Making Exterior Changes: Working with Professionals

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As mentioned in Section 1, you need information about the skills, abilities, and responsibilities of various professionals before you decide who should help with your project.

The general building contractor can handle all aspects of a re modeling or new construction project. Often a carpenter by trade, the contractor may actually do the work or divide it among subcontractors.

The subcontractor is also a con tractor, but one who specializes in a particular trade. For example, the plumber, electrician, and roofing specialist are all subcontractors.

The general contractor has the nuts-and-bolts experience to see any job to completion. That means responsibility for getting the work done properly—on time, with high- quality workmanship, and in accordance with local codes. Specific responsibilities of the general con tractor include:

  • Hiring the necessary work crew and subcontractors and assuming liability for the workers’ safety and compensation insurance
  • Arranging for building permits and for on-site inspections
  • Selecting and scheduling delivery of building materials
  • Offering limited design assistance and advice on what’s possible in the way of materials and what’s practical in time and procedures. The architect who specializes in remodeling and renovation can offer you three important services.
  • Design services. Alter discussing your remodeling goals and needs, the architect will create several concept plans for you to consider. He or she will show you sketches and floor plans to help you visualize the ideas and will revise these plans until you find a solution that satisfies your particular requirements. The architect will also help you to estimate costs and to make the design financially feasible.
  • Working plans and specifications. Once the design is finalized, the architect can produce a set of finished plans and specifications for you to submit to the building department, contractors, and subcontractors.
  • Supervision. If you choose, the architect will supervise your entire project, including suggesting various contractors, sending the plans out for bids, and inspecting the progress of the work on a regular basis.

Some architects belong to a professional association, the American Institute of Architects. Membership in the AIA is voluntary, however, and its lack isn't a reflection of an architect’s competence.

Other types of professionals offer many of the same services as an architect. You may hire them for design, working drawings, supervision, or all three. The method of payment, either by fee or on an hourly basis, is also similar.

The building designer offers general design skills much like those of the architect. The major difference is a matter of schooling and credentials, although the state may impose limits as to the extent of projects a building designer can do. The building designer may be licensed as a designer and have undergone formal training; or he or she may simply have experience in the building trades. Membership in the American Institute of Building Designers is signified by the letters AIBD.

The kitchen designer is a specialist in the design of new and re modeled kitchens. The initials CKD tell you that the designer is a Certified Kitchen Designer, licensed and accredited by the American Institute of Kitchen Dealers.

The draftsman has the training and ability to take rough sketches of your ideas and draw up a complete set of working plans and specifications. He or she may offer limited design services, although these are primarily technical and not conceptual. The draftsman does not inspect or oversee construction and may be paid by the hour or a set fee.

The interior designer specializes in planning and furnishing interiors. His or her responsibilities include space planning and room layout, as well as the selection of furnishings and finishes such as carpeting, wall coverings, and color coordination. The initials ASID indicate that the de signer belongs to the American Society of Interior Designers.

Specifications and Materials

A complete list of specifications is an essential part of your working plan. This list specifies the exact size and quality of all materials to be used in your project. The specifications also cover various construction methods to be used and anything else not easily indicated on the drawings.

Complete specifications are critical if your remodeling is to be done by a contractor or subcontractors. They need the specs to bid on your project. If your specifications are in exact, assumptions will be made to fill in the gaps. As a result you won’t be able to compare one bid with another.

Incomplete specifications can also mean trouble once construction begins. Anything not included on the list becomes an extra that can be painfully expensive. The best way to guarantee you’ll get what you want is to put everything in writing. Your specifications then become a part of the written contract. As construction proceeds, you should inspect for follow-through.

A professional designer can draw up your plans and provide the specifications, based on your guide lines. If you draw your own plans, you must provide the specs yourself. This may take some time, but shouldn’t be difficult if you’ve re searched the products .you want to include. You are able to say, for ex ample, that you want french doors in your addition; in fact, you want c particular size and model number available from a specific manufacturer. This information goes down on your list of specifications.

In some instances your specifications will indicate only the type and quality of material, leaving the choice of a particular manufacturer to the contractor. For example, you may specify fiberglass insulation with an R-11 factor and interior walls clad with top-grade ½-inch wall board. Your architect or contractor can select the specific brand names based on experience and local availability

However, don’t leave the important product choices to others. You should research available options for everything that’s visible, such as plumbing fixtures, cabinets, floor coverings, light fixtures, and so forth. This is your project and your home,

While specifications indicate the quality and brand name of products, a materials list indicates the quantity of materials. If professionals are doing your remodeling, they will take care of this. But if you plan to do the work yourself, you’ll need to develop your own list so you can com pare the cost of materials from various suppliers. Go over your plans inch by inch and determine the size and quantity of each material. If your project is large, you may be able to take your plans to a building supplier or lumber yard and ask them to provide an itemized list of material costs.

Most lumber is now S4S—planed smooth on all four sides. Today the actual size of a 2 by 4 is 1½- by 3½-inches, and a 2-by-8 piece of lumber measures 1½- by 7¼-inches.

Getting Written Bids

Once you have a working plan with specifications, you can get firm bids on your project; or your designer may handle this for you. You should plan to get at least three written bids for any job. But use your judgment here. If yours is a major remodeling, you may want to talk with six or more different contractors. The process of getting bids costs you nothing except your time. The more bids you have, the better you’ll be able to evaluate what the job should really cost. If you are acting as your own general contractor, you’ll need to get bids from as many different sub contractors as your plans require.

Be sure to provide each con tractor with identical plans and specifications. This is the only way to compare their figures. If you add or change items, notify each bidder in writing. Depending on the complexity of your project, and how busy a contractor is, getting a written bid may take a week or more.

Alter you have the bids in hand, beware of any that are exceptionally low, Perhaps the contractor made a mistake or overlooked part of the work to be done. Unfortunately, some contractors bid too low just to get the job and once they be gin to lose money simply walk away from the job. Your only recourse then is legal action.

On some jobs you may be better off working with a contractor on a time-and-materials or cost-plus basis. The quality of the work may be better with this arrangement. The contractor won’t be rushing through your project because of an initial low bid. However, fixed price or maximum price arrangements are usually preferable.

If you have the time to help out during the work, you may be able to save money. For example, you can save the contractor’s time by picking up supplies or materials as needed. Talk to the contractor about this. And shop around. You may decide you’re better off with a skilled carpenter working on a cost-plus basis rather than a remodeling contractor working with a firm bid. Be sure to check personal referrals before you agree to any cost-plus arrangement.

Working out a Contract

Once you’ve selected a contractor or subcontractor, you’re ready to work out a contract. An essential part of any contract is the method of payment. This can vary, depending on what you negotiate with the con tractor. Also, the terms of your loan may stipulate how payment is to be made.

It’s important to make sure the payment schedule is based on the contractor’s performance. Generally, you should negotiate terms that require you to pay only for work that has been done. For example, you may agree to make payments as specified sections of the job are completed. Or the payments can be based on progress billing, which means the contractor will submit a monthly invoice for work that’s been done.

Whatever the payment schedule, be sure to negotiate a retention clause in your contract. This means a certain percentage of the cost of the job, perhaps 10 percent, is to be withheld until the job is completed satisfactorily. Some contractors may require a deposit in advance as an indication of good faith. If so, find out if your state sets limitations on the size of the deposit, and how it’s to be paid.


A contract should be precisely written, with no room for ambiguity. If you have any doubts, have an attorney look it over before you sign. The contract should include:

  • A detailed description of the work to be done by the contractor, as well as any work you’ve agreed to do yourself. Include specific provisions for clearing the site of debris during and after the project.
  • The type and grade of materials to be used for the job. These and possible substitutions may be covered in your list of specifications attached to the project.
  • The total cost of the work, with a schedule of payments and the amount of each payment.
  • Provisions for payment holdbacks, including a retention clause.
  • The approximate dates when the work will begin and when it will be completed. Include a completion clause penalty if these dates aren't met.
  • A close-out clause so that you or the contractor may terminate the agreement if things begin to go sour. You may also want to include a pro vision for arbitration in the event of a dispute.
  • Provisions for the removal of property liens. If the contractor goes bankrupt or fails to pay any subcontractors or suppliers, they can file a lien against your property. And if that happens, you could lose your home or end up paying twice for the same work. This clause protects you by making the contractor responsible for obtaining property lien releases from subcontractors and suppliers as the work progresses.

You can also protect yourself by asking the contractor to secure a payment and completion bond. If the contractor fails to complete the job as specified, or doesn’t pay the subcontractors or suppliers, the bond provides the money you need to finish your project. The bonding fee is usually 1 to 5 percent of the contract price.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 2:35 PST