There's so many things we would love to share with customers about being a general contractor, to give them the "inside" story, but that would take years. There are however, a few important aspects that we feel could really benefit every homeowner looking to start any projects on their home.
Therefore, when looking to undertake a project, whether hiring a contractor or attempting to do it yourself, please always consult a licensed professional. Lord & Lady Construction offers free consulting on projects. Give us a call and our head contractor, Thomas, will come to your home and discuss the project with you and answer any questions you may have. Taking this step, can help ensure that you are completing the work properly, and not making a mistake that you may not even be aware of.
2) Home Improvement stores and employees, do not know code. When you walk into a Home Improvement store like Lowes, Home Depot or Menards, there's a good chance you're going to have a question about something. Whether its a question about where something is, or which of the thirty choices of nails you should buy, or how you should install your decking, you'll be looking for the employee with the apron.
Now, most of these employees are probably well-meaning. We don't feel they intentionally give out bad advice, and we're not saying all the advice they give out is bad. However, most employees of these stores, are not licensed builders, they are not EPA Lead certified, and most have not actually ever worked on a job site. What this means is, when you get advice from them, it is not actually professional advice. We have seen a lot of DIY work done without a permit, done wrong, or done correctly, but with the wrong materials, because of Home Improvement store advice. In fact, just walking through one of these stores, we often here this bad advice being given.
As with any do-it-yourself project, we strongly suggest that you get the opinion and advice from a licensed builder, before you head to the store for materials. This can again ensure that you understand all aspects of your project and know what materials to buy.
3) Builders Licenses used to require passing only one test. Since June 2008, getting a residential builders license requires 60 educational hours are completed and that you then pass a test to receive your license. This means that there is now some amount of work and commitment required, to receive a builders license.
Previously, to receive a license, it was only required that you pass their exam. Meaning if you did some basic studying from their guidelines, you would likely be able to receive a builders license.
Anyone who had a license prior to this new rule taking affect in 2008, was "grandfathered" in with their license. They didn't have to do any additional new work to keep their license.
So, when you verify a contractor's license online on LARA's web site, you can check the date that the license was issued. Anyone with a license issue date prior to 2008, was not required by law, to do as much to get that license, as those with a license date after that. Now, this does not mean that people with licenses prior to that date didn't do more work. Many contractors, like our head contractor, Thomas, attended college, or other educationals, in addition to taking the state test for a license. The point is though, they didn't have to, so they also may not have.
Currently, to renew your license, in addition to fees, you have to complete a certain number of continuing education hours. The base minimum for this renewal is very small, so hopefully your contractor is attending more hours than required. Here at Lord & Lady Construction, we attend multiple educationals a year, on site safety, energy efficiency, code, new construction and materials and green conferences.
4) Licensed Contractors may not always be on site. Unfortunately, just because a company or contractor is licensed, it doesn't mean that licensed individual is going to be on-site at all times, or doing any of the work. Many large construction companies hire multiple employees to work for them. Most of these workers are typically not licensed, so they don't get paid as much. Often, this means that unlicensed workers are doing the majority of the work you are paying for.
Now, this is not to say that they don't know what their doing. They most likely do have a good idea how to do the work they have been tasked with, if they didn't, the larger companies would never get anything done. However, having a licensed contractor work on your home, versus someone who doesn't have that education and background, is definitely going to land you with different results.
A licensed contractor doing the physical work, is less likely to make mistakes. This means you will save time and money, because things don't have to be changed, adjusted, or redone completely. Licensed contractors are also more likely to tell you when they run into problems, and help you find appropriate solutions. We have run into countless situations, where work was done on a home previously, and there was a serious problem, that was just covered up. In our experience, this happens most often, because the full ramifications were not understood originally. A licensed builder, should be able to evaluate the situation in front of them, and get the homeowners involved in the situation if needed, rather than covering it up and saying, "Not my problem, not what I was hired for..."
Being a small company, Lord & Lady can ensure that our head contractor, Thomas, is either on-site over-seeing all work being done, or doing the work himself.
5) Licensed Contractors do not automatically have insurance, and not all insurance is the same. Just because a builder has a Michigan builders license, doesn't mean that they are insured. It is not a requirement for receiving your builders license. Additionally, all insurance is not the same. There's basic general liability (for if you get hurt on the job site, or damages to your property occur because of the construction), workers comp (for the employees of the company), and you can be bonded as well. Then beyond that, there are varying degrees of each of these policies.
Here at Lord & Lady Construction, we make sure our insurance covers as many aspects as we can think of. Of particular importance to homeowners, our general liability insurance covers not only the basics, but also all materials. Not only when they are on the job site, but also when they are in-transit from the store.
This is important to the homeowner, because until your project is completed and you have a certificate of occupancy from the county, your homeowners insurance will not cover any damages to any of your materials, or the work being completed. This means, that if you have a break-in at your home, and someone vandalizes all the materials, our insurance would cover it. Or, say that the new addition is nearing completion, but somehow the water pipe to your house bursts and floods the addition, your homeowners insurance would not cover this, but ours would. All of this additional coverage just gives everyone more peace of mind. So when looking at a contractors credentials, be sure to thoroughly research and ensure they are insured to a level you feel comfortable with.
6) Building code for permits is just the bare minimum for basic safety and necessity. Building permits are required for almost every project on your home. There are very few things you can do, that don't require one, and those few things vary from county to county in Michigan. The reason for this is to try and ensure that all homes are meeting the same safety and quality guidelines. If everyone would follow the law and code, you would barely have to worry about home inspections when buying a home, because there wouldn't be surprises and problems in the home. But people don't always follow the law. Home improvements that require permits are illegally done without permits every day.
This is so sad to us. Mainly because, permits aren't asking you to do anything crazy and aren't all that expensive. The costs of permits varies by county, but is typically based on the size of the project and the cost to complete it. This often means that they will be just 2-5% of your total project cost, which is typically not that much.
Additionally, all of the expansive codes and regulations, truly are just the bare minimum for safety. As soon as the 2009 code guidelines were put in place, they immediately started revising and updating the code book for its next release. It takes them awhile to agree and finish this at a state level, so every few years they finally agree and upgrade the official code guidelines, and many of the previous codes are now deemed not safe enough. That should be terrifying. It means that even if your home met all code at the time it was built, they may now realize that having that type of electrical outlet in the bathroom, or by the laundry, actually has caused a lot of house fires, so now you can't do that anymore. But in your house, its still like that. And even crazier to us, building codes didn't even exist before January 1973 (check out more history here), so if you have a home built prior to that, there literally was no standard for safety or quality that had to be met. (Here at Lord & Lady, we are members of the Grand Traverse Area Home Builder's Association, who houses a respected member who actually help write the original building code, and currently acts as the code "guru" for any questions any members may have on their project).
What does all this mean to you, the homeowner? It means, don't skip the permits, don't let a handyman convince you it's unnecessary. Building permits and inspectors are truly there to protect you, your home, and your future pocketbook. Make sure your contractor is not only licensed, but fluent in the most up-to-date code regulations. Here at Lord & Lady Construction, we strive to not only meet code, but often times exceed it, to ensure it is as safe as possible and won't become obsolete and incorrect, once a new code is released. If your contractor has this same mindset, inspections shouldn't be a burden or scary, but an easy and predictable step of the project.
7) To do any work on a home built prior to 1978, your contractor must be EPA Lead Safe Certified. If your home was built prior to 1978, lead safety laws and precautions have to be followed. A contractor who is EPA Lead Certified, and also has firm certification, has taken courses to learn the proper removal and disposal and is aware of these rules and regulations. A certified contractor should have a certificate number and can be located on this site, http://cfpub.epa.gov/flpp/searchrrp_firm.htm.
There is paperwork and a contract that all pre-1978 homeowners must receive and sign from their contractor. For more details on these lead safety laws please visit http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/lead/pubs/renovation.htm or call and speak with a specialist Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm eastern time (except Federal holidays) at 1-800-424-LEAD .
8) Basic safety regulations are monitered by MIOSHA and in residential building, barely monitored. MIOSHA stands for Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They set the regulations in the state of Michigan for construction job site safety. The monitor and enforce these regulations on both commercial and residential projects. Because commercial projects are generally much larger in scale, with way more workers on site, they regulate and enforce these rules on commercial sites, much, much more than on residential sites. What this means is, many residential builders and job sites, are not actually meeting or following these rules. Particularly when it comes to fall safety (ladders, roofing, scaffolding, etc).
Why is this a problem for you? Just think, if you are having a remodel done to your home, or a roofing project completed, how would you feel if one of those people working was seriously injured completing your project? I would expect, you'd feel terrible, as would the contractor. Would it slow down the project? Most certainly. It might even make it difficult for the contractor to complete the project, depending on who got hurt, and what legal ramifications there were.
So, the best solution, is to be sure you are working with a reputable licensed builder. When you see them working, make sure it looks like they're being safe. If you see a guy standing on a board that's resting on two different ladders, one of which is sitting in a truck and the other is on a pile of dirt, stop and question the situation. Talk to your builder, and if necessary, contact MIOSHA yourself.
Here at Lord & Lady, we take safety on the job site very seriously. Hard hats are required. Safety harnesses are used in all roofing situations. All employees have to complete a MIOSHA job site safety course. Both owners are CPR and First Aid certified, to ensure help on the job site if something does happen. Additionally, we always ensure that we have our own MIOSHA approved ladders with us for estimates, to allow for inspections up high, without having to rely on homeowner ladders, which may or may not meet safety guidelines.