How to Plan your Remodeling or home Improvement project and select a Contractor

Define your Goals

Write down the ways in which your home does not currently meet your

needs. Don’t worry about the design or budget of the project at this

point. That will come later. Just write down the issues you are trying

to resolve. Aside from what you need, also include anything that you just simply want. This is your dream list. For example:

  • “When we entertain the house is too small to accommodate our guests.”
  • “We’re tired of going up and down stairs to do the laundry.”
  • “We want a bigger more modern kitchen.”
  • “We want a bigger luxurious bathroom.”
  • “We need much more closet space.”
  • “I want a high tower from which to survey my domain.”
  • “We would like for our home to be more energy efficient.”
  • “We want to have a sunny, cheerful room that is appropriate for
  • houseplants, and family activities.”

If you have many separate items on your wish list at this point, try

to rank them by priority, and decide which goals are most important

to you. If you are able to solve these problems then you will

be more likely to be happy with the results of your project, and it

will allow a professional to help you design a project which will be

right for you.

2. Determine your budget

This may be the most distasteful, yet necessary part of the process. In

order to evaluate the practical limits of your budget you need to consider

several factors. Do you foresee selling your home in the near

future? If so, you will probably be concerned with recovering

your investment when you sell. If the total of what you paid

for your home and the cost of remodeling is going to significantly

exceed the value of the most expensive homes in your neighborhood then

your project may not be economically feasible. However after

five years or so other factors may be more significant. So, if

you have no intention of moving soon then the issue is completely different. Location

is everything, and if you love the location of your home and intend

to stay put then any amount of investment to make it into the home

you want may be justified. If you will be borrowing money

for your project, then you should talk to your lender to get an idea

of what your financial limits might be.

3. Find a Contractor

When it comes to finding a contractor, be an informed consumer. Before

you even contact a prospective contractor consider calling the Better

Business Bureau or the state board for licensing contractors to see

if they have any unresolved complaints or actions against them. Once

you have contacted a contractor ask them for references. Why

even waste the time to discuss your project in depth if these factors

might disqualify a candidate? A reputable contractor will be

delighted for you to check up on their business in advance.

“Horror Stories” about contractors abound. For example, the

contractor who starts a job and then disappears for weeks at a time. Or

the contractor who does a pretty good job, but then just won’t return

for warranty work. Or the contractor who goes grotesquely over

budget. Or the contractor who takes your money and then does

an all around shoddy job. One thing all of those stories have

in common. The customer didn’t check the contractors references. Don’t

make that mistake and you probably will never have a horror story of

your own.

4. Get all questions answered up front

Your contract should be specific, and may (usually should) include

drawings, model numbers of appliances or fixtures, materials specifications,

and a specification of all services which will be included. Also

the rate for upgrades or additional work (AKA change orders) should

be agreed upon. Just as important as what will be included is

a list of any required commodities that the contractor will not be

paying for such as electrical service, yard repair, owner supplied

fixtures, owners responsibilities, etc.

Definitions of Construction and Home Improvement Terms

110/220 or 120/240?
110 volt and 220 volt designations are old familiar terminology, but are no longer commonly used in either product design or by electric utilities. The 115 volt and 230 volt terminology comes from equipment design standards. Equipment is usually designed to operate at 115 or 230 volts with a plus or minus 10% acceptable variation. Utility companies deliver electric service at 120 / 240 volts plus or minus 5%.
Thus, the correct terms are usually 120 and 240, but for practical purposes 110=115=120 and 220=230=240.

AFCI – Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter
AFCI Breakers are designed to protect your home from fires which are cause by arcing as well as over current conditions. Normal breakers are only effective against over current conditions. Arc Fault Breakers are now required by new construction codes to protect receptacles which are located in bedrooms (and possibly other locations according to local codes variants). Arc Fault breakers may not be 100% effective against all fires caused by arcing because there is a certain amount of arcing which is normal, and the arc fault breaker would be unusable if it tripped every time that a normal arc were detected. For example if you ever noticed a spark when you unplug an appliance or flipped a wall switch, then that is normal arcing. Abnormal (and Dangerous) arcing often is caused by a poor connection, or damaged wire. Unfortunately, dangerous arcing “looks” an awful lot like normal arcing to the breaker, so it is possible for a fire to be started without tripping the breaker. Nonetheless an arc fault breaker, even if less than perfect, is a lot better than no protection at all. By the way, arc faults are one of the big reasons that electrical connections should never be made outside of an approved wiring device.

Arc Fault Breakers like GFI devices have “test” and “reset” buttons and should be tested periodically according to the manufacturer’s specifications (usually once a month).

Approved Wiring Device
This term refers to any of a number of devices which are “approved” by Underwriters Laboratory or some other codes sanctioned testing organization for the purpose of mounting electrical fixtures and equipment, or for containing connections. Appliances and some fixtures are considered as approved wiring devices also. Wiring supply connections may only be made inside of approved wiring devices, and for several good reasons. The wiring device protects the connection from tampering, abrasion or other damage, and also protects the home from electrical fires which are most likely to start at connections.

Buck Boost Transformer is a small single phase transformer which reduces (buck) or raises (boost) line voltage a small amount. The most common example is boosting 208 volts (derived from 3 phase service) to 230 volts (equivalent to single phase service) to operate a 230 volt appliance such as an HVAC compressor or fan motor from a 208 volt supply line. A buck-boost transformer does not alter the phase signature of the power supply.

GFCI devicesGFI or GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) devices help to protect people from being shocked or electrocuted. They work by very quickly detecting a “Ground Fault” (for example the ground fault that happens when a person is being shocked, one caused by a short, or a voltage “leak” caused by dampness in and around electrical equipment) and interrupting the current. GFI devices are usually either in the form of a receptacle or a breaker, although some equipment (hot tubs for example) may sometimes have GFI protection built in, but not usually. A single GFI receptacle or breaker often protects many additional receptacles or fixtures, which sometimes causes confusion because a homeowner doesn’t know that a tripped GFI receptacle in another part of the house could be interrupting the current to a regular receptacle.

In many codes jurisdictions an old fashioned two prong outlet can be replaced with a three pronged GFI receptacle in order to safely allow the use of modern appliances with three pronged plugs. GFI protected circuits and devices are usually found (and required by codes) outside, and in damp locations such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Wet conditions around a GFI protected device may trigger the GFI and prevent it from being reset able.

All GFI devices have “Test” and “Reset” buttons on them. The test button causes a ground fault within the device and trips the reset button causing it to pop out and protrude slightly, thus interrupting the current to any devices which are protected by the GFI in question. Pushing the reset button in until it catches will restore current to the circuit. If the “test” button fails to function as described then the GFI device must be replaced. As mentioned previously, a continuous ground fault (like one cause by excessive water around the electrical equipment) will prevent the GFI from being reset able, and must be remedied before the circuit will be usable. A nonfunctioning GFI device is an extremely dangerous situation, which must be remedied immediately.

Line An electrical term which is short for “line voltage” and indicates wires which bring power into a device, and the terminals that such wires connect to. Incoming Power.

Load An electrical term which indicates an additional electrical load, the wires that carry current from a device to the load, and the terminals on a device that such wires connect to. Outgoing power.

Wild-leg Wild-wire or red-leg delta properly referred to as high leg delta is a type of three phase transformer winding connection sometimes found in older electrical installations. A transformer wound in this fashion will have four wires coming out of the secondary: the three phases, plus a neutral that is a center-tap of one of the windings. The voltages between the three phases are relatively the same; however the voltage magnitudes between a particular phase and the neutral vary. The phase-to-neutral voltage of two of the phases will be half of the phase-to-phase voltage. The remaining phase-to-neutral voltage will be 1.7 times the phase-to-phase voltage. Typically, the transformer is designed such that the ‘B’ phase is the ‘high’ leg. According to Article 110.15 of the 2005 National Electrical Code, panel boards connected to this type of transformer must explicitly identify as the high leg, preferably by coloring it orange. Generally the high-leg can not be used for loads requiring a neutral such as lighting because of the high voltage potential. In other cases such as three phase motors which do not utilize a neutral the wild-leg is irrelevant because it has the same phase to phase voltage potential as the other two legs.

Home Maintenance Schedule

Home Maintenance

Regular maintenance is the key to keeping your home in top shape, preserving its value, and preventing problems like wet basements. Home maintenance begins when the home is brand new and continues forever. Therefore, it is best to make regular maintenance a habit from the very beginning. In addition to normal maintenance, you can expect to replace major systems of your home on a predictable schedule, so be aware of these expenses and plan for them.

  • Monthly Maintenance items
  • Every 6 Months Maintenance items
  • Annual Maintenance items
  • Spring Maintenance items
  • Summer Maintenance items
  • Fall Maintenance items
  • Winter Maintenance items
  • When things go wrong
  • Wet Basement
  • Life expectancy of major systems
  • Monthly

  • Inspect yard, landscaping for standing water or drainage problems immediately after (or during) heavy rain.
  • During moderate rain, inspect gutters and downspouts for leaks. If any leaks are noticed, plan on caulking them during dry weather.
  • Test smoke detector.
  • Change HVAC air filter.
  • Check under sinks for signs of leakage.
  • Test GFCI breakers and receptacles.
  • Clean or replace filter in range hood.

    Every 6 Months

  • Check and clean gutters and downspouts.
  • Check water supply lines and valves for leaks, including inside the water meter box.
  • Check around water heater and water service entrance valve for leaks. (you do know where your water service entrance valve is, don’t you?)
  • Inspect windows and screens, lubricate tracks and latch mechanisms.
  • Clean and inspect gutters and downspouts
  • Clean and inspect culverts and drainage tiles
  • Check for cracks in caulking around the following areas: sinks, bathtubs, toilets, faucets, countertops, ceramic tile, window sills, exterior door trim.
  • Familiarize yourself with the locations of main water and electrical cut offs, and their use so that in the event of an emergency (water is spraying all over the kitchen for example) you will know where to turn off the water and electricity.
  • Annual Maintenance items

  • Have HVAC system checked and maintained by qualified technician.
  • Check attic vents for blockage.
  • Inspect inside of attic for signs of roof leaks.
  • Check cabinet doors, drawers and hinges for alignment. Adjust and lubricate if needed.
  • Check and clean chimney if needed.
  • Clean exterior of house: siding, gutters, concrete slabs, decks etc. Be aware that some kinds of siding (vinyl for example) shouldn’t be pressure washed because of the possibility of forcing water into the thermal envelope of the house, no house is built to withstand careless pressure washing. Care should always be taken to restrict water from washing to the exterior of your home.
  • seal asphalt driveway
  • touch up paint/caulk interior
  • touch up paint/caulk exterior
  • Lubricate drawers, hinges, locks, garage doors, anything that has moving parts or is squeaky or sticky.
  • Spring Maintenance items

  • Lawns should be seeded or reseeded in late winter or as early in the spring as possible while nights are cold and the ground is wet.
  • Open foundation vents around beginning of April.
  • Clean and seal decks while nearby plants are still dormant to avoid damaging plants with sealer over spray.
  • Apply pre-emergent crab grass killer if desired. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Fertilize lawn and landscaping as soon as spring growth appears
  • Prune large trees before leaves appear, while branch structure is visible.
  • Middle TN is usually frost free by the middle of April, so tender bedding plants can be safely set out after this date. Wait a few weeks longer to set out warm weather plants such as tomatoes or peppers.
  • Clean gutters as needed to keep leaves from accumulating. Stopped up gutters may cause roof and foundation leaks, and serious long term damage to your home.
  • Summer Maintenance items

  • When over night temperatures are no longer cool stop applying fertilizer to grass
  • Summer is a great time to touch up exterior paint and caulk,
  • Seal asphalt driveway
  • Fall Maintenance items

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts and do these things before freezing temperatures to avoid expensive plumbing repairs
  • Remove garden hoses from outside faucets before freezing weather, even “frost proof” faucets will be damaged if there is a hose attached.
  • Close foundation vents, and check crawl space access door.
  • Clean gutters as needed to keep leaves from accumulating. Stopped up gutters may cause roof and foundation leaks, and serious long term damage to your home.
  • Remove leaves from lawn. If you pile them up and let them rot they make a great soil amendment for your flower beds or vegetable garden. Consider planting a natural screen around a corner of the yard for a compost pile to recycle your leaves, grass clippings, prunings, and other waste into excellent organic compost.
  • Apply lime to lawn if needed. Almost all soils in middle TN need lime, plus it is relatively cheap and very environmentally friendly. However some evergreen shrubs can be stunted or damaged by too much lime.
  • Winter Maintenance items

  • Broadcast grass seed on or about last day of winter
  • Apply dormant treatments to fruit bearing trees
  • Prune and burn diseased or infested branches/foliage from plants and trees
  • If weather turns extremely cold (less than 10 degrees F) take precautions to avoid freezing pipes:

  • 1) Double check that foundation vents and crawl doors are tightly closed.
  • 2) Leave the doors open on cabinets that contain plumbing under the kitchen and bathroom sinks so that they can get some heat.
  • 3) In particularly vulnerable locations along outside walls (usually the kitchen sink) leave the water running a tiny bit if the temperature stays below zero for more than a few hours.
  • 4) If the water heater is in an unheated garage, monitor the temp in the area, and run a space heater if it is getting colder than 25 degrees.
  • When things go wrong

    Electric outlet doesn’t work.

  • Check for tripped breakers, and also tripped GFI or Arc Fault breakers. A GFI plug in another room could be causing the problem so check all GFI devices before you give up. GFI devices (both breakers and receptacles) should be checked monthly. Make sure that appliances like vacuum cleaners are turned off before you plug them in to avoid tripping arc fault breakers.Garage door opener won’t close door.
  • Make sure that the “electric eyes” are still aligned and the path between them is unobstructed. The opener safety feature will not allow the door to close if the two “eyes” can’t see each other.
  • Mold – Mold is almost always caused by excessive moisture or humidity. Moisture content of materials in a properly maintained home are so low that mold can not normally grow. However, moisture can come from:

  • roof or plumbing leaks,
  • condensation on uninsulated plumbing or HVAC ducts
  • spillage – especially in bathrooms and kitchens
  • Whatever the source of the moisture it must be remedied or your home may become unfit for habitation. If you detect mold inside your home you must take immediate action to find and remedy the cause.
  • Interior air quality – The homeowner must monitor interior air quality, and take immediate action to protect the health of habitants. Things that you can do to maintain or improve interior air quality include:

  • maintaining your furnace filter,
  • controlling humidity to prevent mold,
  • vacuuming carpets regularly,
  • using HEPA filters in both the vacuum and furnace.
  • Your central heat and air system acts as a whole house air filter, so consider turning the fan on all of the time to continually filter.
  • Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible during periods of high pollen count or air pollution.
  • Make sure that your dryer vents to the outside and that the vent is well sealed and unobstructed
  • clean the dryer screen after every load of clothes.
  • If you have carpets, consider replacing all or part of them with tile or hardwood floors.
  • The soil in house plants almost always harbors mold (that gets watered and fertilized right along with the plants) which is a source of spores in the interior air, consider moving house plants to a separate space or getting rid of them altogether.
  • One of the biggest things that you can do is to banish smokers out of the house.
  • These actions can greatly improve the quality of life for everyone in your family, but especially for allergy sufferers.
  • Wet Basement

    Regular maintenance can almost always at least improve and sometimes completely eliminate a wet basement without the intrusion and expense of basement repairs and remediation.

    The first line of defense for keeping your basement dry happens outside of your home. Keep rain and ground water away from your home by keeping gutters, driveway tiles drains and culverts clear and functioning as they were intended. Move foundation plantings (bushes) away from the house (five feet minimum) to prevent watering during dry weather from aggravating your wet basement and to allow air circulation. Establish and maintain a grade which slopes away from your basement at all points. Run downspout water away from the foundation (AKA basement) with splash blocks or piping, and then make sure that those pipes stay open!

    Your basement should have a perimeter drain system that was installed when the house was built. That system would have drain pipes which carry water away from the base of the foundation. Often the homeowner doesn’t know what or where they are and the perimeter drain tiles become clogged or crushed at the place where they come out of the ground. Needless to say they need to be maintained.

    Many basements don’t have adequate ventilation and may require a dehumidifier. A dehumidifier can often be placed so that the water that it collects can go down a drain so that it can run continuously when needed without having to be emptied. If this isn’t possible, a condensate pump can be used to pump the water out to accomplish the same thing.

    A wet or damp basement can be aggravated by any source of moisture including:

  • roof or plumbing leaks,
  • condensation on uninsulated plumbing or HVAC ducts
  • spillage – especially in bathrooms and kitchens
  • leaks coming under walk in or garage doors
  • Other than a fire, excess moisture is the quickest way to make a house worthless and ininhabitable (just ask a hurricane victim). Whatever it takes to prevent or remedy a water or moisture problem is time and money well spent!

    Life expectancy of major systems

  • Water heater3-10 years
  • HVAC units10-20 years
  • Roof – standard asphalt shingles15-20 years
  • Roof – 30 year shingles25-35 years
  • Exterior paint5-10 years
  • Asphalt driveway20-30 years