When choosing a professional contractor, the goal is to hire a professional who will do the work properly to code, stay on budget, communicate with you and provide an excellent finished product. These days just about anyone can build themselves a professional looking website, but you want to hire a contractor who can build quality structures in your home: that takes experience and skill. The information that follows will help you to be discerning when interviewing candidates for your renovation project.
Remember, every contractor has buddies who will recommend him, just to help him out or to return a favour. But you need to discern for yourself who is not just a “buddy” but also a professional.
Conventional wisdom advises homeowners to obtain three quotes if you don’t already have a contractor you know and trust. Start by making a list of 3-5 names, but before making any calls or filling out any contact forms, take a little bit of time to look at their website for photos of their work, and the reviews posted on Google and Homestars. If what you read gives you a feeling of confidence, then by all means, reach out to the contractor about your project.
You can tell a lot about this company’s professionalism in the initial phone call alone.Are they listening well? Are they respectful? Do they seem to be asking you some reasonable questions, such as the timing of your project and whether you already have drawings? If they pass the screening call, then go ahead and schedule an in-person property visit. (Note: this article is written during the Covid-19 shutdown, and virtual property visits are becoming popular, using video technology. This option can give you almost as good of an impression of the contractor as an in-person meeting would.)
First impressions matter. When the contractor arrives at your property, they should present you with a business card and look you in the eye. A professional will be wearing branded clothing and will have a tidy look. This shows courtesy and respect.
The main goal of the property visit for you as the client, is to get a clear idea of the contractor’s level of experience and expertise. If you have a clear idea of what you want, then you are in a good position to have a constructive meeting. Many times, clients are looking to the contractor to give them some initial ideas and advice, based on their experience.
Clients often do not know what kind of price range to expect for their project, and this is definitely important to discuss in the early stages.
Have a budget in mind, before meeting with the contractor. This is important because if you do have a dollar figure in mind, you can talk dollars with the contractor and see how he handles the topic. Do the questions seem logical? Do you feel pressured?
A note about budget: if you are moving to a new house and you are taking some equity from the sale of your previous home or if you have a certain amount of cash you are prepared to spend, keep it in mind but don’t let your imagined budget stop you from obtaining quotes from companies you feel good about. Often the quotes with low prices do not include “extras”: these quotes often come from less experienced contractors who are anxious to win your job, however they will often charge you more for unexpected expenses which could have easily been factored into the original cost if they had more experience and knowledge. More about payments later.
Let’s say you want to build a basement apartment. During the property visit, assuming you don't already have drawings made, the contractor should share his ideas with you. For example, advantages and drawbacks of different types of layouts can be discussed. The contractor should talk through his basic vision for your space and demonstrate his knowledge and experience with issues like plumbing, bulkheads and their effect on headroom, shadows/lighting, positioning of plugs/furniture, for a start. Also the various flooring options and how they affect ceiling height and room temperature, explaining the risk of flooding or moisture seepage from concrete. An expert will be able to tell you the reasons why your personal vision might not work, and will be able to make alternative recommendations.
Ask the contractor what his process would be, to complete the scope of work. They should have a rough idea as to how long it would take to complete each task as well as the total job. Also what unexpected things might happen and how those events would be handled, and what costs might be involved, for example if there is a delay on obtaining a permit or if there are cracks found in the basement foundation.
An expert contractor knows the Ontario Building Code (OBC) inside and out. Most homeowners don’t want to familiarize themselves with the OBC, however here are some basic code items that inexperienced contractors may not be aware of:
Ask the contractor how the permit process works and if he is willing to apply on your behalf. The facts:
Often overlooked, communication is an important element of a home renovation project. Ask the candidate what kind of communication you would expect leading up to the start date, and during the project. You should already have a good idea about this, since there would have been a couple of communications leading up to the initial meeting.
An expert contractor should be able to provide some references about projects he has completed: what was done, how the project went, how problems if any, were resolved. I tell families I have a number of past clients who are willing to provide a reference for my work. I don't automatically give out their contact information out of respect for privacy.
Ask to see pictures of jobs the contractor has completed as well as pictures of stages throughout the building/installation process.
There are two types of insurance required by law, for every general contractor: Liability (covering your property), and WSIB (covering the workers themselves). The contractor should be willing to provide confirmation that both forms of insurance are active. You can search WSIB converage here.
The contractor should be willing to present the quote in person and be able to explain what they will be doing and how payments will be made as well. They should also provide receipts to confirm payment. They should provide a warranty for their work: a written document outlining what is covered. The warranty should be at least 6 months for any problems that come up, because if there was potential for failure, it would typically happen within 6 months. The contractor should be willing to answer your questions as well. Agree on a payment schedule, and depending on the budget, be careful about a request for a large deposit, if this company is new to you. Typically for a large project, there is a 10%-20% deposit up front, with milestone payments. Smaller projects (less than $10,000 will usually require a deposit of 50%).
When they show up to work do they have their own tools? Are they renting tools? If they are renting ALL their tools, there will be stickers from Home Depot, Lowe's or Stevensons Rentals and this is not a good sign, because it means they haven’t been in business for very long. Are all the tools they bring to the job site newly purchased?Hopefully by the time your contractor has been hired by you, you will not see this. I only mention this, because sometimes you will approach a contractor working at a neighbour’s property, and this is something you could look out for, in terms of initial screening.
Maintaining the structure and appearance of your home is important not only because your quality of life is directly linked to the state of your home, but also because you are taking a risk when you fail to address your red flags. In this article (the first of 2), we will show you how to recognize and triage key red flags.
If you address minor issues when they appear, you will save a lot of money in the long run. You may also prevent health side effects, especially when water damage turns into insect infestation or mold! Listed below are the water-related red flags to take action on: they could be harmless or a major issue: better to know and fix it before the problem gets more serious (and expensive)!
1. Bubbling paint could be a sign of a serious leak, where moisture is dripping behind a wall. The fix depends on the source: for example if ice damming is occurring on your roof then there’s no sense repairing a wall until the source of the damage is fixed. There could be a leaky drain or wet line from the floor above: the solution for that would be to cut out the damaged area, access and fix the source of the leak and then replace the affected drywall and repair the wall completely.
2. Foul or unpleasant smell – can point to a sewage leak or pipes that are not plumbed, trapped, or vented properly. For this, the floor may need to be excavated to access the drain, and new plumbing installed).
3. Damp smell, mould, mildew – you may think these are harmless but they can only get worse over time – moisture issues do not go away by themselves. whether its water leaching into your foundation or plumbing ventilation or drain leak issue if the odour is coming from under a cupboard or under a sink. If a leak has been present for any length of time, construction materials such as drywall or framing may be rotted and need to be replaced.
4. Buckling tiles or floor boards in a basement can indicate moisture/dampness underfoot. If this is happening in a finished basement, there is likely a crack in the foundation. Excavation on the exterior of the foundation is required to fix this, followed by polyurethane injection, tar and blueskin application.
5. Floor Stains around showers, toilet or vanity point to a plumbing issue. Once the plumbing issue is ameliorated there is still the issue of water damage in the construction materials. Finishes and subfloor may need to be replaced, depending on the level of degradation.
6. Discoloured ceiling or wall or rotten carpet: as above, the fix depends on the source of damage. Water and most interior and structural construction materials don’t mix. The trickle of water from a leaky roof or window over time can rot away structural wood members. Proper flashing placement and caulking are half the battle when preventing water infiltration.
Wall and ceiling board can be replaced quite easily. A small leak onto a carpet on the other hand must be caught and dried quickly. If left unchecked, it can turn to a mold farm very quickly. Mold is a major health hazard for your family.
7. Carpenter Ants Outside – if you see one, you can be sure there are thousands more where he came from. Carpenter Ants like to live in places where there is darkness and moisture. If the ants are found around your garage or shed, there could be a leaky hose causing the wood in the joists to rot. This is a perfect home for ants. The fix is to stop the leak and replace the damaged timber.
If other types of ants are spotted inside, they are looking for one thing: food. They come in through a crack around your window or door usually. The solution could be as simple as a little caulking replacement.
It is a little-known fact that the material used by builders to produce the stippled look for ceilings sometimes contains asbestos, a very hazardous material with serious potential health consequences.
Asbestos is most hazardous when it is friable: meaning it is actively releasing its fibers into the air. Sprayed-on asbestos insulation and ceiling stipple are highly friable, but asbestos floor tile is not. Damage and deterioration will increase the friability of asbestos-containing materials. Water damage, continual vibration, aging, and physical impact such as drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, sawing, or striking can break the materials down, making fiber release more likely.
Because it is so hard to destroy asbestos fibers, the body cannot break them down or remove them once they are lodged in lung or body tissues. The fibers remain in place where they can cause disease (Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma are the diseases mostly commonly associated with exposure to Asbestos fibers).
At Fine Finish Wall Systems, we care about health and safety. We think it’s important that homeowners know about the health risks of the materials used to build their home. Because of demand, we now offer Asbestos testing for your ceiling, through an accredited laboratory that will tell you if your stippled ceilings contain asbestos. Results can be collected in as little as 24 hours.
If we discover asbestos in your ceiling then we will not sand it down, due to the health risk. Instead we will seal the ceiling and apply a level 5 plaster system directly over it. This is an advanced technique.
Asbestos Lab Testing Cost: This includes collection of sample, delivery to lab, emailed report.
5-day turnaround $250
24-hour turnaround $450
Homeowners and handymen are often under the false impression that drywall installation is the simplest part of a basement renovation. It seems almost as easy as LEGO! Once the framing is up, simply screw in the wall boards to cover the entire surface and voilà, on to taping!
…. Well sorry to say, but actually proper drywall/sheetrock installation involves some strategy to get the best result.
It’s very important to consider the end product. A wall system that will stay straight and smooth for decades. You don’t ever want to have to go back and fix a wall that’s cracking or warping, so you better just do it right in the first place.
The way the sheetrock is installed has a direct impact on the integrity of the entire finished product.
First of all, the boards should be staggered so that the “butt joints” in one row do not match up with the “butt joints” in the next row. Next, it’s important to install horizontally rather than vertically. Next, drywall sheets must always span doors and windows: this fortifies the wall or ceiling strong and minimizes potential for cracks.
Think about it: a taped joint inevitably creates a small section that is weaker than the surrounding drywall. So if the butt joints are aligned, then it increases the length of each of these weak points. If a crack starts along an improperly installed joint, it will meet little resistance until it reaches the other end. This is the cause of one of the worst eyesores in a home next to water stains.
Staggering butt joints is clearly a more difficult and time-consuming method for installing drywall. This practice requires more measuring and cutting and it creates more T-shaped seams, which are more difficult to finish than non-staggered joints.
In the end, you will get what you pay for. Inexperienced contractors will quote you a low price because they need your work, and that’s the only way they are likely to be hired. Call the professionals: at Fine Finish Wall Systems we are classically trained master plasterers who take pride in our work.
We get it – spending money to repair your ceiling is not sexy or even interesting. Most homeowners want to spend the bare minimum, when it comes to home repairs and maintenance. They’d rather spend money to put up cornice moulding, or perhaps install some built-in cabinets to increase visual appeal and enjoyment of their living space.
Unscrupulous contractors with little experience or training know they can profit from this fact. They will take advantage of this situation and propose a “quick solution” that will in the end come back to bite the naïve homeowner.
Here are 3 “quick fix solutions” that homeowners often fall for. If a contractor suggests any of these, run the other way!
1. Applying drywall directly over top of a stipple ceiling application is dangerous, lazy and improper. This is due to the fact that the contractor doesn’t know what they are screwing into. In order to execute this, a minimum 2” screw is needed. If the contractor misses the stud with just one screw and there is a rogue electrical or gas line in the joist cavity (run improperly by a homeowner or lazy/improperly trained contractor), then there is a real risk of driving the screw into that rogue line – resulting in a gas leak, explosion or even a fire via electrical arcing that causes sparks in the ceiling that will ignite dry timber/debris in the hoist cavity.
2. Re-spraying an existing damaged area. This procedure involves scraping off the damaged or stained area of stipple, skim-coating the area and then trying to re-spray stipple on that affected area only, hoping to blend that with the rest of the ceiling using tape lines and sponge techniques. This is practically impossible to do well because the contractor doesn’t know what type of stipple was used for the original application, what nozzle tip was used on the gun for the spray application, nor the consistency of the original stipple mix. The end result is improper blending.
3. Re-spraying the entire ceiling with new stipple over the old stipple. If the stipple was unpainted and you try to mask the damaged area that’s now either missing stipple or has been water damaged, by respraying over the entire ceiling just to mask the damaged area, then the new stipple will activate the old, being that both are water based, the ceiling will start to blister and fall off in big chunks. If the original stipple ceiling was painted, then you’re not going to get proper adhesion on the oil-based paint on the existing ceiling.
As soon as it starts to dry out, it will flake and pop and fall off in little bits and pieces. By the time all this has taken place the contractor is long gone and good luck getting him to come back and correct it. You don’t really want that, do you? Of course not.
The only proper way to deal with any type of ceiling water damage is to scrape and smooth the entire area, replace the affected drywall or rip down the entire ceiling and apply new drywall. It costs a little more, but it will last for years.
Ultimately, you get what you pay for, when you hire a quality master plaster applicator from Fine Finish. Request your free estimate today
Valuable Information for Homeowners
Couples are divided on the topic of whether to smooth out their ceiling stipple, technical term is “vermiculite” (often referred to as Popcorn Ceilings) in their home. This article provides facts to inform your decision on whether to leave your stipple ceilings alone, or to smooth them out.
What is popcorn ceiling made of?
You can’t address an project properly without first understanding what you are dealing with. The “popcorn” ceiling mixture can be made of a number of different materials. Some ceilings are made of styrofoam, some are cardboard based and others are made from a naturally occurring mineral known as vermiculite. While vermiculite is not the same as asbestos, it does OFTEN contain it. So proper precautions and remediation equipment should always be used.
One point to consider is that hardly anyone ever chooses to add stipple to a smooth ceiling. Stippled ceilings are basically a builder’s shortcut to hide imperfections in their plasterwork, and that is common knowledge. The question then becomes “can I live with this look, or is the alternative worth the investment?”
Here are the top five reasons people choose to smooth their ceilings:
1. Smooth ceilings are a home upgrade. Did you know that smooth ceilings increase the value of your home? Ceiling stipple makes your home look dated.
2. Smooth ceilings add visual height and spaciousness to rooms and hallways. In contrast, stippled or textured ceilings draws your focus to the texture, making the room seem smaller.
3. Spaces with smooth ceilings maximize the light. A flat surface reflects light and an irregular surface,such as stipple, under the same light sheer will cast thousands of tiny shadows on your ceiling lending to a dark and dingy appearance and feel, no matter if it is ambient or directional light.
4. Aesthetically, a smooth ceiling is less visually distracting, busy and induces a general feeling of calm.
5. Air Quality and room cleanliness are a concern for 50% of homeowners with unpainted stippled ceilings. Stipple is porous and holds a lot of dust and pet or smoke odour, and as mentioned before, the stipple itself COULD contain asbestos. Finally, unpainted stippled ceilings are “live” systems and continuously shedding dust particles “dandruff” which have been linked to respiratory problems in young children and the elderly. Also stipple becomes discoloured over time.
We hope that this information is useful for you. If you are ready to get an estimate to smooth out your ceilings, contact Fine Finish Wall Systems, certified Master Plasterers.
Tradesman, skilled labourer, builder, general contractor, commercial contractor, craftsman, handyman, what’s the difference between all these types of contractors? It’s valuable to know, so you can make the best choice, when selecting a company to work in and on your home.
There are two main categories of contractors: Commercial and Residential.
A commercial contractor usually takes on medium or large commercial projects and they are chosen through a tender and bidding process which is overseen by governing bodies. Price is generally the main factor that decides which company is hired to complete the project. It is also slightly political and business relationships are very important between contracting companies and development businesses who oversee hundreds or thousands of projects. Most commercial contractors are incorporated and hire labour that is unionized. The nature of union work is that workers must qualify through achieving different certifications and once they are hired, their hourly wage is dependent on seniority and experience level. They do exactly what they are asked to do and no more. They clock in and clock out and they are fairly reliable, however don’t care much about the quality of their work, as long as it meets minimum standards.
Residential contractors come in all shapes and sizes, and pricing is not always the best way to determine who does the best work. Many homeowners want to pay the cheapest amount possible with their after-tax dollars, but they have trouble determining the best company to hire.
If you hire a handyman or general contractor who is not a skilled framer/drywaller or plasterer himself, then he should subcontract that work out to an expert. Any contractor who lacks knowledge because they have not been properly trained does not know the difference between low quality and high quality work.
Some of the results you will see that result from low quality work:
Gone are the days when cornice and crown ceiling mouldings are constructed of pure plaster. The material is very heavy and difficult to repair if damaged. There are companies who say wood is best because it is lightweight and easily carved. The problem with wood (pure wood or MDF) is that it always splits and cracks within one to two years because of temperature and humidity changes in the typical Canadian home.
Then there are PVC mouldings, which are made through injection, requiring the use of moulds. Like wood, the selection is limited to flat and shallow profiles to save on costs. The only way to achieve a detailed design would have to be done by layering and nailing sections together. These would eventually split due to environmental factors. Also PVC is plastic, and it looks like plastic. (It fits well in certain situations such as vinyl siding exteriors but if your façade is, for example, brick, you may want to consider our mouldings that are authentic in finish and a genuine fit on any exterior.)
Installation of PVC mouldings also requires consideration of expansion and contraction due to shifts in temperature. Manufacturers recommended leaving a 1/8” gap over 18’ spans which are then filled with caulking, leaving a visible seam.
Considering the deficiencies and drawbacks of plaster, wood and PVC, the modern solution to interior and exterior architectural mouldings is EPS – Expandable Polystyrene. For interior spaces, EPS is coated in plaster.
For exterior applications, the EPS is coated in a modified polymer cement rather than plaster. EPS is a highly durable material used in a large number of consumer products. It is environmentally friendly not only for it’s long-lasting durability and heat-insulating qualities, but EPS has never contained CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs or formaldehyde – all of which are chemicals harmful to the environment. EPS is inert and stable and does not produce methane gas or contaminating leachates. The extrusion process allows the manufacturer to create any detail and any size in one piece with no seams at an economical price point.
Because EPS mouldings are a custom product, the exact profile needed is what is produced and installed: any shape is possible! Homeowners can choose their profile from a catalogue, but if a specific profile is required, or a match to something already in your home is required, it is a simple process. A computer software automates a heated wire to cut the exact profile out of a block of EPS, which is already in its final state of hardness.
An added bonus is that once complete, EPS mouldings do not require the use of nails for installation, so the final finish will be much more consistent with no holes to patch. Ultimately, their integrity and durability are second to none and literally require no maintenance for the life of the product. We have one client who had his plaster cornice installed in 2009 (10 years ago) and we call him back every year – it’s like a running joke now, that he has “nothing to report”. He is one of our happiest customers.
If an EPS plaster moulding is damaged (from water or structural shifting or impact), then repair is easy and seamless. We simply cut out the affected area, get the profile matched, triple-coat it, wet-sand and re-paint. Voila!
It takes a skilled craftsman to install EPS mouldings properly, where the proper substrate and moisture barrier are implemented, and expert application of the finish coats. Learn more about our professional service.
Every month we enter homes to renovate or repair existing wall structures and we are amazed by the amount of improper framing that’s being done in the area. The reason it’s important to install framing correctly is that when done incorrectly, finished walls will show imperfections and eventually mouldings, baseboard and paint will fail by warping and/or cracking.
High Standards for Framing
Before installing, we check for the bows and crowns in the lumber so all framing will be aligned. In Ontario, Spruce timber is the best material to use because of its even texture and light weight. In fact it has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios of all softwood species, compared to Pine or Fir. There are many reasons to use wood for framing as opposed to metal. First of all, it’s tencile strength allows it to bend under pressure without breaking.
Wood also has superior thermal properties, a great advantage in resisting high temperatures. When compared to steel which can expand or even collapse in high heat, wood dries out and gets stronger in high heat. Also wood does not conduct heat the same as steel or aluminum.
Wood also has favourable acoustic benefits: it absorbs sound and echoes: a huge benefit in a home with many family members who enjoy their peace and quiet. Lastly, wood is resistant to electrical currents, making it perfect insulation for electrical wiring.
The goal is always to build a wall skeleton that is plumb and true. Properly built walls simply look better and last longer than walls with shoddy framing.
For door and window openings, the underlying components such as king and cripple studs provide strength, and for bulkheads and columns it’s best to use a wood-steel hybrid for laser-straight corners and zero warping. Believe it or not, these are standards many contractors do follow in their quest to finish cheaply and quickly.
Where framing meets concrete (for example with exterior walls), it’s important to prevent moisture transfer by adding a moisture barrier, a simple layer of heavy-duty plastic that will keep mould away from framing.
When it comes to partition walls and back framing nails and screws, a ratio of 1 screw for every 2 nails ensures a quality end result. This standard is often not upheld on many construction sites, even though it is part of the Ontario Building Code
At Fine Finish, we take pride in the quality and integrity of our the walls we build, and our framing shows it.
Always ask for references from past customers. There is no substitute for talking with real people who have hired and experienced the trade professional personally.
Woodpeckers are always looking for food, and they will peck a hole in your exterior stucco in the springtime. When they realize there are no worms or ants inside your wall, they will move on to another spot.
Small birds such as sparrows or swallows will spot the hole and go into the hole and pick the foam out, to build a nest inside the wall cavity. This hole will cause damage to your entire elevation if not repaired. This occurs due to water infiltration at the breach, saturating the foam. Come winter the water-logged system expands as it freezes and pushes the coatings away from the foam. This causes giant blisters and in some cases entire elevations to fail. If left unchecked these little holes can lead to major problems from substrate rot to interior water damage and mold.
There are 2 ways to fix holes in your stucco:
The cheap fix is to pump polyurethane into the hole, grind it back, add a mesh, base coat and finish coat. This patch will become thicker than the wall itself because it’s layers do not integrate with the underlying system. The result is a “bull’s eye” bulge, which will only last for 1 or 2 years, and you’ll be at risk for patch failure and further surface and potential structural damage.
The correct fix will cost anywhere from $250-$450 per hole, which is much cheaper than fixing an entire elevation (the eventual result of not doing anything or performing cheap fixes). We cut a 1’x1′ square and replace with new foam, a new moisture barrier if necessary, and then grind the finish coat back on existing wall about 3 inch apply a 5oz mesh, scratch coat and finally a finish coat. In the event the wall has been imprinted with carbon (pollution) or has been bleached by the sun, we guarantee a minimum 90% colour match or better. with the proper procedures followed.
Done properly the result will be a seamless patch that will last the life of your wall system.