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  • Chris Golden

Why It's So Important to Check Out Contractors Before Hiring

Not too long ago, I was hired to install and finish several sheets of drywall for a kitchen remodeling project. The remodeling was being handled by another company. My piece of the project amounted to six sheets of drywall that had to go up before the cabinets could be installed. No sooner than I had started, I noticed several problems with the electrical wiring hidden in the walls. Then I saw several plumbing issues that needed attention. Next up was some rotten framing that needed to be replaced. The original remodeling company couldn't be bothered to do the needed repairs in a timely matter so it became my responsibility. What had begun as a simple one-day job was now a multi-day project. The homeowners were not very happy about the added costs, but were pleased with my work and soon called back with additional work.

When I returned the kitchen floor had been tiled and grouted. At first glance, it looked like a fairly good tile job consisting of very large tiles with elaborate patterning. But a closer inspection revealed many problems with the installation. Almost every tile had some sort of chip on it. There was also extensive and severe tile lippage, or an offset between adjacent tiles that looks bad and catches your toes as you walk across it! The entire floor looked like it had been installed by a beginner. The owners were very upset and called their general contractor (the GC) to complain about this shoddy work. The GC explained that he had sent one of his carpenters to install the tile because his tile crew was busy on another job! The end result was that the floor had to be completely torn up and redone correctly!

On my next visit, I was asked by the owners to inspect the insulation in their attic. Once in said attic, I quickly noticed many problems with the house's electrical wiring. New wiring had been haphazardly spliced into the old, 1950's era cloth-insulated wiring without using the proper junction boxes. This resulted in a potentially hazardous situation, as any electrical sparking had the potential to start a fire! My next step was to inspect the electrical service panel (or fuse box). A new panel had been installed without replacing the old wiring. Not good! A competent and licensed electrician would NEVER even think of doing such a thing. To make matters worse, the old cloth insulation had worn away at many different locations. In short, the wiring was a dangerous mess. After a chat with the owners, I discovered that the so-called electrician was a friend of theirs who they thought was doing them a favor. Some favor. Friends usually don't endanger the safety of their friends!

These problems illustrate the need to check out a contractor or handyman before you trust your home's well-being to them. This is doubly true for us here in Texas. Texas is a right-to-work state, meaning there are no licenses required to work as a handyman, painter, or drywall installer. A lot of painters, regardless of their training or experience, are calling themselves remodelers or handymen these days. There are no requirements needed to do so. But you do need a license in order to call yourself a General Contractor. Think of the GC as the coach of a football team who guides his subcontractors to victory. In the above example, the GC turned out to be the owner of an interior design company. He didn't even have a valid license! Hiring a licensed GC insulates the customer against any mishaps that may occur during construction. You have very little recourse against unlicensed contractors. It's one reason why Texas code requires hot water heaters to be installed by licensed plumbers. A bad water heater installation can ruin an entire house and the insurance companies hate to pay those claims!

Simply put, you should take steps to become a more educated consumer. You'll save time and money on your next remodeling project if you do. We're lucky to be living in the age of information. Read up on construction techniques. Ask your friends and coworkers if they know a skilled handyman. Look at their online reviews, but take these reviews with a grain of salt. A lot of reviews these days are just paid placements or advertisements. Buying such reviews has become a big business, but that's another story. When you find a decent prospect, ask him questions about his procedures. Don't blindly assume that he knows what he's doing, and don't just jump to the conclusion that you know more than he does. And most important of all, be very careful when hiring your relatives or buddies to do work for you. In the above example, the owner trusted hi friend to do a quality electrical job. He ended up trusting the wrong friend!

bad electrical wiring
Ouch! Better have a fire extinguisher.

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