Finding a Contractor

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Need a new roof? How ’bout a bathroom remodel? What about getting some additional electrical outlets in that 1965 split-level?

You are looking for a contractor, aren’t you?

I just recently heard a Facebook tale of woe from a friend who had hired an electrician to do some work at her house. Upon completion, the work didn’t pass inspection, AND the electrician in question was reluctant to admit that there was a problem, AND he had a ‘smart’ attitude, too. Does this sound familiar? Very few of us have escaped this sort of encounter.

Angie’s List just had a useful article on hiring a contractor. I receive a print copy of the bi-monthly magazine and here are a few tips I found there, plus a couple of my own:

  1. Talk to friends and neighbors who have had similar work done. You can add or subtract potential contractors on your interview list just by finding out about other people’s experiences. Caveat #1: some people are negative in general, and will find fault with most any workers who come near. Is your consultant in this category? Caveat #2: Every contractor, even the best, has one job that just didn’t go well from the very beginning. You can’t make a judgment call based on only one customer’s opinion. Remember this when you read online reviews, too; frequently, only people who have a gripe bother to leave a review. Conversely, the business might have found a way to front-load the reviews with artificially positive comments.
  2. Ask if the business has ever done business under a different name. DBAs (doing business as) are easy to get, and if the business has a lot of DBAs in its past, it might mean the business has something to hide and is trying not to leave a trail.
  3. If the contractor you are interviewing is in a field that can be licensed, such as plumber or electrician, the contractor will gladly give you the license number. If you run into resistance at this point, best run the other way or do a lot more homework, either because the person is not licensed, or because the person has let the license lapse, or it has been revoked.
  4. Ask the contractor for contact information. You want a street address of some sort, because if the person is operating without a permanent address, it is too easy for them to disappear when there is a problem with the work down the line.
  5. Ask for a copy of the insurance policies that will cover workers’ compensation AND damage to your property. Make sure the policy looks adequate to cover whatever disaster happens- you don’t want to be the one liable for injury to the crew!
  6. Make sure the contractor specializes in the type of work you want done. For most jobs, you want someone who does that work all the time, not just every once in awhile when business is slow otherwise.
  7. Ask yourself how the contractor makes you feel when you are discussing all these points. If the person is reluctant, or glosses over answers, or denigrates you for asking the questions, 1) the person isn’t going to get easier to work with than when he/she is trying to impress a new customer and 2) the person probably has something to hide, or feels insecure about the number of complaints she/he has received in the past. Remember what your mom told you about ‘not making excuses’? Yeah, that. You don’t want to hear a bunch of excuses from a person your are considering hiring.

have had terrible experiences with remodelers and other contractors and I have had wonderful experiences over and over again with other home maintenance and remodeling contractors. I can tell you that the previous suggestions are worth following.

I have one picky, perfectionist friend I rely on for great recommendations over and over again. I figure that if Stephanie is happy, then I will be, too. Who is your trusted picky-person?

 

Undercover Detective

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Quick- what is this person doing?

If you said, “looking for where the main sewer pipe exits the house to go out to the street”, you’d be right! Ding, ding, ding…

Why do we care about a sewer pipe we can’t even see? Because old sewer pipes can rust from the inside out, develop cracks and leaks, and allow tree roots to invade and clog up the system.

How do you know this has happened? When your sewer line stops working and your toilets and sinks back up. Fun, huh?

The solution, of course, is to install a new main sewer line from the house to the street, digging up the yard.

What if the sewer line now travels through the roots of a large, desirable tree? Some companies are experienced in using a water-and-air shovel to delicately dig through the roots without harming them.

Costly, but necessary.

Live in Austin? You’ll Need to Do An Energy Audit

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Newsflash for you who have lived in your Austin home since the Year One: before you put that home on the market, you must get an energy audit done by an energy professional.

Yes, it’s true, the City of Austin has an Energy Conservation and Disclosure ordinance. If you are an Austin Energy customer, you live in the Austin city limits, and your house is more than 10 years old, you must get an audit done. They check heating/cooling efficiency, amount of air escaping your home, the insulation level, and the window efficiency, all of which require specialized equipment.

This will cost you several hundred dollars, based on the size of your home. Be sure to get quotes from several energy professionals, and get a recommendation from someone who has used an auditor, if possible, before hiring one.

Just like any other aspect of home improvement, you can wait until you decide to put your house on the market before you take action. OR, you can choose to take action early and enjoy the fruits while you are still living in the home. You might go ahead and get an energy audit and get yourself some beautiful new windows. Or, you might decide to upgrade to a more efficient HVAC system and enjoy the savings on your utility bills.

In any case, the city does not require you to make upgrades based on the energy audit. It just requires you to pay for the audit so that potential buyers will understand what might be involved in owning the home in the condition it’s in.

The Secret Underground Sweet Dough Yeast Roll Recipe

In the previous post, I mentioned the importance of keeping microscopic organisms happy, and in this follow-on post, I give you an easy way to keep yeast happy and make a treat for Sunday dinner.

2 pkgs. active dry yeast

½ c. warm water (the temp that keeps yeast cozy without stressing them and killing them from heat- just stick your finger in the water and see what you think)

1 1/4c. buttermilk

½ c. sugar

2 eggs

5 ½ c. all-purpose flour

½ c. butter, softened

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large mixing bowl. Add buttermilk, eggs, 2 ½ c. flour, butter, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend 30 seconds with mixer on low speed, scraping sides and bottom of bowl. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed. Stir in remaining 2 c. flour. (Dough should remain soft and slightly sticky.) Knead 5 minutes, or about 200 turns on a lightly floured board. You’ll be using the other cup of flour on the board, on your hands, and on top of the dough as you knead.

Shape into coffee breads or rolls. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Dough is ready to bake if slight dent remains when touched with finger. Bake at 375 degrees F. until golden.

 

The Secret Underground

Although the title could be referring to a book review of Dante’s Inferno, or a report on intrigue in wartime, it doesn’t. Today, we’re going to get the scoop on septic systems. How ’bout THAT?

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Using flushable kitty litter BEFORE we lived with an on-site septic system

This post is for all those folks who never lived in the country. And for those looking longingly at moving out of town and into the hills. And for those who have not experienced septic system technology in the past 15 years.

Living in terrain that is not amenable to pumping sewage vast distances to be treated at a central location means that either you personally, or your new subdivision, will have a small sewage treatment plant on the property. I know a little bit about the single-owner kind because I grew up with a traditional drain-field system at my childhood home, and now we have two dwellings and two advanced systems on our property. Texas A&M Extension Service has the best website for explaining on-site sewage facilities.

You will be surprised to know that I compare the maintenance of a healthy septic system to baking yeast bread. Before I lose you entirely, let me explain:

  1. The principle behind baking great bread is to keep your yeast, a living organism, very happy.
  2. The principle behind maintaining a functional septic system is to keep your beneficial bacteria, a living organism, very happy.

That’s it!

The septic system takes effluent from the house and drains it into a tank where the solids settle out, and the liquid is either treated and partially sanitized in compartments then sprayed out onto the landscape, or it goes from the tank into underground drain fields through horizontal tubes arranged in the pattern of tree branches, to be treated and sanitized by the soil organisms. In both cases, bacteria are the heroes that break down the nasty sludge and the effluent water into soil nutrients plus clean water. We ♥love♥ our bacteria!

Here is what to consider when you are using a septic system to treat your effluent: what will make the bacteria very sad? What will make the bacteria sick? What will make the bacteria die? Avoid these!

  1. Too much water running through the system (a deluge!) at once flushes through the tank way too fast and doesn’t allow solids to settle out. This clogs your pumps or your filters. Yuck! Choose the low-water-use front-loading washer and don’t do all your loads in the same day.
  2. Installing the underground tank where rainwater runoff will enter it quickly creates the same deluge problem.
  3. Antibiotics- whether medicines flushed, antibiotic soap and cleaners used, or other chemicals (bleach! phosphates!) poured down the drain- you’re gonna kill off some, or all, of your bacteria and THEN you’ll be sorry!
  4. It takes ⇐time⇒ for the solids to be decomposed by the bacteria, and if you put more through your system in a short period of time than it is rated for, you are going to create clogs, either in the pump, the filter, or in the drain or sprayer lines. Forget the food scraps and the disposal- too much unprocessed solid material at once. No kitty litter (even flushable), no sanitary products, no wipes (even flushable), no nothing that isn’t natural and mushy! Just figure out a different disposal method, or you will be spending thousands of dollars replacing your system early.

On-site sewage facilities, when properly cared-for, are environmentally-friendly and efficient. You can admire them and how well they do their job without causing collateral damage to ground, air, and water. Yay for the little guys!!! Bacteria are awesome!

Your county is going to require a permit in order for you to create a septic system. This is because the specialists want to look at your plans to make sure the idea in your head isn’t going to come out into the world in a way that will pollute a nearby waterway, well, or adjoining property. Also, your county is going to require you to have on file a maintenance contract with an approved contractor that will periodically inspect your system and keep it functioning. No polluted groundwater, please!

My next post will be my favorite yeast bread recipe. Don’t say I don’t have a sense of humor.