Category Archives: Project Guides

Most Asked Questions of Contractors

Contractors share the short list of questions they are usually asked by homeowners and offer a list of questions they recommend you ask.

You would think that launching an entire remodeling project would spark a truckload of questions from wary homeowners who have heard the horror stories surrounding the world of remodeling. Surprisingly, though, contractor members of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) admit they aren’t asked enough questions!

“Timing and money are about the extent of the questions we hear,” says John Stanforth of John Stanforth Construction, a member of the Miami Valley NARI Chapter in Ohio. “During an interview with a homeowner when homeowners should be asking about my credentials and verifying my business practices all I hear is: when can you start? when will it be finished? and how much will it cost?”

These simply aren’t enough. Yes, timing may be “everything” in comedy, but that certainly isn’t the case when it comes to remodeling. If you are going to have a successful remodeling project, you need to learn the right questions to ask and how to ask them.

When a group of NARI contractors were asked what questions homeowners asked most frequently, the group unanimously agreed that their most popular queries were:

  • When can you start?
  • When will you be finished?
  • What time will you knock on my door each morning?
  • What time will you quit for the day?
  • Are you going to work everyday?
  • Can you finish before (insert any major holiday or significant family event)?
  • How much will it cost per square foot?

Unfortunately, these are not the type of questions that are going to tell you much about a particular contractor.

“While a reasonable timetable is important,” says Stanforth, “it shouldn’t be the primary focus of an interview or a job – neither should budget. Homeowners should be focusing on trust and quality. If you find someone who is reputable and trustworthy, the budget and timeline will fall into place.”

He recommends homeowners start by asking questions about a company’s business practices and experience in a similar type of project. If you decide you want to hire a particular contractor, then you can discuss when he or she can start, what time he or she can knock on your door each morning and when you will have your home to yourselves again. These are all items that can be discussed at a pre-construction meeting.

Here are some questions NARI members recommend you ask before signing a remodeling contract:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
  • Who will be working on the project?
  • Are they employees or subcontractors?
  • Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance? (Always verify this information by calling the agency. A copy of an insurance certificate does not let you know if the policy is still current. Even if the certificate has an expiration date. you cannot tell if the insurance has been canceled by either party. If licensing is required in your state also ask if the contractor is licensed and call to verify compliance with the law. Not all states offer or require licensing. Check with your local or state government agencies.)
  • What is your approach to a project such as this?
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year?
  • May I have a list of reference from those projects?
  • May I have a list of business referrals or suppliers?
  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?
  • Are you a member of a national trade association?
  • Have you or your employees been certified in remodeling or had any special training or education, such as earning a Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS) or Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC) or Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR) designation?

It’s also important to realize that sometimes it’s not the answers you get that are significant, but what you don’t get. Asking the right questions is not enough. You need to pay attention to your instincts and to what information is missing.

Unlike your accountant or stockbroker, your remodeler will be a part of your daily life and available for some on-the-job education. He or she will be privy to your personal life, more so than your doctor or lawyer. Your contractor will know how you look early in the morning and how well behaved your dog is. It makes sense that you should take some time to carefully select this person and make sure that it is someone you can ask questions of.

Once you do find that person, you can get down to asking the more interesting questions like: What exactly is a sleeper and a cricket? What do alligators have to do with painting? And what do aprons have to do with remodeling?

Remodeling can be a fun experience. You get to create your dream room or home and learn a little about design and building along the way. All you need to do is ask questions. Questions that, according to NARI members, remodelers don’t feel that are getting enough of. So tap into your curiosity and ask away.

Types of Remodeling Professionals

Course of Action

If DIY is not for you, where should you turn to find the best professional for your project? There are many types of professionals within the home improvement field that could come to your aid.

The General Contractor: Many home improvement projects do not require professional design services and can best be handled by the experienced contractor whose knowledge of materials and methods has been gained by years on the job. Again, be sure to deal with a professional. Even though the job may be relatively small, its successful completion is important to you. Small jobs also need careful planning and attention to detail. General contractors are also the right choice for your project if you have had your project designed by an architect or designer and you now need someone to manage the construction of those designs.

For design services, your options include:

The Architect: Major remodeling projects require construction drawings for the purposes of defining a contract and procuring permits. In cases where your professional remodeler does not provide design services, you may wish to seek the assistance of a professionally trained architect. It is best to work with an architect experienced in remodeling-he or she will be more sensitive to the special challenges that remodeling presents. Architects are licensed by the state and have formal education and experience. They have overall knowledge of design; however, many architects do not accept smaller projects.

The Designer: Another option to obtain those construction drawings is to hire a certified or licensed designer. Designers may have expertise in specific areas of the home, such as: kitchens, interiors, baths, space design, etc. They often specialize in particular types of projects and may be the best choice for a targeted project.

The Design/Build Contractor: If you prefer to hire only one company for design and construction services, your best bet may be to hire a design/build firm. Design/build is a concept developed to benefit the remodeling homeowner by providing both quality design and construction services within the same general contracting company. A design/build contractor will be able to see your project through from start to finish, keeping design, engineering and budget in mind. Some design/build firms have architects on staff, others use certified designers.

Warning Signs During Remodeler Interviews

Avoid remodelers at all costs when:

  • You can’t verify the name, address, telephone number or credentials of the remodeler.
  • The salesperson tries to pressure you into signing a contract.
  • The company or salesperson says your home will be used for advertising purposes so you will be given a “special, low rate.”
  • The builder/remodeler tells you a special price is available only if you sign the contract “today.”
  • No references are furnished. Information you receive from the contractor is out-of-date or no longer valid.
  • You are unable to verify the license or insurance information.
  • You are asked to pay for the entire job in advance, or to pay in cash to a salesperson instead of by check or money order to the company itself.
  • The company cannot be found in the telephone book, is not listed with the local Better Business Bureau, or with a local trade association, such as NARI.
  • The contractor does not offer, inform or extend notice of your right to cancel the contract within three days.  Notification in writing of your Right of Recision is required by law.  This grace period allows you to change your mind and declare the contract null and void without penalty (if the agreement was solicited at some place other than the contractor’s place of business or appropriate trade premises-in your home, for instance.)

In addition, be cautious when:

  • You are given vague or reluctant answers.
  • The contractor exhibits poor communication skills or descriptive powers.
  • The contractor is not accessible.
  • Your questions are not answered to your satisfaction.
  • The contractor is impatient and does not listen.
  • Only the work is addressed, instead of your needs as the homeowner.
  • There is no presentation book of previous projects presented.

Interviewing a Remodeler

What Questions Should You Ask?

Who will you choose to wield the hammer on your particular job? That isn’t an easy question. Your choice of a contractor will ultimately determine the success and enjoyment of the job.

You can increase your chances of having a successful project by conducting qualifying interviews, following up on references and credentials, and considering all aspects of the remodeling project-the physical work and the emotional strain. You need to look for the person you feel will provide the best all-around service available-above-and-beyond the necessary construction skills.

The following questions will help you establish a company’s qualifications and reputation, and help you find the right person for your job. During and after the interview please refer to Warning Signs During Remodeler Interviews for more information on how to interpret interview responses.

How long have you been in business? Look for a company with an established business history in your community. Surviving in any business in today’s competitive marketplace is a difficult task. Most successful contractors are proud of their history in the industry.

Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job? Also ask whom you should contact if the supervisor is not available. Get exact names and contact phone numbers for all persons who will be involved in the project.

What is the time frame for starting the project? Now is the time to ask questions about work schedules. You should ask: What is your estimate for completion? How early will your crew normally begin work? When will they normally quit for the day? Will I be contacted about delays or changes in the schedule? By whom?

What is your approach to a project of this scope? This will give you an idea of how the contractor works and what to expect during the project. Listen carefully to the answer. This is one of the big indicators of the company’s work ethic.

How do you operate? In other words, how is your firm organized? Do you have employees or do you hire subcontractors? If you do have employees, what are their job descriptions? Do you use a project supervisor or lead carpenter to oversee the project? Other firms will have additional positions. You should know what parts of your project will be handled by staff, and which will be contracted out to independent contractors.

Is your company a full service or specialty firm? If you are planning a small project, say replacing the bathroom plumbing, you may be better off hiring a specialty plumbing firm or a bathroom remodeler. However, if your project involves multiple changes, entire rooms or additions, you should consult a full service or design-build firm.

Do you have design services available? If you are considering a large or involved project, you will need design services. If the contractor does not have design-build capabilities, you should consider hiring an architect. Depending on the size and scope of the project, you may need an architect or structural engineer.

Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance? A sk for copies of the insurance certificates to verify coverage. In addition, some states require licensing and registration. If your state does have construction licensing laws, ask for your contractor’s registration and license, then confirm the license number and expiration date with your local jurisdiction.

Are any of your company’s employees certified? Trade certifications are good indicators of dedication, professionalism and knowledge of the industry. Remodelers are required to meet certain industry criteria to maintain their certifications. NARI offers six designations: Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Remodeler Associate (CRA), Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR), Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC), and Certified Remodeling Carpenter (CRC). See guide for Who Are NARI Certified Professionals? for more information on these designations.

May I have a list of references for projects you have completed which are similar to mine? The contractor should be able to supply you with a minimum of three references, including names, telephone numbers and addresses. As a follow up to this question, ask how long ago the project was completed and if the contractor can arrange a visit to see the finished job. You should also ask for professional references from suppliers or subcontractors to verify sound business practices.

What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business? This will give you a good indication about the company’s customer satisfaction. According to research conducted by NARI, most remodeling businesses attribute over 50 percent of their annual volume to customer referrals; some even claim up to 90 percent or more of their total annual sales.

How many projects like mine have you completed in the past 12 months? This will help you determine the contractor’s familiarity with your type of project. You should confirm that a good portion of those completed projects were similar to the type of project you are proposing.

Will we need a permit for this project? Most cities and towns require permits for building projects. Failure to obtain the necessary permits or to arrange obligatory inspections can be illegal. In some cases, if a project violates a zoning law or some other regulations, it may even have to be demolished if there is no way to comply with the law. A qualified remodeling contractor will be conscious of the permit process, and ensure that all permits have been obtained before initiating any work.

May I have a list of your suppliers? You may want to add calling the contractor’s suppliers to your list of follow up actions. This will help protect you from mechanics liens for nonpayment by the contractor. Suppliers also can be a source to establish credit history for the company.

Of the many questions you can ask during an interview, the most important question is one you must ask yourself: “Do I feel comfortable with and trust the person I am about to hire?” Your answer to that question should make the hiring decision a little easier.

Finding Good Contractors

Choosing your remodeler is the most important decision in a remodeling project. Take your time and be thorough in your search. Here are just a few places to start looking for the best contractor for your job:

Word-of-Mouth Referrals

Nearly half of all projects signed by a contractor are the result of client referrals. An additional 22 percent of jobs are the result of word-of-mouth. These are your best sources for leads:

  • Relatives
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Business Colleagues
  • Lenders
  • Architects/Designers
  • Real Estate Agents
  • Suppliers
  • Subcontractors

Other sources include:

  • The local NARI chapter in your area.
  • The Find a Pro section of this Web site.
  • Job site signs: Pay particular attention to homes with signs from their contracting company on their lawn. Is the site clean? Are tools and materials being handled in a responsible manner? Are there dust covers over the owner’s belongings to protect them?
  • Local Media Attention: Look for articles about local remodelers. Also check out local home improvement columns in the newspaper and radio talk shows in your area-they can be a great source for finding a qualified, personable contractor.
  • Direct Mail: SSome contractors will send direct mail to homeowners within a few blocks of a current job. Call and ask the homeowner if you could tour the project with the contractor.
  • Seminars: Attend local seminars on home improvement topics. Some firms host free seminars on how to choose a remodeler and other interesting remodeling topics. Check your local newspaper community news section for information.
  • Home Shows: This is a somewhat tricky place to interview contractors since they will be surrounded by other consumers. However, this is a great place to gather information about companies and to make an initial contact with the contractors.

Who are NARI Certified Professionals?

What does NARI Certification mean to you?

Deciding to remodel your home is a big decision. Outside of buying your home, it may be the single biggest investment you make. You need to know that the remodeling contractor you choose is a full-time, dedicated remodeling professional. NARI’s certification program offers this assurance through its extensive screening and testing process.

Only full-time, professional remodeling contractors are eligible for certification by NARI. You can be assured that any time you hire a NARI certified remodeling contractor, you are hiring an individual who has made a strong commitment to the professionalism of the remodeling industry and to his or her business. And because remodelers are not eligible for certification until they have been actively involved in the remodeling industry for at least five years, you know that the NARI certified remodeling professional you hire has had a number of years to develop the experience and skills that can only be gained through extensive hands-on practice.

Isn’t it good to know that your remodeling contractor has a long-term commitment to his or her work?

How does a remodeling contractor become certified?

NARI certification is a challenging process, requiring extensive knowledge of the industry and a commitment to professional conduct. Even highly experienced and skilled remodelers find the screening and testing process formidable.

Homeowner can gain a sense of security knowing that the NARI certified remodeling professional they hire has:

  • Received an acceptable review by the NARI Certification Board by providing an outline detailing their hands-on experience, industry training, involvement in continuing education, technical skills, practices in business management, as well as association and community service.
  • Committed to intensive study on a broad range of critical industry issues. Most certification candidates participate in a formal study group and spend eight to twelve weeks studying in preparation for a one day written exam.
  • Successfully completed a comprehensive written examination covering critical subjects areas such as sound business management practices, knowledge of building codes and construction law, plans and specification, proper and safe use of tools and equipment, safety, standards of practice, math, and several special skill areas. Once awarded their certification, NARI certified remodeling professionals must meet annual recertification requirements involving continuing education and participation in industry related programs.

Who are NARI Certified Remodeling Professionals?

NARI’s certification program recognizes the skills and achievements of five distinct groups of remodeling professionals of particular interest to homeowners: Certified Remodelers (CRs), Certified Remodeler Specialists (CRSs), Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodelers (CKBRs), Certified Remodeler Associates (CRAs), and Certified Lead Carpenters (CLCs).

NARI CRs are professional remodelers who provide a full range of remodeling services. To become a CR, candidates must possess skill and knowledge in a broad range of business management and technical skill areas.

NARI CRSs are professional remodelers who focus on specific type of work and serve the needs of homeowners interested in their area of technical excellence, such as concrete and masonry work, electrical work, insulation, mechanical systems, plumbing systems, and roofing and siding.

NARI CKBRs provide remodeling services specific to kitchens and bathrooms. To become a CKBR, candidates must possess skills and knowledge focused on the requirement of materials, layout, and installation of kitchens and bathrooms.

NARI CRAs actively support the remodeling industry in professions such as architects, designers, manufacturers, suppliers, and consultants.

NARI CLCs are the hands-on field personnel who oversee every aspect of the project: customer satisfaction, personnel management, administration, etc. while working on the project.

NARI certified remodeling professionals have pledged to abide by NARI’s strict Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

It’s no wonder homeowners feel more comfortable relying on remodelers who have earned NARI certification.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is the only national association dedicated solely to the remodeling industry. NARI’s focus is on professional conduct, continuing education and training, and fair and ethical treatment within the industry. NARI certification of professional remodeling contractors serves as the association’s recognition of remodeling professionals who have met stringent criteria for experience and pledged a commitment to high standards of practice and NARI’s Code of Ethics. Among the factors to consider selecting a remodeling contractor, in addition to NARI certification, is your assessment of and satisfaction with the remodeling contractor’s workmanship, reputation and integrity, durability of materials used, and equipment. Before hiring any remodeling contractor, visit and inspect similar projects that he or she has completed, and establish that you will be able to communicate well with each other to ensure your complete satisfaction with final product.

When a Natural Disaster Strikes

Use Care When Hiring to Re-build your Watered Damaged Home

By Rudy Niño, Jr.

Weather patterns can change quickly, so can the chances of being flooded out of your home. Such unforeseen changes in atmospheric conditions can affect thousands of homeowners. Sometimes, the culprit can be a man-made change on the landscape.

Rains will eventually cause roof leaks, wear out exterior paints and siding, affect the foundation, and so on, but heavy rains can cause destructive floods. Then all types of fly-by-night contractors and door-to-door scam artists are very eager to capitalize on the misfortunes of decent people.

You can’t prevent a flood, and sometimes you won’t see it coming. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, “two of three federal disasters were flood related, and 25% of all flood claims came from areas no one considered high risk.”

We have seen such flooding here in Texas, and many homeowners will now need to rebuild or at least remodel their damaged homes. However, during such emergencies, these homeowners should seek a strategy and follow a process to reduce risks and to protect and rebuild their biggest investment.

During such distressing times, all kinds of contractors come out of the woodwork. Be careful whom you decide upon to repair or rebuild your home. Avoid those who call themselves “flood damage experts or professionals,” and steer clear of any who are running “neighborhood” or “door-to-door” specials. Also, be careful of those who solicit your business by phone or claim they were “just passing by.” You should choose a contractor to work on your damaged home in the same way you would choose one for any remodel job, with research and careful consideration.

Carefully checking out a remodeler to repair your home may take a little time. If last week’s floods damaged your home, or if you ever find yourself in such a situation in the future, there are some immediate things you can do to put you on your way to recovery.

  • Contact your homeowner’s insurance agency as soon as possible and inform them about your damages.
  • Contact the local police and fire departments about what you should do before moving building materials, debris, etc.
  • Call your utility companies for specific emergency information.
  • Listen to the local news for flood information and for information on federally funded money.

There are also some measures you can take to protect yourself when you go to get your home repaired:

  • Call the Disaster Registration at 1-800-745-0243 with FEMA. Ask for free FEMA publications on dealing with ‘Repairing your Flooded Home’.
  • Call the Texas Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-621-0508 to check an unknown contractor wanting your business. Visit their web site at for more information.
  • Call the National Flood Insurance Program at 1-888-CALL-FLOOD, ext. 154, or visit their web site at to get an information packet on federal flood insurance.
  • Get more than one estimate. DO NOT sign any contracts in your home or the contractor’s office.
  • Don’t be pressured. Allow enough time to select a good contractor to fill your needs. Ask your lender or contractor about your rights concerning any waiting period other than the federal three-day waiting period.
  • Get references from past customers, check them out by calling them.
  • Visit the National Association of the Remodeling Industry web site at for a ton of remodeling information.

Hopefully this information will help you in rebuilding your biggest investment. None of this is intended to be legal advice. For specific legal advice and representation, contact your attorney.

Rudy Niño, CGR of SA Building and Remodeling, Co., is a member of the San Antonio Chapter of National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Rudy Nino is a CGR Certified Graduate Remodeler by NAHB University of Housing, Washington DC. “2004 Contractor of the Year” by NARI SA and Remodeler of the Year for the past five-consecutive years since 1998 by the Remodelers’ Council. Code Plus Remodeler by APA Engineered Wood Association. Member of the City of San Antonio’ Home Improvement Advisory Board Since 1998.

Living Through a Remodeling

You’ve signed with a reputable contractor and the remodeling work is about to begin. What you – and your contractor – do next about your working relationship will make the difference between a pleasant experience and an unhappy one.

Your responsibility is to choose the best contractor to do the work – one who is insured and bonded and has a reputation for quality workmanship, reasonable speed, fair prices, and pride in his work. After you’ve found a professional NARI contractor who meets these qualifications, step back and trust his or her skills – and your own judgment.

But your job doesn’t end there. You can do other things to ensure smooth sailing:

  • Make a phase list of procedures. Have the contractor explain what work will be done so you’ll know the time needed for what’s involved.
  • Plan adequate storage space. Make room for materials, tools, and equipment by clearing work area of unnecessary gear.
  • Post the builder’s phone number by your telephone in case a question arises during construction. To avoid confusion, delegate only one family spokesman.
  • Consider the logistics involved in delivering, shipping, and ordering materials and making the best use of the tradesperson’s time and skill. Your contractor is as anxious as you are to finish the job. Allow a margin for human error or for simple forgetfulness.
  • Double-check materials as they arrive. Once installed, they’re all yours. You can cut down last-minute decisions and delays by selecting the materials in advance.
  • Check locks and keys. You’ll probably need to share keys with the contractor or his or her workers. Ask who will take responsibility.
  • Try to stay out of the construction area. This is important for safety and for maintaining construction schedules. Keep pets, toys, and children out of the workers’ way.
  • Expect the unexpected. No one can prepare you for all the unforeseen incidents that may transpire. It’s hard to imagine all the things that could go wrong: late deliveries, strikes, shipment shortages, wrong parts, oversights, rain, on-the-spot changes, etc. Tearing down a wall may uncover a problem that demands plan revisions.
  • Brush up on building methods. A little construction savvy will help see you through those blue days when workers fail to show up. Could that happen? Yes, you’ll find that remodeling proceeds in stages. Separate crews install framing, siding, insulation, masonry, finish carpentry, and roofing. Painters, electricians, and plumbers may all have to make several trips to complete their jobs. Slabs must cure, paint must dry, etc. The schedule is complicated, so don’t be surprised if disruptions occur.
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  • Workmanship. Expect the highest of industry standards of quality workmanship. However, don’t expect to get too much more than you’re paying for.
  • Batten down your belongings. Cover furniture and carpeting. Use this time to have your draperies and upholstery cleaned. You won’t believe the dire and dust remodeling creates. Your professional NARI contractor will also help you to cover and protect the work area.
  • Be cool. Keep calm and flexible. Time-clocking workers only builds resentment and won’t save a penny or speed up work.
  • Win cooperation from workers and contractor with good, basic human relations. Nothing makes them work harder than a word of appreciation or an unexpected pot of coffee.
  • Swallow those endless “why’s” that slow down production. Most workers are simply following our orders and construction specs. Discuss construction changes only with an authorized professional NARI contractor.
  • Plan ahead to do without water or power when workers shut off lines. That way you’ll avoid food spoilage in your refrigerator because of an unexpected power shut-off.

This article originally appeared in Home & Graden magazine over 20 years ago, and appears here in edited form courtesy of the President of NARI, Mr. Ken Skowronski of KS Remodelers, Inc. (Milwaukee, WI)

General Remodeling Tips

No one likes to cut a budget, especially when it’s his or her own. But when it comes to planning a remodeling project, homeowners must establish a realistic budget . . . and manage it.

Preparing for a remodeling project is a lot like preparing to buy a car. You may know the room and style you want, but the options you choose may drive the price higher than you can reasonably afford. But there are ways to stretch the remodeling budget and end up with a stylish room within budget.

Getting Started

  • The most important step is finding a professional remodeling contractor for your job. Check out Find a Professional Remodeler on for a contractor near you.
  • Hire a professional contractor who is familiar with the building codes in your area.
  • Updating work that does not meet code can be extremely expensive.
  • A well-written contract can prevent costly mistakes or additions to the scope of your project. It is a critical step in maintaining your budget.
  • Save money by planning ahead. Go through the design process first and choose everything you want to include in the new room(s), from appliances to light fixtures. This will define your budget and prevent hasty (and costly) decisions later in the project. Be sure to include all your product and material selections in the contract to avoid confusion and unnecessary change orders. Include the model, size, color, and other specifications. It is also wise to save 10-20 percent of your budget to allow for items added to the scope of work.
  • The number one way to decrease the cost of your remodeling project is product choices. Look around to determine whether you can achieve a similar look with a less expensive product.
  • In addition, pay attention to how labor intensive some design features may be, for example laying ceramic tile on kitchen countertops and the backsplash.
  • Compare products and their prices carefully before you make final decisions. And keep an open mind when you discuss product and design ideas with your contractor.
  • Make decisions based on value and quality, not just price.
  • Think about staging the work being done to minimize the initial financial impact. It is often easier to create a more manageable budget by starting small and adding to the project at a later date. This will break the work into several jobs instead of one large project. The down side of staging a remodel is that you may end up paying more in the long run.

General Remodeling Tips

  • Be creative. There are often multiple solutions to accomplish a design objective, some more expensive than others. Discuss various options with your contractor.
  • If all the room really needs is a facelift, make the most of changes with paint, as opposed to structural changes. Changing the color of a room can revitalize it. This is the easiest way to bring life to a room on a budget.
  • Heavy or textured wallpaper can work wonders as well. You can save money by wallpapering a slightly damaged wall rather than replacing it. If the wall has grass cloth wallpaper on it, consider whitewashing it for a totally new look. Several layers of whitewash (in various shades of white) produce a clean, sophisticated look in any room.
  • Faux finish painting or other textured decorative painting techniques also can hide minor damage or irregularities that flat paint won’t.
  • Attempt to keep windows in their existing places during a remodeling project. Moving windows is not a cost-saving endeavor.

Finding Space

  • Creating more space can be a big budget buster. Once you add square footage to a home, the price increases significantly. One alternative is to steal space from a neighboring room (called space reconfiguration). A great place to steal space for a bathroom expansion is from the linen closet. You can make up some of the lost storage by finding small spaces in between wall studs for small niches or built-in shelves.
  • You can also try stealing space with optical illusions. There are many ways to make a small room appear larger. To transform a small bath, install a bow window or a skylight. Vaulted ceilings can be a nice touch, too.
  • If you are going to expand outside the existing home, consider a small bump out of two to four feet. This may allow you to cantilever the floor joists and eliminate the need for excavation and foundation. If possible, be careful not to extend beyond the roofline, which would add a new roof to your job.
  • Whenever you are adding on new space to a home, have a heating contractor determine whether your existing heating system can accommodate and heat the extra space. If the heating system is damaged, you will be forced to replace the entire unit.

In the Kitchen

  • If at all possible, reuse existing appliances, and build your new cabinets around them. This could save you anywhere from $1,500-5,000 easily. However, be aware that appliances, like anything electrical, are sensitive to change and may develop problems if they are moved. Should you decide to avoid potential appliance “burn-out” and purchase new appliances, choose energy conscious models for a reduction in your utility bills.
  • Maintain present location of major fixtures, appliances and utilities relative to the plumbing, gas and electrical outlets. This could even apply to the location of the telephone. Moving plumbing, wiring and jacks can be extremely expensive.
  • The faucet can be a costly item. The least expensive selection is chrome. Even a high-end chrome faucet is considerably less than a mid-range brass or porcelain version. A standard two-handle faucet generally costs less than single handle. Faucets and handles are sold separately, so you may want to choose a chrome faucet with brass or porcelain handles for a different look. Faucet Caution: The price variances in faucets reflect the various internal and external features. Always choose a faucet with replaceable internal parts. You won’t want to have to replace the entire faucet if it breaks-it’s simply not cost-effective.
  • Choose neutral colors in fixtures, appliances and laminates. They are less expensive initially and wont look dated when the color trends change. White and almond sinks are much cheaper than color varieties. And neutral laminate colors for countertops are less than custom colors or textures.
  • Good floor covering is important. It ties one room to another and provides visual consistency. Familiarize yourself with the prices of the various flooring materials to make the best decision for your home. To get you started, vinyl or laminate flooring is less expensive than wood, tile or slate.
  • Use the existing floor covering if it is still in good condition. If the kitchen has old vinyl flooring, there may be a hardwood floor underneath that could be sanded and refinished, avoiding the need for a new floor entirely.
  • If you currently have a vinyl floor covering and wish to update with a newer version, you can install synthetic floor leveler material over the existing vinyl floor and lay the new vinyl flooring on top, rather than tearing the old flooring off to install the new.
  • Consider your cabinet options carefully. Those choices will drive the overall price. You can add some options at a later date to defray some of the initial cost. Some that are easy to add include tilt front doors, spice racks and slide out wire baskets. However, if you decide to wait, make certain that the option you want will be available and can be added after installation. Note of Caution: Waiting will cost you more in the long run. Adding new cabinets often requires installing a new floor. Refacing existing cabinets not only eliminates the need for new flooring, countertops and appliances altogether, it is a major savings in any kitchen remodel.
  • Go with a simple design in the kitchen employing single height wall cabinets, blind corner cabinets rather than those with Lazy Susans, and other standard options. Watch your upgrades.
  • Use standard cabinetry instead of custom cabinets, or use a combination of the two if they are compatible.
  • Choose cabinets that can be operated without the addition of hardware (those that are finger-pulled).
  • Install cabinets without soffits to decrease the labor cost. Also consider cabinets without trim moldings or with simple trim.
  • If you are going to put in new wood trim (in your crown molding, trims, and door casings) to match the new cabinets, order pre-finished trim instead of having the painting or staining done on-site. This will decrease labor cost. Ordering finger-jointed vs. clear vertical grain also will save you money.
  • Consider stenciling on the backsplash instead of using tile.
  • Laminate countertops are the least expensive choice among solid surfacing, tile and granite. You can dress it up with wood or tile trim for a more innovative look.
  • Connect fluorescent light fixtures to the existing ceiling fixture box instead of installing new recessed lighting, which may require a new ceiling because of the recessed features.

In the Bathroom

  • Consider reglazing a tub instead of replacing it, especially if it is still in relatively good condition. This can save you more than half the cost of a tub replacement-and minimize the dust at the same time!
  • Cultured marble sheets are a good choice for tub surrounds, instead of ceramic tile. You will save considerably on labor costs and the marble sheets are much easier to clean.
  • Fiberglass surrounds are also less costly than tile.
  • Examine how you are utilizing space. You may be able to steal some space from a neighboring room or closet. If your overall space is limited, purchase a jetted tub and shower combination or install a pedestal lavatory instead of a vanity cabinet with a sink. Understand that, while pedestal lavatories do eliminate the need for vanities and save space, some models may cost more than a separate vanity cabinet and sink. Look at all your options before making a decision.
  • Cultured marble lavatories can be a great budget choice since it is an integrated sink bowl and countertop sold in one easily installed unit.
  • Define what is truly needed in the bathroom. Sometimes an extra bath is planned when installing a double sink in an existing bath would meet the need.
  • If you are going to add a large jetted tub to your project, consider adding a water heater dedicated to that tub. A large jetted tub can hold up to an average of 75 gallons or more, which can easily overextend your existing water heater and cause problems in the future.

Be sure you look at the terrific energy saving options before you remodel: From windows to water heaters!

Questions to Ask References

To protect yourself, always check the contractor’s references. This is an essential stage of qualifying the right person for your project. Here are just a few questions to ask previous customers:

  1. Could they communicate well with the remodeler?
  2. Were they pleased with the quality of work? (This is a tough question, however, since everyone defines “quality” differently. It is much better to ask to see the completed project to determine the level of quality for yourself.)
  3. Were they satisfied with the remodeler’s business practices?
  4. Did the crew show up on time?
  5. Were they comfortable with the trades people the remodeler subcontracted to?
  6. Was the job completed on schedule?
  7. Did the remodeler fulfill his or her contract?
  8. Did the contractor stay in touch throughout the project?
  9. Were the final details finished in a timely manner?
  10. Would you use the remodeler again without hesitation?