Quality Contractors & Credentials

December 2015

by Keith Wilder, CGP, CAPS

This month features quality contractors and credentials.

Scenario: A Spokane couple bought a vacation home and wanted to fix it up. They hired a contractor who did not fulfill the criteria of quality building methods, including illegal wiring and plumbing. The ordeal ended up costing the couple double to fix the initial contractor’s substandard building practices. This example shows why homeowners should do their homework and check contractors’ credentials.

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Contractors who don’t know what they’re doing give all contractors a bad name. The fact is not all contractors are bad. Most are hard working and are trying to support their families. There are exceptions where some homeowners have had their homes built or remodeled with substandard methods. For example, I’ve seen roofs built that weren’t vented properly so mold and moisture accumulated in the attic space. I’ve witnessed homeowners not getting the insulation they paid for so their heating bills were higher. I’ve also seen decks that were constructed without pressure-treated wood for the frame, so when the decking deteriorates, everything needs to be replaced instead of just re-decking the surface.

House built on sand

One customer had a house built on sandy soil and there were termites in the ground. We had to remove all the flooring so the exterminator could drill holes in the concrete slab to place poison all around the footings of the home. Next we removed sheetrock, window casings, door trim, studs and headers, and all repaired that damage. I’ve never seen a termite issue in this area like this house; it was infested. There were more termites in that one house than the exterminator had seen in his career.

There were also other bugs finding new ways to get in the house. The soffits were not enclosed and the bird blocks were not sealed, allowing stink bugs and wasps to get into the attic space. There were large beautiful timber beams in the ceiling that were not sealed to the sheetrock, thus allowing the aforementioned bugs access into the house. Other substandard building issues included a roof system that wasn’t square, metal roofing laid incorrectly and an improperly vented attic space.

Stink bugs can get in incredibly tight places. A well built home does not allow stink bugs to get in. These were all contractor mistakes. The finish work looked nice but there was a lot of work and details behind the scenes performed poorly, not completed or simply done wrong. By the time we fixed the bug damage, put new fascia and soffits on their house, the couple spent $8-10 thousand dollars. This is an expensive lesson that could have been avoided had they checked the contractor’s credentials.

Vacation dream home turns into a money pit

We had another couple purchase a house on a lake as a recreation property. The house was about 35-40 years old and they bought it on a bank repo then decided they wanted to fix it up and make it a cozy lake cottage. In the end, they realized – too late - that they hired a contractor who gave them a substandard remodel.

We were called in by the plumber to cut a hole in the wall so he could fix the broken pipe and we could patch the sheetrock, a small inexpensive repair. It turns out that the remodeling contractor did the electrical and plumbing unlicensed. He hid all his mistakes under the sheetrock. As soon as we exposed the pipes we discovered that the washing machine drain was not vented correctly. Hence, we had to open up more of the wall to correct the venting problem. As we opened up more wall space, we found inadequate insulation. When we went to place insulation, we found electrical wires that were loose with exposed ends inside the walls, and connections without being in junction boxes, which is illegal. We ended up tearing apart almost all of the sheetrock in the basement and half the sheetrock upstairs.

Downstairs we discovered that the contractor had notched the floor joist to put the plumbing pipe through. There was a four-inch pipe in a five-and-a-half inch floor joist. There was no support there at all so we had to tear all of that out and reframe the floor plus re-plumb the house. We started in May and finished by the end of July. The customer missed three months of their vacation property because we had it all torn apart. Something that should have cost the unfortunate couple $300-400 dollars ended up costing them $40-50 thousand dollars. That was probably close to the cost for the original contractor to do the work – wrong.

That contractor was no longer in business and his bond was invalid. The homeowners were lucky to be able to claim it on their insurance due to the broken pipe. Ordinance of Law set in, which means we can upgrade substandard or illegal construction and bring it up to code.

Always check contractor references, whether that’s through a local supplier or a neighbor, and interview them. References and local business referrals are important because, in the State of Washington, you don’t have to “know” anything to be a contractor. There are no tests involved. All you have to do is buy the license, insurance and a bond and you too could be a licensed contractor.

Check with our local Spokane Homebuilders Association. They are a great resource for finding a contractor and keep in mind some contractors aren’t going to pay for the homebuilders association membership unless they’re serious about their profession. Some of the membership funds go to support political action to influence our legislators to pass laws that benefit small business. Check out http://www.shba.com/