Finding the Right Contractor in 10 Easy Steps

The following has been adapted from “Ten Tips for Hiring a Painting Contractor” by the Paint Quality Institute.

Have you ever tried to find the right contractor to do some work in your home?  Have you ever lived through some of the home-remodel horror stories we hear about from time?  I read about one the other day:  a couple bought a historical home in a fancy historical section of some fancy little town somewhere–not around here–but still, a nice, quiet upscale neighborhood.  They bought a nice house and then hired a couple contractors to come in and do some work to perfect their new home.

Well, they brought one company in to do some work digging out the basement and underpinning the foundation.  (Yes, I’m sure you can see where this is going.)  This contractor, it turned out, didn’t know quite as much about excavating as he had suggested to the couple.  Subsequently, he excavated so thoroughly around the home that one of the basement walls collapsed.  Which of course, caused parts of the house to collapse.  Which, of course, caused the rest of the house to collapse.  Which, consequently, was so catastrophic that it caused parts of a neighbor’s house to collapse.  Everybody made it out alright, but what a mess–what a nightmare!  And what a way to start a relationship with a new neighbor:  “Hi.  I’m Tim and this is my wife Alice.  We just moved in and knocked our house down on top of yours.  Can we use your restroom?”

At any rate, that’s an extreme example, but we’ve all heard about other situations that, while not as horrific, were still horrible, painful and depressing for the folks involved.  And because of that, many of us get nervous at the very thought of hiring somebody to do any kind of work in our home.  We wonder if we’ll hire the right company.  We wonder how we’ll know that the company we do hire is honest.  We wonder how we can be assured they’ll do quality work and on and on and on.

Well, because of that, I figured we’d breeze through a great list of tips based on a similar list produced by the the Paint Quality Institute.

So, without any further ado, here are 10 Ways to Make Sure You Hire the Right Contractor:

Number One:  PREPARE

Before you sit down with your contractors to talk about the work, sit down with your spouse and compile a list of the work you expect to be done on a given project.  This gives you a list of specific items you can hand to each contractor to make sure nothing’s forgotten and also, to make sure they’re quoting on the same work.

Number Two:  GET MULTIPLE QUOTES

Don’t limit yourself to working with the first company you contact.  Talk to multiple contractors and get quotes from each of them.  And don’t be afraid to let your contractors know that you will be getting different quotes.  You don’t need to be rude about it, or use it bully someone into giving you a bottom of the barrel price, but it never hurts to be honest and let them know that they should put “their best foot forward” so to speak.

Number Three:  ANALYZE THE QUOTES and CLARIFY THE WORK PROCESS

And by “analyze” I don’t mean simply look at the price tag and decide from there.  I mean analyze every aspect of the quotes.  If one of your contractors gives you a quote that says “Paint Living Room for $400”, you owe it to yourself to dig deeper.  Especially if the other quotes came in higher.  Make sure you find out what the contractor means when he says “Paint Living Room.”  Does that mean 1 coat of paint?  Does it mean 2?  Does it mean he’ll prep the walls?  Fill nail holes?  Patch dings?  Move your furniture out?  Paint around it?  Etc.  Look at the quotes, and compare the work that’s being done–don’t just look at the price and go with the cheapest.

Number Four:   TALK ABOUT TIMING

Before any work starts in your home, make sure you sit down with the contractor and talk about timing.  How long will the project reasonably take?  When will he be able to start?  How long will he work each day?  And, most importantly, what happens if the work is not finished on time?  Hammer out the solution the contractor will offer if the work takes unreasonably longer than expected.  Don’t wait to start talking about this until there’s a problem–that’s way too late.  Deal with this ahead of time–before you’ve even hired a contractor–and get it in writing.

Now, with that said, I want to encourage you to focus on my line about the project taking “UNREASONABLY LONGER” than you expected.  Problems will arise in almost every remodel project–things you couldn’t have predicted.  If your contractor is working diligently through these complications, don’t hold him to unreasonable expectations.  Use this concept as a safeguard to protect yourself from a negligent or disinterested contractor, not as a means to wring money out of a contractor who’s doing his/her best in a bad situation.

Number Five:  ASK ABOUT THE WARRANTY

Most contractors will warrant their work for about a year or so.  Find out what your contractor will warrant and for how long well before you hire him.  When your paint has peeled six months after the work was completed is NOT the right time to explore the warranty options.  The time to do that is well before any money leaves your hand!

Number Six:  ASK FOR REFERENCES

Every good, trustworthy contractor out there will GLADLY supply you with a list of references–names and numbers of folks he’s worked for in the past.  And when he does supply you with this list, CALL THE PEOPLE.  Just because you’ve received a list of names from your contractor doesn’t mean that those people liked the work she did for them.

Number Seven:  PERSONAL APPEARANCES MATTER

In so many other situations in life, we should never judge by outward appearances, but when it comes to business, appearances matter.  If your contractor shows up looking like he just crawled out of bed, hadn’t shaved for 3 weeks, and possibly has been living under a bridge somewhere, understand he will likely bring this same level of professionalism to your job.

Number Eight:  BUSINESS ETIQUETTE MATTERS

In the same way that personal appearances matter, so does business etiquette.  Did your contractor return your calls in a reasonable amount of time?  Did she make it on time to all your appointments?  Was she professional in speech? In dress?  In the manner in which she talked about addressing your concerns?  If you run into a contractor who can’t make it on time to meetings, can’t return your phone calls in a reasonable amount of time, and so on . . . I’d run away quickly.  If that is the best he can muster when he’s trying to secure your business, how much less is he going to bring when he’s actually got your money?

Number Nine:  WHAT PAINT WILL BE USED?

Work out these details ahead of time as well.  Some contractors have certain products they want to work with, but typically, you’re going to be much better off (your job will last longer, will apply easier, wash up better, etc.) if you make sure you use high quality (RepcoLite) paint!

Number Ten:  PAY NOBODY UNTIL THE WORK’S DONE

Now, this is a no-brainer, but don’t hand over the full amount of money until after you’ve had time to inspect the finished work.  Oh, you may need to give some money up front for supplies, paints, etc., but don’t hand over a final check until everything is finished.  Don’t do that even if your painter shows up and tells you the “guys will be finished tomorrow and I was just in the neighborhood, could I get the check now?”  Nicely and politely say “no.”  Even if you trust your contractor.  Even if your contractor is your Brother-in-Law.  Handing money over before a project is finished is a recipe for disaster.  Don’t do it!

And there you go–10, long-winded tips to make sure you end up with the right contractor.  Any comments?  Any feedback?

Must-Have Tools for Every Homeowner

Many of the common home improvement jobs we run into during the course of owning a home are of the small variety:  little touch-ups on our trim, patching some dinged-up drywall, and stuff like that.

In and of themselves, these jobs take 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there.  But, unfortunately, many of these little jobs require some specific tools.  If we don't have the right tools on hand, the tendency is to put the job off, to wait on it until we get the right supplies.

And when we do that, it doesn't take long for the jobs to pile up into mountains of work.  Suddenly the 20 minute job is joined by 14 other 20 minute jobs and we find ourselves looking at hours and hours of work.

Having the right tools on hand means you can accomplish jobs quickly and easily.  You can basically cross them off your "To-Do" list before you even put them on.  And best of all, compiling this "emergency kit" of "Must-Have" tools should cost as little as $50.

Let's Get to the List:

rollerframeROLLER FRAMES.  We recommend that you have at least one 9" roller frame and one 4" roller frame in your kit.  Most folks already have one or more of these, but if you don't, then you'll want to make sure you pick up one or more.  Having a 9" roller frame is great for those larger areas you need to paint.  And the 4" frame is perfect for small jobs and touch-ups.

coverROLLER COVERS.  Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that your roller frames are only going to be useful if you've got a couple covers to go on them.  At RepcoLite, we recommend that you have at least one 9" cover and one 4" cover on hand at all times.  And, if at all possible, make sure they're new.  Used roller covers can work out OK for priming, but if you're trying to do any touch-ups or repainting, you'll want a brand new roller cover.

DSCF00229" ROLLER TRAYS.  Most folks have a roller tray or two sitting around in their basement or their work room or possibly even their garage.  However, if you're not one of those people, then get your hands on one.  You could purchase a standard metal tray (which works well with cheap, disposable tray liners) or you could opt for a cheaper plastic tray like the one pictured at the left.

DSCF00174" ROLLER TRAY.  Besides making sure you have a standard 9" roller tray on hand, you should also buy a handful of disposable 4" trays as well.  These 4" trays are great for all sorts of little touch-up work and other small projects.  They clean up well and will easily last you through 3 or more paint jobs.  Best of all, they usually retail for just over $1.00.

DSCF0020THE CHINEX EXCALIBUR BRUSH from CORONA.  OK, this is the one area where we'd recommend that you splurge a little.  This brush from Corona is comprised of special filaments that are chemically engineered to release latex paints.  This means a couple of things.  First, the brush will apply latex paints remarkably well.  Secondly (and more importantly, in my book), this means the brush will clean up easily.  Literally, you can swirl this brush around in a bucket of water for about 30 seconds and then run it under a tap for 10-15 seconds more and it will be perfectly clean.  That's why we recommend it for your "Emergency Kit".  The ease with which it cleans up makes it less of a pain for you to switch colors and accomplish multiple little touch-ups quickly and easily.

DSCF0017 copySPACKLING COMPOUND.  Another key component for your "Home Repair Emergency Kit" is an 8 oz containter of White Lightning Lightweight Spackling Compound.  It's easy to work with, it dries quickly and resists shrinking and, best of all, it's a breeze to sand!  Having a tub of this stuff on hand at all times means you're always ready to patch a ding in your drywall or fill nail holes.

DSCF0013PUTTY KNIVES.  If you're going to stock up on a little bit of spackling compound, then you better get a few putty knives to go with it.  Now, if you want some high-quality knives, you can buy them at RepcoLite for about $5.00 - $7.00 or so.  But if you want something cheaper for your "Emergency Kit", look into the plastic knives we stock.  Oh, they're not going to last forever, but if you're just filling a few holes or doing a little puttying, they'll be fine.  You can purchase them in 1", 2" and 3" sizes--each one less than $1.00.

Putty6" and 10" JOINT KNIVES.  However, though plastic knives will work out alright for most patching work, you'll probably want to invest in one or two drywall joint knives.  These are 6" or 10" knives that run between $4.50 and $7.25 and they're very handy to have if you're filling any large areas--a definite must-have in your kit.

473717-20130816061522-scotchblue-painters-tape-for-delicate-surfacesTAPE.  Always have a roll of safe-release painter's blue tape from 3M around.  Sure, you could purchase cheaper rolls of tape, but the safe-release tape is nice because it can be used on so many different surfaces.  It's the only tape I know of that can perform well on walls, trim, freshly painted areas, and wallpaper.  Regular tape is limited as to where it can be used, but the safe-release 3M tape can be used in almost any situation you encounter.  And, as an added benefit, this tape offers remarkably crisp cut-in lines.

dropcloth_canvasDROPCLOTHS.  Besides masking tape, we'd also recommend that you purchase a 12' x 15' or  so plastic dropcloth.  These aren't expensive and they can be used for any number of little jobs that come up:  from protecting your floors while you're painting to protecting your furniture from dust if you're doing any remodeling.

paperSANDPAPER.  One of the easiest tools to overlook is sandpaper, yet it's something that we used in many typical home repair projects.  Whether you're repainting, patching walls, or painting furniture, sandpaper plays a critical role in the process.  So get your hands on six to ten sheets of 220 grit, 150 grit, and 120 grit paper.  Those are the most commonly used grits and having a stock of each one on hand will help you out immensely.

Silicone Caulk: The Cheese Grater of the Home Improvement World

danger2OK, that title is convoluted at best.  But it’s more attention-grabbing than the first title I tossed up there:  Silicone Caulk–Use With CAUTION.  Yeah, after typing that, I almost fell asleep.  So I changed the title in the hopes of infusing it with energy and lively interest.

Anyway, if you read the earlier post about cheese graters, you’ll realize what I’m getting at here.  If you missed the post about cheese graters . . . well, you need to check it out (here!).

The point of that post was to poke fun at myself and stress the point that there are certain items out there . . . in the wide, scary world . . . that look innocent, but can really screw up your day.  Cheese graters and dental picks are just a couple.

Today, we’re shifting back into the world of home improvements and were going to talk, as the title suggests, about the Cheese Grater of the Home Improvement World:  Silicone Caulk.

See, silicone caulk, if you’re not familiar with it, is a type of caulk that sticks tenaciously to almost any surface.  It’s also extremely water resistant.  Those two qualities make it tremendously useful . . . but also, “sneakily” dangerous.

Let me explain:  silicone caulk is so resistant to almost everything, that nothing . . . NOTHING . . . will stick to it.  It repels water, moisture, paint and even itself.  And that’s where the danger lies.

Every now and then, folks pick up a tube of silicone caulk by accident at a home improvement warehouse.  They just wander down an aisle, grab a tube and take it home.  Then, they go ahead and do all their caulking.  They caulk around their woodwork, around their windows, around their crown molding . . . they caulk everywhere.

And then, after all that work is done, they start painting.  And that’s when they notice that the paint doesn’t seem to be sticking.  At all.  Wherever they applied their caulk, they discover the paint won’t adhere.

Now normally, when this happens, people are sad.  They’re frustrated.  They’re angry.  But they’re usually not flipping out yet.  And this is because they don’t understand the nature of silicone caulk.  They figure they’ll just buy some new caulk–some paintable caulk–and they’ll put that over the silicone.  Or, worst-case-scenario, they’ll prime all the silicone caulk with a special primer before they paint.  Either way, they figure there’s a relatively simple solution.

But unfortunately, there’s not.  As I mentioned earlier, nothing will stick to silicone caulk.  I even used ALL CAPS to express that idea.  Nothing will stick to silicone–not even silicone.  And that means the only way to truly fix the problem is to remove the caulk.  Completely.

Now, for some people, caulking and painting a room is bad enough.  Not everybody wakes up every morning, just longing for another paint job to accomplish.  But even if you like painting and caulking, nobody likes caulking, painting, discovering a problem, removing the caulk, scrubbing the walls, re-caulking and finally re-painting.  That’s just no fun at all.

And that’s why I’m suggesting that silicone caulk needs to be used with caution.  In the right situation, it can’t be beat.  In a bathroom, between your tub surround and your tub, it’s ideal.  But in an area where you plan to do some painting . . . avoid it like the plague.

Taking the Confusion out of the Painting Equation

bigstock-picture-of-bored-and-tired-you-87363971_smallerFor the last couple posts, I’ve been recounting sad and potentially awkward moments that served to illustrate my broader “paint point.”  See, by telling you all about my pie making fiasco or my scooter-building screw up, I tried to convey the importance of following a recipe or a set of instructions.

When you follow the steps for any given project, things go smoothly.  When you branch out on your own and think for yourself and build or bake on the fly . . . well, it’s not uncommon to have experiences like those I wrote about.

Well, this idea–following a specific order or set of instructions–doesn’t only apply to scooters and pies.  It also can help you make sure that any decorating project you tackle goes smoothly and turns out well.

Believe it or not, there’s a definite order in which you should make your home decorating selections.  Working outside of that order . . . or jumbling that order up . . . often leads to complications and frustration and confusion.  To keep your project on track, follow this order:

FURNITURE:  Start with the furniture that will go in your newly remodeled room.  If the furniture is not changing, move on to the next step.  But if you’re thinking about purchasing new . . . here’s the place to start.  Don’t start with a trip to the paint store–start at the furniture stores.  And the reason is simple:  nothing more directly relates to the comfort of a room than the furniture we put in there.  When it comes to selecting furniture, you want to have the world “wide-open” in front of you.  You don’t want to be limited to a handful of color options because you’ve already painted your walls.  You want absolute freedom to pick whatever couch or chair or bed or table suits your fancy–no decorating limits at all.

FLOORING:  After furniture, it’s time for you to pick out flooring.  Again, you don’t want to be limited by paint colors when it comes to your flooring selections, so choose them early in the project. This may not seem important, but it is.  We see it all the time at RepcoLite:  folks find paint colors they like and then look at carpet.  They find a style of carpet they love, but then find themselves utterly depressed and frustrated when they learn that carpet doesn’t come in a color that works with the colors they’ve painstakingly selected.  Avoid this mistake by starting with carpet very early in the process.

WINDOW TREATMENTS:  Now, this doesn’t apply to every room or every remodel project, but when it comes into play, be sure to select these items before moving on to your paint.

BATHROOM & KITCHEN FIXTURES:  If you’re working in your bathroom or kitchen, this is the point–after floors and window treatments (and furniture if applicable)–where you would nail down your faucet and fixture selections.  By this point, you’ll have some idea where your project is heading and you should have very little trouble selecting the right items.  In fact, it’s very interesting.  Start with this step (as I’ve done) in a bathroom remodel and you’re only heading for heartache.  You walk into the store, look at hundreds of options of faucets and you pick one based on what you think looks cool.  Later, as the room starts to take shape, more often than not, you find that while your faucet may look cool . . . it no longer fits with the decorating scheme you’ve got going.  However, if you approach this selection at this stage in the process . . . after your floor and window treatments . . . chances are you’ll be able to instantly eliminate 1/2 of the faucets.  You won’t want the bronze ones.  Or maybe, with your decorating scheme, you’ll realize that the chrome-look is definitely not going to work.  Whatever you decide, the bottom line is that choosing this item at this stage in the process will simplify your selection process.

LIGHTING:  This step could easily be lumped in with the above step.

ARTWORK & WALL HANGINGS:  Now’s the time when you start to flesh out your decorating.  You’ve found furniture, flooring, window treatments, fixtures (lights, faucets, etc.) and now’s the time you start putting some color and fun on your walls.  Pick items that will look good with all your other selections–pick items that will develop your theme or the feel you want the room to have.  Pick these items and limit them only by the items you’ve already selected.

PAINT:  Believe it or not . . . NOW’S finally the time you head to the paint store.  See, paint should be your last selection in the entire process.  And the reason is very simple and very straightforward:  paint is changeable.  When you find a couch you like, you’ll probably have 10 (at most) potential fabric options.  Same with everything else on our list.  The only thing that is completely fluid when it comes to decorating is your paint.  At RepcoLite, we can match your paint to whatever colors you need.  We can pull a fleck of color out of your throw pillow.  We can pull colors out of your artwork.  We can match a twist of fabric in your carpet.  Paint is completely adjustable and, as such, should be the last thing you select.

Following that flow of events when it comes to any decorating project is going to simplify your project immensely.  The days of frustration and confusion will slip away and you’ll find yourself actually enjoying the journey–not just anticipating the destination.

Painting Metal Roofs: Some Do’s and Don’ts

bigstock-roofer-builder-worker-with-pul-52436509_smallerEvery summer, we talk to a number of folks in our stores who are curious about the right way to paint an old, rusting metal roof.  They want to know what types of products to use, they want to know the steps involved, they want to know what cleaners they should purchase (and also, at least a little bit, they’re wanting us to tell them that the surface is unpaintable and should just be left as is).

Well, sadly, for many of these folks, we don’t tell them to leave it as is.  You just can’t do that.  Metal roofs, when they exhibit signs of rust, need to be painted in order to be protected.  Failing to protect and coat them properly will lead to larger and more expensive (and, of course, painful) failure down the road.

So, let’s cut to the chase:  if you’ve got an old metal roof that needs to be painted, here’s what you need to do and what you should use:

Supplies:

Wire Brush or a wire wheel on a side grinder.
TSP cleaner
Power Washer
Rollers, Brushes, etc.
Met’l Clad 449 Rust Inhibitive Metal Primer
Met’l Clad or Glo-Enamel oil base topcoat in desired color
Ladders/scaffolding as needed
Scrub brush

Steps:

Wire brush or grind as much of the loose, flaking rust off the roof as possible.  This is a critical key to the success of your project, so take the time necessary to do this part right.

Once the rust is removed, it’s best to still wash the roof down to remove any grease, grime, or contaminant that might be there.  Apply TSP (mixed according to directions on label) and scrub with the scrub brush.  (And this probably doesn’t need to be said, but BE CAREFUL.  A wet roof is obviously extremely slippery and potentially hazardous–so do as much of the cleaning as possible from a scaffold or a ladder.)  Once you’ve scrubbed the roof, rinse it off well with a power washer and allow it to dry.

After the roof has dried, simply apply the 449 Met’l Clad primer using a brush, roller or spray.  Allow this product to dry for at least 24 hours.

Once the primer coat has dried, we recommend that you apply two coats of your oil-based finish paint–whether it’s the Met’l Clad or the Glo-Enamel.  Products should have about 24 hours between coats.

Tips:

Start early in the day and quit when the roof gets too hot to work on.  Working on a roof when it’s extremely hot can be tough on you . . . and tough on the paint you’re trying to apply.

Exercise extreme caution.  Whenever working at heights of any level, remember to take things slowly and take nothing for granted.  One slip or missed footing can result in months and months of recovery time!  So be careful!

While Latex paints are absolutely perfect for the sides of metal buildings, they’re not quite as durable for the roof.  Remember, a roof doesn’t have just the sun to deal with:  it’s pelted with driving rain and is subjected to Michigan winters and piled up snow.  All of these things will damage a Latex paint quicker than they will an oil.  So, for your metal roofs, stick to oil!