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Monday, May 20, 2013

Now Will You Forsake Your House Carpenter...

Someone mentioned doing a blog about this recently and I thought it would be a good idea and potentially useful to someone out there.  Be aware that I have either been directly or indirectly involved with home renovation, building, and carpentry for the majority of my life.  Anything I have ever learned as far as skills are concerned, I have retained because that is just how my mind works.  I spent the summer after high school graduation doing nothing but cutting caulking out of and replacing old windows with new ones when I was not hanging door frames or running crown moulding.  During college I spent seven months on a complete renovation of a cabin among many other things I was doing over that period.  Though I am currently more into the carpentry aspects, there are many more examples that have happened between that time and right now, but we can talk about that later if you want to know because I would rather get into the subject at hand.

Never Agree To Anything Before Shopping Around
We all want a deal on everything, except when it comes to our homes for some reason.  Taking the easy approach to this scenario is the most convenient, but also the easiest way to give someone a large sum of money for essentially nothing.  Every thriving community has local builders and independent contractors who do a great job at home repair and renovation, so why are we still paying for the third-party middle men?

In Atlanta, there are many companies who sell "door to door" services for windows, doors, roofing, landscaping, and anything else fitting under the blanket of renovation.  If someone comes knocking on your door asking to give you a "free estimate" on these services, even if you were considering having them done in the near future, close the door.  These companies do not have skilled labor crews on their payroll, and hire roofers and/or door and window contractors who could not make it in the business on their own or are just starting out.  A reputable business does not need to be covered over by another company to stay afloat or book jobs.  I am not saying that all of these contractors hired by the third party company do a bad job, but I guarantee you that if they are worth using, you can find them by doing a Google search for local roofers, window installers, or landscapers. 
Using a third-party "renovation" company, you are paying the "marketer" who knocked on your door, the "salesman" who came into your home,  the other clerical overhead required of the company, and finally, the materials and people who actually do the work on your home.  Why would you do that and waste potentially thousands of dollars?  Every roofing and door/window company sells the same product, I promise you.  There are certain companies who have their "own" brand of windows which are no different than anything else produced at the same factory, minus the branding or an insignificant tweak to make it slightly different.  Lowes and Home Depot operate upon this same third-party principle for the windows they sell, installers they use, counter top and cabinet suppliers.  They do not have any crews on payroll for these services and hire them just like you would.
To close out this section, just know that you can find plenty of reputable, independent contractors in your area who will give you a fair price on their services without a sales pitch.   Anyone giving you an estimate for a service on your home who takes more than one hour from arrival to departure on their own accord is not who you want to give that job to.  Anyone who offers you a lower price if you sign a contract that day is also not who you want to give that job to.  
This is the big one:
If the person who is selling you doors, windows, a roof, or landscaping has not ever replaced a door, window, done roofing himself/herself or done a commercial landscape job, that is NOT who you to be buying those services from.  If you would not trust your pharmacist to invest $10,000 of your money into stocks, why would you trust a sales person with no working experience to price the renovation of your home?  Cut out the middle-man, save money, and support your local contractors.

Home Renovation Shows On Television Are Fake
Being in this world of home renovation as I am now, I have realized that "reality" shows on television have sort of ruined carpentry because of the false expectations they place on the general public.  When you watch these shows and they gut an entire room, re-wire it, build new walls, floors, ceilings, custom built-in whatevers and finish it to perfection in five days, that is not reality.  The shows are either using multiple crews you do not see on the screen (24hrs/day) or the actual filming process is much longer and edited for content. 
Example, this took three days:
(demolition and preliminary build not shown)

Had you watched something like this on television, it would have taken maybe twelve hours or a day in the magic of television timing.  And it very well could, the difference is in the amount of perfection your carpenter adheres to and they things they do to be sure their work stands the test of time that you do not see, but is very time-consuming.
In construction, carpentry (there is a difference), automotive finishing, and landscaping, there is what we call a "ten foot rule" and that is that anything can look great and perfect from ten feet away, but when you start getting closer to the object in question, the flaws become much more clear.  
You can watch these shows and see a set of book cases that the builder made out of old pallets, broken bricks and used chewing gum thinking: "Oh my God!  That looks awesome!"  but you must remember the camera is on the other side of the room.  The builders on these shows slap pieces of furniture and "custom" re-purposed items together very quickly so they can move onto the next thing on the list.  I guarantee that none of the homeowners would be happy with the build quality of these items if they were actually paying for them out of pocket.
Speaking of money, the prices they list on those shows are usually just for the materials, not the labor overhead.  A skilled carpenter, depending on the project and experience will charge generally $40-75/hr.  There are many people who will say "My neighbor can do it on the weekends for $X, why are you so high?"  That is the difference between someone who does carpentry to pay their bills and someone who does it because they are your friend and that is their weekend hobby.  They are what we call a "Weekend Warrior" and if he/she does a bad job on your project, their reputation and full-time job is still intact.  Experience and a guarantee of clear reputation are attributes you have to pay for, because that is your guarantee of quality work. 

Ikea Is Rarely A Good Idea
In Europe, they call it flat-pack furniture and it was only common here in cheap retailers like Wal-Mart and Target until the last decade or so.  The "wood" used in this furniture is flake-board, which is essentially sawmill trimmings (twigs, planing dust, etc.) that are chopped coarsely, stirred into a big pot of glue, and pressed into sheets.  A fake veneer made to look like stained wood or a solid color of paint is then applied to the flake-board and finally cut into shape.  This furniture is not worth the materials that compose it.  The only excuse I can give someone for buying flat-pack furniture is college-life.  If you are going to be living somewhere during college and that is the extent of your use, by all means, buy that furniture, use it for three or four years and then throw it away when you move out.  
If you own a house or want to make an actual investment in your future home, have your furniture made by a skilled carpenter, or buy real, wood furniture from a furniture showroom.  Real wood furniture will last well beyond your lifetime and if you manage to break it, you can either repair it yourself or someone like me would be happy to fix it.  I get calls almost daily from people wanting their Ikea furniture fixed; actually those are the majority of the calls I get from that side business I have.  I will not go near it.  
This is real furniture we made out of real wood:

A marble top is going on this:

Queen-sized headboard.  All solid wood:

All solid wood, modeled after a photo:

After the owner painted it:
(She put the doors on the wrong way up)

My point is, for the amount of money you spend on flat-pack furniture from Ikea or any other retailer and throw away in the next few years to replace it or it falls apart when you try to move it, you could have furniture that will last your lifetime and that of a few generations beyond.

Support your local economy, cut out the middle man, and be aware that trades are viable careers with skilled people who work in them.

Grace and Peace,
   -Drew


The lyrics in the title of this blog are from this song:

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