Construction Secrets: Industry Myths

There are a lot of construction industry myths out there some hurt your construction professional and some hurt the homeowner. Some just lead to misunderstandings and friction when one person is expecting one thing and someone else is expecting another. Most of these are outright myths others are common misunderstandings. Where these come from is unclear, others come from home improvement shows. But have a read before you take on your next project.


If you pay cash you have no recourse

If you’re paying cash you have no recourse right, wrong! For a variety of reasons, some contractors will offer you a better deal. Now there are a variety of reasons this might be the case. Commonly it’s to avoid both of you paying tax which isn’t exactly legal but… There are other reasons too, just as many as there are different businesses. It could be because part of the crew or the subs like to be paid that way, they might owe money and their account is in the red, they might have a vacation planned, want some off the books done elsewhere or it’s just a plain old discount.

If you pay cash you are still entitled to a receipt and you might have even signed a contract to go with it. That’s the same as any other receipt you get. You can still file a lawsuit, serve them to appear in small claims court or go after them or the business in all of the normal ways. If someone has screwed you over and you paid cash it’s not a lost cause. In fact there is no real advantage to paying in a more traceable way. If you pay with a cheque, e-transfer or credit card (that could be an exception) your bank isn’t going to reverse the transfer because you said so. Even if they will the chances that the money is there is slim. If you ask your bank to reverse a transaction for completed work you’re not happy with they’ll tell you to take other legal action, and they will ask you why. If the guy took a deposit and never showed up, basically scamming you that money is already gone anyway and they probably don’t care if it messes up their bank account. However you pay, get a receipt, take a picture of the guy at your house holding a hammer (and of the work throughout) in case you need it.

If he has time to start right away that’s bad

It’s true you have to wait for the good ones from time to time, We’ve made people wait a year sometimes even on purpose. Ice took his wharf and we weren’t prepared to put the same thing back. But we’ve also been on site 5 minutes after getting a call from someone new to repair a pump at 7:30 pm during busy season. It wasn’t even an emergency or all that urgent. It also doesn’t really mean much if it’s a small emergency job or a full house build.

If we get a call from an existing customer we try to get there as soon as possible and it’s based on people’s needs. We pushed to get some property maintenance that had been pushed off, (not by us) for years recently because their parents were coming for a visit. I’m going to level with you, if we get a call from a new customer who looks like they could be a big customer were going to push as hard as we can to get in there, make a good impression and get as much of that work as possible.

But there are a tonne of other reasons we might want to start right away. Your job might be a high profit job for any number of reasons. Your powder room remodel using the existing fixtures might be high profit since we probably even have a box or two of tiles that you’ll love, mortar and almost everything we need already so we really want it. We might have two guys that need a break from each other, or aren’t really that busy now and you’re job is perfect for that. Someone’s vacation plans might have fallen through at the last minute and they want work for the week. We might know the building supply store is offloading excess shingles or those with damaged packaging in the colour you want for cheap.

It could be prefect weather for this week for an inside job and we’ve only got outside work booked. We might want to take a break for a couple of days where we are or concrete is curing. A company here actually laid their crew off in July this year when the homeowner’s financing for the home build fell through at the last minute, so I’m betting he’s saying yes to work. You just might be a great low maintenance client that pays on time and we want to keep you happy. Alternatively we might be shut down on another waiting for payment and a little desperate for a quick job.

This year a new person called after 7 pm from 4 doors down and said the pump in a vacant house was shot. We had energy left so we left right then and got it done. Just because your contractor can come right away doesn’t always mean it’s sketchy, if your curious just ask why they have the time right now. In February everyone is looking for work. We’ve also taken jobs right away because we’ve kept someone else waiting so long they found someone else.

Holdbacks and how they work

Holdbacks so irritating, yet so misunderstood. Keeping a holdback is totally your legal right, up to 10% for thirty days after work is completed. This usually does not always mean that you can keep 10% of the whole job cost for 30 days after its completed. The idea is that you have 30 days to see if something is going to go wrong, but then you are obliged to pay us if you’re happy or the work is completed properly. That usually means 10% of any outstanding payments.

Say you decided to re-side your house for $30 000. Say you agreed to a $10 000 deposit at the start, $10 00 more at the halfway point and $10 000 at the end and the job took a month to complete. At the end of the month you can holdback 10% of the final payment ($1000) and if you really want to be a jerk 5% of the middle payment ($500) for a total of $1500 and that final payment has to be at least $8500. If you had concerns at the halfway point you should have voiced them then and did a holdback. Chances are a court would in fact make you pay that $500 and not allow the holdback, since you didn’t keep it at the time. By paying that in full at the halfway point you pretty much agreed that the work was progressing fine. Now 15 days after the job was completed you owe your contractor that $500 and 15 days after that the last $1000. You can not hold back 10% of the entire job for 30 days making that last payment $7000. Chances are though rather than get into it with you, your contractor will just wait and won’t show up to your house ever again. If your contractor gets sketchy vibes from you or that holdback is a lot of money then they can file a lien on you during that 30 days while he waits for the last 10%, those are the rules (usually). In some jurisdictions he can also charge interest on the holdback.

Now if you want to do a bigger holdback you’ll need a contract to do that otherwise standard rules apply. If you know you’ll be doing holdbacks for what ever reason tell them in advance it saves a lot of trouble and bad feelings. One customer arranges work for a family member that has his funds in a trust. The lawyers always do a 10% of total holdback because well they’re lawyers. It would have been nice to know that before hand on the first job but… no big deal now that we know. PS when we work at her house no holdbacks, so we understand its nothing personal. If you’re happy with the work just pay at the end, save potential interest and keep relations happy.

A contractor should stay on site from start to finish

Nothing could be further from the truth and you probably don’t want that anyway. A contractor usually bills himself out at a minimum of $45 an hour often a lot more. If there are 2 days where rocks just have to be moved or drywall hung you don’t need to pay that rate. A minimum wage labourer or low hanging fruit on the pay ladder can do it for you for less. Demanding that he’s there all the time only adds to your bill.

Also a construction company can be a lot to manage it might be multiple crews or jobs on the go. It’s their business after all and it’s up to them how they manage it. There are a lot of reasons and scenarios your contractor might be elsewhere and it’s not just shopping for your job. There could be a sewer backup at another customer’s house. But if it happens to you we’ll drop everything and be at your house too. If you’re forcing people to do work in bad weather you’re just paying more for work to progress slower. It’s also possible that we just need a break for a day or two at home or on another job because your’s is starting to get to us. At that point quality can suffer and a few days away can avoid that.

Anything will last forever

Literally no part of your house will last forever, none. We all know the roof has to be redone and the windows at some point but really, no part will last forever. Did you know that your insulation settles in 20 years, vinyl windows become dry, brittle and crack over time and even your plumbing has a lifespan. Plus new technologies are safer and more desirable over time. Copper overtook knob and tube electrical, drywall replaced plaster and pex has advantages over copper pipes. Don’t buy the line that this will last forever, a long time but not forever. Of course abuse or damage can dramatically shorten the lifespan of a material even if it was supposed to last forever.

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warranty covers everything

It might not cover a whole lot at the end of the day. Officially our warranty covers defects in workmanship and installation for one year. But if it’s our snafu well likely come back for longer and replace the materials too. If we recommended a product that turns out to not last the way it should have we’ll work with you on that one too even though we don’t have to. But is doesn’t cover acts of god like hurricanes, ice, snow load or flooding. It also doesn’t cover abuse like scratches, freezing temperatures or tenant damage.

Certain things can’t really be warranted like wharfs, floats, seawalls, driveways, septics and lawns. Any work that the homeowner directs us to do against our recommendations isn’t warranted at all. If the material it’s self is defective that’s on the manufacturer including any new installation. If someone comes along after us and messes it up that’s for them to deal with not us.

Now that doesn’t mean you’re on your own is something goes sideways. We usually take your bad luck into account and help you out when we can. We’ve called in at cost favours for customers who’s septics fail in record time (even if they used powdered soap), dove the same mooring so many times we applied the cost to the new one, replaced tiles that you dropped a soup pot or knife on for free and lots of other things. In this case we had a hard time tracking down a window leak below a kitchen we didn’t install. The customer was an industrious lady who did what she could herself but found herself overwhelmed with not a lot of budget on a few things. After ripping it out and finding the window was installed properly we started tearing the wall apart. Then we found the gas company did this.

Gas company installed line through main kitchen drain.

Whoever did this saw the black plastic coming out of the hole they were drilling. Even though she was never going to be a big or constant customer we made arrangements for the gas company to come out and agree to cover the costs for us to fix it. Then we included the few other items she needed done on her list in the cost. No one should have to deal with workmanship like this.

There is a right way to do things

There is but… There isn’t usually only one. Watching home improvement shows can give you the idea that there is only one way to do things and everything else is wrong. Well that’s not true as long as it meets code it’s technically fine. That being said certain things we see get done are just plain wrong! Just this month we helped a customer with the venting that was an issue in his whole house. As we expected the vents ran to nowhere and were just loose hoses in the attic, which was the case. So that’s why your sunroom has bathroom smells. That was just wrong but we also found one where the last guy TAPED the bag the vent came in over the end in the attic. Presumably so insulation wouldn’t blow back.

We might say we won’t install something or we would have done it differently. It’s not uncommon for people to ice and water the whole roof as it’s a second barrier over the whole thing. This isn’t a bad practice it’s just not ours when it’s not necessary.. We don’t do that because it’s really expensive but also because it’s murder for the next guy and it shows in your next roof bill. I think tar paper would still meet the code here but we’ve switched to a full barrier of Nova Seal with ice and water on the edges. It’s approved in Miami-Dade County for hurricane proof construction. It’s cheaper, a snap to take off but it re-seals it’s self should it ever get wet, tar paper doesn’t. Plus poking thousands of holes in ice and water really limits it’s effectiveness but the same is not true for Nova Seal. In fact if you want tar paper we won’t do it.

What I’m getting at here is that there is more that one way to skin a cat in construction too. Even if we won’t do something at all, doesn’t make it wrong. Your contractor does things his way based on his experience at other houses like yours in your area. Trust him!

Contracts are set in stone

I’m not sure of any time we did exactly nothing more or less, usually more. Usually on the very first day the homeowner has a list of extras that they usually want included. Sometimes we can do that in the scope of the quote and not charge extra for other side projects but there is a limit. Lots of contractors outright refuse to do any work beyond the contract which I sort of understand or deal with constant change orders. From our perspective you’re trying to get us to do things for free. At the very least you’re eating away at our profit and another word for profit is grocery money. Basically it’s a little unreasonable to expect that you will end up following the contract to the letter for the duration of the project. And you should assume ‘extras’ will cost extra. It would be like if your boss asked you to start staying to 7 instead of 5 but was also going to decrease your salary.

One Trade is more important than others

There is this idea that some trades are more important than others but that doesn’t really hold water. In general electricians tend to get the respect they deserve but say plumbers and painters don’t. Yes if electrical isn’t done properly that can cause a fire, but so can roofing like the one at my old work. Trades work together to assemble parts of the whole and they are all important. If the roof leaks it’s all ruined, poor insulation can cost thousands extra each year and lead to mold issues. If plumbing is incorrect then all other stuff gets ruined too. Systems like HVAC and heating make a home livable and if are done wrong can make you sick. Plus you have to rip the whole house apart to fix it. I’ve even seen paint so bad the drywall had to be replaced. My sister bought a house where in some rooms the paint is peeling of the walls down to bare drywall. Our expert said that the likely case is it was not dusted after sanding but others have suggested either the paint or house was at freezing temperatures soon after it was applied.

Even within the crew everyone’s job is critical. Right from the contractor or foreman all the way down to the labourer who does the grunt work you need all of those cogs and don’t want anyone to make a mistake. Plus construction still is a dangerous field so one mistake could cost someone their life. On a site there is a lot of grunt work to be done, cleaning up, carrying things from place to place and the like. Remember that if the minimum wage labourers weren’t there your labour bill has the potential to be four times high for that work. Everyone is critical and deserves to be treated with respect.

Your contractor holds all the power and doesn’t get screwed over

There are horror stories regarding how people treat each other on both sides of the construction industry. Stories abound of homeowners paying too much for sub-par work or giving deposits for work that never gets started. But since it can be such a high stakes industry everyone from the top to the bottom can wind up with the short straw. This winter we got the lesson on that one in a big way. Just because someone seems to be spending in a big way doesn’t mean you should keep things going and wait. Working for someone else is no better either one of our old and now new again employees is out $3000 from the last guy he worked for. Another company in our little town booked two months off for a whole home build only to find out the guy never got the financing for it so he had to lay off his entire crew in busy season.

We’ve had to chase many, many people for bills. It is absolutely shocking how often cheques seem to get lost in the mail around here, in fact if you insist on mailing it I assume it’s going to get lost at least once. Sometimes its shocking just who doesn’t seem to want to pay their bills, particularly the last one after the job is done. Sadly if you’re the business owner or even a subcontractor you have some recourse in the form of a lien but if you’re just a worker on a crew there is literally nothing you can do. Most often we get paid for the last job if we’re owed when they want the next one done. Our only recourse is to file a lien against your property which means we won’t get paid until you sell or die. Because of legal fees, lost work time and the like the cost to us for filing one is about $4000. So it has to be a big bill to make it worth it.

What myths here have you heard before? Have any first hand experience with this?


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