ask david: what should i look for when hiring a contractor?

dennis b. from san diego, ca writes;

we are getting ready to renovate our kitchen and are searching for contractors but i don’t know where to begin other than referrals from a couple of neighbors. what are some things i should look for in selecting a contractor?

david’s response;

hi dennis, and thank you for writing in.

there are 3 very definite things you should make sure you consider when selecting a contractor for your renovation. one note is that when we are talking about contractors here, we’re really talking about “general contractors”, these are the people who run the whole job and your contract will be with them. the general contractor will in turn hire the subcontractors to complete the work, i.e. plumber, electrician, etc.

now, 3 things to look for;

1. hire only licensed contractors. i cannot emphasize this enough. do not try and save a few bucks by going with a contractor who isn’t licensed as it will surely come back and bite you in the end. if the contractor is knowledgable and reputable, they should be licensed. be sure to check out the california contractors state license board and you can check a license online

2. make sure the general contractor carries a general liability policy of at least $1,000,000. for whatever reason, contractors are not required in the state of california to carry a general liability policy (strange to me, yes). however, if they do not carry a general liability policy, they are supposed to tell you but i wouldn’t count on that. ask the general contractor that you are considering hiring if they carry a general liability policy and ask them for the contact name and policy number so you can call his/her insurance company to see if their policy is current.

3. check references for projects that the general contractor has previously completed that are similar in scope to yours. general contractors tend to specialize and a kitchen remodelling contractor may not be the best candidate for a second story addition (then again, they might, your homework will let you know). take the time to check references and talk to his/her past clients. most contractors would gladly provide this information to you.

those are 3 major items i would definately recommend when searching for a general contractor. they are easy to do, don’t take much time or effort, but will go a long way in your comfort level with a contractor once you find the one you like. one final word of caution: don’t necessarily go with the cheapest bid, especially if it’s significantly lower than the rest of them as they probably left something out.

good luck dennis!

ask david: i have a garage window/property line problem.

amy s. from culver city, ca writes;

I’m in a pinch, perhaps you have some insight? 

My designer (working on getting her architectrual license) put two small windows in our garage design for us…and that wall is 2′ from property.  The city stamped the plans.  We framed and installed these windows last week.  inspector came out to inspect framing gave us a note that says, “take these windows down as you can only have windows on walls 3′ from property line.”   And they are right. 

I went to the city this morning and spoke with my plan checker who is very nice and appears to really want to help.  He remembers the inspector called him about this one last week..  But said his hands are tied because of code. 

My questions:

 1.  what approach can I take so I can keep these windows, if any? 

2.  if I truly have to take them down, how risky is it to put them back up after final inspection now that everyone is “aware”?  I really prefer to fly straight 100%, but I really feel keeping those windows will be important.

 3.  All and all, having these windows, designed, wall re-framed to accommodate them, purchase the actual windows….all this cost me several thousands.  And I’ve done everything I’m suppose…it doesn’t seem fair I have to absorb this cost and get no windows.  How does a situation like this get resolved?

david’s response;

david22I really do not like  it when this kind of thing happens to homeowners and i feel for you. Here are my thoughts; 

1. The building inspector is absolutely correct, the windows do need to be 3′ from the property line. Even if the city stamped the plans, the 3′ rule, which is code, still applies. And now that the inspector has seen it, you’re gonna have to take them out. there’s no way around that. You won’t get final inspection unless that is done. I highly doubt you’ll be able to claim these windows as existing now that the inspector has seen them.

2. I don’t know what the project looks like, but it’s expensive, dusty, and you’re tearing up work you just completed if you install them after final inspection.

3. While I agree it doesn’t seem fair you should absorb these costs, this is exactly the kind of thing that can happen when you hire an unlicensed individual (it can happen with licensed people too, but you usually have better recourse, such as the california architects board).

4. Those windows should not have been designed into the project because of the 3′ rule.

5. I don’t know what fee you paid to the designer, but you could ask her to pay for her mistake and if she chooses not to, you could file a claim in small claims court. That’s really your only recourse. You cannot file a claim with the california architects board because she is not licensed (unless she claimed she was or presented herself as an architect).

 Here’s my recommendation in a nutshell;

 1. Remove the windows and don’t put them back in.

2. Talk to your designer about having her pay for the windows (materials and labor to install).

ask david: what type of insulation should i install in a converted garage?

amy s. from culver city writes;

“I’m in the process of insulating my garage roof (no insulation currently) to turn it into a playroom/TV room, a space we will use daily.  My roofer suggests 1″ rigid insulation that equal to R19 and says R30 is an overkill while my designer says we should aim for R30 value.  R30 I’m concerned about the thickness that would ruin the aesthetics as well as the additonal cost (don’t want to pay extra for overkill).”

david’s response;

david22even in our mild climate here in southern california, heat loss and gain is an issue. most of the heat loss in your garage will be through the roof (depending on how you insulate your garage door) so it is best to install the R30 insulation.

ask david: help with our kitchen

lawrence from glendale, ca  writes;

patricia and i want to remodel our kitchen but don’t know how to go about it. we kinda have an idea of the style we want but can’t decide on the specifics. can you help?

david’s response;

david2lawrence, since you’re in the los angeles area, i’ll be giving a seminar next month on kitchen and bathroom design. be sure to look for details on our website under the seminar tab. in the meantime, a couple of magazines i love for ideas about kitchens and bathrooms are kitchen trends and metropolitan home. expect to spend anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 for a new kitchen with custom cabinets and stone countertops. moving walls and opening up spaces will increase the cost. look forward to seeing you at our upcoming seminar!

introducing the – ask david – feature

david2i’ve just introduced the “ask david” feature to the blog on the left sidebar that visitors can use to submit questions or comments.  so if you’re looking for expert advice, please feel free to submit your question or comment and i’ll be happy to answer them and also post them for others to see. i’m hoping this will become a nice “interactive” feature of the website.