Why should I remodel my home?

This is obviously the first question one asks, and there is no definitive answer. Most people remodel their homes to create more living space. Others renovate just to update the look of their home, such as a new kitchen or bath, or adding a deck or other exterior alterations.
No matter what the reason, you should carefully plan and weigh all options and issues before beginning any remodeling project. There are many factors that can affect the feasibility of a project such as, budget, zoning regulations, taxes, etc.

Why do I need to hire a general contractor (GC) for my remodeling project?

Hiring a qualified GC will bring their expertise into the preparation, building, quality control, and completion of your project. It is the best way to ensure your project will proceed in a timely fashion, and with the fewest possible “surprises”. Homeowners that run their own jobs tend to not get the same attention and service from subcontractors and suppliers that the qualified GC will get.

Remember, the homeowner represents only one job for the subcontractor or supplier, while the GC represents many jobs. While you may save a little money trying to GC your own job, it will be an enormous amount of work, and will most definitely take longer to complete the project.

How do I choose a qualified general contractor?

Choosing the right GC is the most important decision you will make during your project. What to look for in a GC depends on what your needs are. A full service GC, such as Cedarbrook Builders, will provide a complete slate of services including design/build, architectural, and expediting (permits, material selections, etc.), in addition to the actual construction.

You should make a list of questions to ask prospective GCs, the first being whether they are licensed and insured. You should only use a fully licensed and insured GC. You can call your local consumer affairs office, and they will be able to tell you the status of his license and insurance, as well as any complaints that have been lodged against him. Get references from the GC for former customers, and call them.
Ask them about all phases of the project; the attitude of workers, the cleanliness of the jobsite, the responsiveness of the project supervisor, the duration of the project, how many extras there were. You may want to ask the GC if you can visit a few jobs, both completed and in progress. This will let you see not only the finished product, but also give you an idea how well a jobsite is maintained.

Do I need an architect?

This will depend on scope of the project, as well as local zoning requirements. Generally, if the local jurisdiction requires a permit for the project, it will also require architectural drawings done by a certified architect. Some GCs will provide full architectural and design services as part of your contract, or will work with plans provided by the homeowner’s own architect.

There are some GCs that only offer construction services and will not even meet with a potential customer unless they already have architectural plans.

Will I need to get a building permit?

Many jurisdictions only require permits & plans if you are changing the actual size and structure of your home. Others will require permits for just about any type of work. It is best to begin by contacting your local building department in your jurisdiction to find out what the requirements are for the type of project you are considering.

The GC should be an integral part of the permit process. He must be identified on the permit, and have the proper proof of insurance on file with the jurisdiction. A full service GC will prefer to be responsible for the permits and will be named as the applicant on behalf of the owner.

How much should my project cost?

The project costs will be as varied as the projects themselves. The GC should be able to provide you with a detailed breakdown of the costs for all phases of the job (i.e. demolition, framing, electrical, plumbing, trim work, etc.). If you do not get a detailed cost breakdown, comparing quotes from different contractors will be difficult, since you won’t know if they both include the same things.

In order to sell the job, many contractors will provide generic estimates that may provide everything required of the plans, but don’t allow for the myriad of other costs and upgrades that crop up in every project. After the job starts, the homeowner is often presented with a lot of additional work orders with the excuse, “it wasn’t on the plan”.

Either way the homeowner still pays, but without the benefit of knowing up front what the costs should be. However, even with the most thorough and detailed estimate, additional work will still occur. Additional work usually falls into two categories: 1) additional items asked for by the homeowner and; 2) work that could not have been foreseen prior to starting the project.

An example of this might be that after demolition, structural problems are discovered that require repair prior to continuing the project. You should allow for at least 10% to 15% of the contract price for additional work, especially when dealing with older structures.

How long should my project take, and when can you start?

The GC should be able to provide you with an overall project schedule. This may be included as part of the payment schedule. Milestones are generally identified for certain payments to become due (i.e., start of work, start of plumbing, installation of sheetrock). Although approximate start and end dates for the project may be provided, they cannot be considered to be absolute.

There are many factors that can cause delays in a project, such as weather conditions, availability of materials, and additional work requests. Constant communication between the GC and the homeowner is vital for keeping a job on schedule. If there is a delay, the homeowner should be informed. One of the most important things a homeowner can do to help prevent delays is to make sure that they make their material selections early so they are ready for delivery when they are needed.
Most contractors should have a few months backlog of work, and generally will not be able to start a job immediately. Be careful if you are in a rush to get the job started. If a GC says he can start right away, you should ask yourself, and him, why.

What should be included in the contract?

The contract should include detailed specifications for all work to be completed broken down by phases. A detailed payment schedule should be included. Most GCs will require a deposit, which can be anywhere from 10% to 50%, and is usually due at the contract signing. Any items that are the homeowner’s responsibility should be clearly defined.

The law requires that a cancellation notice be provided. This allows for the homeowner to cancel the contract without penalty within three business days of signing it. Both the homeowner and the GC should get a signed copy of the contract.

How do I prepare my home for the project?

Any renovation project is disruptive and stressful for the homeowner who has to live through it. Most people do not have the option of moving out of their home during a major renovation. For extremely large projects affecting the entire house, this may be the only option, but that is rare.

What should I expect from my contractor during construction?

The most important thing a GC can do is to keep an open dialog with the homeowner. This will ensure there are no surprises. A lead man or supervisor should be assigned to your job, and should be available to handle any questions or issues you might have. You should be receiving constant updates on project schedules, additional required work, or other problems that crop up.

You should expect all workers and subcontractors to be courteous, professional, and helpful. You should expect the jobsite to be cleaned daily, with debris gathered together, and all walkways clear. You should expect the work areas to be as contained as possible, and to protect the non-work areas as best as possible. You should not expect there to be workers on your job everyday.

There will be days that, due to scheduling, subcontractor availability, and material deliveries, there will be no workers on site. You will be aware of this if the GC is properly communicating with you.

What will my contractor expect of me during construction?

You should consider your GC a partner in your project. You will need to work together to coordinate and schedule the vast array of tasks that need to be completed. There will be many things that the GC will need from you, the most important being the timely selection of materials.

The last thing you want is to have work stop because materials aren’t available. Some materials may be special order and will require long lead times. If you haven’t received one, ask your GC for a list of those materials you will need to select. This process should start even before the actual construction begins. The GC will also need full access to the jobsite.

The best way to do this is to give the GC a key to your home, or some other means of entering, like a garage door access code. Many customers feel uncomfortable allowing a GC into their home while they are not there. This is understandable, but unless someone will always be home, limiting the GC’s access to your home will cause delays in your project.

The bottom line is if you can’t trust you GC to be in your home unattended, you have picked the wrong GC.