How to Make Color Selections

Subdivisions are a great place to get color selections.

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.

Subdivisions are a great place to get color selections.
Subdivisions are a great place to get color selections.

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.

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.

Custom color LP SMartside in dark grey siding
Custom LP Smartside in dark grey

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.

Ironstone grey siding with white trim, black roof, and faux wood garage doors in normal il
Ironstone grey siding with white trim, black roof, and faux wood garage doors in normal il

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.

Customer Reviews vs Customer References

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.

Things to take note of to help you gauge the contractor’s professionalism:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Is Customer Service a common theme in reviews? 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

 

 

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:

Click here to Meet the Pound’s

Click here to Meet the Gualazzi’s

If you click those links you will find a before and after pictures, detailed descriptions of the job, and videos of interviews with the homeowners talking about their experience.

Liberate Yourself From Bad Contractors

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

Notes to help understand what to look for in bank letters
Notes to help understand what to look for in bank letters

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.

Weathered wood shingles, chestnut brown shakes, latte tan siding, tan gutters
Weathered wood shingles, chestnut brown shakes, latte tan siding, tan gutters

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!

Example of a Supplier letter
Example of a Supplier letter

 

Mastic Russet red vertical siding, white trim, natural clay shake siding, certainteed moire black shingles in canton il.JPG
Mastic Russet red vertical siding, white trim, natural clay shake siding, certainteed moire black shingles in canton il

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:

  1. Did they arrive on time to perform the work?
  2. How was the daily clean up?
  3. Did you run into any issues? How did the contractor handle those issues?
  4. Were the employees polite and professional? Any specific interactions?
  5. Did your neighbors like the crews while they worked on your house?

 

 

How To Find A Contractor You Can’t Live Without

 

 

Do you absolutely love working with your contractor? Or do you dread the thought of another run around where you spend too much effort trying to just get one phone call returned? Do you feel like you always get over charged on a service that wasn’t that professional?

If it’s time to break up the relationship and find a new contractor – here are some great tips on finding a trustworthy contractor:

Local Location 

 

 

This might be obvious, but you want a contractor with a permanent location in the area that you live. Double check Google to see if they have an address listed, then drive by it to make sure it’s an actual office with office hours, and not the owner’s house. It never hurts to know that you can walk in and have a face – face conversation. After you’ve confirmed that they are a local contractor, research their reputation. Ask neighbors, friends, and co-workers. Google them, Google the owner’s name. Stalk the company! Find out everything you can about them and make sure you like what you find.

image001

Proper License 

The State of Illinois requires contractors to have a roofing license. A contractor can only pull a roofing permit if the city has the valid license and updated insurance. You might be saying “Duh – tell me something I don’t know!” Well did you think about looking at the roofing license to make sure it’s your contractor’s license and not their friend’s? Sometimes contractors share a license and an unlicensed roofer will essentially “subcontract” under a licensed roofer. Your estimate and contract might be from Contractor A, your check will even be made out to Contractor A, but if you look at the City’s permit records your roofing permit will be registered to Contractor B. That’s because Contractor A, your contractor is not licensed. Another sign that they aren’t licensed is if your roofer asks you, the homeowner, to pull your own roofing permit! Never put up with that! Homeowners are allowed to pull their own permits without a license; but if a contractor is doing the work they should be responsible for the permit and the permit fees. Besides, it’s rude if they want you to pull their permit – even if they are licensed!

 

Insurance

Everyone always verifies that their contractor is insured; but there is an extra step a contractor can do to prove their love for you. Add you as an additional insured! Contractors don’t like doing this because it does cost a little extra to have you listed, but any trustworthy contractor knows you are worth it.

Letters

If your contractor doesn’t already provide these up front, you should ask for a letter from their bank and a letter from their supplier. The bank letter lets you know that the company isn’t broke and does not run finances through the owner’s personal bank account. The letter from the supplier lets you know that your contractor pays the material bills. Last thing you want is a lien placed on your home because the contractor didn’t pay for his materials.

 

Professionalism

All contractors should give you a written estimate filled with all the details of the work to be performed. It should be extremely detailed and include a total price. On top of the professional estimate, the contractor should no pressure you in any way. Pressure can on many forms. Scare tactics, calling more than they should, telling you the price expires in a week, and any other gimmick. Once this final contract is signed by both you and the contractor that should be the final price. As a homeowner you should expect your contractor to honor this contract. It’s their promise to you.

Example professional estimate
Example of a detailed roofing estimate and contract

 

Warranties

Most contractors have a labor warranty to accompany their work. Typically this is 1 year. Some contractors might extend that warranty for longer, but be weary of anything less than 1 year. You should ask for material warranties of the products being placed on your home. Manufacturers can vary warranties based on contractors and what they are certified to guarantee. Carlson Exteriors offers a 50 year non prorated warranty. This warranty will be registered to homeowner’s name and can be transferred one time! If you sell your house after we’ve replaced the roof your warranty goes with it. Look for any extra love and assurance that a contractor can provide you in the material warranty department. Click here to learn more about our Unconditional Roofs.

 

 

Carlson Warranty

 

If you want more tips and techniques to finding out if your next contractor will be the contractor you can’t live without – Download our Guide to Contractor Standards

contractor-standard-guide-front-outside-cover

Intro to “Behind the Scenes” Blog Series

Deep granite shakes and Board and Batten siding with Natural Slate siding, white trim and black roof in Savoy IL

The brands a contractor uses should not be an arbitrary decision. Any product that’s new to the construction industry is not offered immediately by Carlson Exteriors Inc. We wait and watch for a few things:

  • Does the product do what it claims to do- without fail!
  • Are there warranty issues? If there are, how does the manufacturer handle it?
  • Does the manufacturer provide adequate training for contractors?
  • Is the product a safe bet for homeowners?

Why Am I Telling You This?

Carlson Exteriors Inc. spends a long time debating and researching a product before we ever think about adding it to our exterior services. Our siding carries purpose. Our shingles have a backbone. Our gutters will never let you down. We always insist that every product performs perfectly – zero exceptions.  It’s worth talking about – so we will! With our ‘Behind the Scenes’ blog series, we will go over products Carlson Exteriors has chosen to use and why. We will discuss our relationships with siding, roofing, gutters, and garage door companies, we’ll talk with manufacturers directly, and we’ll show you, the homeowner, how you fit into the grand equation.

 

 

If you are interested in reading these articles, search “Behind the Scenes” on our website. It will show you all the articles that have been released.

Understanding Roof Underlayment

When replacing your roof, it’s very easy to get caught up in shingle color and brand. Before you rush into that, make sure your contractor is not skimping on the underlayment. Not all underlayment is created equal. Not all contractors install underlayment in the same locations.

Carlson Exteriors uses Winterguard, CertainTeed’s brand of ice and water barrier. Per city code this barrier is placed at all valleys and at the eaves.  However, there are locations this barrier should be applied that are not required by city code. These locations are all roof penetrations (such as vents or furnace flues), around chimneys, skylights, and anywhere a roof line meets a siding wall. These joining areas are first susceptible to leaks if your home is not sealed correctly by using a ice and water barrier. Many manufacturers require these additional areas to have an ice and water barrier applied to qualify for the roof or shingle warranty.

An Ice and Water Barrier (like Winterguard) should be applied around pipes, around chimneys, skylights, and anywhere a roof meets a siding wall
An Ice and Water Barrier (like Winterguard) should be applied around pipes, around chimneys, skylights, and anywhere a roof meets a siding wall

 

Make sure your contractor is not using a 15lb or 30lb felt. This used to be contractor’s only option but the roofing industry has evolved into synthetic felts. The old felt would tear easily and gave no traction to installers. If your home has the old felt under your shingles, if any shingles would blow off your flimsy felt would be left exposed. If exposed for too long, it will rip leaving your OSB to fend for itself. Synthetic felt eliminates this problem. Synthetic felt is extremely durable and resistant to ripping or tearing. Installers also prefer it when installing because it’s easier to work on.

When you meet with a contractor, remember more than the shingles are working to protect your home from roof leaks or ice dams. The whole roofing system, combined together, protects your home.

EnviroDri vs. House Wrap

You may or may not have noticed a few new construction homes in your city that get this black coating instead of any house wrap paper products. The black coating is an exciting, newer product called EnviroDri; we believe EnviroDri is more efficient in function and cost savings than any other type of house wrap. This product streamlines the construction process and eliminates any worry a potential homeowner might have about any leaks or energy efficiency.

Homes need to have some sort of water resistive barrier over the sheeting to prevent water from entering the house from the outside but breathable for moisture to escape from the inside of the home. Typically, house wrap was been used as this water-resistive barrier; it is taped onto the home in large paper sheets. Any place the house sheeting meets another piece of sheeting the seam should be taped then the wrapping should be layered to provide protection as the house settles with age. Since the wrapping is put up in large sections, it’s common practice to add staples through each section to prevent the wind catching the paper and ripping it before the siding can be installed over it. As you can imagine already there are a few possibilities where this form of house wrap can fail. Any place the paper has been mechanically fastened (stapled) on to the home is at risk for a leak since the barrier has been penetrated. This is a very low risk, but, still a possibility. Depending on how fast your home is built, there could be a good span of time where your house sits with only house wrap on it while it waits for the siding or brick install; strong winds or storms can pull this house wrapping off or tamper the seals if not installed properly. While it is in the manufacturer’s installation instructions to overlap over sheeting seams, the installer might not follow this in efforts to cut their own material costs. Let’s say everything was installed properly and you been living in your home for a few years without any leaks or problems but a storm comes and blows off some siding. Your house wrap in that section is now exposed and if the storms or strong winds continue, the house wrap could become shredded in the exposure.

EnviroDri is a water resistant membrane that is sprayed onto your home after it’s been sheeted. The membrane and the wooden underlayment function as one unit once the membrane is cured. All seams have a water resistive “mesh” applied over and then sprayed again by the EnviroDri membrane. The mesh flexes with the seams the house settles, effectively protecting it throughout the shifting. Since EnviroDri is sprayed on there won’t be any mechanical fasteners piercing the barrier, so absolutely no risk of leaks due to that. Since the membrane is adhered to the sheeting, if your siding blows off your house is still protected from any storms or high winds.

EnviroDri is more energy efficient than any other form of house wrap. It’s more efficient because it’s a tighter protection than any form of house wrap because there is no space between the sheeting and the barrier. This allows you to go from a a 2×6 wall with R-19 insulation to a 2×4 wall with a R-13 insulation and still see energy improvements. The attic insulation can also go from a R-50 to an R-30. All of this saves money on materials and energy in the long run.

Learn More Here

Why wouldn’t you want your house EnviroDri’d?

Should I Be My Own General Contractor? Part 3

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.

Should I Be My Own General Contractor? Part 2

Roofing contracotrs

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.

Out-of-Town Roofing Contractors

Roofing Bloomington, IL

Many homeowners in Central Illinois were devastatingly impacted by the storm that arrived last fall- home repairs continue to ensue 6 months later.  As a local contractor, it is our responsibility and duty to both inform and educate the Bloomington/Normal area in regards to the risks of out of town contractors, commonly known as “storm chasers”.

The exterior construction business is a rather large portion of all remodeling that takes place on homes; it continues to have national, year over year growth.  As the demand for exterior construction needs rises, the population of “storm chasers” has proportionately grown. These contractors will follow storm activity nationally, never staying too long in one place. It is commonplace for “storm chasers” to ascend upon a storm ravaged area with a sales staff exceeding twenty sales people.  These sales people will go door-to-door knocking and asking for permission to inspect the damaged roof, siding, gutters, and/or air conditioner. Upon completion of the inspection, the sales staff may ask to contact your insurance company directly; they may even ask for a signature seeking permission. Be cautious and hesitant of what you sign- read all contracts and legal documents carefully; many of these permission slips and documents have a clause requiring the homeowner to employ said contractor upon an insurance settlement.

Feel free to contact your insurance company for contractor recommendations.  For example, Country Companies’ adjusters have a policy in place where they can recommend three contractors. State Farm has a preferred vendor list.  However, most insurance companies have additional policies in place to attempt to mitigate their liability to the homeowner in the event of the contractor not completing the work in a professional manner.  This is the exact moment where it becomes the homeowners responsibility to perform their due diligence.  The majority of insurance companies nationally place a one-year timeframe upon the initiation of a claim from a storm.  This being said, unless there is imminent damage, most homeowners have time to initiate an insurance claim.

The following are a list of bullet points on ways to perform said diligence:

-Run “construction storm chasers” through whatever Internet Search Engine you use.

-If a salesman comes to your door, do not sign anything.  Please take time to review the estimate and the contractor.

-Inquire as to where the company is physically located and the length of time in that location.

-If it is an out of town contractor, inquire what type of service after the sale will you get.  Is the contractor willing to drive, in some cases, hundreds of miles to return for service?  Please get this portion in writing.

-Please demand copies of both Liability and Workmen’s Compensation Insurance.

-Ask to see required state permits and licenses. Both contractors and insurance adjusters have to be licensed by state agencies.

-Inquire if the company has employees performing the work or will it be subcontracted out.  If it is subcontracted out, demand copies of the Subcontractors Insurance as well.  Ask to meet the Subcontractor that will be working on your home prior to work being started.

Please utilize the above questions.  There are many other tools available for a homeowner to use.  Such as, Internet reviews, local business associations and reviews, BBB, and referrals.  We urge you to use these resources to determine the caliber of your potential contractor.