What Your Remodeling Contract Should Say

February 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Home Remodeling

Review your remodeling contract carefully and make sure it protects you in terms of payments, work schedules and project  specifications.

Even if you never intend to pick up a hammer for your remodeling project, there’s one tool that’s absolutely essential—a solid contract. But just having one often isn’t enough. That’s because the document a contractor gives you is designed to protect him. It’s up to you to add in some basic protections for yourself. Here’s what you need to know to make sure the remodeling contract you sign includes solid legal protection for you and your home.

Hiring a lawyer to review and make changes to a contract is a safe bet, especially since each state has its own construction-contract statutes. But not many homeowners are willing to shell out $500 for an attorney review, plus $1,000 to $1,500 additional fees to make wholesale revisions to a flawed contract. However, you can hand-write changes and additions in plain English and make sure both you and the contractor initial each change to the document. Here’s what you want to add (and subtract).

Project specs

Start by reviewing your contract, a process that should take several hours. The most important element of a contract is a thorough and complete description of the project, and the materials and the products that will be used. “It should say that the contractor will secure all necessary permits and approvals as well as what walls are being moved where, what type of countertops are going in, what type of sink, what type of faucet, and so forth. “You can’t rely on everyone’s memory because if there’s a problem later, people may remember different things.” The contract needn’t contain these specs on its pages, it can simply refer to the contractor’s attached itemized bid. Avoid allowances, which are pools of money set aside for work to be determined later, and which often lead to cost overruns

Payment schedule

The contract should also state the total price for the job, and that it’s a fixed price—not an estimate. It should provide a schedule of how the payments will be made by linking them to milestones in the work—such as when the foundation, rough plumbing, and electricity will be completed—so you’re paying for work only after it’s done. “You should always have enough money left to hire someone else to finish the work if need be. In general, the first payment should be no more than 10% of the total job and the final payment should be at least a few thousand dollars to ensure that it’s a big enough incentive to get the contractor back for the final niggling details. If you’re unsure whether the payment schedule is proportional to the milestones your contractor suggests, ask a friend who’s familiar with construction process or consult a construction attorney.

Start and end dates

A contractor’s boilerplate contract rarely includes dates for when he will begin work and when he will complete the job, so make sure those details are included. It’s not that he’ll be penalized if it runs late, only that if you ever have a major problem and need to sue him—or defend yourself from a suit he brings—showing that the contractor is, say, two months behind schedule will help you make your case. The dates needn’t be too exacting. If he says it’s a six to eight week job, eight or even nine weeks is fine for the contract.

Statement about change orders

Make sure the contract contains a line stating that any changes that will affect the cost of the job must be priced in writing and countersigned by both the contractor and homeowner before that work commences. That ensures that an offhand discussion about a possible change to the project won’t result in a huge unforeseen additional cost. It also helps you, as the homeowner, keep track of exactly how much you’ve added to the bottom line, so you can avoid the very common urge to keep expanding the job.

Binding arbitration

Many contractors include a line that says that rather than going through the courts, disputes will be resolved by an arbitrator. Some legal experts feel that this is a quicker and lower-cost solution to problems, so a binding arbitration clause isn’t necessarily a problem. What can be trouble is if the contract requires a specific arbitrator. “There are some big, national, well-respected arbitrators, like the American Arbitration Association. And there are other questionable arbitrators that always side with the contractor. If a particular arbitrator is specified, I’d do some internet research about the agency to make sure it’s legit.”

Warranty

Having the contractor’s warranty in the contract seems like a good thing, right? Well including it is often actually a technique for limiting how much liability the contractor has. “It’s usually loaded up with exclusions and time limits,  you’re actually better off with no mention of warranty at all because then the only limits on his warranty are what’s in the state statutes.” In other words, keeping the contractor’s warranty language in the contract will likely mean you’re agreeing to less than what state law provides. For example, state law may specify a longer warranty term than what the contractor’s warranty offers. So, unless you’re having a lawyer review the contract, strike the warranty clause.

Technicalities

There are numerous state-by-state requirements for construction contracts. He may have to include his contractor’s license number, for example, and he may have to include a clause saying you have the right to rescind the contract within a certain time period after signing. And unless you and the contractor sign the document, it doesn’t matter what it says—it’s not a valid contract.

7 Ways To Save On Lighting Cost

February 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Home Remodeling

Lighting is one of the biggest energy gobblers in your house, eating up between 10% and 20% of your total electric bill. But it’s also one area of the home where a minimal effort can yield major returns. Simply replacing standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents can lower operating costs by as much as 75% per bulb. And in places where you can’t—or don’t want to—switch to CFLs, you can use higher-efficiency incandescents and even make your existing conventional lighting cheaper to operate. When new federal legislation takes effect in 2012, all light bulbs will have to meet tougher energy-efficiency standards. But with a few small changes, you can start saving money right now

For the greatest savings, switch to compact fluorescents

CFLs remain the go-to choice for energy efficiency. They last longer and consume less electricity than a standard incandescent. A 13-watt CFL, for example, gives off the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent and burns for 10,000 hours, compared with 1,000 hours for the conventional bulb. A typical CFL saves about $30 in operating costs over its lifetime.

Early CFLs didn’t always deliver on light quality or convenience, but aesthetic performance has improved vastly in recent years. They now come in warm, neutral, and cool “colors,” and major manufacturers like GE have started enclosing the telltale spiral in a conventional bulb shape so it’s less obtrusive.

You get the biggest bang for your buck with CFLs in places where you would otherwise use incandescent bulbs: floor and table lamps and standard overhead fixtures. They last longer when they’re not flipped on and off constantly, so they’re especially good in rooms that see a lot of activity throughout the day, such as a kitchen or a playroom. A couple of caveats: CFLs can be glary, so they’re not the best choice in downward-pointing fixtures like chandeliers, and most don’t work with dimmers or timers. Because the bulbs contain mercury, they can’t be thrown out in the regular trash. If you bought them at a home center, you should be able to return them there for recycling, or log on to recycleabulb.com to find a disposal center near you

Cost and savings: Expect to pay $2 to $15 for a CFL, versus 50 cents to $1 for a comparable incandescent, but the CFL will last at least 10 times longer and cost up to 75% less to operate.

Make your existing incandescents less expensive to run

By simply lowering the wattage of an incandescent bulb by 15 watts—from 75 to 60, for example—you can knock 15% off the operating cost. And you may not even notice the difference in brightness. “A small reduction in wattage isn’t discernible to the eye,” says Brett Sawyer, a consultant who blogs about sustainable home design. If the light is on a dimmer, for every 10% you lower the brightness, you’ll double the bulb’s life. Try this next weekend, Sawyer says: Replace your most-used bulbs with ones at least 10 watts lower. If you don’t notice the difference, then replace all the incandescents you can with lower-wattage bulbs. Combine that with CFLs in selected fixtures, and you’ll achieve a “light layering” effect that saves money without compromising light quality, and without a hefty upfront investment.

Cost and savings: For every 15-watt reduction, you reduce energy use by 15%. And a $10 dimmer, once installed, costs nothing to use

Keep an eye on new bulb technologies

Spurred on by new energy requirements set to go into effect in 2012, bulb manufacturers are working feverishly to come up with more efficient versions of the standard incandescent. Presently, companies including GE, Sylvania, and Philips offer high-efficiency incandescent and halogen bulbs that use less energy than standard incandescents while delivering the same light quality. And research is proceeding apace on how to bring the dramatic energy efficiency of LED technology to residential products. These lights, which require very little current and last even longer than CFLs, are prohibitively expensive for home use (except in certain applications like under-cabinet strip lighting), but that’s likely to change in the coming years.  

Think beyond the bulb to save on lighting costs

Changing bulbs is one way to reduce your lighting bill, but it’s not the only way.

Motion sensors: Great in rooms where the occupants can’t be counted on to turn off the light, such as a kids’ playroom. Devices cost $15 to $50 and take about an hour to install.

Door-jamb switches: Best in a pantry or closet; opening the door activates the light. As much a convenience as it is an energy saver—as long as you remember to close the door. Devices starts at about $15.

Windows: You’d be surprised at how  much a simple window cleaning can instantly improve natural light.

Energy Star fixtures: Designed for CFL and LED lights, these can save up to $70 a year in energy costs. Go to energystar.gov to find links to manufacturers

10 Things Every Remodeling Contract Should Include

April 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Home Remodeling

Home Renovations:

The contract is a critical step in any remodeling project  it holds the job together and ensures that all parties agree to the same vision and scope.These are the key elements that every remodeling contract should have:

1. The contractors name, address,phone number and license number.

2. Details on what the contractor will and will not do.

3. The approximate start date and completion date.

4. A list of materials for the project in your contract. Including information about the brand name,model,color ,size and product.

5. All required plans,study them carefully for accuracy. Approved them and identify them in your contract before any work begins.

6. Make sure a termination clause is in your contract. With the right to cancel without any penalty within three business days of signing the contract.

7. Make sure the financial terms are spelled out in a way that you understand, inclusive of the total price,payment schedule and any cancellation penalty.

8. A mediation clause which you’ll need in the event a disagreement occurs.

9. Consider the scope of the project and make sure all items you’ve requested are included.

10. A warranty covering materials and workmanship for a minimum of one year. The warranty must be identified as “full” or “limited”. The name and address of the contractor,distributor or manufacturer who will honor the warranty. Also make sure the time period for the warranty is specified in the warranty.