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 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.
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.