Sunday, April 6, 2014

Real Life Game of Chutes and Ladders; The Need For Worker's Compensation on Your Job

A Real Life Game of Chutes and Ladders!

When hiring a contractor to work on your house, make sure they have a valid Worker's Compensation policy! All states/jurisdiction labor laws require a worker's comp policy if the business has employees, even just one.
Here's where I've seen contractors try to skirt the law; define their 'employees' as "Independent Contractors" thereby avoiding (so they think) workers comp as well as taxes.

The IRS has a very narrow definition of what an Independent Contractor is. Generally speaking, if a business owner has control over how, what, where and when labor is being performed, they are EMPLOYEES!
What this means to you: if someone gets hurt on your property and the contractor does NOT have a workers comp policy on them, YOU WILL BE LIABLE AND SUED.

Most Homeowner's policies DO NOT cover construction work on your property. Don't be misled. Look at the wording on your policy, usually it states "occasional servant" which covers people like babysitters and the neighbor's kid mowing your lawn.

Upon hiring a contractor, request a copy of their Workers Comp policy. Make sure it is valid, and not expired.
In California, the contractor's licensing laws require that the worker's comp be directly connected with their license. If the policy expires, their license becomes invalid immediately. 

Here in Colorado, licensing laws are different and there is no connection. I have seen many 'want ads' from contractors looking to hire carpenters and treat them as 1099 Independent Contractors. It's rampant around here and it seems that there is no interest from authorities in trying to curb this illegal hiring practice.
Consumer, beware!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Humorous Construction Industry Definitions

Reposted from Neal A. Pann, Architect:

Just a little humor here folks..................

I thought it would be fun to share a list of construction definitions commonly used in the architectural and construction industry, which a friend of mine recently sent me. Hopefully those of you that are industry enjoy and have a good laugh, but for those that are potential clients, none of this is true.
A book listing materials and procedures for the project. The materials are either: 1) So new no one except the architect has ever heard of them; or, 2) So obsolete they haven't been manufactured for 10 years.
A wild guess carried out to two decimal places.
Bid Opening
A poker game in which the losing hand wins.

Low Bidder
A contractor who is wondering what he left out.

A gambler who never gets to shuffle, cut, or deal.

Someone who is expected to correct all mistakes made by others and to provide financing for contractors and owners.

Project Manager
The conductor of an orchestra in which every musician is in a different union.
Pre-Construction Conference
A meeting held by the architect, contractor, and subcontractors while they are still on speaking terms.

Designs a monument to himself and a tombstone for the contractor.
Engineer’s Estimate
The cost of construction in Heaven.

Critical Path Method
A management technique for losing your shirt under perfect control.
Completion Date
1) A predetermined period during which, under ideal conditions, about 70% of the project can be completed. b) The point at which liquidated damages begin.

Liquidated Damages
The penalty for failing to achieve the impossible.
An involuntary savings account for subcontractors, earns no interest and is paid out only under protest.

A protective coating made by half-baking a mixture of fine print, red tape, split hairs, and baloney - usually applied at random with a shotgun.
An effort to increase egg production by strangling the chicken.
Final Inspection
Scheduled at least six months after the building is occupied, gives the owner plenty of time to tear the work apart.
People who go in after the war is lost and bayonet the wounded. 

Person who goes in after the auditors to strip the bodies.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Home Insulation: How much do I need?


How much do I need and how do I know if I have enough?

The most important factor in effective insulation is to create an “envelope” which includes floor, walls and ceiling areas. In order of importance; #1 the ceiling, #2 the floor and last #3 are the walls. If one of these areas is under insulated or not insulated, the effectiveness of the envelope system is breached.
 Most people overlook the floor as a critical space to insulate properly. Cold air is dense and warm air is lighter, therefore cold air comes up through the floor and pushes out the warmer air through the ceiling and out of the building.
Insulation is measured in an “R-value”. The R refers to the amount of thermal resistance in the material. The bigger the number, the more (or higher) insulative properties it has. Bigger is better here.
The amount of insulation (R-Value) depends on the climate zone of where you live. Click here to view the recommended Energy Star map of which you can then determine your climate zone. These R-values are a minimum and can always be increased as you so desire and as space allows.

What types of insulation are available?

  There are generally 4 types of insulation:

  •        Batts (fluffy blanket type)
  •       Rigid (foam boards)
  •       Blown-in
  •       Foam (expansion type)

BATTS are the most common. These are usually fiberglass batts that are rolled out like a blanket, are flexible and can be installed in all 3 building surfaces (walls, floor, and ceiling). This is also the most cost effective.

RIGID FOAM boards are dense and typically used in cases where you need a higher R-value and very little space to do it in. For example; on a vaulted ceiling you may need an R-38 and have a 2x10 rafter to work with. A fiberglass batt of R-38 will be approximately 12” thick and a 2x10 is actually 9” deep. You are now 3” short of your goal. TIP: You should never compress a fiberglass batt into a smaller space as you will reduce the R-value that it is designed for. Rigid foam is more expensive than batts and requires more labor to install. If installing between framing members, every piece must be cut individually.

BLOWN-IN insulation is on the lower end of the cost spectrum, similar to batts, and can be cost effective if installed in an open attic area in terms of labor. However, because of the nature of the application, the material can shift or compress over time and become uneven in open spaces (attics) and slide down wall cavities resulting in a reduced R-value. It is also really annoying if you have to dig through gobs of the stuff to service something in your attic and breathe the resulting dust fibers as well as being terribly itchy. For obvious reasons, it cannot be installed in raised wood floor applications.

EXPANDING FOAM is a product that must be installed/applied by a professional. It is NOT a DIY kind of project. This is a newer type of material that starts out being a liquid and when it hits the air, it expands and hardens in place. It typically has a much higher R-value per inch than most other types of insulation because of its density. It is similar to the cans of spray foam that you use to seal cracks, but applied on a much larger scale. It is the most expensive material on the market by far. However, it has advantages such as sealing the entire space (wall/ceiling/floor cavity) and no drafts or critters. Some products are approved for use in non-ventilated areas such as vaulted ceilings (or cantilevered floors) and therefor you are not required to provide a 1” air gap between insulation and roof sheathing, giving you a higher R-value in the end. Products that are “closed-cell” are minimal expanding and won’t damage your framing if over applied.

There are some disadvantages of expanding foam insulation. It is flammable and will release deadly, toxic fumes when it burns. If you read the manufacturer’s fine print, it cannot be left exposed and it must be covered with a fire rated material such as ½” cement or fire rated gypsum board. Some forms of this insulation even contain hazardous chemicals that can cause you to suffer from lung cancer or skin-related problems. Check with the vendor of the product for compliance with LEEDS and low VOC content.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Construction Bid Allowances; Watch out for the OUCH!

What are allowances in a construction bid?
Allowances are common in construction bids. The purpose is to plug in a $ amount into the bid for finish items such as tile, flooring or fixtures. Usually these items have not been selected or specified at the time of bidding and therefore an allowance is used.
Allowance items (in terms of your contract) are dollar numbers that can go up or down depending on the final selection of the items. Almost always they GO UP and here is where the OUCH comes in. Unfortunately, this is also where unscrupulous contractors will play money games with their bottom line bid numbers and most consumers will not even realize it until they are under contract and it’s a bit too late.
With the current tight economic times, it is understandable that people on both sides of the table are pinching pennies. The consumer wants the best price and the contractor wants the job. Most often, contractors will plug in unrealistic allowance numbers (too low) to make their overall bid cost attractive to their potential client and hopefully win the bid. The consumer then, unwittingly thinks that they are getting the same product for a cheaper price. NOT SO!
What the contractor just did was play a slight of hand.  You (the consumer) are thinking you are getting a brushed nickel faucet when the contractor figured the cost of a plastic one. Later on during construction when you realize that the allowance dollars are used up and you still have many more items to acquire, you will be coming up with the overage out of your own pocket beyond the contract price.  Once you accept and sign your contract, you are legally bound by it and it is very difficult to get out from under it later on and the fight begins.
The best way to avoid these sneaky allowance items is to do your homework early during the design phase and select everything ahead of time, from light fixtures to door knobs.. You don’t have to actually buy the items, just make the selection. Make a list of the item, manufacturer, part number, color/finish, price and vendor. Work with your design professional, sales person or contractor to figure the quantity (linear feet, square feet, square yard, etc) and do the math. Keep a note book with you while you are shopping and jot down the information. Draw some sketches (like for tile designs and layout) or even take a picture of the showroom example. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Spend the time and do the footwork of making all of your selections ahead of time and save yourself the grief later of unexpected cost overruns and battles with your contractor.
When you send out your plans for bids, make sure you include a copy of your specification list of all these items with the plans as well. Also reference this specification list in your final contract and make it clear in your contract as to whom will be providing (buying) these items and who will be installing them as well.
Another way to handle allowance items is to state, “Owner to provide (you buy it)…….contractor to install”. This approach will allow you to have more control over expenses, however you will be taking on the responsibility of acquiring and providing the materials to the contractor.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Colorado Law for Roofing Contractors

Colorado State Article 22
 Signed into law on 6/6/2012
Roofing Services - Residential Property
State Title 6-22-101.  Legislative declaration.





For the full text of the law, go to:

Monday, November 7, 2011

What is Design/Build and Why Should I Consider this Approach to Building?

Design/Build is a team approach to building. The team consists of 3 primary players; Owner, Design Professional and Contractor, all of which are equally important.  Just think of a 3-legged stool. All 3 legs are required in order for the stool to function. If one leg is weaker than the others, or is removed, the entire stool collapses and ceases to function.

Traditional Hard Bid Approach

Most homeowners who approach a building project hire someone to draw a set of plans and then solicit multiple bids from multiple contractors with those same set of plans. This is the most common approach and has been done for decades. Here’s the problem……… when using this approach you are assuming that all contractors have the same level of expertise, same level of competence and will use the same quality materials and the only difference is going to be the price. THIS IS THE FURTHEST THING FROM REALITY!
It’s almost as if you decide to buy a particular car (your project) and you just go from dealer to dealer (the contractor) to get the best price. This process is usually fine since all cars are built on an assembly line, in a controlled environment and the materials and quality are controlled by the same manufacturer. With the exception of a few ‘lemons’ here and there, the end product is rather predictable, therefor PRICE is the only thing that is negotiable at that point.
Construction, however, is completely the opposite. The end product is hand made by fallible humans with different levels of expertise, different business practices and with different motivations, hence a different end product than you think you are going to get when you started out.

Design/Build is a Negotiated Bid

In a Design/Build approach to building, the owner selects their “team” (design professional and builder) from the beginning. Referring back to the 3-legged stool, the owner communicates their needs to the designer who interprets those needs into a preliminary design and then the contractor runs a preliminary cost analysis based on the preliminary design. If the costs are outside of the budget (and it usually is on the first draft, it’s a matter of how much over), the designer, contractor and owner work together to design the project to the budget and not the budget conforming to the design. This is the negotiation part of the process. It’s NOT about negotiating profit margins, but rather negotiating the aspects of the design, identifying the costly portions and developing creative design solutions to bring the costs down.  During this process, it is the design professional’s job is to ensure the integrity of the design solution, the contractor acts as a consultant for projected cost purposes and the owner steers the direction of the decision making process. All three are equally important.
Once a final design solution (including construction costs) is arrived at, final construction documents are completed by the design professional, permits are obtained by the contractor and construction begins. The advantage of having the contractor involved during the design process is that by the time you are building, all parties are fully versed of the expectations of the project and a working relationship between the owner, design professional and contractor is already established before a shovel of dirt is ever turned. A dialog and working relationship has already been established. This will prove invaluable during the actual construction when something goes awry (and it will) and issues can be headed off before it becomes a major problem.
Throughout my entire 25 year career of designing nearly 800 projects, I can say that the most successful projects have been the ones that were done in a design/build approach. My definition of ‘successful’ is when all the parties are still talking to each other by the end of the project!

Common Household Building Code Violations

In my travels and experience over the past 25 years, I have observed numerous building code violations that most homeowners aren’t even aware of. These are common “mistakes” that are made, not on purpose, but due to a lack of knowledge and just simply not being aware.
I would like to share the most common, routine violations in the hopes that people can be more aware of their surroundings and live safer in their homes.
The following references (written in bold below) are taken from the IRC (International Residential Code) with is the building code in force throughout the United States EXCEPT for California, which uses the CBC (California Building Code). Both codes are very similar with only slight variations between them.

Smoke Detectors: (IRC- R313.1) …to be located in hallways adjacent to sleeping rooms, inside each sleeping room, top of stairwells and in basements.
Note that these can be battery operated if placed in existing construction. If new construction, they must be ‘hard wired’ with a battery back-up and interconnected. The purpose of smoke detectors is to wake you up if there is a fire so that you can respond appropriately.  Some people incorrectly install them in kitchens. It is NOT meant to be your ‘dinner bell’! Try not to locate them near bathrooms as the steam from showers can inadvertently set them off.
Carbon Monoxide detectors, although not required by the building code, may be required in certain regions of the country. Please check your local building department or government agency for requirements.
Although not required by code, I recommend installing a smoke detector in the garage for extra protection. Most house fires actually start in the garage.

Water Heater/Furnace (gas only) located in Garage: (G2408.2)…If located in a garage, must be installed on a minimum 18” high platform.
The purpose of this requirement is for Fire Safety. The pilot light (which is located near the bottom of the unit) can ignite combustible fumes and gases stored in the garage. These sources include the gas tank of your car, lawn mower and other items such as solvents and paints that are typically stored in your garage.

Interior Garage Doors: (R310.1)….Openings between garages and residence shall have solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8” in thickness or honeycomb steel doors not less than 1- 3/8” thick or 20 minute fire-rated door.
Many times I have seen homeowners replace these doors with Patio doors, doors with a window in them or even cut ‘doggie doors’ into these types of doors. This is NOT allowed. Once altered, these doors do not provide the proper fire separation between your garage and house and will cause fire to rapidly spread between areas. Remember, most house fires start in the garage!

Dryer Vents: (M1501.1)….Dryer vents must terminate to the EXTERIOR of the building.
Most often, dryer vents are vented directly into the garage. Weather the appliance is located inside the garage or inside a utility room, the venting of these units must be routed directly to the exterior of the building. I have seen these units vented directly under the house in crawl spaces, directly into the attic and even directly into the garage. The lint build up is amazing! So much so, that it’s like walking on a mattress. Not only does this condition add more moisture to these areas, hence accelerated rotting and insect infestations, but creates a fire hazard with the buildup of lint.

Guardrails (R312.1)….required where walking surfaces are greater than 30” from grade. Guardrails must be a minimum of 36” high and have openings less than 4” in diameter.
 This code requirement applies to decks, porches, balconies, patios and any areas directly connected to the dwelling in which this code is being applied. It does not apply to landscaping or other hard scape areas of a yard that are secondary to the dwelling (ex. Terraced landscaping, driveways, walkways).
Many times I have seen front porches that are in total violation of this code. If you have more than 3 steps up to a porch or landing, then more than likely you are required to have guardrails encompassing the porch. It is also possible you may be required to have handrails on the open sides of the stairway as well.
The requirement of less than 4” diameter is so that a child’s head or body cannot get through the openings, get caught in the openings or completely fall through and off the surface. The actual wording is: “….so that a 4” sphere cannot pass through”.

Electrical Plugs in Kitchens (E3802.6), Bathrooms (E3802.1) and Garages (E3802.2) must be GFI.
GFI refers to ‘Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt’. These are the type of outlets that have a reset button located in the middle of the plug so that you can test the circuit. It is designed to shut off the circuit (or ‘pop’ off) if it detects an imbalance of electrical current which would cause electrical shock and possible electrocution. This is required where electrical outlets are located near water and protects the user from being shocked.
You can test these outlets yourself by using a “Circuit Tester”. You can purchase these handy devices at any local hardware or home improvement store in the electrical department. This small device can be plugged into the electrical receptacle and colored lights will tell you if the circuit is protected, there’s reverse polarity, open ground, hot and ground reversed etc. If you suspect an issue, contact a licensed electrician to trouble shoot or repair the problem.

Minimum Light and Ventilation: R303.1….all habitable spaces (except kitchens and bathrooms) are required to maintain a minimum of 8% light and 4% ventilation of floor area of the room they service. Bathrooms may have a mechanical means of ventilation (exhaust fan in lieu of a window) with .35 air changes per hour.
This pertains to the minimum size of windows (light) and open able area (ventilation) in your house. I have often seen this part of the building code in severe violation when homeowners replace their existing windows either by modifying the original opening or changing the style/operation of the window itself. Many times, homeowners decide to change the type of window when they replace them. For example, changing from a casement window (crank out type) to a single hung (slide up and down) style of window. This change might not seem like a big deal, but you just reduced the ventilation by 50% and may not have even known it! Another inadvertent violation is when a homeowner decides to put ‘picture windows’ (fixed glass) in a room with a nice view. Well, you might have just removed ALL of the ventilation in that space and not realized it.
Don’t depend on your window salesman to know what is appropriate for your house. They may not have even been to your house or don’t want to bother measuring the rooms for compliance. Often times the salesman will have fine print in their contract stating that they are not responsible for code compliance. READ YOUR CONTRACT, be an informed and wise consumer!

EGRESS: R310.1…..Sleeping rooms must have at least 1 means of egress.
Egress is defined as a means of emergency escape. You must be able to climb out of an opening (door or window) from a bedroom if there is a fire. This also applies to habitable basements. The MINIMUM requirements of this opening is as follows: R310.1.1 – 310.1.4
·         Maximum sill height is 44” from the floor.
·         Minimum height of opening is 24” clear
·         Minimum width of opening is 20” clear
·         Minimum CLEAR opening must be at least 5.7 sq.ft. * (grade floor openings can be 5 sq.ft.)
*NOTE: if you multiply the min. width x height, you will be LESS THAN the minimum 5.7 sq.ft. required. Therefore, only ONE dimension (width OR height) will qualify. The other dimension must be greater!