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Different Types of Contractors – What’s the Difference?

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.

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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.

  • Tradesman have gone through an apprenticeship program with a certain number of hours to complete. These are businesses that specialize in a specific trade: eg. electrician, HVAC, plumber, plasterer, drywaller, concrete rebar setter, tile setter;
  • Skilled labourers don’t generally run their own business, but they are hired by companies for their basic skill set;
  • Builders are companies that organize new-build projects for homeowners and small business. They must hold a builder’s license from Tarion;
  • A general contractor is not a builder. They do all the same things as a builder, but only for accessory structures like additions, garages or cabanas: not new-build homes. Generally they are the ones who will oversee a renovation project. They have their own skilled labourer employees, and long-term trusting relationships with subcontracted tradesmen. As with any small business, there are differing standards of customer service provided: some are excellent communicators and organized with documents and invoicing, and others are not as organized. You get a good feel for their standards when you first meet them in person for your initial interview;
  • A handyman generally takes on small jobs that a general contractor won’t do. Their skill level is usually low and their costs reflect that skill level.  There are some highly competent handymen and their reputation is what keeps them busy. A handyman who has lots of availability is probably not the one you want to hire;
  • A craftsman is a skilled tradesman who has achieved mastery in their chosen field, such as carpentry, plaster work, tile setting, or artisan painters.

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:

  • Walls that are not plumb (straight on the vertical plane);
  • Walls that are not level (straight on the horizontal plane);
  • Inconsistent finishes that include plaster and paint will be easily noticed;
  • Low quality framing often causes undulations in the walls from crowns and bows;
  • Improperly filled joints cause visible joints on both trim and drywall: joints should be seamless.
FineFinish Drywall for Ceiling

Installing Drywall the Professional Way

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. 

Professional Drywall Installation
Staggered drywall joints strengthen the integrity of a wall system.

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.


Make Sure Your Framing is Done Right

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.

Spruce lumber for framing
Spruce Framing is light, flexible and has a high strength-to weight ratio

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.

  1. A sill vapour barrier is always applied between timber and porous material (like concrete). It’s purpose is to prevent moisture transfer onto the timber which would cause rot and mould.

How to Find the Right Framer:

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.

stipple ceiling water damage

Homeowner Beware! 3 Ways NOT to Repair Your Damaged Ceiling

Water Damage in a Stipple Ceiling

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

5 Reasons to Smooth Your Ceilings

Valuable Information for Homeowners

ceiling stipple arguement
Many couples are conflicted over whether to smooth out their stipple ceilings.

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.