Making color selections can be very difficult and stressful for first time home builders; but it doesn’t have to be! Here are a few easy steps to get you started in knowing what you want, but just as important, what you don’t want.
Drive Around Local Subdivisions
Your local neighborhoods are great resources to find combinations that you like. We usually suggest newer neighborhoods because are more likely to be up to date on all product styles and color offerings. Take photos and record address of homes that strike your fancy. These are great to share with your contractor.
Pebblestone clay siding, wicker handsplit shakes, red gable accents, white trim in Normal il
James Hardie Siding panels and real cedar siding in Heyworth Il
Look at Pinterest or Instagram
These two platforms are chalk full of photos. You will definitely find a wide array of styles, colors, and combinations. This is perfect to do when you have a few extra minutes or want to look late or night. The one downside to looking on Pinterest or Instagram is that not all products you see are guaranteed to be provided in your area or by your contractor.
Browse Your Contractor’s Portfolio
Your contractor should have tons of photos readily available to you on their website. We love asking clients to start here because we know exactly what products/colors are installed on each home.
Meet With Your Contractor
Often times customers want to know what’s available in their budget or get a little reassurance from a professional. Meeting with your contractor lays a great foundation. They can even go through their online photos with you to help you visualize.
Mastic Deep Granite siding with Royal Weathered Grey hand split shakes, white trim, and moire black roof in Bloomington, IL
Customer testimonials and customer references seem like the same thing on the surface but they are very different and serve different purposes. They are equally important.
So what’s the difference?
Let’s start with the more familiar: Customer Reviews. You can find these on the contractor’s website, Facebook, and any Third Party website (like Google, BBB, Yelp, Home Advisor, etc.). When you start the hunt for the best roofer or perfect siding repair company, you should start by looking up reviews from previous customers. Click here to be taken to Carlson Exteriors’ page of testimonials.
Find Google reviews by clicking where the red arrow is pointing to
Example of Google Reviews
Things to take note of to help you gauge the contractor’s professionalism:
How recent are these reviews/ testimonials? How frequent do they occur? How many are there? You want to see a lot of recent and frequent reviews. Take in to consideration any off-seasons for exterior contractors; they will have less reviews during winter.
Do they talk about their experience working with the sales person/ Project Manager? A sales person or a Project Manager will likely be your first and main contact to the company. They should not apply any sales pressures or gimmicks – only treating you respect. They should be easy to communicate with and happy to answer any questions you may have.
Is Customer Service a common theme inreviews? For some reason, it’s easy to forget that contractors need to provide a high level of customer service. Remember you are paying them for their services.
Are there repeat customers? The true testament to a contractor is if you can find evidence of returning customers. If a homeowner was truly satisfied with a contractor’s work, that contractor will be the first one that homeowner calls.
How did the contractor handle mistakes? Even the best contractor is still human; they make mistakes. What separates the good contractors from the bad is how the mistakes are handled. Can you find evidence that problems were handled in a timely manner and to the customer’s satisfaction?
Example of BBB Reviews
Example of online reviews on Yellowpages.com
Now let’s talk about customer references! When you meet with your potential contractors ask them for a list of previous customers you can call. This way you can ask previous customers how the whole working experience was like. Perhaps you are shy and are not interested in calling a handful of strangers. Ultimately, customer references are more meatier, more detailed than customer reviews. Look to see if your contractor has any Customer Spotlights on their website. Examples of that are:
Unfortunately, the construction industry is abound with poor principle. How do you begin to find a contractor that’s trustworthy? I suggest thinking of contractors as employees you are interviewing to potentially work for you/your company. It may seem silly at first, but that mindset will give you the confidence you need to feel like you can ask the right questions. To find a contractor with good character, you start with their references. We recommend looking into 3 references.
1- Bank Letter
A Bank letter solidifies the company’s financial status. It gives insight to the company’s cash flow. It also lets you know the company isn’t running the finances through the
owner’s personal finances. The example bank letter has been marked with what to look for.
Make sure the letter is addresses to the company (not the owner). It reenforces that the company has it’s own account.
Look for some clues to how long the financial institution has known your potential contractor. The longer the better.
Having a company that has decent cash flow actually ensures the company has higher skilled employees. If a company needs your job to pay employees for last week’s work, good employees won’t stick around at a company that may or may not pay. If a company asks for half upfront, that money may be used to pay employees or to buy materials for your job because there isn’t enough money in the account to buy materials without your deposit. That’s not a good sign of a good company.
2- Supplier Letter
Getting a letter from your potential contractor’s supplier ensures they have a great business relationship. This letter lets you know the contractor pays their bills. The last thing you want is a lean placed on your home because your contractor did not pay their material bills. Yes that does happen!
3- Customer References
This is very different than testimonials or good reviews. Customer references is a list of customers with addresses and contact information (given with permission). You can call any or all of the previous customers and ask them what it was like working with the contractor. A few example questions to ask homeowners:
Did they arrive on time to perform the work?
How was the daily clean up?
Did you run into any issues? How did the contractor handle those issues?
Were the employees polite and professional? Any specific interactions?
Did your neighbors like the crews while they worked on your house?
Carlson exteriors Crew member cuts Royal Celect Siding
Forman Brian hangs Royal Celect Siding on Bloomington IL House
If you are just joining in; this is part three of a four part series on hardboards and knowing which one fits your needs. Part two covered LP Smartside in detail – Click here to read that article. Today we are covering James Hardie Fiber Cement Board’s history, make up, the pros and the cons.
While James Hardie has a company history dating back 120 years they headed up fiber-cement products in the mid 1980’s. All of these products capitalized on fiber cement’s strength and durability. Over the years, James Hardie harnessed their technical and manufacturing process through research and experience in Australia. Many fiber cement siding companies have tried entering the market that James Hardie monopolizes, but all other companies were never able to compare to the quality, expertise, and research years of James Hardie.
James Hardie Fiber Cement Siding previously only warrantied the panel and not the surface color as the color was applied by a third party. Customers got caught up in the “blame game” between the paint manufacturer and James Hardie. James Hardie empathized with their customer’s plight and decided to take over surface. They now “bake-on” the chosen color as the panel is manufactured. This creates a stronger integration between surface and panel. This also allows James Hardie to provide longer warranties for both surface color and panel failure.
Fiber cement is made up of cellulose fibers, cement, sand, water, and minor additives. All of these ingredients combined, make a siding panel that will not catch on fire or burn, resists water damage, stands up against termites, and will not rot or warp (if installed properly).
Where to begin on the huge list of advantages James Hardie Fiber Cement Siding? Fiber Cement siding may qualify for insurance discounts and gives an “upscale-look” to your home while being durable and low maintenance.
James Hardie Fiber Cement is resistant to fire and has high impact ratings. Depending on your insurance you may qualify for discounts; before selecting your home’s hardboard siding call your insurance and see what your numbers will look like if you had rated fire-restiant and rated impact-resistant siding. Some homeowners have saved as much as 20%! Click here to read more about James Hardie Fire Resistance.
Appearance wise, you can tell fiber cement siding is not your average siding. It looks identical to cedar siding and has a wide range of lap panels, shake styles, and board and batten or sheet cladding available. Any style you have envisioned, James Hardie will have it. James Hardie boasts widths from 5 1/2″ – 12″! Since the surface color is integrated in the manufacturing process, you won’t have to worry about age showing on darker colors. James Hardie has patterned with Sherwin Williams to get you any color siding in Sherwin Williams paint selections. You have endless choices!
Every James Hardie product comes with two warranties; 1- Color Finish Warranty for 15 years and 2- Fiber Cement Panel Warranty for 30 years. With Cedar siding you have to re-paint your siding every 5 years. If you are the DIY homeowner you can sink a ton of time into re-painting your home every 5 years. If you are not the DIY homeowner, you can spent a decent chunk of change on re-painting your home every 5 years. With James Hardie- you don’t have to worry about the paint chipping or needing repainted that frequently.
If your fiber cement siding was installed incorrectly, your warranties will be voided and your siding could rot or warp as early as 5 years! Do your research on your potential contractor and make sure they know how to install. James Hardie is very specific in installation requirements. Click here to read the whole guide. The guide can be intimidating and will not be read by the faint of heart. Some installers do not like installing fiber cement siding because it requires special blades and is heavier than other hardboards on the market. This may make James Hardie Fiber Cement siding more expensive than other products- but this all depends on your contractor. It’s not a bad idea to call James Hardie directly and ask them what contractors in your area to they recommend. Fun Fact: If you live in Central, IL, Carlson Exteriors is the only James Hardie Preferred Contractor.
Again, the gapping can be an issue for some homeowners. This gap is required by James Hardie to allow your siding to minimally expand and contract over the seasons. Fiber cement is a wet manufacturing process- the initial gap is left with the intention of your siding to shrink. Behind each gap is a pan flashing the same color as your siding (just like LP). This pan flashing make the gap not as noticeable. Similar flashing is installed where siding butts up against roof lines. The pictures below show the gape between James Hardie siding and shakes. The gap is smaller where horizontal lap siding meets the roof line but it is still noticeable. This may bother some homeowners.
The flashing detail between James Hardie lap siding and a roof line is less noticeable than with James Hardie Shake; however it may bother some homeowners
The gap between James Hardie shake is more noticeable than with lap siding.
James Hardie does everything in their control to make their fiber cement siding last, but all of that can be undone if the homeowner does not stay on top of caulking every 3-5 years. Windows, corners, and trim details will need re-done. If you don’t perform this preventative maintenance, your siding can start to de-laminate, warp, or rot.
If you are interested in a siding that can score you some insurance discounts- this is the product for you! This siding has a wide array of styles, sizes, colors, and accessories to fit your dream home that vinyl and other hardboards can’t offer you.
Welcome back! Last post from this series we quickly covered 3 hard boards that are a hot topic: LP Smartside, James Hardie Fiber Cement, and Royal Celect siding. If you missed it and want to catch up- Click Here! Part 2 is all about LP Smartside: it’s history, material make-up, the pros, and the cons.
LP (Louisiana Pacific) had a product in the late 90’s called Inner Seal that prematurely rotted causing de-lamination, color changes, and sometimes fungi growth. A large class-action lawsuit was brought on by homeowners, shareholders, and even an attorney general! LP worked as quickly as they could to pay out all losses and begin reformulating their failed product they still believed in. This massive public failure birthed LP Smartside. LP actually boasts about this lawsuit when questioned about potential moisture management issues for Smartside. Not only did they learn from their product mistakes, they stood behind it and made sure their customers were taken care of correctly and as fast as possible. Not every company is known for being fast to pay out warranties that are due.
LP Smartside is made up of a mixture of binders, waxes, and zinc borate all throughout the wood strands and is finally bonded with a water-resistant, resin-saturated overlay. The wood used in Smartside products comes from a renewable forest; the binders and resins coating this wood make it high-impact proof. It can withstand golfballs, hail, rocks from lawn mower, balls, bikes, or nearly anything else that might hit it. The waxes and resins make the wood water resistant wile the Zinc borate helps protect against algae, fungi, insects, or any other pesky pests.
There are so many wonderful benefits to LP Smartside ranging every degree from purely aesthetic reasons to endurance qualities. Like most hardboards, LP Smartside has a commanding appearance over vinyl siding. Smartside looks exactly like real cedar siding but a fraction of the real wood maintenance.
Larger reveal siding is starting to re-surface in siding trends. If you are looking at vinyl products, wider reveals are scarce (if any!). LP Smartside offers widths up to 8″, 12″, and 16″ depending on style and you can choose between woodgrain or smooth surface. You also can go to Sherwin Williams and pick out any one of their paint colors and have LP match the color exactly!
This siding has a very high impact rating. Many insurance companies offer a break when your siding (or shingles) reach a certain level of impact rating. Like you read in an earlier paragraph – durable siding will withstand hail, golf balls, balls, bikes, rocks from mowers, birds, or almost anything that hits it.
Depending on your contractor, LP Smartside can either be equal to or less than the cost of Fiber Cement siding because it’s slightly easier to work with. It’s easier to work with because you don’t need special blades to cut or work with it, lighter weight, and it doesn’t produce silica dust.
Like most specialty products, the warranties are preserved by your original installers and preventative maintenance. If your contractor doesn’t know the ins and outs of proper install for LP Smartside, your warranty will be voided or worse- your beautiful siding could fail!
Every hardboard siding requires some amount of gapping to allow for expansion and contraction. This fluctuation happens as the siding starts to acclimate to current weather conditions and as it endures the 4 seasons. Since LP is a dry manufacturing process, the initial gap is left with the intention for the siding to swell slightly. Behind each gap, a pan flashing detail, the same color as your siding, will be installed to disguise the gap. Visually speaking, some homeowners do not like the look of the gap. There also needs to be a 1″ clearance on all roof lines and a 6″ ground clearance. This spacing is reserved for expansion and contraction. The gapping along roof lines is covered with a metal detail that some homeowners find distracting.
This gap can be seen as too much, but is the proper spacing for LP Smartside Siding
The metal detail over this porch is to allow for the siding to expand and contract
While the warranty for LP is phenomenal (Click here to read it), if you don’t stay on top of caulking maintenance you will void the warranty. Areas that need to be re-caulked roughly every 3-5 years are around windows, corners, and any trim details. Most installers familiar with LP Smartside will do a “healthy” amount of caulking when they install – They know it might be an easy, but detrimental, thing to slip the homeowner’s mind.
If you are looking for siding product this actually made out of wood – LP Smartside is the product for you! It looks just like cedar siding, comes in many wider reveals, impact resistant, requires minimal maintenance compared to real wood siding.
Quick recap, you’ve weighed the pros and cons and chose to be your own General Contractor (GC); you’ve also jumped the initial insurance and bank hurdles. Now it’s time to find contractors to give you estimates. As a general rule of thumb 3-5 estimates are a good comparison. Start with 3 and if you have one estimate that is drastically different (low or high) get another estimate; or if one contractor you met with made you feel uncomfortable, get another estimate. The goal is to feel confident in the contractor and their crew’s ability to do quality work.
When picking subcontractors, look for companies that can offer full service within their interior or exterior fields. The more they can do the less contractors you have to coordinate schedules through. For example, if you find a roofing company that also offers siding and gutters, get estimates for all three. If you go with a multi-service company, they will schedule the workers accordingly and if any delays arise they already know and will accommodate, again, less work for you as the GC. Look for companies with a reputable background, local office, have longevity, and have all the necessary licenses per state requirements. A good place to start is to call around to builders and ask for recommendations or who does their work.
Many homeowners think they can shop around and purchase materials cheaper than the contractors. However, this is rarely the case, and if it is the case, you might be looking at lower quality materials. The reason? Many contractors have a standing relationship with their supplier and get discounted rates based on the annual volume of materials that contractor buys from that supplier. Contractors often purchase their materials in bulk, which results in a discount. If you decide you still want to purchase the materials yourself, you are in charge of determining the amount of materials and what materials for the job. If the contractor installing the work is NOT providing the material, they will not spend the extra time coming up with a material list for you (unless otherwise compensated). If any additional material is needed while installing, whoever purchased the materials is required to supplement. If the contractor supplies the material, they can arrange for the supplier to send the needed material quicker than calling you, the GC, to get it. If you do decide to still purchase the materials yourself, shop a few different suppliers and make sure the quality of products are equal.
Typically, the builder or GC is in charge of getting all the necessary permits for each step. It may raise your estimate a bit, but specifically ask that each contractor get the permits themselves. Why? For a few reasons: A homeowner can pull any building permits for their own property without having any state required licenses. If the contractor pulls the permit, this ensures that they have all the proper licenses and insurance, because they cannot obtain the permit with out it. Contractors are also more familiar with the permit process and won’t get hung up by overlooking details.
When commencing work, it’s a good idea to have your contractors sign a document that says something similar to the following even if they are properly insured and covered with workers compensation.
“The Contractor expressly agrees that it shall be solely responsible for supervising its employees, that it shall comply with all rules, regulations, orders, standards, and interpretations, promulgated pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, including but not limited to training, recordkeeping, providing personal protective equipment, Safety Data Sheets and labeling as required by the right to know standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200
The parties intend that an independent contractor relationship and not employer-employee relationship will be created by the agreement. (YOUR NAME) is interested only in the results to be achieved. The Contractor is responsible for the means and methods of achieving the project goal.”
This basically covers you from any fines or responsibility if OSHA gets involved with an accident or procedures not properly followed.
Lastly, whether you decided to do it yourself or go through a general contractor, enjoy it! You are building your home and it’s an exciting step in your life.
So you’ve decided you want to be your own General Contractor…Congratulations! It was a tough decision to make and the path won’t always be the easiest to take. As the previous blog stated, you don’t have to be construction savvy to feel capable of being a General Contractor (GC) but it is good to have someone you can turn to for advice or tips along the way. If this is your first time being GC, be weary of not exhausting your support person- ideally you’d like to stay friends with them after your home has been built. In the meantime, this blog will attempt to give you a good foundation in beginning your adventure as GC.
First off, if you are married or are with someone,, make sure you both are 100% on board for building your own home as your own General Contractor; this has been known to put quite a strain on relationships.
Be comfortable with and be prepared to assume the risks of being your own General Contractor. For homeowners being their own GC, make sure the contractors are insured and have Workers Compensation insurance. Homeowner’s General Liability insurance will not cover any injuries/accidents to workers on your jobsite- General Liability only protects your physical property. If you have uninsured contractors working for you and they get seriously injured, lawyers will find the homeowner as financially responsible for medical bills, income loss, and whatever else they can think of. If you are being your own GC, it’s safer to eliminate any uninsured contractors from your list- as a bonus; insured contractors usually have a higher quality in their craftsmanship.
Banks are usually more leery of giving construction loans to homeowners building their own home vs homeowners going through established builders or General Contractors. You become a risk to them; banks want to protect their investments. In case something happens and the bank needs to take over their rights on your building project they want to know what’s there is of good quality. The banks know that GC’s will not only allow shoddy work but are also familiar with each stage in the building process; no steps skipped over by being inexperienced. Just be prepared to have loan delays or the loan process in its entirety to not go smoothly or quickly.
Next: Finding, getting, and picking estimates/subcontractors.