It’s Hotter Than ……….by Alex Guthrie

Seems like the heat wave of 2011 doesn’t want to go away, it’s hot inside, it’s hot outside, it’s hot if you’re moving, and it’s hot if you’re just sitting. Here’s a couple of ideas to help inside and out.

Close some doors – every house and building have non-air conditioned rooms; closets and bathrooms, storage rooms and breezeways. Your a/c system isn’t necessarily designed to provide air for these areas and is using return and supply that could be going to other areas. Close the doors to these rooms and let it flow.

If you’re planning on building or covering an outside porch, consider using radiant barrier decking for the roof. Preventing ultra violent rays from penetrating gives you many more days and weeks – sometimes into late summer-of comfort.

Cook more meals outside, they’re healthier and they won’t heat up the house. Most outside grills allow you to cook on multiple burners.

 

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Winning !!!!!!! by Alex Guthrie

 Finding the right balance between your budget and your expectations is tricky when the economy is good and very frustrating when money is tight. Older houses are particularly difficult when the inevitable happens and you have to make a decision whether to invest more money in them. Top that off with an anemic housing market, high energy costs, and escalating construction costs; well it kinda makes you want to move to a cabin in the mountains.

In our current financial climate houses are steadily  losing value with no end in sight, so the idea of investing for a quick profit may not be as dependable as it once was. We used to feel confident that investing in a kitchen or master suite would have a better than 50% return at resale but now those assumptions may not be so reliable. This has created a paradigm shift from dream designs to practical, from money is no object to it being the object, from decisions made on the fly to carefully planned and executed projects.  You may end up in your home longer than you planned so the path you choose may have larger consequences than in the past.

But the real challenge is the balance between this years investment vs next years budget; investing more now vs recovering those costs down the road. Meeting all these requirements can be daunting  but it is doable if you plan and execute timely.

The best method is to create a master plan that reflects all the areas in the house you want improved or changed and implement a strategy to get the project completed over the shortest period of time.  A master plan will enable you to not only do the project in phases but also make purchases at optimum times as well.  This will also give you greater flexibility in cost and design.

Phasing projects is a smart and reliable way to control your budget while moving forward at a manageable pace. This is not for everyone since it prolongs the length of time your house is under construction and some people simply aren’t suited for the constant and continuous upheaval; on the other hand, some people enjoy the process.  Selecting the start and finish areas can be simply a matter of practicality and lifestyle; if you have kids at home for the summer it might be best not to start the kitchen first, but with a good plan in place you can certainly start somewhere else and work towards the kitchen. This also gives you an opportunity to buy appliances , cabinets, lighting, and plumbing fixtures on sale and store them until you need them. Taking careful notes and keeping a project file complete with pictures of products and features you want helps everyone throughout the life of the project.

At a time when budgets are tight and the market is unstable, a good well executed plan is the best way to be the winner at the end.

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NEW SCIENCE AFFECTS OUR LIVES

By Alex Guthrie

Building sciences and technologies have changed the way builders and contractors view their professions. New building codes and products are forcing changes in attitudes and practices. These professionals are being required to reexamine the very rules by which they’ve operated and considered acceptable for many years. The price of making the wrong decisions is too high in an increasingly litigious society and an educated consumer, exposed to all the ideas they can handle, is more demanding than ever.

Many of the old building methods that performed well for their era are not adequate for the way we live our lives today and have been reviewed and in many cases coded out. Most of the older builders have had to relearn things we’ve understood as the proper way and try new methods and materials.

The cost of energy which includes the environmental cost of producing it has forced us to take a closer look at the entire energy chain from production to the end user and examine how it affects us all. This leads to a basic theory of physics, the more we use the more we need and the more energy we produce, the worse our air becomes. This also needs to be viewed as a regional issue since we are all sharing the same air and water, our neighbors do effect our environment. If you think about it, being in the northern part of a state that has primarily southern winds blowing off the coast; all of our neighbors to the south are affecting our air and ultimately our water.

So now comes the hard part, devising methods and practices that reduce our energy requirements and ultimately help control air and water pollution. Many very intelligent people from very diverse backgrounds met for many months in Austin and other regions to come up with a plan that would address these problems. Spurred by threats of monetary penalties by the feds, a plan had to be devised and presented to insure that funding for highways and other project weren’t lost.

A great example is the use of energy efficient windows and doors. Until recently these were optional and used only in certain areas of the house, today because of the new residential energy code, we use them as a standard and in fact some municipalities by virtue of rewriting their codes dictate to us that they be used.

What we regard as the “Envelope” of a house or exterior walls, roof, and foundation are looked at differently as we try to meet the new Home Energy Ratings System or “HERS” ratings. This formula was developed to determine the energy consumption of our houses and by using various methods we can determine what needs to be done to make the envelope more efficient.

Products like radiant barrier plywood combined with new techniques such as sealing the attic and crawl spaces are helping to reduce energy consumption and create more comfort. Focusing more on the performance of the walls by sealing window and door openings and reducing air infiltration means our heating and air conditioning systems work less.

Sealing the exterior of your home is the best way to start the efficiency cycle; air penetration into the wall cavities from the outside has a tremendous effect on how well you can control the temperature inside. You may not realize it but the little things will really add up. The dry air inside your home attracts the moister air outside; this attraction can trap moist air inside your walls and create a haven for mold. Small holes, penetrations such as electrical outlets, vents and plumbing faucets can let a lot of air inside that has to be heated or cooled. Seal these small openings with caulk or expanding foam and you will help prevent air as well as moister leakage.

By reexamining our practices and gaining knowledge from all sides of the equation, we have learned many things as an industry that will benefit us all. For instance, we learned that we save energy and create more comfort in our homes by making sure our air conditioning ducts are properly sealed. Many times I’ve climbed in an attic in the summer only to find it was as cool as the house. And the same thing occurs under the house, it is common for us to find broken and crushed ducts that are leaking excessively. The old method of sealing duct joints with tape will not comply with current code; we now seal these joints with applied compounds that prevent air leakage.

One new technique that is gaining in popularity is to seal the entire duct system with foam insulation; sprayed on the ducts in a liquid form the foam creates a super insulated duct system much like a Styrofoam cooler and you can imagine how much more efficient this can be.

Insulating has become a science of its own, where once we simply stapled batts of insulation to the walls and ceilings, we now have many options that include environmentally friendly cellulose or recycled paper, closed cell foam, and a variety of other choices depending on our needs. We now inspect our insulation to meet minimum standards; a new requirement of the energy code.

The less energy we use, the less we must produce, saving our natural resources and creating less pollution. Sealing the outside walls, proper ventilation in the attic, applying the right amount of insulation in the right areas, and making sure your air-conditioning system is working properly not only provides more comfort, it saves the environment we all share.

By working together and listening to each other’s concerns, the building industry and the science community are developing new techniques and creating ways to benefit us all.

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APPLES TO APPLES

By Alex Guthrie
So you interviewed more than one contractor for your project, you checked references, and inspected their work. Two of the contractors seem as though they could do a good job, now who do you choose and why?

My clients sometimes tell me that they struggled with this very decision and although I sympathize with them, I consider it a small victory to be on their short list. Even though I would prefer to never have to compete and I feel I’m always the most qualified for the job, the real world isn’t so kind and sure. It only makes sense that this decision would be difficult if all things are equal, so it may come down to comparing the proposals and making the best deal.

First of all, compare the contracts, are both contractors including all necessary insurance and permits and has the contractor included all the elements that you expect them to purchase. Depending on the project, the scope and cost, there should be ways to sharpen the proverbial pencil and become creative. Contractors have different ways of achieving this, everything from sharing discounts on certain items to allowing their customers to make purchases directly with some vendors.

Beware of the inherent risk associated with purchasing your own fixtures, you are responsible for the delivery and condition of the products and you will have to deal with the warranty. Most contractors are sensitive about releasing detailed pricing so you should get a detailed job description instead. This will enable you to determine that both of your choices are bidding the same project and help you decide whether you need more information. You might learn a lot about your contractors at this point, such as their tolerance and patience; it can be very frustrating to have to stop and research pricing. Ask for pricing on a few major items so, that you can decide whether the cost is compatible with your priorities. Things such as windows and appliances can really affect a budget and can vary greatly.

How the presentation is prepared is important; this will tell you something about the organizational and business skills of the individuals. A well-prepared and clearly defined scope is all you have to go by, don’t fall into the trap of making assumptions, you’ll get burned and disappointed every time. Everything should be in writing, and this means rewriting if necessary.

How do you know if the job description is complete and how detailed should it be? After all, you don’t know the intricacies of construction or you would do it yourself.

First look at the basic information, and the obvious and ask questions. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is being proposed and that you feel comfortable with it. After all, you will be living with the results for a long time.

Check the math. If you are paying in draws, get a schedule of payments and add it up. If there is a mistake, work it out, don’t try to get sneaky. Products and services cost what they cost and aren’t normally negotiable for the contractor so they won’t be for you either. It’s far better to be prepared for the reality than try to force a bad decision or an honest mistake. Many problems could be avoided if we just looked them in the eye and tackled them. My strongest advice to my clients is to only do what they can comfortably afford, there are too many potential problems in remodeling to try and cut your budget too close. Have an amount equal to 10% of your budget available for potential problems and insist on written change orders. Verbal changes have a way of being misunderstood by everyone. If you are paying in multiple draws insist on a statement periodically say, every 4th draw. The statement should include all the draws and change orders to date.

Remember to use common sense and reasonable judgment and you can work the best deal and hire the best person for your project.

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SEQUENCING………….

By Alex Guthrie

The old expression about putting the cart before the horse has true meaning when remodeling a house. The proper sequence of work and timely ordering of materials make a huge difference in the ability of the contractor to finish the job timely.

The first thing to consider is the outside plan, if you are relocating or upgrading gas, water, or electrical service, how will it affect future plans for landscaping, swimming pools, or out buildings such as cabana’s and garages. Relocating these services can be costly so you only want to do it once.

Check for old septic tanks that may be buried in the yard and remember that those old systems usually were fed with clay sewer lines that will need to be replaced if they haven’t been already. Most cities now require that upgrades be made to water lines, sewer lines, and sidewalks, confirm your city’s requirements and make sure you are budgeted; this can be an expensive surprise.

It is very tempting to start a project before the plans are completely finished but it can be very costly to make changes after the start of the project. A seemingly small change can and usually does affect the project from start to finish touching all the trades in one way or another and the contractor loses control of cost and scheduling when he or she has to constantly change course and decisions aren’t timely. Some clients actually believe their contractor has some ability to influence the vendors, we used to but those days are long gone, everybody’s equal in the eyes of the manufacturer and labor isn’t cheap; nobody’s giving it away.

Waiting on decorative fixtures such as faucets and lights holds up construction projects more than any single delay. Unfortunately, a simple question like “Is it available?” would help avoid this problem 90% of the time. The fact is, suppliers don’t stock many of the items we choose, and actually many times the fixtures aren’t even fabricated until the order is placed often requiring weeks or months to get. Sometimes we get lucky and we can “Red Label” or express ship items and
have them in 5 or so days, however, if it has been shipped “Snail Mail” it’s probably too late. So always remember to ask when ordering about the availability of the items you want. The new emphasis on exotic finishes on these fixtures also costs time and extra money, so confirm these delivery dates prior to making deposits and placing orders.

Some tips:
Natural stone countertops are beautiful and everybody wants them, but there is some important planning that needs to take place when considering them. Are you using a drop- in or under- mounted sink, have you selected the faucet and decided on a backsplash? These decisions are vital and need to be made in the initial planning phase.

Under counter sinks need to be installed at the fabricator’s shop when the countertops are being made, drop-in sinks can be installed when the countertops are delivered. If you want granite backsplashes you need to plan on available space for the faucets. Many times there’s simply not enough room between the sink and backsplash for everything to fit; make sure you can get behind or around the faucet for cleaning. A good alternative is to use a tile backsplash.

Deciding on a color palate can be a torturous prospect for many of us, as this process involves flooring, countertops, walls, and cabinet colors. This plan should start at the very beginning of the project since it might change many times and get very confusing. A good plan is to get samples of the colors and finishes you are considering. Most vendors will gladly give you samples free of charge or you can give them a small deposit pending their return. Your painter will be more than happy to put color samples on the walls to help you with these selections, remember to put the samples on more than one wall and look at them at different times of the day as the natural light on the wall changes.

Appliances should be selected at the beginning of the project; you may need to purchase them ahead of schedule if they go on sale. Keep your list at hand and watch for deals, some vendors will store them for you at their warehouse. When you’re making these selections be sure to ask the vendor about any upcoming price increases or model changes; sometimes you can get a floor model for a great deal, also, ask about their scratch and dent deals.

At this point of the project your contractor is juggling an enormous amount of people and schedules, he or she needs all the help you’re willing to give them. Processing and answering all the questions from the subs and various trades is mind-boggling and requires our full attention. Rarely does a day go by that some small crisis doesn’t arise that needs immediate action. Having decisions made in a timely manner by our clients and the rest of the design team is crucial for our success.

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THE BOTTOM LINE ON REMODELING AND RENOVATION

By Alex Guthrie
In my nearly 25 years of contracting I have been confronted with many difficult situations that could have been avoided by proper planning and research. It has always surprised me that more time isn’t spent on planning how to save money instead of spending it later to fix mistakes. So here are some things to consider before, during, and after your remodel project.

Planning and Designing
Often homeowners are intimidated by the prospect of paying a professional architect and or interior designer. Their fears range from their inability to see a value for the services to loss of control of the project scope. Although some people are perfectly comfortable and capable making these decisions without professional assistance, it is difficult to concentrate and focus when you are running carpool and working long days at the office. Most people don’t realize that the immense number of decisions that must be made to successfully complete a remodel are mind boggling. So you must ask yourself, are you ready or able to spend the required time to co-ordinate textures, colors, surfaces, and finishes. Select light
and plumbing fixtures, make sure the finishes work together. Are you able to visualize what the finished design will look like and have you utilized and planned for the best use of space. In my experience a trained professional not only accomplishes all these goals , but also brings energy and excitement to an otherwise difficult task.

Bottom line – It is cheaper to change a line on paper than to move a wall.

Selecting a Contractor
Think of this like buying a new car, it would be nice to drive it for just a little while before you make the purchase but they just won’t let you. Once you leave the lot it’s yours. So how do you avoid the pitfalls and horror stories you hear from your family and friends? Think of this relationship as a temporary marriage between you, your design team, and your contractor. This is your team and your team motto is “All for one and one for all”. Sniping and finger pointing is not allowed and won’t be tolerated; we must work together. Not all personalities are compatible and you must remember that the people that work on your team are going to be in your house for the duration of the project.

To find a contractor first take recommendations from family, friends, and neighbors. This often makes the contractor feel more obligated to perform well, or check with the Better Business Bureau they can be a great resource. There are also organizations such as NARI and Home Builders Association that are always interested in promoting their members.

Your contractor should provide you with a list of references, check them out, ask questions that matter such as “Did he communicate well?”, “Were there problems with the subcontractors?”, “Did he attempt to stay on schedule?”, “Did he meet the original budget?”- most importantly “ Would you hire him again?”

Once you’ve decided on your contractor do not start any work until you have a signed contract and your attorney reviews it. It is best to have a written job description and be aware that the state of Texas requires certain documents  ccompany these contracts. This is for your protection and your contractor’s protection.

Bottom line – This can be a wonderful marriage or an ugly divorce – make your selection carefully.

Be Realistic
There are certain realities that you must confront when taking on a remodel or renovation, being aware of these facts may help you be better prepared. This is a messy, dusty, inconvenience; it will totally consume and disrupt your daily routine, cost overruns are common and unpredictable and dealing with people is frustrating at best. So make sure you have a clear understanding with your contractor how this will be handled, who’s dealing with whom and insist on written change orders that clearly state the scope and cost of the change. First of all, make sure you are notified in a reasonable amount of time and that all fees and time delays are stated. Second, you and your contractor should agree and sign this document, this goes a long way in understanding the final cost and schedule overruns.

Your contractor depends on other contractors (subcontractors) to get the work done, this is a reality of our times and it is imbedded in all businesses in this country. Because of simple human nature it is not possible to predict or dictate everyone’s every move, what this means is that you will be inconvenienced from time to time and as good intentioned as your contractor might be, he cannot be there at every moment.

Bottom Line: Take it in stride, take a deep breath, and remember that it will be finished some day.

Murphy’s (Remodeling) Law
If it can go wrong; it will. Well, not always, but most of the time. I often tell people that I can cure a drought by removing their roof, for it seems that every time I do, it rains like @#$%. I once waited until August to put a new roof on a beautiful house in Highland Park because we wanted to make sure and miss the rainy season. When I called the homeowner at her house in Santa Fe to tell her we just removed the old roof , she asked “What’s that loud boom?” sheepishly I replied, “Thunder”.

These things just seem to happen, the water heater goes out, the air-conditioning goes out, termite damage is found, the shower pan is rusted out; on and on and on….. So be prepared to repair sprinklers, rotted wood, leaky gutters, cracks in the walls, cracks in concrete, broken windows and pipes, you name it. Look at it as a prime opportunity to catch up on some old needed repairs.

Bottom Line: This will test everyone’s patience.

Finishing Up
Simply put, this is the most difficult and frustrating part of every project. Your contractor and his subs just want to finish but they don’t show up for days at a time. You call and he tells you that he also is frustrated. He probably doesn’t tell you that he’s having a difficult time getting the subs to respond to his calls, for they have moved on to bigger and better things and most likely he has had to pay them for the work they did on your home, even though they’re not totally finished.

This is the reality that exists in a business world were everyone is an independent contractor, we’re not really their boss, we just do business with them now and then. The fact remains that you have hired your contractor and (presumably) paid him and it is his responsibility to complete the task at hand. This will present the most challenging moments in your relationship, and will probably define the way both of you feel about each other in the future.

Walk through the project and write a thorough list (punch list) of items that need to be completed and have your contractor do likewise, compare notes and develop a comprehensive list. Be sure to look underneath and in between cabinets, shelving, doors, windowsills etc., this may be your last shot at getting everything the way you want it.

Agree to a reasonable time frame to complete the list and turn it over to your contractor. Remember that this is work that is normally done in areas you’ve already occupied, this makes it very challenging to schedule and complete so you must be extra patient and flexible so the workers can get in and out.

Bottom Line: This is a great time to take a few days off and go to the lake house!!

The After Life
Well finally its over, no more workers, no more trash, and the dust has finally become manageable again. It has been said many times that remodel takes on a life of its own, that’s a very true statement but we must remember that life goes on afterwards too. Surprisingly, most of our clients tell us that they miss having us around at first, although I’m sure this is only a temporary state of insanity, I choose to take it as a compliment. The fact is, we do become part of the family and over the years we face the ups and downs of life together. Often I am called to help in emergencies or share in special moments such as weddings and births. I have been told that the remodeling process is similar to surgery, in that, the pain of the process is soon forgotten as the enjoyment life takes over.

A few tips to maintain your home: have your contractor come back once a year and repair caulking and chipped paint throughout the house. This not only keeps your home looking new but it also prevents an expensive repaint down the road. Notify your contractor if you observe any unusual movement or cracking. Ask your contractor to provide you with information on maintenance for your home and make sure you have all the warranties filled out and mailed for all appliances and purchased products. Follow all recommended maintenance requirements for all mechanical devices and they should last for many years trouble free.

Bottom Line: This is not only an ending but quite possibly a new beginning.

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ARE YOU PREPARED?

By Alex Guthrie

I try to warn my clients about the inconvenience, noise, loss of privacy, and unpredictability of a remodel. The knock on the door when you don’t expect it, the lack of a knock on the door when you need it. I tell them that their schedule and lifestyle will be interrupted and disrupted. But sometimes I just can’t get the message through, I guess it’s sort of like seeing a tornado, it looks pretty bad on TV doesn’t it, well it looks real different up close.

The stories I hear from people range from hilarious to downright sad and are usually only funny after the project is over. Living through a remodel can be a nightmare if you’re not prepared. You have to be ready for issues that range from security to privacy to inconvenience and safety. You will change some habits and you will develop some new ones. Here are some ideas to throw at your contractor.

Common sense should tell us that when we have strangers in our house on a daily basis, we might want to exercise a little caution as it relates to our security. I had a client that was in the habit of coming in the front door and hanging her purse in the front entry, the problem was that it was the same entry all the workmen had to use. Although we knew most of the guys and trusted them without question, the reality is that there is always someone coming and going that we don’t know, a delivery person, or even a service person. Now, we would like to think everyone’s as honest as we are but that’s just not always the case. We quickly convinced our client to relocate her purse to a more secure place.

Houses that are under construction are prime targets for thieves, they know that the workmen don’t know everyone coming and going and they know when no one is home. The workmen are only there certain times of the day and need to have access in order to do their jobs. We do everything from putting lockboxes on the front door (the kind the realtors use) to having one of our employees meet the subs and let them in. Still you must remember these thieves are professionals and opportunists, they steal for a living. I introduce myself to the neighbors and leave them a business card and I encourage them to call me if they see anything suspicious. I appreciate it if they call if there are other problems such as trash or noise. It’s not a bad idea to let your neighborhood co-op know
what your doing.

We are constantly setting off security and smoke alarms. One unfortunate plumber set off a silent alarm while working on one my projects. When he existed the front door to get some tools from his truck he was greeted by several policemen with guns drawn commanding him to “Drop the wrench buddy!!” he poor guy didn’t even know he had set off the alarm. He complied. Most alarm systems allow you to set a temporary code so you don’t have to give out your personal code, if the contractor sets off a false alarm then he can pay the fine.

Since they are primarily particle detectors, smoke and fire alarms can be easily activated by dust floating in the air and the fire department will fine you after a certain number of false alarms. Your contractor can purchase dust covers for these devices and install them while working; it is imperative that the covers be removed at the end of each day.

If you are not going to live in the house but you’re planning on storing personal items there; it is a good idea to designate a closet or room and change the door knob to a keyed lockset or a deadbolt that only one person has a key to. This room is off limits to anyone but you. I will also have my clients store any purchased items such as plumbing or electrical fixtures in this or some other secure place.

Privacy is the one thing that is hard to maintain when people are working in your home. If you are going to stay in the home while it is being worked on, designate an off limits area; an area that only your family has access to. Do not allow workmen in this area unless absolutely necessary and only with your permission. Make sure they remove their shoes and clean up after they’re finished. We frequently post signs on the front door of our projects directing anyone associated with the project not to disturb the occupants, this sign has the pertinent phone numbers to reach the superintendent or our office for deliveries or questions.

Ask your contractor what can be done to minimize the dust and noise. Placing a standard air filter over the return air grills in the house will make a huge difference in the amount of dust that is spread through the air. Sweeping the floor and cleaning daily really does help with this, are you budgeted for daily clean up. Be aware of the low flash point of sawdust; a spark or carelessly discarded cigarette butt can quickly ignite this material.

Parking can be a problem and an unnecessary inconvenience for you and your neighbors. Ask the workman to park on one side of the street and leave the driveway clear.

Something about concrete driveways seems to bring out the oil drops in workmen’s trucks. Remember to be sensitive to your neighbors on this one; you have to live with them long after the workers are gone.

A little common sense and preparedness can make the difference and save a relationship.

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AFTER THE STORM

By Alex Guthrie
The weather report predicts scattered showers and maybe heavy rain in some areas. You’re looking forward to the cooling off as you hear distant thunder. The sweet smell of moisture in the air contrasts the dry dust you’ve become accustomed to breathing and you always look forward to the next morning. As you settle into bed with a good book you’re anticipating a deep nights’ sleep with the sound of the rain pattering on your roof.

As you awake you’re thinking it must be a nightmare and praying you’ll come to your senses soon. The water on your floor and the clothing floating in it can’t be real, the smell of mud and sewage, when suddenly you realize your house is flooding, it is real and it is happening and there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s 1:00 AM. You’re not ready for this, it’s never happened before, why now? It’s July for goodness sake!

These late summer showers can spring up at a moments notice and before you know it, so much rain has fallen that even the frogs are chocking and your house is right in the path of the flood. This has happened to many homeowners including me and there is not a more helpless feeling when you realize you just lost control of your life. You are now at the mercy of others to help and advise you, the enormity of it all is overwhelming and you wonder; what could I have done and what should I do now?

Some tips that might help you survive after the storm–
Keep a few items at hand in case you are stranded in your home, a good waterproof  flashlight, battery operated radio, a cell phone and candles. Less obvious items that might  be helpful would be a spare pair of shoes, and cotton or rubber gloves. Think about storing  some drinking water with your other emergency items.
Beware of electricity if you have high water or downed power lines. Don’t approach  any electrical lines; if you can’t get past them safely wait for emergency crews to assist you.  Remember that many people are electrocuted trying to traverse energized power lines.
Don’t ignore the very things you use every day. Recently, I was helping some flood victims in their house when I noticed some of the volunteers moving lamps and other electrical  fixtures that were still plugged in and working while standing in wet mud. The first thing  you should do is turn off the electricity to your home.

Natural and propane gas have a way of floating into odd places or “pockets”, so find your gas meter and make sure you turn off the service to your home. Gas leaks have produced many secondary emergencies.  You should be aware of where the utilities to your home can be disconnected or turned off.

Assessing damage is for professionals but you should be aware of whether or  not your dwelling is safe to stay in. If you see obvious damage such as sags or cracks in your ceiling or trees that have landed on your roof, stay clear. Beware of trees that have  fallen into other trees, they can fall at any time and without provocation.

The plaster ceiling in the dining room of a house I was rebuilding fell completely to the floor 8 or 10 days after we started the project; it took that long for the weight of the water used to put out the fire to finally dislodge it. I learned to be very wary anytime I enter a house that has had water intrusion from the roof.

Carpet pads absorb water like a sponge since they are made of foam rubber. If you get water on your carpet you should pull it back and remove the padding. The mold created by the trapped moisture appears remarkably fast and smells awful; the padding is simple and cheap to replace.

If you experience a natural disaster you will be approached by many well-meaning people with offers of service and advice. You will also be approached by many people out for an easy buck. Do not hire anyone until you check their references and have a written quote that you understand. The state of Texas has very specific laws regarding construction contracts that are in place to protect the consumer, make sure any documents you sign are in compliance. Read the document completely and ask questions, if you don’t understand  the verbiage ask someone who does.

Most insurance policies have maximum coverages so you must manage these funds  carefully. If you use all the dollars up front in the clean up, you won’t have money to  rebuild.

There are many onerous things that have to be dealt with such as the cleaning and storage of personal items, furniture, heirlooms, and replacement of items that can’t be salvaged. Depending on your insurance policy, this may or may not be covered. Make your plans carefully, its normal to get in a hurry to get back in your home but sometimes it’s better to step back and make sure you have the money available and a good plan in place for the work to be completed.

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THE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS

By Alex Guthrie

The local economy and in particular the residential construction business is in an unprecedented up swing. What historically has been a seven year cycle of ups and downs is now, in what some economists believe, the 12th year of positive growth. Along the way have been a few blips of slow activity but the overall picture from the early nineties is generally regarded as positive with several years of landmark growth. This positive financial picture is not just local but world wide as evidenced by the rapid growth in many countries that were once regarded as “third world” or undeveloped.

Although this is generally very positive, it is stretching our resources world wide and creating competition where there once was none. Sharing our natural resources with emerging countries and having to compete for the ever shrinking building materials that we’ve always taken for granted is causing delays and frustrating builders and homeowners alike.

Not too many years ago, lumber companies would call the mills in South America, northwestern U.S., and Canada and order the materials they needed. Now the process is dominated by countries such as China and Japan that are willing to pay higher prices but require the highest quality products. Their processing ships sit outside our boundaries and process our wood for their countries. This has now become a bidding process instead of a buying process where the highest bidder gets the goods, creating not only some shortages but also forcing huge price swings.

Concrete and sheetrock will soon jump in price because of shortages and demand, and the price of oil isn’t helping the situation much either. All products that are petroleum based are increasing in price, and this represents a large majority of building products including roofing, carpet, paint, and anything that contains plastic.

The cost of the copper used in the wiring is fluctuating (mostly up) and transportation costs are causing shipping fees to increase almost daily.

Homebuilders and Remodelers are often caught in the middle, trying to maintain a budget that might have been agreed to weeks or even months prior these increases. Homeowners need some sort of confidence that the price they are agreeing to is somewhat accurate and banks aren’t exactly flexible or sympathetic to our plight. So we must work together to ensure the customer gets a fair shake and the contractor makes a fair profit.

Here are some ideas that might help.

Most lumberyards will agree to freeze the price of materials for a limited amount of time. Usually the itemized price that the builder receives will contain a statement that locks the price in for 10 to 30 days. If the agreement is signed it may guarantee the price. Ask your builder or remodeler if such an agreement exists and encourage them to sign it. Also, most subs will have a similar guarantee in their contracts, ask your builder if they exist and remind him or her to sign the agreement in time.

Window manufacturers are always notifying me of upcoming price increases. Ask your contractor if they’re keeping up with these and signing off on them. This can be a large part of your budget.

Salvage companies can be a great place to shop; bulk items and slightly damaged items can save lots of money and be readily available. Be sure to consult with your contractor, I prefer to inspect the items for defects that the client may not notice.

Ask your contractor if he will waive or reduce the contractor’s fee on cost overages that are due to pricing increases from manufactures. You might try a percentage approach where the fee is reduced or waived when the increase exceeds a certain percentage of the base price.

Ask your contractor if they will reduce or waive the fee on certain items such as appliances or windows if you buy them directly. I often allow my customers to purchase these items directly from the supplier at my discounted price as long as the customer agrees to accept responsibility for the delivery and warranty. Keep in mind that the warranty will apply to the purchaser, so if you don’t want to deal with warranty issues, don’t go down this road.

Many homeowners ask me to allow them to purchase some products or materials directly, depending on the circumstances, I may or may not agree. Some things simply need to handled by the builder who is, after all, still responsible for the final tally.

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