With the deep recession we’re in, anyone with a pickup truck has gotten into the construction business.  Here’s an example and advice on avoiding getting ripped off by unscrupulous or inexperienced contractors:

In January, I completed a sunroom addition in Big Canoe next door to a home that was having a screen porch added.  The homeowner asked for my bid on the screen porch (I originally built the home for its previous owner) and the customer chose to go with a friend’s son, whose bid was a little less than mine.  My estimate for completion:  3 weeks.

The homeowner started the job in November and needed it complete before the holidays.  Guess when it was done?  This week, a full 3 months.   A job that should have taken 3 weeks took 300% longer.

Before you hire any contractor, follow these 5 essential steps:

  1. Check at least 3 references (that are not relatives).  Check out the contractor’s work on these jobs in person.
  2. Have the contractor provide their workers compensation and general liability insurance.  Ensure the paperwork is authentic by requesting it from the contractor’s insurance company.
  3. Get a copy of the contractor’s state license.  Most states require a license to obtain a building permit.  If the contractor wants you to obtain the permit or doesn’t want to get one, check with the county/city building department to see if one is required for the work you are doing.  If a permit is required, don’t use a contractor that is unwilling to get one.
  4. Clearly define the work to be done and get a fixed price contract.  If you change the work specifications, get the new cost and work schedule in writing.
  5. Have clearly defined milestones tied to dates in the contract.  For exterior work, don’t forget to add extra time for weather delays, especially in winter.

By following these 5 steps, you can ensure you will have a positive experience in renovating or updating your home.

Top Five Improvements for Americans Remodeling, Not Moving

Americans are staying put and upgrading their homes rather than moving, a trend reflecting the oversupply of the nation’s housing, according to Ron James of Green Builder Media (GreenBuilder Gatekeeper, Oct. 30, 2009).  Citing a recent Census Bureau Quarterly Vacancy Survey, James said there is an “immense need to upgrade, update, and improve the performance of our existing residential building stock.”

Big Canoe homeowners are updating their current homes to be more livable, energy-efficient, and comfortable, according to David Peagler of Peagler Custom Homes.  “Clients are upgrading kitchens and bathrooms and adding more entertaining space to their current homes,” says Peagler.  “People are making long-term improvements to homes they expect to live in for the next five to ten years.”

Here are the top five home improvements that provide both immediate impact and long-term benefits for resale once the economy improves:

  1. Kitchen.  Change out dated and worn countertops for granite and quartz to update your home.  Replace broken cabinets or reface door fronts for a more affordable alternative.
  2. Bathrooms.  Install ergonomic 36” vanities that require less bending to use and provide more storage space.
  3. Screen Porch.  Extend outdoor living space by installing a rustproof stainless steel fireplace.  Wire your screen porch for cable and electricity so you can add a flat-screen television to enjoy football and baseball seasons from your porch.
  4. Deck.  Entertain family and friends with an outdoor kitchen. Connect your built-in outdoor grill to your home’s existing gas line to avoid the hassle of refilling portable propane tanks.
  5. Terrace Level.  Add value and living space by finishing your terrace level.  Create a guest suite by adding a bedroom and bath, or create a home office for working from home.  Big wedding or anniversary party coming up?  Don’t spend thousands on an expensive rental facility; instead, invest in your home, host an at-home wedding and reception or 50th anniversary party, then enjoy the benefits of your new space long after.

David Peagler is owner of Peagler Custom Homes in Big Canoe.  He is a licensed member of the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association, a certified Green Builder, and a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist.  His website is www.peaglercustomhomes.com and his phone is 706-268-1563.

Question: What does a green house look like?

Answer: Similar to any other house on the outside.  But it’s what’s inside that counts.

Building a green home starts with site selection.  Tips for an energy efficient site selection:

  1. Situate the side of the house with the most windows, usually the back, to face due South.
  2. Minimize land disturbance by leaving trees to provide shade and keep the ground stable.  In Big Canoe, we are only allowed to clear 10′ around the perimeter of the house.  Since most of our trees are deciduous, they provide shade in the summer and when they lose their leaves in the winter allow sunlight to warm the house.
  3. Plan for water drainage from the beginning.  Make sure the house is situated and the land is graded so that water runs away from the house.

Forthcoming “Green” topics will cover windows, HVAC systems, insulation, building materials, and other ways to make your home green.

David Peagler is a Certified Green Professional and builds homes in the Big Canoe Community, located in the foothills of the Appalachians of north Georgia.

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