Leaving something behind to reach future goals

Leaving something behind to reach future goals is something I’ve told myself to do many times. Change. Usually heels dug in, kicking and screaming and yelling, “It’s going to work! I just have to work harder”. Saying it like the salmon in the river, right? Never compare yourself to something that tries to kill itself so hard with so much success. Watching the river go by with so much grace and ease, it naturally finds it way to the end, and in the process, provides so much value to everything around it.

Finding time in a day to sit down and add something valuable to the remodeling world is just, well…difficult. Every business owner I know and have talked to in this business is busy. I realize my own time constraints are created by a lot of work that should never of been committed to in the first place.

The business model I have chosen for my business is Design/ Build. Design…..Build. Dream it, put it on paper, draw out the concerns and issues ahead of time. Then commit resources AFTER that process is completed. In the end, a superior value over “we’ll just put an allowance in” business model. I know this from countless customers who complain their contractor didn’t help them with the issues they had to begin with. I’m winning, right?

I have also thought it would be a good idea to do general home maintenance as an adjunct to the core business model. After all, most people say they need these little things done and in the grand scheme of co-opting different things together, it seems like the right thing to do. It’s just….that it isn’t.

Time in any business has to be compensated for. Not just for the hours someone works, but the time and resources it takes to get that person there. Home maintenance is a job for a person who has no business in my market.

Hours worked are paid for by the customer. Knowing how much to charge is dependent on what your expenses are. Most “handymen” don’t know what this true cost is, and such, has driven the price of their services down. The proverbial race to the bottom. Like a lot of businesses. Except, most are not businesses. Just wage producers.

Our Company’s actual cost of doing business is higher than “Chuck in a Truck”, making it increasingly difficult to offer these services at a price point a customer will pay. I have come to a place where I understand that this is not a part of the business that adds value enough to charge accordingly. So, as my last look towards Home Maintenance, I leave it in the rear view mirror for someone else. Oh, and free up time to run and grow my business.

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Oh those stubborn sump lines

I went to an appointment recently on a sump pump drain line that continues to break at the fittings even after gluing. So was the callers problem.

After seeing the offending pipes, it was very clear what was happening.

OK stop reading. Cover up the rest of the page. Think about the sump lines in your yard, spewing water back at your foundation. Know what it is?

Good, because the homeowner had a handyman coming to fix it and he didn’t know what the problem was either. Made clearer through the description of his fix.

It gets cold around here. Dayton, Ohio is not northern Michigan, but you have to build like it is. We get frost heave and freezing pipes here too. Sump lines are like your water supplies inside; they freeze below 32 deg. too.

So two things have to happen right? One, you need to protect the pipes from freezing or two, you have to give the water a place to expand. When it comes to sump lines, the amateur use 1 1/2″ pipe outside. “We’ll, the pipe coming out is 1 1/2″ so I’ll just continue it. Thru the elbows, down into the ground and into my French drain in the yard ( bad idea also, but that’s another post).

The issue becomes one of middle school science. As water freezes it….expands! Except in an 1 1/2” pipe there is no place for it to go. I know my path of least resistance would be that annoying fitting! Bang! Ahhhh.. 100 gallons a minute fills that pipe pretty fast.

So, what’s the fix? Bigger pipe. The pro who does this everyday in a freeze prone climate already new the answer back when I said “stop”. 4″ schedule 35 PVC pipe is the pipe of choice. Schedule 40 inside DWV is over kill and a bit more expensive, but wouldn’t hurt. Don’t use plastic drain tile as it can get crushed from settlement.

Piping should be 4″ right up to the 90 deg. stub out at the house. They actually make a nice transition cap for the pipe that the 1 1/2″ pipe slides into. Allowing room for water to back up if it ever actually hardens the middle of the pipe with out destroying all your hard work. Make sure there is plenty of fall to the open end of the pipe to discharge and drains water. If you can’t pipe to the street, get the discharge end out of the ground so it thoroughly drains water. The French drain thing with gravel is a temporary fix, but they fill with mud and silt and don’t drain after a while either.

So, get to work on the water in your yard and make sure it is far away from the foundation. This is your best strategy for a dry basement and a happy sump pump!

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The scary building stuff when you help a friend


I was recently asked by a friend to help sort out an electrical short in a piece of property he owns. I am not divulging their name or location…. Suffice it to say, it required a bit of trouble shooting. Ultimately what led to, said plug to the left, was a short that we were looking for. After shutting down the breaker box and removing the device we went about figuring out the wiring. First thing I discovered was aluminum wiring. everyone’s scariest stuff when dealing with electricity. Not that it’s any more difficult to work on, but the fear is someone else did not due diligence and replaced old devices with CU  or CU/AL devices. This could of been a fire. How it wasn’t is anybody’s guess, but it does illustrate the stunning lack of knowledge by the installer. I say installer, not electrician, not wanting to slight any licenced electricians out there. We also looked at other devices in the house, and found similar issues. They are all changed out. See what should be done here

The rule of thumb is, if you don’t know, call a pro. We like to see work done right, to code and charged fairly. There’s a good chance we will be the guys to work on it next.

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What To Think About For Spring Remodeling

January and February are great times for me to think about my business. Closing out  books, planning for the new year and updating my website, centervillebuildanddesign.com. These are all the things that consume me in these months. I am still wishing it paid in cash…or check; heck I’ll even take a credit card! What these activities do though, is help me to realize I run a business. These are the same things large companies do like, IBM or Apple,  Ford or GM, or any number of large and small businesses across the country. I also field a number of bid requests.

I like this aspect of the business. I get to meet people and find out what ideas they have in the remodeling areas of their homes. But there is a down side: most of these prospective customers are just casting lines. Making calls to “kinda see how much it costs to…” Fill in the blank. Redo the kitchen, add a shower, replace the counter tops in the bathroom, add a deck, take one down. The idea list is extensive. The process is to see what they can do for their money. Here is one thing that may or may not be clear to the customer, I can spend hours in a meeting, more hours pricing, (not to mention others time) and never here back from them. I probably should charge for estimates, but for my market, no one else does. I guess they lose out each time they never here from someone either.

In an effort to make our time effective together, I’ve compiled a short thought list on how to find a contractor to do the project you need completed, professionally, with excellent communication and on time performance. I use me as an example, but most reputable firms are looking for this also. These are things that matter most. All other things can be fixed if you have these assets. Sound familiar in your business?

1. Get a referral from some one you know and respect who has done business with me. They can vouch for what I can do and you will find I give very competitive pricing when I feel the prospective customer is serious about doing the project. Check your Better Business Bureau. I know, we all saw the great expose on 20/20 last year, but I think these guys were a one off. My BBB is above board and can be difficult for me to increase my ratings unless I follow the guidelines of ethical business, time in business, etc…

2. Do your homework ahead of time. This does not include HGTV or browsing the newspaper to see if Home Depot or Lowe’s will get it done for $99.00. They will. They don’t make money on installs. It’s all marked up in the material. Ask friends, people at work or family if they have recently had a kitchen remodeled or their bath updated. If so, how much was it? Was it similar in scope of work to what you want done? How much did it cost? If their unemployed brother-in-law did it, I can’t compete with that: I Run a Business. I have overhead. I pay taxes, unemployment insurance, workman’s comp, etc…and have an office, probably like the company you work for…This naturally leads to number 3

3. Figure out a budget. Be realistic. It helps me to cut down on estimating time, thus lowering my costs and yours. Help me with material selections. I know you want granite tops, but if your budget is low, then tell me up front. I’ll be upfront with you also. I do not participate in the great race to the bottom. I want to be around for the next couple of decades at least, but this requires me to “make a profit” just like the company you work for.

4. Please call me back. I put a lot of effort into doing what I do. If you don’t award me the contract, tell me. I won’t be offended, but it will help me to move forward to the next customer and keep my overhead down as we don’t repeatedly call you and try to continue to win your business.

5. If you are working with multiple contractors to get bids, tell me. Please don’t lead me around just to “get some more ideas”. We are a full service design/build company, but we don’t give away our designs. We will present what we feel is the best solution for your home and let you look at it, but not keep it. It will be yours if you move forward with us. If a contractor or big box is giving away “free” design, you will get exactly what you paid for it in the long run.

The winter is a good time to make plans to get you remodeling projects completed. From spring to Christmas is “Hammer Time”. Please make this a priority if you’ve called me: I have.

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Green Remodeling is a Hot Trend now, but don’t forget the basics!

Water pipes unprotected from drywall screw

The hot trend today is “Green” or “Sustainable” building. This can include a wide variety of things like tight building envelopes to low emission finishes and cabinets (which incidentley should go hand in hand) to higher efficient heating and cooling systems. All great things to do. But why do builders and remodelers spend so much time focusing on these and miss the basics?

The photo on the left is a recent repair I worked on. The black stuff is mold, not burn damage, although they both are black and both are destructive. While busy charging for upgraded heating systems and more sustainable flooring, the builder forgot (as did the plumbing inspector) to look at the basics. No nail plates on these pipes, that were strategically placed within a 1/2″ of the edge of the stud. Bam! Drywall screw through the pipe, and the destruction begin.

I caught this damage recently when a customer of mine asked me to come back to do more work on their home. I had finished the basement last year and thought I should do a quick walk through of that project to make sure everything was in good order. The basement project was fine, but I had noticed a rust spot and bubbled paint on my way down the basement stairs. When I asked how long that had been there the homeowner responded, “I think I noticed it just after you left last summer.” Coincidentally, the screw rusted through around the time we had finished the basement last year.

OK, fair enough. But she had thought it was a paint issue, not a leak issue. I knew nothing about either. Note to self, “Do follow up walk-thru or call on all projects.” Another one of the basics I forgot…(sad emoticon). The point is, while focusing on all the really cool green initiatives, the builder forgot to look at a few basic things, the 50¢ nail plate to protect the water lines, and created a different environmental issue: health.

Being “Green” is an operative word used by a lot of people selling things most of us don’t need. NEED. I’ll say it again, Need. If we all turned out the lights when not in a room, we wouldn’t need to burn so much fuel for our power plants or spend good money on cool high tech lighting systems that turn things on and off for us. If we switched to florescent or LED lighting, same thing. Put a sweater on in the winter and turn down the thermostat. Remember to change the furnace filter. Use less of everything and the word “Green” or “Sustainability”, becomes “Frugal”. That was a term my dad used, not because it was chic, but it made good cost sense. It COST less to use things frugally. The upshot was, it also impacted the environment by not putting as much waste into the system, and waste equals all the things sustainability advocates rails against.

Another interesting fact, frugality is still good for the environment. With all the technology we have today, and a lot of it has made our lives better, collectively, we, as a modern society, have forgotten one of the basic laws of nature: “waste not, want not”. Think about it.

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It’s fall, what remodeling projects are you thinking must get done?

As I zipped through the Labor Day weekend, I was thinking of all the stuff that will need to be done this fall. I looked around my yard. Oy! One less project though: I don’t have to clean up those pesky leaves from the ash tree in the front yard. It blew over in the wind yesterday, again…. Yes it started to grow back from the last falling over episode a year and half ago, then my daughter said calmly yesterday, “Dad, look out the front window..” Yeah, OK.

I have a lot of ideas on projects this fall. My kids bath: REDO! Probably won’t get done because I’ll be working on your bath. Kitchen: new tops! Nope, but you’ll have them. Oh yeah, “Incidentally, they look look fab!”.

Actually my wish list is that YOU do get those things. When you’re happy, so am I. It is, after all, what makes the economy go ’round and God knows we need the wheel to start rolling again!

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It’s late…

Summer has long hours of sunlight and infinite hours of time to work, which I’m currently doing a lot of. I have not had much time to update lately so bear with me, “I’ll be back!” (T2).

If there is something you’d like to know more about, let me know. There’s a deep well of knowledge with a choke hold on time to disseminate it. Happy Renovating!

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Leaks are the demise of your home. Fixing them early is key.

But unfortunately you don’t find leaks until it shows up in your living room walls or ceiling.

I recently got a call to look at some rotted exterior trim on the front of a garage. I met with the homeowner and we agreed, “yep, it’s gotta go.” I also told him there might be more problems when we remove the old trim. There always is, but you never really know the extent of damage until you get it off. The question always is, “How much will it cost?” My answer, I don’t know until we get it all off and look at it.” Sounds evasive. But honestly, I really don’t know. I give them a range, best case, worst case, and it usually lands between there. I got the job…

So off comes the exterior trim

Back to the story. After removing the wood, it had exactly the issues I mentally guessed at, and a bit more. The wooden drip cap had rotted, due to not keeping up with the painting and caulking and deteriorated enough to allow water in behind the garage door trim. Because the house was never  House Wrapped, water was able to seep into every nook, cranny and board behind the trim.

This was an incredibly negligent building practice. The builder was able to save a few thousand bucks and it was never a building code until 2005, so a $350,000.00 + home is put at future risk. But this was the really the easy part.

The homeowner and I walked around the house and found another spot at the fireplace that seem “soft” underneath. It was. The OSB sub siding (sheathing) had completely turned to mulch. After removing the siding, which was caulked together, we discovered the framing also had to be replaced. This was such an easy thing to avoid. Below, is the photo I took because I was dumbfounded on how incredibly ignorant the roofer, siding installer and builder were.

Fireplace wall intersection before adding flashing

The photo shows how the last piece of step flashing was left out. Even though it looks like the flashing goes into the gutter, it doesn’t. It was buried behind the siding so that any water getting to the flashing was directed to behind the siding instead of out and away from the siding.

The photo below shows the flashing going out, and over the gutter. At the finished product, flashing gets cut into the siding and WILL SHOW, allowing the water a path to exit.

This was such a simple thing to do, it begs back to the days when builders knew how to do everything from foundation to carpet. Rather, the builder here just managed assets and relied on a poorly trained set of subcontractors to put together the pieces, each one not knowing what the other one did OR WHY.

Step flashing running OUT of siding

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As the remodeling and home repairs heat up, so do my work hours

And so does the weather. Heat is good. I can take my road bike out (bicycle) and pound pedals, sweat, lose weight pump up my heart. Daylight lasts until 9:30pm and there seems to be and endless amount of work people want done on their homes. All good for this remodeler in Dayton!

But I also work 7 days a week. Yes Seven. Laying tile or putting up trim or tearing out a bath, that’s 5 days a week. Saturday and Sunday I reserve for the good stuff. Writing contracts, following up with customers, doing bids and yes, reading. I do get in a little bike time and time with my family, but it just seems when your self employed, the job is always turned to the “on” position on the dial. “ON” means “ON”.

Some of the things that are turned “on” include: reading on the installation of new products I’m going to install. All manufacturers have very specific ways to install their products. Stray from the direction and you have no recourse but to tear it out and redo it, at your expense, when it fails. And it is always a “when” question, not a “if” question.

Trade publications come to our mailbox like dogs drawn to steak. And yes, I read all of them. There is a lot of knowledge base articles, new products and design ideas that helps my wife and I to be as creative as we can with the budgets people seem to have right now. They also pile up like small cities on every horizontal surface. So in an effort to clean up the barn, so to speak, my wife and business partner, Cindy is making a design portfolio of different design styles, colors, cabinets and countertops to help people understand what their needs are and what style best expresses their sense of form and function.

Great Job Cindy!! WOOOHOO! I just don’t have the time to do this, though I should help out at some point…..

So these are the remodeling things on my mind. What’s on your mind?

Oh wait, there’s another contract to write over there… Hold that thought, or shoot me a response. Sign up for RSS feeds and you’ll get me in your inbox every time I write or follow it on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Centerville-Building-and-Design/211357052236995

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The Kohler Tub Before and After

In my last post, I was so excited about posting the video of the Kohler® tub setting, I forgot to talk about the before and after. The set up was critical as one can imagine, especially for the tub filler. As with all good, high end equipment that not many people have used, I discovered Kohler® has no rough in specs on installation of the tub filler when set in a slab. I’m sure they threw out the engineer who sat at the end of the table and said, “But what if the contractor sets this up for a slab?” Lead engineer glaring down the table, “Throw this bum out!”

Needless to say, tech support was of no help. They couldn’t tell me what the approved method for a slab set was. Only that, “There will be a lot of weight, and it will need to be secure.”

Uhh, OK…

So here was the rough in: I did the final set up after almost all of the tile was complete so I was sure of the exact rough in height… based on the wood floor diagram.

Rough in Valve for Kohler® Purist tub filler

Basically, I poured a small mound of concrete higher than I needed. Then I flattened and leveled it out with a torpedo level and set the valve on top and made the water connections. I inserted the stainless steel wood screws into the wet concrete and let it set up overnight. Bam! done. Geeeeeenius! Kohler, were ya listening?

I finished the rest of the concrete floor the next day, carefully leaving space around the valve. With my luck it may need to come out some day. Don’t ask… I filled the open area with mason sand and thin set tile over everything. A clean install for sure.

Kohler® Purist Tb Filler

The job wound up being a beautiful bath. Below are some photos of the new custom bath. Professional photos will be on the website in a month or so.


Tile detail at Tub


Cherry floating cabinet

Shower floor and bench detail

Wall and shower floor detail

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