Frequently Asked Questions

This is a page dedicated to answering questions we get from people from all over the Internet. If you have questions, just click here to submit your question. We will try to answer them in a public forum like this so that all ‘surfers’ can benefit. You would be surprised how many people ask the same questions.

My kitchen is in the interior of my house, with no windows. How can I get it brighter?

Three things come to mind. First, is a skylight an option. Even a skylight on the north side of the house will bring in a lot of natural light. Second, is there a way to put a ‘pass through’ into a room that has a lot of natural light. While the light that comes ‘through’ the opening may not be a lot, just being able to see out to the other area will make the kitchen more enjoyable. We have had great success with this with two recent projects. Third, consider the light source. Fluorescent lights tend to give off a very artificial light color. Maybe install recessed lights around the kitchen, and install halogen bulbs. These will give off very white light closer to sunlight. We tend to put a lot of fixtures in a kitchen and put them on a dimmer. I would rather have too much light and dim it down, than not enough.

I want to finish off my basement, but I am not sure if I have enough headroom. Is there a minimum requirement?

Yes there is. A minimum of 7′ is required below any beams, or heat ducts. The rest of the ceiling needs to be at 7’6″. This may pose a problem with older homes. We can use some creative framing methods to enclose the ducts while maintaining maximum headroom.

I have two small bathrooms back to back in my house. Can I just combine them to make one big bath?

That depends. One big thing you will give up is the fact that your home will have one less bath. This becomes important if you are going to be selling your house in the future. Granted some people will like a large bath, but I believe most people would prefer two smaller baths. Something to think about. Why do you want to enlarge the bath? Don’t do it just to get a separate bathtub and shower. In todays world, tubs are less important. Larger showers would probably serve you better. Now, and in the future, when age and mobility are factors.

I want to put in a whirlpool in place of my regular bathtub. Is that a wise choice?

I caution clients about whirlpools, especially smaller ones. 5′ whirlpools are really quite small. Most only hold 45 gallons or so. The smaller ones are also fairly loud. Some noise is to be expected, but it seems the larger tubs are much quieter. Most people say they do not use their tub as much as they thought they would. It gets used a lot the first 6 months, but really tapers off after that.

I really want an island in my kitchen, but don't know if I have enough room. How can I determine that?

Islands take up a lot of space. If only one person cooks at a time, you need at least 36″ between the island cabinets and all other cabinets. When the island has seating on one side, the space should be more like 48″. If you can afford to have 42″ between cabinets, your kitchen will feel a lot less cramped.

What are your thoughts on ceramic tile countertops? It seems like I could do that myself?

The main problem with ceramic countertops is the grout. Staining of the grout is a real problem with the spills associated with work done in a kitchen. There are epoxy grouts that are more stain resistant, but of all the countertop materials, ceramic tile requires the most maintenance.

What is involved in making a window larger?

To make a window taller, or come closer to the floor, you will need to do some re-framing. But it usually does not require altering the load bearing, or structural part of the framing. In order to make a window wider, you will have to change the header of the window. This is much more involved because the roof or second story will have to be held up while the header is being replaced (the header is the framing that usually holds up the roof or second story). Obviously, to widen a window, is going to cost more than just making a window taller.

What is a Lead Carpenter? And what about this Lead Carpenter Concept I keep hearing about?

A Lead Carpenter is a ‘project manager’ for a remodeling job. Each company assigns different duties to their Lead Carpenters. Our company relies heavily on the Lead Carpenter to handle all aspects of the job. He can answer questions about changes in design, how much changes might cost, schedules all the different trades that work on a job, handle payments and invoices, and constantly monitor the job quality. The Lead Carpenter Concept is a company process in which one person is put in charge of a job. It used to be that a foreman would come around, tell the carpenters and trades what to do, then go on to the next job. This left the job without anyone really in charge, and overseeing the quality of the job. We feel the Lead Carpenter concept is the best way to give the customer the best possible customer service and quality job.

I want white kitchen cabinets, and was told they are more expensive. Why is that, and what other characteristics of cabinets affect the cost?

A number of things affect the cost of cabinets. Wood, stain, door style, and of course, construction quality. Construction quality is a separate subject itself, and we won’t discuss that right now. Wood choice can affect the cost of cabinets. Typically, Oak is the lowest cost. Then upcharges will apply for Maple, Cherry, and Hickory (Pecan). Painted cabinets are usually a Maple cabinet, it takes the stain best. Some painted cabinet doors are MDF, or medium density fibreboard. MDF is a manmade product that is molded to look like a raised panel for cabinet doors. As wood expands and contracts, a painted finish cabinet will show signs of the joints opening up. This is a natural characteristic of wood, but with a light colored painted surface, it is much more evident. Therefore, manufactures offer MDF for doors that are going to be painted. The whole door may expand and contract, but it is one unit, and does not show the signs of the joints cracking. The other reason that white cabinets are more expensive is that the finish is very unforgiving. Every little nick and blemish shows. Consequently, it is much more labor intensive to obtain a defect free finish. Door overlay also affect the cost of cabinets. Full overlay doors are the most expensive. Full overlay is when the door and drawer cover almost all of the frame of the front of the cabinet. This produces a much more unified or ‘custom’ look. It is also more difficult to get all the doors and drawers aligned properly so the minimal gaps between them are consistent. Standard overlay is when about 1″ of the frame show all around the cabinet door and drawer. This is the least expensive, and is most popular in homes built since the 60’s. Modified overlay is when the drawer is standard and the door is full overlay. Cost will fall in the middle for these cabinets.

I hear that the big-box stores (ie. Lowes, Home Depot, etc.) now remodel kitchens and bathrooms. What are the differences between remodeling companies, and these types of stores?

In a word; service. If you know exactly what you want, and can pick it out at that store, and are prepared to stay at home supervising your remodeling project, then the installed sales (I.S. as they are called) department at the big boxes might be the way to go. Typically, the quality of installation, and attention to detail is not an I.S. trademark. Neither is custom or out of the ordinary work. A lot of things ‘pop up’ during a remodeling project. Unforeseen damage or conditions are a daily occurrence. A remodeling company usually has the people to deal with these ‘things’ in a timely manner, and keep things moving. A remodeling company has greater flexibility to get the job done. Usually, the big boxes do not have the high quality materials that people often are wanting. In fact, manufactures will make lower quality products to sell to the big boxes, then those they sell to plumbers and remodelers. An apple is not always an apple when you buy from the big stores. Like most things, there are situations when a big box store might be the right way to go, and there are times when it is best to have a professional handle the COMPLETE job. Every situation is different, but carefully compare estimates from each of these types of companies. Is it an apple to apple comparison? Usually not. Buyer Beware.

I got three different estimates, and the prices vary greatly. Why?

Good question. There are a number of different factors that go into pricing a remodeling job. Check the obvious first. Make sure that every estimate has the same scope of work. If the estimates are so vague that you cannot decipher that information, go back to the contractor for clarification, IN WRITING, not just a “yea, its included” over the phone. If you cannot get satisfactory written results, eliminate that contractor from future bidding. The level of service given by a contractor greatly affects the cost. If the contractor spends lots of time picking out materials, attending to every detail, and taking care of all the little extras, so you don’t have to, it will cost a little extra. When a contractor carries all the proper and required insurances, his prices will be higher than a ‘pick-up contractor’. Quality of work, hard to show in a written estimate, is also a factor in costs. For example, our carpenters do very high quality work (their standards are usually much higher than our customers). Rarely, does the customer ever ask to have something re-done because of quality issues. That piece of mind is worth extra money up front to most people. This facet of the cost difference is usually only confirmed by calling references or visiting jobs the contractor has done in the past.

I don't want to be without my kitchen for a great length of time. What can the contractor do to 'speed' up the process?

Make sure the contractor orders the cabinets ahead of time if at all possible. Sometimes, it is not possible to do that if lots of demolition is going to be done. Countertops are almost always custom made. But, make sure the contractor orders the material for them ahead of time. It may still take a week to have them made, but you won’t have to wait for the material. Usually, waiting for material to come in is the greatest delay in completing a kitchen.

I called three different remodeling companies for estimates for a bathroom project. One just took my information and said they would get back to me. Another didn't return my call, and the third one asked me lots of questions and said I didn't have enough money budgeted to do the project. What's the difference?

My guess is that the last one was a reputable contractor and the other two were not. Check out the NARI office (see previously answered question) for professional contractors. The reason the last contractor asked questions was because he was qualifying you. We do that so we don’t waste your time (and ours) by going over a project that is either not feasible, or not practical with your budget.

What types of questions should a remodeling contractor ask me when I call for an estimate? It seems some questions asked of me are a bit premature.

A contractor should have you explain the project, a little about your house, and something about yourself. Contractors should ask you about a time frame in which you want the project done. Good contractors can have a backlog of up to 6 months or more, and if you need it done in 3 weeks, then that isn’t the right contractor for you. Budget is sometimes a touchy subject for contractors and homeowners alike. Reputable contractors ask the $$ question to see if you are in the ballpark of having enough money to do the project you are considering. He will usually be able to give a wide range of cost to do a certain project. For example, if you call me up, and inquire about a kitchen remodel, and you think you want to take out a wall, and have new lighting, flooring, countertops, and cabinets installed. If you have no idea what it will be, or what you have to spend, I will tell people we would be in the $18,000 to $35,000 range. That’s when people suddenly have a budget in mind. Now, they think the project can be done for about $10,000. Wow, a quick study in remodeling costs…one minute, no clue, and the next, $10,000. If that is the case, then we probably don’t have much to talk about. Just because you tell a professional contractor your budget for a project, doesn’t mean he will adjust his price accordingly. He has a cost to do a project, and 9 times out of 10 it is usually higher than what you tell him your budget is, Murphy’s Law of Remodeling, I guess.

How should a contractor handle problems that come up?

First of all, with any remodeling project, there will be problems that arise. A good contractor will address problems quickly. He will come up with a solution, implement it, and the project will move forward. Be wary if a contractor keeps putting you off when you try to address problems.

What can I, as a homeowner, expect to do while a remodeling project is being done at my house?

The most important thing you can do is ASK QUESTIONS. If there is something that doesn’t look right, or you think you ordered one thing, and something else is being installed, ASK!! A contractor wants to know if things are not right immediately. There are no dumb questions, remember, IT’S YOUR MONEY. Remember, there will be dust and dirt in your house. It doesn’t matter how careful the contractor is, expect it. Make it easy for the contractor to have access to your house. There will be times when he will have to leave and come back. Give him a key if possible. It will make your life easier to schedule. If you are remodeling a kitchen, eat out a lot. Most kitchen projects take 4-6 weeks. Arrange ahead of time with your contractor to have the refrigerator set up in an alternate location, away from the dust and dirt. If you are remodeling a bathroom, and it is your only bathroom, make arrangements to have the toilet reset each day it is pulled.

What are the first steps to take in any remodeling project?

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas. When you look through magazines and see something you like, rip out the page and stick it in a file folder. The magazine police won’t come to your house. It’s OK to rip pages out. Circle the idea you like in the picture. Remember, you don’t have to like everything in the picture. When you visit home improvement shows, take a camera along. Take pictures of what you like. Books on remodeling from the library are good, but make sure the project you are researching is not dependent on ‘trends’. For instance, a book on kitchen remodeling may not have the latest trends. But if you are looking for designs for a new yard fence, the latest ‘trends’ may not be as important. Organize your project on a scale of ‘wants and needs’. There are certain things that must be changed, some things that would be nice to have, and still others that are just luxuries. For instance, replacing cabinets in a kitchen might be a MUST HAVE, solid surface countertops would be NICE TO HAVE, and an appliance garage would be great (but the small appliances work just fine sitting on the counter). Why do you need this list? Because more often than not, you will get ‘sticker shock’ at the cost of a remodeling project. Then you will have to decide which items you will live without or change, in order to get your project within budget.

How long should a remodeling project take to complete?

Wow, what a vague question. Lots of factors enter into the time it takes to complete a project. Obviously, the scope of the project has the most to do with time. A small bathroom remodel wont take as long as a room addition project. Some things such as custom fit cabinets, or made to size shower doors cannot be ordered in advance. This will delay the completion of the job. In our company, we used to have to wait a long time for laminate countertops for the kitchens. Since the number of days without a sink is proportional to the happiness of the client, we order the laminate in advance. When the base cabinets are set, the countertop contractor comes out to measure for the tops. Fabrication time is the only wait in this instance. We save about 7 days of waiting with this method. Sometimes, the client is responsible for the delay. They might not pick out a tile in time, or make a change that will cause the contractor additional work and time. Hidden conditions also can add to the time of a project. While good contractors try to find most things up front, there is no such thing as X-ray vision. Depending on the extent of damage, more time (and money) may be required to fix it. We try to tell our clients a ‘worst case’ time frame, but we will not rush a job to finish on time and sacrifice quality. We have found that the homeowner would rather it take a little longer, and get a nice quality job.

What are change orders, and how are they used on a remodeling project?

A change order is a form signed by the client authorizing the contractor to do additional work not stated in the contract. It is in the best interest of both parties to have a signed change order before additional work is started. But, in a practical sense, the contractor may do the work before getting the change order signed to keep the job moving. Usually, the amount specified on the change order is due when the work is completed. Most times, a change order is written when the client adds something to the scope of the project, or the contractor finds hidden or unforseen damage.

When visiting Home Improvement Shows looking for a remodeling contractor, what should I keep an eye out for?

Number one thing to look for, is how nice the booth looks. A contractor willing to put time and money into a booth is usually going to be the one who will be here tomorrow. Nicely crafted display booths cost a lot of money, and a ‘fly-by-night contractor’ won’t put out that kind of money. Talk to the person who is attending to the booth. They may not be the most knowledgeable on all subjects, but they should have a general idea of most facets of the remodeling field. Look at the literature the company provides. Is it professionally done? Do they have pictures of past work? Are the pictures thrown in a shoe box, or are they displayed nicely? All the little things that take time (and money) to do says a lot about how the company will treat your remodeling project. Home improvement shows are a great place to talk to a number of contractors in a short period of time. Remember, the contractors have a huge influx of people they need to talk with. If a contractor takes your name and number, and does not get back with you right away, it is probably because he took 50 names and numbers before you came to see him. At home improvement shows, don’t give your name to EVERY contractor you see . Instead, walk through the whole show, talking with contractors (and making notes), then go back and make a few appointments with the couple that really impressed you. You will do yourself and the contractors a big favor.

What should I expect to get from a contractor who gives "FREE ESTIMATES"?

Number one thing to look for, is how nice the booth looks. A contractor willing to put time and money into a booth is usually going to be the one who will be here tomorrow. Nicely crafted display booths cost a lot of money, and a ‘fly-by-night contractor’ won’t put out that kind of money. Talk to the person who is attending to the booth. They may not be the most knowledgeable on all subjects, but they should have a general idea of most facets of the remodeling field. Look at the literature the company provides. Is it professionally done? Do they have pictures of past work? Are the pictures thrown in a shoe box, or are they displayed nicely? All the little things that take time (and money) to do says a lot about how the company will treat your remodeling project. Home improvement shows are a great place to talk to a number of contractors in a short period of time. Remember, the contractors have a huge influx of people they need to talk with. If a contractor takes your name and number, and does not get back with you right away, it is probably because he took 50 names and numbers before you came to see him. At home improvement shows, don’t give your name to EVERY contractor you see . Instead, walk through the whole show, talking with contractors (and making notes), then go back and make a few appointments with the couple that really impressed you. You will do yourself and the contractors a big favor.

How do I find a reliable Contractor, who I can trust?

First, above all else, ask your friends and relatives. Personal, first hand experience is the best. Call the local National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) office, 937-222-NARI, and ask for information. Or, call the Home Builders Association, 937-298-2900. Contractors who belong to these organizations are dedicated to running a professional business.

What key questions do I ask the Contractor when they come to see me?

Hard questions: “How long have you been in business?”, “Have you ever done a project like this? Can you tell me about it?”, “DO YOU HAVE INSURANCE?”, “Will you be able to supply me with a list of references? Will it be more than 3 people?”, “Who does the work; you, your employees, or do you sub-contract out all the work?”, “What professional organizations does your company belong to?”, “Can you supply me with references from your suppliers?” Keep in mind, there are a lot of good craftsmen out there that are bad businessmen. Unfortunately, the bad businessmen will do the most damage to you. Find a contractor that you feel comfortable with, and has the right answers to the hard questions.

What are the warning signs I should look for when interviewing Contractors?

If he can’t prove his insurance, walk away. If a contractor can get to your job right away, be suspicious, a good contractor usually stays pretty busy. If he won’t give you anything in writing, walk away. When a contractor meets with you, ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable with him? Does he seem genuinely interested in my project? Does he seem intimidating? “. YOU MUST FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH THE CONTRACTOR YOU ARE GOING TO WORK WITH!

When the Contractor submits his proposal to me, what should it contain?

It should have a detailed proposal, including model numbers of materials (if chosen). Don’t accept a proposal for a bathroom remodel that says “Remodel bathroom….$3,500.00” written on the back of a business card. Make sure you have a copy of their “proof of insurance” for Workers Comp and liability, any drawings referred by the proposal, and a list of references. CALL THE REFERENCES!!

Should I buy the material and have a Contractor install it? Will I save money?

Some contractors will let you buy material, and others wont. Remember, you are responsible if material is damaged in the box, or any warranty work. What if a contractor shows up to do work, and you didn’t get everything required? If he charges you a service call because he came all the way out to your house and couldn’t do any work, or he has to run out and buy forgotten material, you probably just lost all the money you saved by supplying the material. Be careful.

My contractor said he is licensed, bonded, and insured. What exactly does that mean?

First, licensed is not a valid term, unless he is a trade contractor (plumber, electrician, HVAC ). There is no jurisdiction around Dayton that requires general or remodeling contractors to pass a written test to perform business. Dayton and Springfield requires contractors to register for work done in their cities, so technically, a contractor is “Registered”, not licensed. Second, bonded. This usually means that a contractor has purchased a “Surety Bond” from his insurance company. In the event a contractor fails to complete the work, the insurance company will pay up to “the surety bond amount” to have work completed. Third, and MOST IMPORTANT, insurance. What kind of insurance? Maybe the contractor has his truck insured, and he says he is insured, technically, he is right to say “insured”. A contractor should have liability insurance in excess of $1 Million dollars. This would protect you in case, maybe, your house burns down as a result of the contractors negligence. The other form of insurance he must have is Worker’s Compensation Insurance. This protects you. If no Workers Comp Insurance is carried, and one of the contractors employees falls off of your roof, your Homeowners Policy could be responsible to pay. GET BOTH OF THOSE ‘PROOF OF INSURANCES’ BEFORE YOU SIGN A CONTRACT!!!!!

How many estimates should I get for a remodeling project?

I’m sure you have heard to always get three estimates for any work you are going to have done. Well, that depends on a lot of factors. If a contractor has been recommended by a friend, you have seen his work and are satisfied with the quality, and YOU have met and talked with the contractor and are comfortable with him, then maybe you only need to get his estimate. If you feel his price is reasonable, I would say go for it. On the other hand, if you are getting bids from contractors that you have no personal experience with, get three bids. If the bids are within 10-15% of each other, then choose based on your comfort level with the contractor. If the three bids are really different, more investigation needs to be done. Either, a contractor forgot something and the bids are not “apples to apples” bids, or there might be something suspicious about a contractor with a “out of range” bid. Look closely, buyer beware.

I have heard about a new polished brass finish for faucets that doesn't tarnish. Is that true?

Yes, it really is true. A process developed by Baldwin Brass, the maker of high line exterior door hardware, has been used by faucet manufactures for a couple of years to create a tarnish free finish. It is warranted for life on most good quality faucets. Moen offers it as a “Life Shine” finish. A word of caution: Ammonia based cleaners such as Windex, can cause the finish to have ‘spots’ that cannot be removed. Cover the faucet with a rag when cleaning a mirror above the faucet.

I hate the cheap, flimsy towel bars available at home centers. What are my options?

Like anything, you get what you pay for. We have a number of choices that are higher quality. Most have a 1″ towel bar made from thick tubing, and very ornate, decorative mounting brackets. The styles can range from Victorian to Contemporary. The finishes available are anything from chrome, to pewter, to 24K gold plating. And there are accessories to match also. Towel stands, toothbrush holders and switch plates can all be ordered to have a consistent theme throughout the bathroom.

What are my choices for 'out of the ordinary' knobs for my cabinets?

WOW! The choices are endless. This is definitely one area that is seeing a lot of change. Today you can get actual stones for a great Southwestern look. Pewter ‘branches, acorns, and leaves’ are available for an Arts and Crafts detail that will look super. The possibilities are endless from jewel-like stones to ceramic knobs with geometric symbols on them. If you can dream it, we can probably get it!

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