What is a Professional Renovator?

Hiring a professional renovator is your best assurance that you will get the results you want and the best value for your money.

A professional renovator is a general contractor, sometimes referred to as a renovation contractor, who can put your whole project together. The renovator will assume complete responsibility for the work contracted and give you a warranty once it's completed.

1.     A professional renovator has an extensive business network of suppliers, trades, installers and experts that they draw on as required for your project.

2.     A professional renovator understands the technical aspects of construction in detail and knows how houses work. They can assess your project and explain what is involved, as well as identify potential problems and provide solutions.

3.     If your project requires design services, your contractor can advise you on the most suitable approach and recommend a design professional. Design-build renovators offer both design and construction services and you may hire them for one service or both. Alternatively, professional renovators are also experienced in working with architect's drawings.

4.     A professional renovator has extensive knowledge and experience with the latest products and materials. They keep up-to-date and can help you make the selections that will work best for your project and budget.

5.     Professional renovators are familiar with the regulations and bylaws in your community and how the system works. When needed, they can look after permits and inspections on your behalf.

6.     Professional renovators can work with you on the financial aspects of your renovation. They know what things cost and can help you set a realistic budget to achieve your renovation goals. And they know how to stretch your budget without compromising quality.

7.     A professional renovator ALWAYS uses a written contract that clearly describes the work, materials to be used, timelines, price, responsibilities of both parties and other details as appropriate.

8.     A professional renovator knows how to organize and manage a project-scheduling workers, trades and delivery of materials; keeping track of expenses; maintaining a clean and safe work site; and minimizing the inconvenience to you. When necessary, they know how to deal with the unexpected and the surprises that sometimes occur in renovation.

9.     Most importantly, professional renovators put their customers first. They listen carefully so they know what you want. They provide you with names of previous customers so you can check out the company's track record yourself. They explain the process so you know what to expect, and once the work begins they give you regular updates so you always know what's going on. They also encourage you to voice any questions or concerns you may have as the work progresses. In brief, they work for you and with you to make sure that you are satisfied and happy with the final results.

Wisdom

Some times I see things that seem wise. Here are some:

Good Design = design that mirrors and enhances the way you want to live.

How can I help you?

Base decisions on how you will feel about the path taken when looking back in years to come.

How we use our life energy expresses our values and purpose.

Learning the value of engineers

As a young/er carpenter, I was hired to replace a deck off the master bedroom and directly over the daughter's bedroom. The owner wanted to put a hot tub up on the deck and asked me if we should get an engineer. I pshawed that saying I would build it strong enough to hold a tank.  I installed LVLs, metal hangers and beefed up support beams left right and center. 

Some months later, several hours after a significant earthquake, the owner phoned me. When I heard his voice a skid of bricks fell through my stomach. The deck had held up but the owner's concern for his daughter's safety was heightened and mine now also hit high. We brought in an engineer who said we would need remove the drywall from the bedroom walls, install more foundation anchor bolts and sheet the walls with half inch thick plywood.  We drained the tub and moved it to a rear patio.

Every time I remember that situation, my stomach cringes. I feel so ashamed of endangering that girl. As you might imagine, I now take lateral and vertical loading very seriously, plus have increased respect for and work closely with engineers. In fact, when we finish basement areas, we increase foundation anchor bolts  and install plywood sheeting on pony walls as a routine proceedure. 

Stephen Lentz

it's all interconnected

Yesterday I met with Robert and Trish (names changed) to look at updating the kitchen in their recently purchased Gordon Head South home. It is a 2,600 square foot home built in 1980 in the popular style of the time with the main floor up to capture the ocean views. This home provides a good example of how one home improvement can lead to another and another! For example, they would like to change the aluminum windows. These windows are installed in vertically applied channel lap wood siding - with minimal flashing. To properly replace these windows the siding needs to be cut back, aluminum window removed complete with interior trims. the new window is then installed with proper flashing and new trims inside and out. 

When one looks closely at this siding, especially on the south and west, one wonders the wisdom of leaving it in place, reworking it around new windows. A lot of work and cost for something that will soon need replacing. And, now we notice the fascia needs replacing too. To replace the fascia, the eaves-troughs need to be removed. Do we reinstall those old eaves-troughs? It does not stop there. we now see the there are several places where roof overhangs are sagging and need to be repaired especially so the eaves-troughs will drain properly.

Back to that new inside window trim. This provides an opportunity to update the trim style all round. The baseboard and door trim does not match the preferred new window trim. If replacing the baseboard and door casings, it makes sense to replace the floors when this trim is off. And, if we are installing new floor, this would be the time to remove the texture ceilings. It's all interconnected.

The ConstructoGroup Name

In early 2003, I was trying to come up with a name for our new renovation business. When driving in an Oak Bay neighbourhood, I spotted a cardboard sign in black marker. It read, CONSTRUCTO PEOPLE with an underlining arrow pointing up a back lane.

Later, I told my son Ward about the sign. He was still a moment and then suddenly, fist clenched, stuck his arm into the air, saying "I, I am El Constructo! And, you, you are my faithful helper." That was it. I added the word Group because it takes many people working together to make a successful project.

Several years later, Ward, after hand digging a deep hole hole on a hot day to repair a drain,  came to where I was working, put his arm over my shoulders, and said "You know, I believe I am more cut out for retail. From this day on, you, you are El Constructo." And sadly, Ward did go. I miss him.

Stephen Lentz

 

 

Add Space or Build New

Are you trying to decide whether to renovate your home or tear it down and build new? Comparing sale prices of homes in East Central Oak Bay, 2015, we found that properties with new/er homes sold for as much as 35% more than properties with older homes. That is 35% on the whole property.

In terms of cost, we estimate that if you are adding more than 40% space, plus adding upgrading windows, kitchen, bathroom, siding, drains and water supply, then these improvements will be getting close to the same cost as building new. 

In terms of time, a whole-house renovation takes about 20+ weeks. A new build will take about the same. Both will require you too move out. 

Redeeming features and quality hold a very strong reason our clients decide to renovate. They have developed an affectionate attachment to their home.  Customers tell us that they feel joy each time they see their home. On the resale side, an attractive architectural feature can significantly affect how well your home sells.

Bathroom Packages Concept

Last week my daughter convinced me to hike from our home near the Gorge to the train trestle bridge up West of Gold Stream Park - along the abandoned rail line. It was a long way, but the good thing was that Floyd's now have a branch restaurant right beside the rail line in Langford. Thank you Floyd's. As you may know Floyd's has a clever name and story for each menu item. Add to this that we have done three bathrooms in the two months since Christmas. One of which was for two children. It was so clever with a multitude of bright colours - all designed by the mother. Tah dah. Why don't we offer bathroom packages; each with set features that come together under a clever name and story! And, so we shall. To be continued....

Reasurance about Cost-Plus Contracts

A Cost-Plus Contract is most appropriate in situations where the owner wishes to move ahead quickly and/or where it is difficult to accurately identify what the work will entail. The concern about a Cost-Plus Contract is not knowing what the end cost will be. We work to reduce this risk by getting fixed price quotes as we move ahead, i.e. as soon as elements of the the work become identifiable and quantifiable. We find that working closely with you, even meeting each trade, builds trust, certainty and commitment all round.

I don't want a magazine renovation

A client started our initial meeting with "I'm not looking for a magazine renovation or something for you to enter in an awards competition. I just want the place to be functional and attractive and no maintenance." Truth is, this is more difficult to achieve than the simplicity of the statement alludes. Take for instance a shower. A fiberglass shower stall seems simple and minimal maintenance. However, some may find it works for them, but there are others who will not.  And so it goes, the reality is that you have to decide on the specific elements, one by one. It is a lot of work on your part, but we will help you to whatever extent you want assistance.

Basement Suites offer Excellent ROI

Recently I met with a father who was contemplating finishing the basement into a secondary suite for his daughter. I reviewed a concept with him based on matching the fixtures and finishes to the upstairs living space. Then, we reviewed my cost estimate of $85,000. His immediate response was, "Can you do it for $60,000?" 

If you are considering a basement suite for a family member, there are several realities worth considering. If the basement suite is noticeably less inviting than upstairs, the family member will probably spend more time in your space than their's, potentially defeating its purpose. Secondly, when your family member moves out, you may want to rent out your suite. Research shows that tenants pick an area to live because they share the same values as the people who live there. This is doubly so for airbnb rentals. So it is probably wise that your suite fit with your neighbourhood and your home in terms of style and finish. 

The Asbestos Situation

The Building Code and WorkSafeBC require that we investigate for asbestos before having workers onsite. This applies for homes built before 1990. Previously, we relied on cutting access holes to see what is behind the drywall to reduce surprises. Because we are now unable to do this until after testing, the decision to move ahead with planning and design is either made with less information or the asbestos survey needs to be done right at front end. 

The WorkSafeBC website has a brochure entitled "Safe Work Practices for Handling Asbestos." 

 

Creating Healthy Communities

Last Sunday, I attended the Capital Unitarian Universalist Congregation in James Bay and had the incredibly good fortune to hear the guest speaker, Dr. Trevor Hancock, giving his homily: Creating Healthy Communities.

Dr. Hancock message inspired me to look again at my role in the home renovation industry and re-commit to doing things future generations will approve of. Certainly healthy building, lots of natural lighting and providing ways to connect to neighbours fit the bill. Even more was how beauty affects our well-being - I like that. Seeing the built environment in this light gives permission to build more for oneself, than for resale. 

For more about Dr. Trevor Hancock, check him out on Wikipedia and the University of Victoria. Especially his work on the Healthy Cities project "...that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environments and expanding those community resources which enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and in developing to their maximum potential"

 

Intimidation and the Long Road to Overcome It.

When a young contractor of 27, I was awarded the concrete contract for our new municipal building. When the prime contractor's superintendent called that the basement slab was ready to pour, I went for a look. Inspecting the sub slab prep with the superintendent, I commented that, "Come spring this floor will be six feet below the water table and that granular A road-base fill will never handle the drainage needed - this will leak like crazy." The superintendent (super) looked at me with open rage and said to follow him through gritted teeth.

Following the super into the job-site trailer, he took his hard hat off and hurled it across the room into the wall. Turning on me, he said, WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE! The architects and engineers for this building are top notch. Don't you ever ... talk to me like that again! That clay hard-pan will never let a drop of water through! You will pour that slab when I dam well tell you to and keep you ... mouth shut! I was intimidated and I poured the slab. As ashamed as I was to have poured that slab even though I knew better, I was even more ashamed that I did not come forward when the municipality spent hundreds of thousands on lawyers and remediation from the flooding. 

Since that time, I would say that my number one pursuit has been to learn how to produce excellent work - without using threats and intimidation.

Why Excellence is the Perfect Tool

When a young apprentice carpenter, my carpenter mentor, Eric Hollett, demonstrated how to hang a door. This was when a chisel was used to set the hinges, a brace and bit to drill the holes and an actual screwdriver to install the screws! In all the years since, I have never witnessed any carpenter who worked as quickly and accurately as Eric. When he had hung the door and gently closed it, click, I exclaimed "Holy Smoke. That is perfect Eric. The door is perfectly flush and the spacing around it is just perfect!" Eric responded, "it is not perfect. You nor I, or anyone will ever achieve perfection. It is EXCELLENT."

While, I have not delivered excellent work as often as I wish, excellence works very well to gauge the quality of any installation. From my experience, the worker must be in 'a good place' to produce excellent work. Therefore, we employ people who love what they do and want to be working on your/our job - it makes the difference. 

-- Stephen Lentz

Key trades involved in planning is very productive.

We get key trade contractors involved in planning as early on as possible. Last week we met with a couple who wanted to replace their en-suite soaker tub with a large shower. In looking around, the Tile contractor said to the Clients, "Your en-suite fixtures and finishes look fairly new, maybe 10 years old? But, the guest bathroom looks 30 years old, so what about remodeling it instead? Take out that steel tub and put your shower in there?" 

And, that is what we are doing. This will bring the Clients' home more up-to-date overall. Plus, the space under the guest room is unfinished making it much easier to plumb than the en-suite which is over a finished space. This shows that having trades in early can be fun, plus very wise. 

Getting those unique materials and getting them installed.

We truly enjoy the challenges our clients come up with, such as: importing hot water radiators from Italy; wool carpets from New Zealand, and hand made tiles from a little island off the coast of Mexico. We have learned how to deal with customs, getting one-off items CSA approved, and even having missing plumbing fixture parts custom made here. Unique needs; bring them on!

Stephen Lentz

Traditional Design Process Results in Double the Budget.

We recently met a very upset couple who had taken the traditional design-bid-build approach. After months in design and paying over $40,000 in design fees, they received 'working drawings' which they took to market, getting contractor quotes that were more than double their stated budget of $300,000. Now the designer was going to charge them further design fees to rework the plans to get costs down.

In the design phase, we bring key trade contractors, experienced experts, into the process at the earliest opportunity. This brings realism into the planning process, so you can make informed decisions - earlier rather than later.

Stephen Lentz