Sunday, June 26, 2011

5 Keys to a Successful Home Renovation

hard hat 300x199 5 Keys to a Successful Home Renovation
Home renovation can be a stressful undertaking. It is wise to deliberate carefully about renovations. All disputes over the renovation plan must be settled before the work begins or you are just postponing an inevitable (and probably heated) argument. Everyone in the family should have a voice in this undertaking, as it truly is a family affair.
The following list could have had three, eight or even 20 entries, but if you stick with the basics and exercise self-control, the following five keys can help guide you to, and through, a successful home renovation.
1. Good relationships mean good business – A home renovation will be a lot less stressful if you have a solid, trusting relationship with your contractor. Trust doesn’t arise between people instantly, but there are ways to speed the process, such as “third-party trust,” meaning referrals. If you don’t already know and respect a builder in your area, ask the people you trust about the contractors that they trust. Get referrals, and interview the prospects to get at least somewhat of a “feel” for them. Get referrals, check credentials, trust your instincts – and call references. Nothing builds trust in a contractor like good, positive reports from previous customers.
2. Accurate budgets are crucial – You need to understand how to budget for the job, and what is really involved, financially, in your home renovation. The better understanding you have of your budget, and the more accurate the estimates you include, the less likely your job will exceed your expectations. Although your contractor can supply some good information here, you should maintain authority over the budget yourself and not give anyone – not your spouse, your family as a whole or the contractor – the “keys to your wallet.” Do your homework, and follow the budget.
3. Home renovation is messy – Prior to the start of actual construction, remove all valuables and breakables from the affected areas. Unless the garage is part of the plan, you might consider storing items there. If the whole house is involved, think about renting a storage unit. While this will cause some short-term dislocation and require some sweat from the family’s brows (or more paid help), renovations are inevitably messy and accidents will happen. Take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of your valuables, fine furniture, Persian rugs and other possessions.
4. Stick to the payment plan – One easy way to ruin your relationship with your contractor, and slow down or terminate your renovation project, is to deviate from your payment plan. If you are developing a timetable for the contractor’s work, you should also prepare, and adhere to, a timetable for the payments. You should be proactive in this matter, and never allow communication to deteriorate to the point where the contractor has to ask for money. Plan out every detail and every dollar, and follow the plan.
5. Extras: There’s always something – When developing your renovation budget, leave some room for the unanticipated extras that inevitably come up in the course of a home renovation. In addition, once you start renovating, you may think of other improvements or changes you wish to make. This means building some flexibility into the financing, as well as the project plan and the timetable. Strike a balance between firmness and flexibility so that you don’t go off on a tangent and lose control of the cost or the schedule.
Like most big undertakings, a home renovation can be somewhat scary. Don’t hesitate to speak with friends, relatives, coworkers or neighbors who have been through the same thing. Investigate all concerns – listen carefully, take notes and don’t leave any question unanswered before finalizing your plan and your budget. Don’t be in a hurry, don’t make assumptions and, above all, do not waver in your determination to see the project through to a successful conclusion

Friday, June 24, 2011

Furnace Duct Cleaning

People who choose to have their heating ducts cleaned tend to do so because their children or other family members are suffering from breathing problems. Air and furnace ducts, when uncleaned, breed mold and mildew and lead to poor air quality. Furnace duct cleaning will also improve the efficiency of your furnace.
Duct cleaning requires not only of the ducts themselves, but of the entire furnace system: the blower, heat exchangers, cooling coils, and condensate pan. When these parts are clean, air flows efficiently through the entire system.
If you or someone in your household is experiencing health problems, and you suspect your furnace air ducts might be the problem, call a duct cleaning company. They can inspect your furnace ducts, and will most likely use robotic video equipment to show you how dirty the ducts actually are. If the video surveillance reveals mold anywhere in the duct system, it’s time to clean your furnace ducts.
Dust and mold can appear to be similar on a scan of the ducts. If the furnace cleaning professionals are unsure, touch a piece of tape to the inside of a furnace duct, and have a lab analyze it for you.
Methods of Cleaning Furnace Ducts
There are several ways to clean furnace ducts. One way is to use an extremely powerful vacuum, which remains in a truck outside. A long hose runs to the furnace area and attaches to the furnace ducts. From the rooms, mechanical brushes, air jet brushes or air snakes pull the dust loose within the furnace ducts.
Another way to clean furnace ducts is with a smaller vacuum unit located inside your house, in the vicinity of the furnace. This vacuum should contain a HEPA exhaust filter to ensure that the dust from the furnace ducts does not fill the air in the room.
A third way of cleaning furnace ducts is to run a rotating brush that is attached to a vacuum nozzle through the furnace ducts.
When selecting methods and services for your furnace duct cleaning, look for quality over cost. A poor quality furnace cleaning job can leave you worse off than before, as it can pull the dust off the furnace duct walls without sucking it all in.
Remember, furnace duct cleaning costs money, so before you sign a service contract, ensure that the company has given you sufficient visual evidence that furnace duct cleaning is necessary. Also, make sure your furnace duct cleaning provider can explain to you in detail how he/she will clean the entire system, not just the ducts. If one component of the system is left uncleaned, it may recontaminate the entire system, defeating the purpose of having put out the cash for the cleaning in the first place. Ask that your furnace duct cleaning provider give you a full duct-length visual inspection after the cleaning is complete, preferably with a camera inside the ducts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

OSHA Announces Three Month Phase-In for Residential Construction Fall Protection

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today announced a three month phase-in period to allow residential construction employers to come into compliance with the agency's new directive to provide residential construction workers with fall protection.

The three month phase-in period runs June 16 - September 15, 2011. During this time, if the employer is in full compliance with the old directive (STD 03-00-001), OSHA will not issue citations, but will instead issue a hazard alert letter informing the employer of the feasible methods they can use to comply with OSHA's fall protection standard or implement a written fall protection plan. If the employer's practices do not meet the requirements set in the old directive, OSHA will issue appropriate citations.

If an employer fails to implement the fall protection measures outlined in a hazard alert letter, and during a subsequent inspection of one of the employer's workplaces OSHA finds violations involving the same hazards, the Area Office shall issue appropriate citations.

The new directive, Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction (STD 03-11-002), a detailed description of the phase-in policy, a presentation and other guidance materials about requirements for protecting workers from falls are available at

A Safety and Health Topics Web page, which provides a list of references to help employers identify fall hazards and possible solutions for eliminating such hazards, is available at

OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. For more information, visit

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to assure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Using this sales goal template, College City Design-Build’s salespeople build their own year by projecting reachable targets and charting progress. The individual sales plan takes into consideration the salesperson’s capacity, ambition, and desire for income, so the template drives results, says Bjorn Freudenthal, the Lakeville, Minn., company’s vice president of marketing and sales.
Each salesperson is given the same template with a different number of bids, leads, and project types. The template is divided up by month, quarter, and by number of projects and type of project.
Although goals are set at the beginning of every year, Freudenthal meets with each salesperson every two weeks to review leads, bids, and jobs sold and to review sales goals and year-to-date results.
Freudenthal, who developed the template with a local supplier, Charlie Bradburn, the sales manager at Automated Building Components’ millworks division, says it allows salespeople to be more strategic about their performance, which “leads to company buy-in ... . We have people who [see] themselves as owners and manage this form as an owner would ... a P&L.”

Small Bites
The budgeted sales for this individual are $1.3 million. For the first quarter, $325,000 is his sales goal. As of January he had reached $215,000, but he still had February and March to hit the $325,000 mark. He was just 33.8% behind his quarterly goal.
Sales Strategy
Some salespeople lean toward certain types of projects and have an easier time selling those. “But if you say that you want to sell more kitchens,” Freudenthal asks his sales team, “What actions are you taking to do so? Taking workshops, going after prospects, striking up relationships with showroom reps?” This is a way for salespeople to look at their own sales more strategically.
Freudenthal and each sales rep review the document to see if the salesperson is on track and if activity goals and volumes are on target. “If we’re not,” Freudenthal says, “we ask why and [look at] what obstacles are in the way and how can we get to the desired results.”
Make Your Margins
This is your company’s average closed margin, which you put in. After the contract is executed and the project is built, that closing margin is tracked, and that’s the number on the sales template for a particular salesperson. The goal is to have the closing margin be the same as (or better than) the pre-construction margin.
Which Path?
“D/B” is for those design/ build jobs that follow College City Design-Build’s 12-step system. (Small jobs have a lead designer and don’t follow the D/B process.) These numbers are used for tracking.
Suggested Follow-Up
These cover goals and objectives and how best to attain them.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Move Me

From New Jersey to Florida, Michigan to California and Seattle, remodelers describe their clients the same way: hesitant, indefinite, vague. They have no sense of urgency. They are Internet savvy, researching more, and know their product prices. They want as much remodeling as they can get for as little money as they can spend — and they are going to interview 27 competitors to get it. How are remodeling companies changing their sales processes to reach these new consumers, meet their shifting expectations, and get them to say yes?
A few years ago, many remodelers had gotten off the job-bidding wheel. Now they’re back on it. “There is a lot more competition, and the economy has forced people to do things they would not have done before,” says Dave Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training, in Owings Mills, Md. “It’s last man standing: ‘I’m going to price things insanely low to keep my guys working. You’ll go out of business before I do and I’ll eventually make it up.’ It’s insane, but it makes sense when you’re emotionally involved in the process.”
To combat this competitive attitude, you have to be better organized and have repeatable processes. Bill Tanasse, owner of Key Builders, in Lansing, Mich., has spent the last several months investing time in his sales strategy and working on his sales process. “Clients know there is value to be gained out there, and you have to be sharper. At every juncture, I present myself as a professional. Every process has to be crisp.”

While competing on price can be a death spiral, the distance between price and value has narrowed. “They are attached at the hip,” says Karen Zieba of Zieba Builders, in Long Beach, Calif., who has always “tried to sell value and not cost” to her mostly high-end clientele. Now, she says, “We have to offer good cost in order to get anyone to believe they’re getting value. They need to see they are getting Zieba Builders for what they were going to pay some ‘one-off guy.’”

Strategy Shift

Selling value in this economy might mean changing your marketing strategy and showing clients that you’re willing to work with them in new ways and that you are knowledgeable about products.
While most remodelers are now willing to take on smaller jobs, many companies that never made the margins on those types of jobs are having difficulty marketing their talents. “I don’t want to change my image in the marketplace,” says Sunny Zimmermann, owner of Zimmermann Associates, in Lakeland, Fla., who knows that the perception of his business is that it’s expensive. For Zieba, too, positioning her company is proving to be challenging. As Zieba Builders takes on smaller jobs, she sees her client base shifting from sophisticated consumers for whom quality always trumped price — “They didn’t care what it cost if they got what they wanted,” she says — to more middle-class clients “[who] don’t need the fancy stuff or the extreme appliance package with some obscure product from Istanbul.”
Zieba is targeting different neighborhoods and is sending out small batches of brochures created in-house. She’s trying to position the company as “someone you can trust; your neighborhood contractor; a member of the community; and family-centric.” She is also leading with offers of discounts on cabinetry — something the company hadn’t done before.
It’s a fine line to walk, since marketing materials can be costly. And what happens when the recession subsides? Which clients do you pursue? Which image do you maintain? “We’re at a crossroads,” Zieba says. “What will the economy do for us? There may be more money, but there’s a lot more risk in a premium market.” And she enjoys working with the more midlevel clientele and would like to be able to maintain that market base in the future.
Glen Lumia, president of Creative Design Construction & Remodeling, in Northvale, N.J., has expanded his geographic radius and increased his warranty to five years. He has increased spending on marketing and is doing both “old and new things”: direct mail, door hangers, client parties, educational seminars, donating design services to schools, appearing on radio shows, doing more home shows. He has changed his “package” price, the creature comforts that were built into his base bids. “We’ve peeled back standard features,” he says. “For example, a standard kitchen package includes a double garbage roll-out, lazy Susan, roll trays, tilt blanks at the sinks, three-step crown, undercabinet lighting.” Now, Lumia allows clients at a “challenging price point” to pick items à la carte. Although it’s more difficult to make margins, it brings down the base bid, and clients can always add on.
Lumia is also more open to allowing clients to supply their own materials, such as appliances and tile, but draws the line on plumbing fixtures since the company warranties them. Tanasse doesn’t normally allow clients to do part of their job, but recently finished a project through drywall and, for a consulting fee, is “helping to steer [the clients] in the right direction as they finish it.”
Zieba says that her clients aren’t asking to do parts of their projects, but she does find that she is working harder to seek out products and materials at lower prices for them. She has even found herself abandoning some of her usual vendors. “I recently bought [a shower door] from a new vendor because I almost felt I was being cheated [by the old vendor],” she says.
The Internet has made everyone a crackerjack researcher. “You have to be knowledgeable of the marketplace and keep up to date with the newest products and their costs,” says Tom Barber, owner of Barber Construction, in Roscommon, Mich. “But you have to do a lot of educating. [Clients] go online but they’re skimming things. They don’t have the details to make a good decision. You have to help them make a good decision.”

Overcoming Inertia

Ultimately, any sales process must combat the inertia that is gripping nearly all consumers. “The biggest challenge for [remodelers] is to create urgency,” Zieba says. And there are good reasons for homeowners to invest in their homes.
“I emphasize that commodity prices are low. There is real value to be gained right now in the industry — labor prices and material prices are at record lows,” Tanasse says. “You couldn’t pick a better time to do this project.”
Individual remodelers need to work on telling their story. “We got caught in our comfort zone. We became successful and the economy made us successful. Now we have to go back to the things we used to do to survive and thrive earlier on,” Mattson says. “Just saying, ‘The value of my workmanship sells,’ doesn’t work anymore. Thinking, ‘I don’t have to do all that stuff I learned at [sales training]’ doesn’t work anymore. Sometimes you have to go backward to move forward.”