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Can You Identify the Black Substance in This Photo?

I had a surreal conversation with a contractor this morning, one of the stranger topics was the black substance seen in this photo.  Now I am part of a home improvement magazine and its publications, so maybe I am not the typical homeowner.  But I identified this substance without much mental effort and asked the contractor why the insulation was not replaced. Now I am not making this up, he said he couldn’t be sure of what it was and the insulation wasn’t replaced because it looked fine to him and anyway it was no longer wet.  This insulation is on an exterior wall and has been behind a tub/shower combination since 1984.  Regardless of the contract explicitly stating existing insulation would be removed and replaced, I am dumbfounded by the answers I got this morning. So EHT readers let me know, just take a wild guess as to what that substance might be and no I don’t need the scientific name, just the common household name we use will do fine.

I am thinking this is mold and mildew, what do you think?

I asked point blank. How much does a roll of insulation costs? How long does it take to replace insulation? By my estimation, I can buy a roll for around $20. One roll would have easily replaced all of the insulation in this small space.  And guys, all of us know how easy and fast putting fiberglass up.  Is it any wonder so many homeowners dread dealing with contractors.  In 1998 I had a basement finished. One of the line items on the bill was for  24 square feet  additional insulation.  I gave the laborer three 8 foot sections of my fiberglass I already had and I held the batts in place why the laborer tacked it up, maybe five minutes total.  The General Contractor billed me $800 for that line item. Using my insulation and me holding the batts up while the labor stapled them in.

The scenario this morning bothers me more than the over-billing that occurred years ago and here is why.  My dad died a little more than a year ago. He was 78. My mom turns 80 next month.  Mom sought out a quality remodeler to renovate her exisiting bathroom.  She wanted a reputable company to avoid having to deal with headaches of unscrupulous types.  So I asked her to have three companies bid the job and then compare and go with what she thought met her needs.

The bids came in and were close in estimated costs.  She chose the company whose owner had a radio show on remodeling, and was featured in the local remodeling magazine and was the past president of the Remodelers Association and belonged to the Better Business Bureau, all of the right things a homeowner would look for.  The proposal looked professional. A copy sits on my desk as I type this, along with the contract.  This is the very same contract that on page two states, “Will Provide and Install Insulation in exterior walls,”  that now seems to be non-existent in the contractor’s memory. The same contract that had two changes initialed from the original quote, and incurred a $12,000 plus up-charge. Do you know what the two changes were?  She changed the cabinet wood from Maple to Cherry and deleted base molding.  At this meeting on November 5, the contractor told her that in order to get the work started she needed to go ahead and sign the contracts and pay a 50 percent deposit.  Months went by. The check was cashed immediately. November comes and goes, no word from the contractor.  December goes by and still no word from the builder. Late January, I ask my mother if she has heard from the company and she tells me she has not. I tell her to contact them and ask for her money back. She says give them one more chance, and she calls them. A week goes by and someone from the office calls her and says they will begin work soon.

So a dumpster shows up for the demolition and trash, along with a  portable toilet in the driveway. Work begins the following week. Demolition went quick.  Then the tradespeople begin showing up and doing electrical and plumbing. I asked mom, what the building inspector had to say about the work. She told me that he must have come when she wasn’t there. Another week goes by and I observe some work that doesn’t even approach local or national building codes and ask again about the inspection, same answer was given.  When I saw the work that I knew failed code being covered up, I called the local building inspector as drywall was already hung and this did not make sense. Well it seems that the contractor had not pulled a permit on this job.

Now ask yourself, you are a contractor doing a job in an upscale neighborhood, complete with a portable toilet and a 10 yard dumpster on the front lawn, might you think this might draw the attention of the local building inspector.  Not even taking into consideration that new housing starts are down and inspectors have more time to look now than they did three years ago, I would think an inspector would see this as a flagrant disregard for his authority.

Overview of Bathroom Makeover

Overview of Bathroom Makeover

So for just under $35,000, the contractor has priced this job with dimensions of and once again I am not making this up, total area 7 feet by 13, 7×5 is a total remodel with a tile shower, and the remainder is being drywalled and the Cherry cabinets and two sinks will be installed.  In the sitting area, the part of the project that occupies an area of 48 square feet no flooring is being done.    I am looking at the drawings right now, if you want to see them I will be happy to send you a copy.  I am in the business and I know what materials costs and what labor costs and I firmly believe in profit. However I don’t believe in taking advantage or fleecing of the elderly, or even the common homeowner who is not schooled in home improvement.    For the homeowner, Craftsman  has  a book called the Estimator that will help you have a better understanding of how contractors price jobs.  The book is written for the General Contractor but is a great resource for anyone about to contract for home improvement.

Now here is the irony of this situation.  This contractor got this contract, because of his visibility and promoting himself as having received awards by the local magazine for Home Remodelers and being a past president of its association.  Well, I am with a national publication. He had a radio show. I am on the radio also, Constructive Solutions.  ( I wish I had a constructive solution to this mess.)

So I am asking you the reader what action should I take. And I mean keep it in the bound of what is legal.  I want input not just from homeowners but also from contractors. What is the best way to get the desired outcome? I want to hear what has worked and what hasn’t.


  1. Bunyan Cocar says:

    I had some work done on my kitchen, but knowing the trouble others have had with contractors I basically just had the contractor do one small job, to see how reliable he was and to see how well he did the job. If I was happy with how he did the job, then I told him I’d call him back. Well he did the job well enough, although not exactly how I would have hoped he’d do it, but good enough. Overkill in some spots and sloppy in others, but it was fine, since it was framing and won’t be seen. But then the bill came, and it was more than we had agreed on, not a significant amount, but there were no reasons for this over charge. There were not surprises, just straightforward framing, the job was done in an hour, but i was charged for three. Needless to say I didn’t call him back. I won’t be calling any “professionals” for a while. They don’t care about my house as much as I do, so I’d rather research how to do something (on good websites like yours) and do it myself, then I’ll know it gets done properly. Some jobs are beyond me, but that’s what friends are for.

  2. ToolPR says:

    I think sending him a link to this blog post and pointing out the size of the audience that has already seen it via Twitter, Facebook, etc. might be a pretty good starting point! :-)

    I once had a similar situation with a flooring installer and a major national building products retailer. Sending all parties involved drafts of letters I was considering sending to the State Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the Better Business Bureau got results VERY quickly.

  3. EHT Online says:

    Bunyan, thanks for the nice words. I understand your situation. I have rebuilt two bathrooms in the past year for articles. I work within budgets as best as possible and because of my job and because of my experience I know what things cost. But think about it, he up-charged an 80 year old widow 12,000 to change to cherry from maple. We are not talking particle board to ipe. But she didn’t know better and she signed the contract. She trusted him because he had a radio show and was past president of the GBAHBR (Remodelers Association) and had won awards in a magazine he advertised in. This whole thing is wrong on so many counts.
    Thanks again,

  4. EHT Online says:

    Good advice. I was just e-mailed by one of my buddies in the industry and the frustrating thing is we are part of this industry on many levels. A very large portion of what i do online is focused on the building industry and contractors. Anyway my friend posted this on his Facebook and his Twitter page, and already 455 people had jumped on this. Bear in mind we are industry people and when someone in the industry makes the industry look bad, the industry reacts. I reach 100,000 contractors a month through the website, and most of those are not only conscientious contractors, but also good people. They come to our site seeking better ways to do the jobs they face and we try and provide them with quality information. I had photographed the work progress for hopeful use as additional art for our publications and never expected to use the photos in this manner, but when the after shots were the same as the before shots, well it is what it is. Covering up shoddy construction with expensive paint does not make a good product. And when you pay for top end work, the quality work should begin with demolition and not stop until the job is finished. The other thing about this episode is that through my position here, I have reach far beyond what a typical homeowner does. EHT Website reaches 400,000 a month, the digital magazine is already over a 100,000 for February and my newsletter has two million plus subscribers each month. So here we are. And the contractor still refuses to answer why the insulation was not replaced. The contract specified its replacement and he wrote the contract. On a job that he is charging 35 thousand dollars for an area smaller than a closet, even if it wasn’t part of the contract, why not point it out to the homeowner, remove the mold and mildewed insulation and spend $15 for a roll of insulation and take five minutes to replace it.
    But I guess he thought an 80 year old widow would never know the difference, especially if he didn’t pull permits on the job and no inspector would see what was behind the drywall. I guess he was wrong.

  5. Allen says:

    I need everyone to know that not every contractor is like that. I always go the extra mile but sometimes you come accross people that no matter what you do you cannot please them. The thing that really burns me as that those contractors always seam to get all the work. The customers call me back later telling me they wish they would have had me do the job but it’s too late so why even call. I don’t spend all my time and money advertising and running around talking on radio stations. If i spent what some of these contractors do i would have to do the same thing just to keep enough money coming in to pay for all this stuff to make me look good. Everyone needs to know that advertising, social marketing, web sites are a cost and must be paid for somehow. I have been in this business for 15 years and i don’t know how some of these contractors do it becuase i sure don’t make that kind of money doing business the honest way. I laugh when i see the new truck, trailer and tools sitting on a job knowing that that consumer got that contractor because he looked like he must know what he is doing becuase of all the new and big bells and wistles he owns. He owns them for a reason and its not becuase his estimates come under.

  6. Bill W says:

    Sounds like a call to the State Attorneys’ Office Fraud Division to file a complaint, and perhaps a few other state agencies. Some states have agencies that go after people ripping off the elderly. Just go to the States’ web site and start looking up agencies to file a complaint with the more the merrier. Don’t forget to file a complaint with the county agency that issued his contractors’ license. Meanwhile, you may want to do a slight rewrite on you blog above and send it to the local newspapers as a letter to the editor or as a guest columnist on watching out for your parents so they don’t get ripped off in their old age. If it were me, I would do everything in my power to ruin this guy so he will never do this to anyone else again, (the modern equilivent of running him out of town).

  7. EHT Online says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Bells and whistles are also used to let people know the circus is coming to town. I had a contractor a few years ago who appreciated that he was working with someone who understood his business. I am not saying everything was rosy, but prices established and work performed were what I expected. Before he would begin a new part of the project we would both walk through the steps and discuss what we thought would work best and since a lot of what we were dealing with was drainage issues there was latitude in what methods could be used to move water away from the foundation.
    Being an active part of the discussions certainly eliminated a lot of what we are going through now. I knew what the contractor would be doing and and why. He knew what my concerns were, from having lived there for a period of time and being able to understand that this one area of the house’s drainage issues affected other areas, which changed how we sloped the runoff. Communication between the contractor and the home owner plays a critical role in avoiding conflicts down the road. The funny thing is when I see how the current contractor did this job, I see a lot of effort being put into the visible elements of the job, the finish work,the paint and the things the homeowner sees when the work is finished. But the work behind the drywall is sketchy, the electrician did a fine job and the plumber from what I have seen did acceptable work. But on the plumbing side, i cringe when I see PEX used and then jointed like it was copper where every turn has a 90 fitting.
    Thanks for your comment, I wanted to hear from contractors and be able to provide our readers with what works to get corrections made to a job that works for both the homeowner and the contractor.
    Hal Jones
    EHT Online

  8. phil (contractor) says:

    This is why contractor have a bad rep, this guy should be reported to the lic board and sanctioned possibly revoked (if he’s done this in the past to others).
    I don’t know what state your in, but in Cal he could be facing jail time, 1 – never give more than, A)- 1 K for a deposit, B)- 10 % to start the project, C)- 15 % increment for progress payments (& only if 15 % of work & or materials supplied) D)- the last 10 % before entire project is completed to satisfaction, E)- open ended time to perform & complete the job.
    If the contractor takes a deposit and dose not start within 30 days or a specified schedule it is considered fraud.

  9. Hal says:

    Thanks for the comments. We are located in Shelby County, Alabama. This guy took a 14K deposit on the front end. 7K on the first day he showed up. Our attorneys have asked us to lay back until the work is complete, but its not the attorney’s bathroom that will have active mold and mildew behind the walls once the job is finished. So my thought s are to get it corrected while it is being built and sort the rest out later.
    Hal Jones
    EHT Online Media

  10. John (contractor) says:

    I agree with Phil. First contact the your city or county building officials and report that work is being done on your home without the proper permits and inspections. Secondly if your state has a contractors license board, report him for failure to meet his contractual obligations in a timely manner and in accordance with your signed aggreement.

    Giving a deposit to a contractor in California is exactly as Phil stated. 10% of the total contract price or $1000 up front, whichever is LESS! Then a start up fee. I set up my contracts with progress payments that specify I don’t get any more money until I complete a certain phase of the project. This puts the homeowner at ease that money isn’t going out unless work is being done. Also, any contract should indicate a start up date – In California a contractor is required to start within 20 days of the start up date. He must also indicate a completion date for the project. I try to estimate a completion date for my jobs that exclude weather and delivery delays just in case of the unexpected should occure.

    Most importantly, communication is the key to a trouble free project. Sounds like your contractor was lacking in this area since he didn’t bother to let you know what when he planned to start or what he planned to do when he did start.

    You can also contact the Department of Consumer Affairs in your area and the BBB since he is a member.

  11. ThePolak says:

    You might take legal action and find the money you lose will be to your attorney ( who by the way takes your money ) and always says he thinks you have a good case; And the “contractor” who, if is worth his “salt” , has a ‘signed contract” that will ultimately determine the outcome. If he wins, you will be paying a whole lot more than his attorney’s fees, but also yours, and the subsequent claim and lawsuit to follow – so many people are surprised at this , WHY?

    You make and insinuate many allegations of what “you think” should be , but I say that’s the purpose of a “contract”, and if it is not spelled out, then you need to ask your contractor for an addendum or other solution to your problem.

    I might suggest if you think this is mildew, or toxic mold, and there is no “provision” in your contract for remediation of such items, you are then liable for the contractor and his workers; You are responsible for anything that was not “contracted for” – whay is that hard to understand?

  12. Hal says:

    The permit story is a whole other chapter. Line One of the contract states, Contractor will attain and pay for all permits. Three months later, one month into the job and only after my calling the building inspector, permits were attained. Do you think the inspectors were happy? The licensing board is a good idea, but I wanted to give the builder a chance to correct the job.
    Thanks for your comments.
    Hal Jones
    EHT Online

  13. Ranchboy says:

    What a sad situation: I have been in the home improvement/handyman business for almost 20 years in several western states and have never treated any of my clients the way this contractor treated your mother. Bear in mind that I have never been licensed and even one state that I lived in didn’t have licensed contractors or state level building and safety. Those of us in the building trades know and understand the pros and cons of being licensed so with that in mind, I chose the road less traveled. I know that state contractor’s licensing boards exist ostensibly as a protection for the consumer but somehow over the years, they have become a shield for disreputable contractors to hide behind and continue to use unethical business practices and substandard building practices with impunity. It is indeed unfortunate that your mother hired someone who seems to fit in the “disreputable” category. In reality, this guy should go to jail or at the very least, pay huge fines and refunds on substandard work; but that won’t happen because of the oppressive bureaucracy involved. Other than what Bill W suggests, I wouldn’t know what to do as a remedy in your mother’s situation other than to find a person with a really good reputation (word-of-mouth) contractor or not to come in and fix the job and then bill the offending contractor for the fix. The way to get him to pay would be to let him know that if he didn’t, the experience with his name attached to it would be made very public, especially in his local area of operations. It is evident to me that the state of the contractor’s licensing and regulating process is in a very deplorable condition nationwide and needs to be revamped. How that should happen, I have no clue. Maybe it is time though for all of us to find a better way of doing things when it comes to this particular situation.

  14. Hal says:

    Actually the contract explicitly states that the insulation is to removed and replaced in all exterior walls. The insulation seen in the pictures is on exterior walls. So failure to do that work is a breach of the contract, irregardless of the presence of mold. I don’t think any homeowner actively seeks out legal remedies as a first resort. As stated in the original post, I will make the contracts available for viewing. Don’t forget we too are also builders and that is the disheartening part of this, a builder taking advantage of an elderly widow, gives the profession a bad reputation.
    Not acquiring permits per the contract and per the law is bad business for a contractor who is a past President of the Local Remodelers Association. It makes the professional organization appear as though it doesn’t police itself.
    Also, the contractor is usually held liable for the health and safety of his employees except in cases of extreme negligence on the part of the home owner and most contractors carry insurance for this type of protection. Without going down the road of explaining the common law’s “Prudent Man” test, let’s just assume the risks created by mildew in renovation work is to be expected when working on 27 year old bathroom spaces.
    EHT Online Media

  15. Jim says:

    There is no solution. When dancing with skunks, you end up with stink on you, but try notifying the BBB, the local DA, Licensing Authority if there is one, and Angine’s list. Your Mother’s guy has benefitted from PR – pass it back as PR.

    He does not deserve a chance to make it right. But get as much as yiu can out of him.

  16. Hal says:

    I thought about doing a segment on the radio show, and employing the live by the sword die by the sword approach. I am thinking the contractor may be having financial problems as he had a radio show until recently. Radio shows cost money. I did file a complaint with the BBB and have not heard anything back yet. Last year I was President of the Exchange Club and had the BBB speak to us. One of the questions asked by the members was there a conflict of interest with the BBB relying on membership dues and then policing its membership. I don’t have an answer on that yet, but I felt like a secret shopper when I filed the complaint. I know that the BBB assured our membership there was no conflict and the usual association spiel, so let’s see if it lives up to its promise. I did not mention in my complaint what the director had told us last year or that I was affiliated with any group. I just filed as an everyday home owner.

  17. kennney says:

    Hal – Sorry this person too advantage of of your mother. Lesson learned – next time be more involved in the contract side to help your mother understand. Having been a custom home builder in Colorado for twenty years – I have seen alot of junk work performed and it saddens me. I have never required a 50% deposit. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I had that kind of exposure. What if the contractor had dropped dead? Her money would be gone.

    Also, regarding the mold- The mold spores are in the 2×4 framing and sheeting – With a garden sprayer mix 5:1 water with Clorox and spray all the surfaces of the 2×4′s and the sheeting. With a hammer, try to bang the sheeting slightly away from the studs so the Clorox can kill the spores that are behind the studs. I you just remove the moldy insulation and do not kill the spores – they will be sealed up and have a wonderful warm place to grow again. Tough to tell in your pics, 20 years ago the tar they used to adhere the insulation to the kraft paper was excessive and the viscosity of the tar changed with the temperature and ran alot. I have seen puddles of tar on the bottom plates of walls and tar come through the insulation too.

    Best of luck

  18. Trial By Fire says:

    Well to begin, I feel for your situation and although it appears to be simple, it can get very tricky.
    I have dealt with mold remediation in 5 states over the last 10 years so I know a little bit about what I’m speaking of. Although I’ve never been a small time residential contractor, in the large scale construction industry I tell all the Engineers, water-proofing experts, Attorneys, Architects or Builders the same thing – NO ONE can tell if something is mold by looking at it. If you talk to the top Mold companies in the country they will tell you that just because its black doesn’t mean it’s a problem. In a effort to protect the building professional, we instruct our people never to utter the “M”-word. Once you say it and start referring to it, you acknowledge that it is there and can be forced to incur a very costly and expensive removal process; at the very least some expensive testing. So to this end, your contractor may be trying to protect both his and your bottom line.

    So before you throw the Building Professional under the bus, let’s think this through.

    Your Contractor, although seemingly unprofessional/non-responsive, was hired to do one job and if this “STUFF” is inside your walls, he is left in a bad spot. If he removes it, he may or may not be dealing with the root cause. It could be leaking from a pipe, a faulty flashing detail, wicking from the water table. In any case, if he takes this out and the problems comes back it is possible that it may cause series respiratory problems. He must therefore remove it while following all the guidelines established in your state or risk not only litigation from the home owner but also the risk incurred by exposing his employees while removing it.

    Although your contract says to remove/replace all insulation in exterior wall, does it state what to do when you find human remains? Does it state what should happen in the even that they uncover Pirates gold? Your Builder gave you a bid that was based on the things he could foresee. If he were to have factored in some amount for Mold Removal then he would have lost the job to someone who didn’t include this item and would have lost the job. It was not a foregone conclusion an therefore an impediment to any honest person from getting the job.

    Now you’ve made matters worse, in that you’ve posted the problem online. If the contractor removes the “stuff” without having it legally tested and remediated, there is a record worldwide of you claiming that you feel there is Mold in your house and you didn’t pay to have it dealt with properly. I believe this is something you didn’t really think about. I mean honestly, now when you sell your house; you’re going to be forced to disclose that there was mold in your bathroom that you just “got rid of”. Not good, if I was buying your house. Also, not good if you attempt to hide this information and someone ever gets sick in your house. I don’t know Alabama law, but in many states non-disclosure of known conditions is a big deal.

    Typically, I would have assumed it was mildew, as most stuff is. Also, as you can’t tell by looking, your only goal is to get a “like new” condition. I would have gone down to the building supply store, purchased a Tyvec suit, gloves, respirator and mask. I would then get plastic bags and tape and remove the affected insulation myself. If you’re further worried there are dozens of “mildew” cleaners on the market from simple bleach and water solutions to high dollar fungicides. Either way, by getting the problem out of the way, you take some culpability with the problem without making it cost the contractor/you a lot of money. Also, since there is no document, expressing that in the Home Owners (non-expert opinion) there is a problem with the home or a risk to the Contractors employees, this leaves some plausible deniability for everyone.

    If you really feel that it is Mold, call a mold company and start getting bids. This is not your original Contractor’s problem and no A.G. will think otherwise.

    Two last closing points:

    First, the Contractor does sound crummy. The price, the deposit, the up-charge for the wood species change, the schedule all point to the same conclusion – this is a problem contractor. My best advice would be to ask why you or your mother agreed to this deal? Also you may be able to talk to him and find out if the “stuff” is the problem or if other factors are coming to bare. Who knows? You might also see if he is a member of the BBB. They offer mediation services to their members.

    Lastly irregardless should not be used by a member of the editorial staff. I’m a poor grammarian, speller, editor so I suppose I shouldn’t throw stones but your last post really stood out. “The insulation seen in the pictures is on exterior walls. So failure to do that work is a breach of the contract, irregardless of the presence of mold.”

  19. david says:

    that is mold , special cleaning and paint is required to make site safe , it would of taken little time and effort to make good , also to apply new insulation . I did a bathroom in a neighbours house , found mold , did the proper repairs , got client correct information on mold, told them they need a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in basement , also that previous contractor failed to comply with area building code , results , he did nothing , thought I was lying to him , what can you do .

  20. If it were myself dealing with the simple issues of overcharging, ie the change of timber selection I would clearly indicate to the builder that he is full of it and himself.
    He is clearly overstating his worth with the advertising mediums and being fairly convincing by the sound of it.
    In Australia we pay for something when it is completed properly and we usually have 30 days to decide if that is the case so I would suggest you go through the documentation that the quote detailed and see if it was to be done by your building codes.
    Also make sure she doesn’t pay the 12k difference for choosing another timber, he could never argue that was acceptable or fair.
    I think negotiation with the builder directly is the best bet and withholding paymet until both parties are happy, but in particular your mum.
    I am speaking from experience where a builder tried to bully my mother into paying a ridiculous amount over his quote.
    So I suggested she organise to meet him on neutral ground to discuss what she would write on the cheque for final payment, ofcourse he turned up at the coffee shop and I was there with her to “educate” him on sound business practice and her invoice went back to the quote figure withon about 10 minutes.
    Don’t let them bully your mum.

  21. Joe Lynch says:

    I have been in the contracting business for over 22 years, I would be BS every one if I said I never had a problem with a home owner. Lets be real for the whole time we are in a home doing work. If every contractor put 110% into there work they would be a lot better of. To start with the difference between a GOOD quality contractor and a POOR quality contractor is general around a $50.00 bill !!! Buying a roll of insulation $20.00 bill, 30 minutes of labor $30.00. CHEAP and LAZY !!! I will not do a major job with out a contract as I tell my costomer I read a lot better than I hear, Put it in black and white to what is expected of both parties. Most important sign the contract and DO NOT give money up front. Pay the first payment when materils are delivered or work crew has started work and be sure this in the contract. By the way Ray Charles could have seen that is mold. Shame on the cheap lazy contractor.

  22. John Martin says:

    You know, its funny, I have run into insulation like this on many remodels, but have never put much thought into what it was. I just ripped it out and replaced it, insulation is so cheap and easy, no harm in replacing it and it is usually a very small charge to the owner. .

    Hal, your mom got rooked. No 2 ways about it. One call to the inspection office here in Austin would have taken care of it. Would have gotten red flagged and maybe a fine, depends on the mood of the inspector on that particular day. There are no rules in TX besides permits, and those are not even required for all jobs, depends on what the address is. So it all depends on where you live in terms of what recourse you can take. BBB, local associations will most likely do no good. BBB is kind of sham anyway. Lawyer?

  23. Pat says:

    Hal, I think I would do anything I could to get this guy to do the work correctly, including standing there and watching him. Try to get some money back all the way down to a reasonable price for the work. After that, take it to him hard. There is no way this is a mistake or an oversite, so he’s given up all rights to fair treatment. O would make it a public campaign to ruin him. Letters to the editor, the DA, attorney general, BBB, state and county licensing bureaus, the governor, the pope, all your friends at the coffee shop… you get the idea. And just for satisfaction, I’d let him know everything I was doing. I suppose this could put your life in danger but you’ve got to stand up for what’s right. All of his professional aquaintances at the remodeler’s group should be ashamed of him.

  24. Byron says:

    Hey, I would tell the Owner, contractor exactly what you think, and tell him what you know an understand, tell him you want him on the job. You want it fixed. Other than that, I would think the Attorney General could help you. I would definately check the BBB, you can check and even file a complaint online. I am a contractor, and a BBB accredited business. PS. if you visit my site, you can email me, but we are shutdown for the season.

  25. Jeff says:

    This is a sad situation to say the least. I have had customers over the years that came to me with many similar stories and understandable sketicism after being burned by other contractors. Fortunately we have built many strong and lasting relationships with those same people and use them for referrals regularly. It boils down to one basic montra…”Say what you’ll Do and then Do what you Say!. We have enjoyed many years of success and many happy Customers by doing just that. We may not always be the cheapest, we may not always be the fastest, but we ALWAYS give our Customer a “Scope of Work” with the contract and we ALWAYS follow that unless it’s modified in writing.
    You need to stop his work and sit him down to create a “completion schedule” as to how he will proceed from this point on. Tell him his performance is unacceptable and the completion schedule will allow him to have a plan to finish his work and eventually get paid.
    I have been a licensed and fully insured contractor for many years. I always tell customers that are considering a bid…Get three contractors with three referrals each…if they can’t provide them, move on.

  26. M.v. says:

    It’s just one more example of not to judge a book by it’s cover. It’s becoming more and more difficult to get jobs, so between the ass’ that are under cutting prices for less than the cost of material, and the snake oil peddlers that are selling nothing more than hot air, those legitimate contractors are being forced under. because we don’t have all the glossy brochures and websites, salesmen and estimaters on the road, but are bidding the jobs at almost the same price; yet we are more expensive then the fly by nite “contractors”(and I use the term loosely) that take deposits and then disappear, we are the crooks!!! Those of us that have been in the trades our entire life and know what is required to do the job, start to finish and not go after uneeded extras.

  27. Hal says:

    I have seen the tar run outs here in the south. I lived in Summit County, Colorado at Keystone when I first finished college. While there I gt to see some of the condos being built. It was interesting and that was the first time I had seen the heated roads being used. I think the laws in Colorado are more up to date than ours, but that is an assumption on my part. I am still dumbfounded by why the insulation wasn’t replaced as that was a line item in the contract. I made more photos this morning and will post them tomorrow. I left notes on the wall and took photos of those in case this does go to court one of the issues will be giving notice of non-performance. And btw what a great place to be a custom home builder. We were talking about a great place to build a summer home and Colorado, Montana and Idaho were the places I plugged.
    EHT Online

  28. Hal says:

    I think you have a valid point. One of the things I have learned in business, is that there always be some companies that project an image of being the prestigious business, but truth be told, they spend more time on creating an image rather than delivering a quality product. Just take a look at the situation in Detroit for a good example. Do you remember when a Cadillac meant something in terms of quality?

  29. Hal says:

    Good points. But here is the question I have been asked, “how does the homeowner know the referrals aren’t staged beforehand?” I don’t have an answer for that one. The radio show I work with on Monday nights is on contracting, and Mark Marcley is the Contractor and host. But Mark’s work is in a small coastal town and so everyone knows him and the quality of work he does. What i think might a good idea is for us to come up with a form for homeowners to use when considering renovations or additions that contractors help us put together to avoid situations like this.
    Thanks again,
    EHT Online

  30. Hal says:

    Thanks for the comments. I have written the BBB and I will update this as soon as we hear back from them. I will send you an e-mail later this week. My next step will be the licensing board. I have run into a problem though. The company that the contract was signed with and the company that is performing the work and signed the building permits are two different entities.

  31. Hal says:

    There is an onsite supervisor when workers are there and I think he arranges to be there when I am at work now. So I leave notes written on the drywall that will have to be replaced for the inspections to take place and also to replace the insulation that is part of the contract, unless he opts to use pour in insulation. My next call will be to the licensing bureau. A friend and builder in town told me it looks as though he is doing the work under another builder’s license. I think the friend is not going to be very happy if the licensing bureau goes after him instead of the contracted builder.

  32. Hal says:

    Yep, that is the same approach I take. It took more work to reload the insulation back into the truck than it would have to just install it and in the photos showing the material delivery, there is the insulation in all its yellow glory sitting with all of the other materials. I pay $15 a roll for insulation at Lowe’s, and with a stapler it may take a few minutes to install, so what is the point of not doing it.
    And as for a legal resolution, that is a last resort, but we have spoken with one of our attorneys to let him know what is going on.
    Thanks again,
    Hal Jones
    EHt Online

  33. Doug says:

    I could not agree more with Jeff and Mv. I too am a contractor, have been since 1970 when I was kid pushing a mower. I am in the landscape/ irrigation business. I have seen many of the same issues with contractors in my field. I do have yellow page listings and don’t believe in flashy adds. I work low key and most of my work is from word of mouth, however I do a lot of commercial work and as you know that market is not in good shape. I have lost a lot of jobs in the past two years to low bids, then I go back and see a half ass job done and just shake my head. I have never been one to install the name brand materials that are advertised by the box stores, I have always sold myself first then my company than my product, all backed up by a 5 year warranty. I loose jobs because too many people don’t know what they are buying ” as long as it pops up and waters” is the reply I get. They end up with junk and then want me to fix it and my response is to replace it. Needles to say I don’t hear from them again. I am a licensed irrigation contractor, state licensed, insured, pay workmans comp., licensed landscape contractor, go to a lot of continuing ed classes. Yet I can’t outsell all the flash. I think crooks do hide behind the BBB, just wait for their response. There are a lot of quality contractors out their. As judging in many sports go – throw out the high and low and go with the middle. I never would ask for a down payment and would wait for my final 10% until the owner is happy.

  34. Steve says:

    My inclination would be to name the guy. Bear in mind that apart from the people who come to this site, people who Google his name will land up here as well, especially if plenty of other pages link to here. With a little bit of luck, he’ll see demand for his services disappear faster than mold before a pressure hose.

    Basically, this person needs putting out of business before he rips anyone else off — your mother is probably only one in a long line of victims, and it would be great if the line stopped here.

  35. GEO says:

    I am sorry for your Mother’s misfortunes.
    Trial by Fire states that you can’t tell if the black material is mold or mildew by looking at it. This is true, but your contract stated to remove the insulation in the exterior wall. Wasn’t done! Trial by fire missed the point, that the work stated in the contract was not executed.
    Your solution now is to have contractor remove the insulation per contract, have someone or yourself treat the area with a solution to kill any possible mold that is there. Then keep after the contractor to reinstall the new insulation. And you would not have to state that there was mold when you sold the property because with out an expensive testing by state licensed Industrial Hygenist it can’t be confirmed as mold.
    I know of one test performed which cost $8000 in 2003.
    I had a problem with a company in California, I live in Ohio, and I wrote a letter stating my problems to the California AG and to the BBB in the city that the company was located in. Problem resolved after the California AG and the BBB involved. If this doesn’t work try small claims court.
    Unfortunately, bottom line you will probably never get the contractor to complete the work or any type of a refund. Good Luck

  36. Eric says:

    It goes without saying that this is one of the main reasons that decent contractors get a bad rap. I have been doing home improvement/renovations for 23 years. Ours is a small company and only employs one helper. I do all my own work and don’t believe in subbing out to other contractors. This ‘passing the buck’ not only guarentees that ‘shortcuts’ may be taken it also separates the communication between the contractor who signed the original contract and the client. All of my work is strictly by word of mouth and my work portfolio. A good rule of thumb, which I’m sure you know, is to always get ‘at least’ 3 estimates. And flash does not always guarantee professionalism. I feel so sorry for the experience you are having and can only hope its resolved to the point that no one else has to ever deal with that contractor again. I cannot tell you how many projects I’ve had to ‘fix’ due to someone elses work or lack thereof. Contract work should begin with a face-to-face relationship and remain so throughout the entire scope of the project. Unfortunately, most people see only the $$$ and not the person behind the check. Finally, notifying the fraud devision and your states SCC should provide results. It may not return the funds already spent but will hopefully lead to prosecution of the ‘contractor’ involved. Best wishes and God Bless.

  37. Hal says:

    Your point is exactly the point I tried to make to one of the contractor’s people today. The company sent out a guy who was higher up to look at the job. I spoke with him about the issues and he began to give me excuses. I pointed out the section in the contract regarding the insulation and he began to tell me that insulation would be replaced if necessary. When he said that, I nearly came unglued. The contract says replace, not replace if necessary. I also explained that i had taken pictures of the project since it began and if he wanted to argue that point, I would be glad to. But I also asked him, why of all things would you not replace insulation that is this old. They had already purchased the insulation. I have pictures of it when it was delivered. But I also informed him that the up charges on the changes to the contract were absurd. We know what the actual cost of the material changes are for upgrading from maple to cherry cabinets and if he wanted me to publish the information I would on Monday. But I gave him until Monday morning to devise a plan on what was going to happen or I would go public with the names of everyone involved. Monday night is when I am on the radio, so I could plug the article on air. Already thousands have read the article and asked for the company involved to be named. I did explain to the manager that was sent over, that I would make public the contracts showing the changes and the charges for the changes along with the Building Permits, with the names of the company that signed for those. I will also post the photos with dates.
    I tried to communicate to the manager that I want the problems corrected. However, the feeling I left with today was that these guys do this all the time and have ready made arguments. Arguments that might bully an 80-year-old widow, but not someone in the home improvement business.
    And you are correct about the Flash, in one of my earlier responses, I phrased it this way, “Bells and whistles, usually mean the circus is coming.” I hope by exposing this, we can either make the circus go back to being contractors or leave town and take the parade with them.
    Kind Regards,

  38. Erick Keenum says:

    Thanks for the post! Very informative as always!

  39. Polly Moench says:

    Thank you for another fantastic website. Where else could I get this type of info written in such an incite full way? I have been looking for such information.

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