getting to see your project happen, take part in day-to-day decisions, and watch your kitchen come to life with some of the best craftsmen in Michigan.

The cons for staying home during your remodel are essentially the opposite of the pros of moving out. You do get a little of the noise and disruption and you have to navigate an active work site 24/7. We do everything possible to keep you comfortable but there is no feasible way to piece your kitchen back together each night in time for dinner! It might add a little bit of cost to the project overall due to a little less efficiency, but that will be more than made up for by not having to spend money on alternative housing for the project’s duration.

Timing Your Project Can Reduce or Eliminate Disruption

One of the main ways to minimize or eliminate the disruption of a remodel is timing the project correctly so that it barely impacts your lifestyle. Typically this can be achieved with a couple different approaches. Often we have clients who will be in the process of purchasing a home and who love almost everything about it… except for a few small details. R. L. Rider Remodeling will work with these soon-to-be home buyers and advise on budget and scope of work ahead of time. If the situation is coordinated correctly, we can perform the remodel (or at least the most intrusive parts) before the family moves in to their new home. This doesn’t always happen as their previous house may sell quickly, they want to get the move over with, etc., but it can be very nice if everything works out. We can also work in prioritized phases that complete the most important portions first and then pick away at the other items after you move in.

The other big one we see is getting the project scheduled during a big trip or vacation. Some clients spend time away in the winter to visit warmer climates, and others have an annual summer vacation destination where they take off for a month to see family and friends. Maybe you have a long cruise or road trip or are traveling out of the country. While you’ll obviously miss out on some of the day-to-day interaction, it can be a really cool experience to come back to a completely remodeled home ready to enjoy while skipping all the less enjoyable aspects! Again this is not for every situation, but it is something to consider when weighing your options.

Where Will We Stay During the Remodel?

Figuring out where you and your family will live during the course of a remodel is the next hurdle to jump if you do decide to move out. If you don’t have vacation/trip plans then obviously you need accommodations close to work, school, and your daily life. The cheapest route is to stay with members of your immediate or extended family who live nearby. Provided they have enough space, living with family members for a month or two can make you a lot closer with them as you share meals and free time that you would normally spend with just your immediate family.

For some people that sounds bearable, but for others that would be an absolute nightmare! Maybe one or two nights would be fine… two months is way too much for everybody’s sanity! If you are in this boat, the alternative is staying at an extended stay hotel/motel or finding a short-term rental. In years past, the only real option was renting out a room and living out of a suitcase to a degree. Now with the rise of sites like AirBNB and VRBO you can find a place that feels a lot more like home for as long as you’d like. Make sure to speak with the owner ahead of time and let them know your situation, but as long as you can find a decent one close to home they can be quite affordable.

Should We Move Out During the Remodeling Project?

We promised advice on whether you should move out or not during your project and want to provide that as a final wrap-up for this article. Since it is an added expense – whether financially or by getting tortured by your family – we recommend staying in your home during a remodeling project as a general rule of thumb. Construction in general, and remodeling in particular, is already expensive enough without the added costs of putting up your family elsewhere during the whole thing. R. L. Rider does enough to maintain your home’s comfort and functionality in all but the most extreme cases. The main exception is timing it around a vacation or trip as discussed a few sections ago. If you are able to coordinate your schedule with us well ahead of time then even the smallest projects are a good candidate to take off for and come back to a fresh, clean home!.

There are a few types of jobs that are best served by moving out temporarily. One example we did recently was a house-wide overhaul of the plumbing in a historic home. Upgrading the pipes meant we had to tear up many walls, shut off the water for multiple days, and generally spread out through the entire house. Similar projects might include reworking the entire electrical or HVAC (mechanical) systems as these also require working throughout the entire house and not having access to daily essentials. Another circumstance where you might want to move out is for a large-scale addition that requires lots of complex integration with the existing structure.

The decision is so dependent on the project that it really is a case-by-case basis – if you want advice on whether to stay home or move out then feel free to call R. L. Rider Remodeling and we will be happy to share our experience!

Outdoor Living Space Ideas to Make Your Own Enchanting Oasis

NOTE: This is a special guest post by Anna Fox of Señor Mist, a contractor who specializes in making outdoor living spaces comfortable. They utilize mist, fog, dust control, and heating components to help make your time outside pleasant. Anna is sharing her advice on turning your outdoor living area into an enjoyable oasis – check out her site for more at Thank you Anna!

Yes, you read that right. Your backyard can be your exclusive summer getaway! Just so you know, you don’t need a spacious outdoor area or a sprawling lawn to create a beautiful and soothing escape at home. You just have to put in the effort to turn it into one.

Transform your backyard into an enchanting private oasis with these seven simple yet wonderful ideas:

1. Create a relaxing atmosphere

If it’s an oasis you’re going for, then a relaxing atmosphere is everything. Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t so difficult to achieve.

For starters, make sure that your outdoor area will let you hide from the world (and pesky neighbors) whenever you desire. Next, come up with a serene and calming color scheme – think whites, greens, blues, and pastels. Cap it off with soothing music from your outdoor speakers.

2. Throw in comfy furnishings

What’s an outdoor oasis if it doesn’t offer premium comfort, right? Treat your patio as an extension of your indoor living area. Add plush pillows, cushions, comfy furniture, and area rugs. Maybe install some patio drop shades to keep the heat at bay. These furnishings will not only make the space look picture-perfect; they are necessary elements of a relaxing retreat!

3. Go crazy on the greenery

When it comes to creating an oasis, there is no such thing as “too green” or “too lush.” Don’t discriminate – whether it’s a towering shade tree or a knee-high shrub, add them all in!

Using plants of different sizes will add texture. Oh, and while you’re at it, supplement the green foliage with strategically-placed blooms. Tropical flowers would be great, don’t you think?

4. Build a fire pit

Lighting your outdoor firepit is one of the easiest ways to create a mood and turn one of those mundane nights into a special one! What’s even better is that it’s an upgrade that your entire family can enjoy. Fire it up for a weekend barbecue party, a night of s’mores with your friends, or simply to keep you warm on chilly night – whatever it is you have in mind, an outdoor fire will make things look and feel more exciting for sure.

5. Lighting is essential

If you’re one of those families who love to lounge or entertain in their patios later into the evening, then investing in quality outdoor lighting is something you should consider.

Luminous lights, for example, are wonderful at making a place feel warm and welcoming. You can also add candles, floating pool globes, and interesting overhead chandeliers – anything that suits your fancy.

Your patio looks beautiful during the day, but great lighting can transform into something dreamy and magical for the night.

6. Make it as private as possible

In the end, it all boils down to privacy. What’s the point of creating an “oasis” if you can’t use the space to truly relax, de-stress, and let go of all the cares of the world, right?

The thing is, privacy can be a bit of a challenge to achieve especially when you’re living in the city, so you have to be more inventive with your ideas.

If your good-old fence isn’t enough to hide you from the prying eyes of the world, you can plant shrubs and bushy hedges around the perimeter of your yard. Also, think about hanging an outdoor curtain around your pergola or building a permanent roof over your outdoor lounging areas to guarantee privacy at all times.

7. Don’t forget to add water

Can you picture an oasis without any water? We bet you can’t. After all, no oasis is complete unless you have somewhere to dip your toes.

It doesn’t have to be an elaborate lagoon. A low-maintenance water feature – like a stone fountain or a corner waterfall – will do. But if waterfalls and man-made streams aren’t your thing, then go ahead and splurge on a swimming pool or a pond. Water installations render a tranquil vibe and tie all the elements of the “oasis” together.

See? It’s not so hard to create an outdoor retreat your family will love to lounge in. All it takes is imagination, creativity, and the will to make it happen!

When to DIY and When to Hire a Contractor

NOTE: This is a special guest post by Darlene Mase of Zumper, a housing and apartment website. She’s sharing her tips on when to DIY, or “do it yourself,” and when to reach out to a professional contractor or tradesman to work on your remodeling project. You can read more of her posts at Thanks Darlene!

When you purchase a home, a mortgage payment isn’t your only concern. There’s homeowners’ insurance, utilities, property taxes, and, of course, repairs. With an abundance of DIY television networks, YouTube videos, and Pinterest tutorials, we might sometimes be tempted to save a few dollars and do home repair work ourselves. However, it’s important that we don’t overestimate our abilities lest we find ourselves in over our heads and past the point of no return. Granted, while there are tons of DIY home repairs that are fairly easy, there are other times when it’s a good idea to hire a contractor. Deciding if something is a DIY remodel or if hiring a contractor is necessary is pretty simple, and we’re here to help you make the decision.

Do hire a contractor if there is a high level of risk involved

I’m pretty confident in your ability to replace the hardware in your kitchen, change a cabinet door, and even paint an accent wall. Easy. No problem. Piece of cake. However, there are riskier jobs where hiring a contractor might be a good idea. Electrical jobs are a prime example. One wrong move and you could zap yourself into oblivion or set your house ablaze, so in instances like this, it’s almost always best to hire a contractor.

Don’t hire a contractor if you’re short on cash

Again, if a job could kill you (like roofing or electrical work), it’s a good idea to hire a contractor. However, there are other things, like refinishing cabinets, insulating the attic, and painting the walls that you could do yourself. Anytime you hire a contractor, it’s going to be more expensive than completing the project yourself, and most of the costs you are going to incur are labor costs. If you can easily accomplish a task without killing yourself or wrecking your home, go for it; do it yourself.

Do hire a contractor if a permit is required

Generally speaking, if a remodel or renovation requires a permit, it is a pretty big undertaking and too complicated for a DIY project. Building permits are documents provided by a governing agency that allows you or a contractor to proceed with construction or remodeling on your property. The purpose of a building permit is to ensure that the project complies with local standards for land use, safety, zoning, and construction. Even if you’re able to secure a permit without a problem, the mere fact that you need one might be indication enough that perhaps you should hire a contractor.

Don’t hire a contractor if the job is simple

Don’t hire a contractor out of laziness. Some jobs, though they require a bit of effort, are simple enough that you can do on your own. You can save a good chunk of change by tiling a small area, installing a kitchen backsplash, and even laying down some linoleum or vinyl flooring yourself.

Do hire a contractor if you’re short on time

A contractor likely has a crew that he or she can call and can tackle even the largest of remodels in a few weeks’ time. However, should you decide a DIY remodel, you will be doing all the work yourself or, if you’re lucky, with the help of friends and family. But if you’re on a tight schedule (like trying to sell your house, for example), you’re better off hiring a contractor. That way, you can rest assured the job will be completed in a timely manner.

Don’t hire a contractor if you haven’t shopped around

Many people are quick to pull the trigger without exercising prior due diligence. Before retaining the services of a contractor, it’s important to do a little research first. Most contractors offer free estimates, so call around and find the best deal. You also want someone with good reviews. If you’ve heard about someone by word of mouth, then they’re usually a pretty safe bet, but if you’re just shopping around online, you’ll want to read reviews from previous customers and check out their standing with the Better Business Bureau.

Do hire a contractor if specialized skills are required

Licensed welders, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians are generally required to hold some sort of degree or certification from a trade school. That’s because these types of professions require specialized skills that can’t be easily learned via a YouTube tutorial. If you’re trying to replace the plumbing in your house, put in a new air conditioning unit, or modify your home’s wiring, it’s best to hire a contractor and let the pros do it.

DIY projects leave you with a sense of accomplishment, and sometimes they can even be fun. If your home is in need of a repair or remodel and completing that project is well within your skill set, go for it. Hit the hardware store and run wild. However, there are certain tasks that are simply too dangerous or too complicated. In situations like these, hiring a contractor, though more expensive at the onset, can keep you from ruining your home, killing yourself, or having to pay someone to properly complete the project after you’ve done it and failed.

Author’s Bio:

Darlene Mase lives in Newnan, Georgia with her husband and daughter. She is a stay-at-home mom and works as a freelance writer for and other popular sites. During her free time, Darlene enjoys traveling, hiking, camping, cycling, gardening, caving, kayaking, or anything else outdoors.

What Makes High-end Remodeling Labor More Expensive Than Oth …

There is a shortage of skilled tradesmen in the construction industry which has been putting upward pressure on the rates at which contractors must bill out their labor. Multiple factors contributed to this phenomenon, including the lack of trade school support, a large percentage of tradesmen being forced to exit the field during the financial crisis, and general preference toward safer/less physical white color jobs to name a few. This has had an industry-wide effect that has stretched across the country, especially in dense urban areas which have more firms and are naturally more competitive.

For the high-end remodeler this has had some meaningful effects on how they must approach the labor market in order to both attract and retain the top talent they need to complete their customer’s projects to the standards expected. First and most obvious is they must pay higher wages to their employees. Second is they need to offer a superior benefits package focusing on the items employees want the most. Lastly, more time is spent finding the right people as the skills and standards are generally higher across the board meaning it is more difficult to find the craftsman that can handle the many responsibilities they are tasked with.

Let’s dive in to examining these factors in more detail to get a deeper understanding of what makes high-end remodeling labor more expensive than other types of contractors. Some of these cover the benefits that the carpenters receive directly, and others are secondary considerations like extra training and skills expectations.

Higher Base Pay

There is no way around it, to even get the attention of very experienced, high-quality tradesmen you need to offer competitive wages to get the conversation started on the right foot. Wages have been going up steadily since roughly 2011 for all trades such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, apprentices, etc.

Health, Vision, Dental, and Additional Insurance

Based on our experience having conversations with hundreds of job candidates we have found that insurance is at or near the top of nearly everybody’s list. Construction is inherently more dangerous than most fields due to the nature of working with heavy equipment, demolition, hazardous materials, etc. Therefore, many employees desire insurance beyond basic healthcare. Many like to have life and disability policies in addition, plus coverage for their family is always a bonus.

Retirement Savings Opportunities

More and more companies are offering percentage matched 401k or other retirement savings accounts to assist their employees with security long after they are done swinging a hammer. Offering to match employees’ contributions can help build a team atmosphere and make everyone feel like they are investing their time in something bigger than themselves. Other options we have seen are employee ownership of company shares and profit-sharing that is dispersed quarterly or yearly.

Vacation Time and Paid Sick Days

Just like anybody else, sometimes craftsmen need to take some time off to spend with their family or attend to their health. Having the security of paid time off ensures that employees don’t have to worry about missing out on a paycheck in order to keep their personal life in order. In the short term it is not ideal to miss out on that labor, but that sort of trust tends to pay its way forward in the form of happier employees, better work quality, and overall client satisfaction in the long term!

Additional Fringe Benefits

We have found that the more you can offer employees, the more they feel invested in the company and in doing the absolute best job for our customers. Some additional fringe benefits to consider are vehicle maintenance/gas allowances, tool allowances, performance bonuses based on achieving goals, clean company uniforms, etc. Every company is different and it is up to individual companies to decide what benefits package is right for their team.

“On the Books” Payment and Proper Insurance

Some of the biggest costs of following the proper avenues of doing business are the so-called “labor burden” of paying employees. This factors everything that accompanies the base wage rate such as payroll taxes and fees, the benefits listed previously, and probably the biggest of all – insurance! Worker’s compensation and liability insurance can add 20 cents or more per dollar paid to the labor rate, but it is absolutely crucial to protect property-owners, business-owners, and employees alike. You may think you are getting a deal by hiring a handyman who pays his team in cash “under the table” until you run into a mess of liability when one of his employees gets hurt on your property. There are lots of costs to doing business the “right way” and it is important to consider those.

Continuing Education and Industry Training

New materials and better building methods are constantly coming out and it takes a dedication to knowledge and doing things the right way to stay abreast of industry best practices. This involves taking the time to schedule and commit to attending trade shows, hosting seminars, and inviting in trade partners to advise our team on how to best utilize the people and products we work with.

Commitment to Safety

Running a safe job site is priority number one, and that takes a committed approach to make sure everything goes right every single day. Regular safety reviews, requiring proper PPE (personal protective equipment), and detailed project management are a few of the many factors that we stress. A remodeling project should be an enjoyable and stress-free experience and that starts with keeping all employees and members of our clients’ families safe.

Lead Carpenter Positional Flexibility

Many remodeling specialists utilize the lead carpenter system to help provide an excellent customer experience and smooth project delivery. Lead carpenters need to wear a lot of hats so not just anyone can do it. Not only do they need to be skilled in the field at a variety of tasks, they also take on some management and customer service responsibilities. They are your main point of contact, they keep the schedule on track, they meet with inspectors and tradesmen, and they juggle multiple jobs at once. Since they have lots of responsibility above and beyond working with their hands it can take longer to find good ones and they command higher pay than a typical carpenter.

Highly Skilled and Experienced Craftsmen

Often contractors are able to get away with hiring less-skilled labor as the projects they perform are more straightforward with less thinking and fine detail. For example, someone who installs roofing or siding all day, every day can get proficient at those skills relatively quickly. A skilled carpenter must be able to think on his or her feet and apply a huge range of skills on a daily basis. As a contrast to the roofer, a carpenter might have to plan and construct a set of stairs, install custom crown moulding, and build a vanity base cabinet in-house – all in the same day. These skilled craftsmen have spent years learning and honing their numerous skills. Much like any other career, the more you advance yourself, the more salary you can expect to earn as you move up the skilled trades ladder.

Hopefully this overview of what goes on behind the scenes when hiring the best talent has been useful in understanding the wide range of labor rates you may come across when searching for a contractor for your project. As a good rule of thumb, you can expect to “get what you pay for” just like any other product or service. Skilled craftsmen are not a commodity and they deserve to earn a fair income with benefits for the services and knowledge they provide. This is not to say that a high-end remodeler is the right fit for every job either. Sometimes, say for residing your house, it would make sense to hire someone who is less skilled overall but who is very quick at that task. Other times, say for a full kitchen remodel, you would want a team that works exclusively on complex projects who is confident in tackling any issues that may crop up. As always it is about finding the right fit for your particular project.