Construction Secrets: How Your Contractor Stays Up to Date on New Products and Ideas

Like any business new ideas and products are introduced and ideas evolve over time. Sure you could just stick with the old ways and the ways you’ve always done it but… then you might not be serving your customers as best you can. Plus since it’s people’s homes you work on your customers might not be getting to fully enjoy their homes. Or getting the most bang for their buck. But in construction a lot of that goes on behind the scenes. So here is how I would argue a good contractor stays up to date on new ideas. At least this is how honey does it. As a bonus you’ll get a few recommendations and a few to stay away from. But that’s specific to our climate in Nova Scotia on the coastline.

new ideas cover

New Products: Mostly we get introduced to new products by having a great relationship with our building supply people. In just the regular way like we’re friendly and chatty and all that but also they know we’re excited to try new things even if they are more expensive. If it’s better we’ll learn to use it, do the research and pass that on to our customers. Also we have a pretty decent track record of actually getting them to agree to new ideas. We also know the pros and cons and cost comparisons of old and new products off hand and up keep costs over time. Finally we ask a lot about trends where are people on white vs black railing for example.

So what are we looking at now? Well we really recommend powder coated aluminum railings for decks, we love the modular system made by regal and we’re noticing that black is quickly replacing white and looks great once installed. Lately we’ve been recommending that wharfs get a 42 inch railing just like a deck for safety instead of a toe rail. Next to salt water we like to use white since it’s more nautical and doesn’t show salt stains. We won’t build you a ramp to your float anymore without a handrail for the same reasons even though it’s not in the code. But 4×4’s and jute rope are a cost effective and safe alternative. On decks consider black, it really pops and doesn’t show dead bugs, ewww! And though the system is more expensive you do save on labour compared to pressure treated railings. By they way, consider the newer pressure treated wood that is brown and not green for a more cedar-like look. Right now there is a trend to using black trim, facia and soffit which we will caution you about for three reasons. One you’re window surround is still likely to be white so that might mess up your look. Black is a special order which adds a lot to a new build vs standard sized windows. Two, black attracts heat and fades the paint on the facia over time, we’re not totally convinced that black vinyl won’t crack over time either. Finally three, this might be just that, a passing trend that might make you’re house look dated fast in a few years. In fact, if you want it we’ll send you to a particular subdivision that’s going this way, before we install it.

We’re excited to try out the new 2 part expanding epoxy product on our next fence project. It’s lighter, faster and sets in seconds meaning no down time for concrete to set which can take a long time in soggy holes. No trucking costs on a big project for concrete delivery infuse even for a big project I could deliver it on my bike. In fact we’ll eat the slight cost increase on a go forward basis because it turns a fence from a 2 day to potentially a 1/2 day or worst case one day project.

Composite decking was not something we recommend in the past. That was because the finish was too smooth and slippery when wet, dewy or even if your shoes or feet were just wet. Plus the finish was too all one colour and it looked fake and it was expensive and scratched easily, decks are supposed to be rugged. We all occasionally drag a heavy bag of garbage across them. If a wood deck got scratched or really stained sanding it was always an option. But… manufacturers are coming out with solid, wood looking and finished products that aren’t so slippery and could be sanded carefully to camouflage damage but the price went way, way up. Now there are hollow core products bringing the price down but it’s still pretty astronomical and it’s largely untested. There are clips between the boards so no screws, edge filling strips and special screws. We don’t really have an idea of how it will wear yet or how expensive it is to lay. So we just installed it at out house this week! We have the philosophy that ‘a house is for living in,’ and we can be tough on stuff so we’ll know within six months how it will wear at your house. Tool crates will be dropped in it and eventually dragged. By the way it’s about three times as time intensive to lay than the manufacturer claims so if you go with us the invoice will match the bill in the end which is something that wouldn’t have been true if we didn’t try it first. By the way even this stuff is about three to four times more expensive then pressure treated, the solid stuff is about 7 times more. The joke around our house this week is that were were half done before we realized we couldn’t afford it. It’s going to have to stay looking the same and preform better than pressure treated in terms of staining, durability, longevity, snow melting (dark colours), shovelling and looks before we can recommend it. It it preforms the way they say we’d like to start using it on docks and particularly floats which would essentially make their life span indeffinate.

New deck shot from an RC drone. Using hollow core decking and black regal rail. Check out how to make concrete planters like these here. PS That is a three tab roof and it’s only 8.5 years old. It sustained some damage over the winter.

New Building Methods: Just like a doctor or accountant, well maybe not just like, we keep learning. For example we have two people who took a two day manufactures course about building homes using the next generation of ICF (insulated concrete forms). Since its such a new product the building inspectors aren’t up to date. By having people with official FOX Blocks certification we are legally allowed to make decisions about how to install them to the inspector because now we are a recognized official installer. Also we make sure to read and know the updated to the building code every single year.

Now onto building codes, they are there for a reason to protect you from actual harm and us from you suing us. We agree that 42′ railings seem too tall on your deck and 36′ is code on your stairs inside. But it’s code, we don’t get to know why a particular piece of code is the way it is but we suspect that people are more likely to be intoxicated and act stupid on decks. We will not, ever hide an electrical junction in a wall because it’s ugly, you have two choices trace it back to the panel or live with the a junction box. If we find one, which we do, it comes up to code or we’re done. We won’t instal domestic wiring on the surface of your commercial building because the last guy did. But we will crawl underneath it with 11 inches of space to get closer to that old time look you’re going for.

That’s not to say we never ever make exceptions, but it’s rare and not for actual safety concerns. The last one I can think of was replacing plumbing that ran totally exposed under a building even in winter. But that was to get a shop up and running in 6 days. But we already know we’ll be back in the fall once the season is over to jack, insulate and level the whole building and as of right now the plan is to gut it so yeah that will do you until October. Before that I can’t honestly remember.

New Ideas: Sometimes is something hasn’t worked for you in the past, or you can’t have what you want according to building code we have to get creative and find a work around. That means by definition a new building method. For example virtually all wharfs are built using cribs set into the water and most often filled. Two years ago a customer lost his second wharf and crib due to ice. He RELLY wanted a wharf and crib put back right away and we refused. So he went a season with our a wharf or his boat in the water. All that year Richard would occasionally mutter, “cantilever I-beams at XXXX’s I think,” and I could tell the wheels were turning. Over the winter many calculations were made, 40 foot beams were sourced and a plan was made. And we did it, we built the first I-beam cantilever wharf that we know of. Nothing is in the water even at a high spring surge tide and ice it no longer an issue. Over the winter a pice of ice the neighbour swears way an 1/8th of a mile long went through the cove and took out two neighbouring wharfs. Had we caved to pressure that customer would have lost his brand new $20 000 wharf the very first winer. On a very related note, since completing it we recently signed up to build two wharfs with the same design, in the very same cove!

wharf ideas

Sometimes we are just fed up with the old way of doing things for selfish reasons. Ramps to floats are often heavy and over built and we’re sick and tiered of having 5 guys to put them in. All of who end up sore and tiered and occasionally injured. So we designed an aluminum system with an integrated hand rail and removable deck boards that can be built in our driveway and if you wanted delivered on the roof of an SUV. One guy can put them in but two is nice if there is a breeze. That means honey and I can hook them up and we can delay taking on two extra guys for 6 weeks we might not have the weather  to keep busy yet.

What we Won’t do or Install: I already mentioned we won’t break building codes mostly for safety and because it’s illegal. If you are required to get a building permit for a job, you get one. If something goes wrong down the road we’re protected by the inspections, you know we’re doing it right and your insurance company will actually cover it. We tend to recommend no or low maintenance products over fancy ones generally but you could push that to the point we won’t touch it. I don’t think we would put in a deck made of pine or spruce that needed constant painting unless you only want it temporarily for some reason. But there are certain things that meet building codes we won’t do too.

We won’t put old 3-tab shingles on the roof of your house anymore but maybe on your shed or barn even though it’s code. We won’t put tar paper on your roof because they are meant to last a long time. Now we use Nova Seal exclusively which was designed to withstand the hurricanes in Miami-Dade county and with the weather changing they way it is here it’s no place to cut corners. We won’t instal something with just caulking, in fact we try to limit the use of it entirely for looks and longevity. When it comes to tile, a specialty of Richard’s, it’s his way or no way. We won’t fix a hot water heater older then 5 years unless it’s in unfinished space. They should never see their 9th birthday. No to skipping railings because you want an open feel. We will not build a house without wood sheeting because a hockey puck and go clean through, you can break in with a utility knife and it’s impossible to keep wildlife out if they want in. We won’t fix something that’s a clear safety concern or is doomed to fail even if it meets code. We won’t put our people at risk for anything at all!

Now on to products we won’t use. No Hardiplank around here, a brand of concrete siding. The joints separated and it chips and flakes, concrete and salt are not a good combination unless it’s 5000 psi. We won’t put galvanized chain on your mooring since the only stuff we can get is from China and but for a tide change we almost lost a $40 000 float. Instead we use schedule 80 from Norway but were now learning more about epoxy coated wire which seems awesome. We won’t work on a mooring that we haven’t inspected. For the most part no to concrete driveways as the freeze first, stay that way and you can’t use salt on them. Btw we tested that here first in strips in ours and a few years later an excavator came to take it out. No to skylights before a certain slope well above the the building code and manufacturer recommendations and nothing but Velux.

So why do I share this because if someone is willing to do something or instal something another contractor won’t do you should probably not do it, or maybe even hire them. There is reason others won’t and that person might lack experience or not care how it lasts as long as long as the cheque clears in 30 days or the warranty period expires in a year. If you can only find one that will do what you want done, run don’t walk. It happens pretty often that we go to quote a job or a regular customer has their mind set on a particular idea or product and we say no, we won’t put that on or try to go it without a permit and they find someone else to do it. That’s fine, nothing personal. But… it also happens pretty often that we get the call back to come fix it, replace it or the homeowner is unhappy with the outcome. Try, try, try not to be so set on an idea or product to the point that you won’t listen to ideas or alternatives.

If you’re into this genre of blog posts check back for a subsequent post on construction industry myths and check out this post on how to stay to a construction budget.

Do you agree or disagree with all of this, some of this? How do you stay up to date on new things in the construction industry? 



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