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Milwaukee/NARI Explains Worst Ways to Cut Corners on a Home Remodel

Aug. 14, 2013

Cutting (or at least bending) corners is a regular part of the remodeling process. In fact, according to Milwaukee/NARI members, almost all homeowners looking to remodel must prioritize what they need versus what they want to do because of a strict budget.

Members encourage homeowners to take advantage of their contractor’s expertise with this task. A good Remodeler works with homeowners, even going cost by cost to determine 1) what the homeowners can do on their own; 2) what parts of the project can be put off until more funds are saved up; and 3) where material and labor costs can be cut without causing regret down the road.

To help prevent safety problems, quality concerns, style fails, and other remodeling distress, members of the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council, Inc., the area’s leading home improvement and remodeling industry resource for 52 years, share the worst ways to cut corners.
Hiring someone who isn’t licensed.

“It’s often a mistake to solely choose a contractor based on price, accepting the lowest bid. It can indicate that the contractor is not using quality materials, trusted subcontractors, or best practices during the project,” said Rick Bartelt of Delafield’s Bartelt. The Remodeling Resource. The “best practices” he refers to can mean a lot of things—from ensuring that everyone on-site has workers’ compensation insurance, to using safe tools and equipment, to having lead paint certification.

“I’m a firm believer in ‘you get what you pay for,’ so the lowest price can be a red flag,” Bartelt said. “Your home is one of your biggest assets. It’s important to ensure that the people you work with have credentials and a proven track record.”

Milwaukee/NARI recommends asking the contractor to provide certification of insurance covering workers’ compensation, property damage, and personal liability. It’s also recommended to follow up on homeowner references, solicit multiple bids, and ask the contractor to explain why a bid is so high or so low.
Having Person A do Person B’s job.

Similarly, finding a plumber who’s also willing to do electrical work, or an electrician willing to do the plumbing, is a dangerous idea if the contractor isn’t trained, licensed, and insured for that line of work. The types of remodels that are best left to a specialist include:

• Electrical repair
• Plumbing repair
• Gas appliance repair
• Structural changes
• Major demolition
• Asbestos and lead
• Roofing (especially second-story)
• Tree removal

The above list applies also to the projects homeowners shouldn’t attempt themselves. Being one’s own contractor could definitely save money if one has the time and experience needed to do the job right—otherwise, cutting this corner could become a dangerous and expensive mistake.

According to Milwaukee/NARI members, homeowners need to ask themselves if they have a good grasp of safe working conditions, all the necessary tools and supplies, and an understanding of building codes and permits.

Scott Reimer of Mukwonago Remodeling said that going against building codes is the wrong corner to cut. He offered one example. “Most municipalities require 4-foot concrete footings at all load points when putting up a deck,” he said. “Check local building codes!” He added that ignoring permits could be another serious problem. “Make sure that you pull all permits that are needed and get all of the inspections that are required. You don’t want this to come back to bite you.”

The danger is not only during the remodel, but also after if materials are not installed properly.
Using materials that are going to fail.

Problem No. 1 is cheap materials. Reimer said, “Everyone loves a deal and saving money, but using sub-par material like particle board cabinetry or cheap tile can hurt you in the long run. Most of the time, cheap means cheap.”

Problem No. 2 is wrong materials. Reimer offered this example: “Make sure you’re using pressure treated lumber on all of the bottom plates when framing a basement or the structure for a deck.” Other poor choices, according to Reimer, include dated choices like acoustical ceiling tiles and wood paneling. “If you choose drywall, you will get a cleaner, brighter look, and with the use of an inconspicuous access panel, you can easily reach all of the utilities.”

• Cheap paint will show marks that need to be painted over, do a poor job of covering inconsistencies in the wall, and require extra coats.
• “Don’t forget heat!” Reimer said. “Not only do we need heat, but also air conditioning in every room of the house.”
• Inexpensive blinds can crack and break quickly, are prone to mechanical errors, and usually look cheap.
• Low quality wood flooring will crack and develop problems from foot traffic and moisture. Additionally, Reimer said, “Don’t try to piece ‘end of the dye lot’ flooring together. If you attempt this, it usually makes your flooring look like quilt-work.”
• Poor light fixtures aren’t so easy to replace once installed, so don’t choose any that don’t match the décor or can’t do an adequate job of lighting the room.
• Reimer cautioned against skimping on insulation. “We want to keep the inside climate in and the outside climate out!”

There is good news, though. The right contractor will know how to find the best deal without skimping on quality. “When we work to lower a project’s price tag to meet a client’s budget, we refer to it as ‘value engineering,’” Bartelt said. “After we present the big picture, with all the bells and whistles the client requested, we work to pare down the project cost. As we trim, it’s important that we don’t sacrifice quality or safety.”

Bartelt said with confidence that numerous quality products are available that will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. “If you look at the various countertop, tile, window, and door products, you will find that it’s always possible to find quality materials at a reasonable price.” He added, “It’s the contractor’s job to show the client all the options, which can take more time and work, but is worth it in the end.”

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