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The Hidden Cost of Remodeling: What You Don’t Know Could Cost You a Fortune

No matter how simple your project might seem, every remodeling project involves decisions that you as the homeowner must make — either by choice or by default. Making informed decisions could save your budget, your sanity and possibly your home. As the knight in the “Indiana Jones” movie says; “You must choose wisely”. This article contains information that can help you do just that.

You can’t get where you’re goin’, if you don’t know where you’re at

It can be a challenge for even the most experienced professional to find everything that’s behind the walls, under the floor or above the ceiling. A thorough inspection of the site will often reveal certain conditions that must be dealt with one way or the other. Knowing what these conditions are and what your options are for dealing with them can make a huge difference, both in terms of time and money. Discovering a problem in the middle of the project can often result in substantial delays and additional costs.

By having an accurate set of “as-built” drawings, many potentially budget-busting problems can be dealt with during the design process. Sometimes a simple change to the design can avoid the problem altogether. In fact, these changes can often result in a better design for less money.

But what if you can’t (or don’t want to) design around the problem? Well at least you’ll know what the problem is and what it will cost to resolve it. Perhaps you can reallocate money from another part of the project by reducing the scope or choosing a less expensive finish. Perhaps you could simply add the cost to your budget. Either way, you can eliminate many surprises and be able to make intelligent, informed decisions if you are armed with the knowledge that only a thorough site reconnaissance and accurate as-built drawing can offer.

Fail to plan? Plan to fail!

Some projects need to be designed before you can figure out how to do it and what it will cost. Kitchens, room additions, basement finishes and other large scale projects almost invariably need to be designed first. Smaller projects such as a simple bath remodel, painting the exterior or replacing windows are simple enough that all it takes is a material takeoff and a budget for labor.

Regardless of whether a project needs to be designed, it certainly requires a project plan. Jumping into a project without considering all the ramifications will almost invariably cost more and take more time. A detailed plan that is well thought out is essential to the success of any project – particularly if it requires that you move furnishings, empty out cabinets or have to arrange for a safe place to store your vintage 1956 Thunderbird while the work is being done.

Make sure your contractor has a plan that includes your requirements so as not to be surprised when the cabinets are delivered and the Thunderbird is buried behind a wall of boxes in the garage.

Comparing apples to oranges to pears to bananas

Conventional wisdom says that soliciting multiple quotes for your remodeling project is the best way to select a contractor. On the surface, it would appear to make sense. But it can be quite confusing when it comes time to sit down and compare the quotes. This is because every contractor has their own way of determining your requirements, assembling the scope of work and calculating the cost. It’s easy enough to compare the bottom line. It’s much more difficult to figure out what’s included. (Talk about hidden costs!) But there is a better way.

First, let’s distinguish between large scale projects and “one-dimensional” projects. Large scale projects, such as kitchens, master baths, room additions and basement finishes typically require a design. One-dimensional projects, such as flooring, painting and roofing only require material selection. Either way, selecting the right contractor is the key to getting the job done right. If your main focus is on the bottom line, you are certain to attract contractors that use poor quality materials and questionable business practices to keep the price down. Better you should focus on the criteria that really matters – trust, experience, reputation and compatibility. Let’s drill down a bit.

Trust — There are plenty of ways to gauge a contractor’s trustworthiness, particularly in the age of the Internet. Go to your browser, type in the name of the company and see what comes up. Don’t be put off by a bad review here or there. No one gets along with everybody every time. But if there’s a lot of negative information, you’ll want to move on.

Then take a look at their affiliations. Do they belong to any professional organizations such as the National Kitchen and Bath Association or the National Association for the Remodeling Industry? Are they members of the Better Business Bureau?

Finally, make sure they have the proper insurance coverage. They should have liability insurance of at least 2 million dollars and workers compensation coverage on all of their direct employees. For sub-contractors, the general contractor should be named as “additional insured” on the sub’s insurance certificate. Without the proper insurance coverage, your contractor will be exposing you the most devastating of all the hidden costs, one that could very well cost you everything you own.

Experience – While experience is certainly important, be careful with this one. Being in business for 20 years says nothing about the contractor’s ability to deliver a quality project on time and within budget. The best way to look at this one is by asking for references. Here’s a good tip. Ask for nine references – three from projects they completed several years ago, three from projects that were completed in the last year and three that they’re working on right now. You don’t have to contact them all, but you’ll get a more complete picture if you talk to at least one in each category.

Reputation – Good or bad, a contractor’s reputation is a direct reflection of the way they choose to do business. It’s important to emphasize the word “choose” since this speaks volumes for the character and integrity of the organization. Reputable contractors engage in fair business and pricing practices. Their integrity shows up when they have the opportunity to take advantage of a situation and choose not to. For example, let’s say that an asbestos coated duct is found in a wall that is to be taken out. Obviously, this has to be dealt with on a change order. The opportunity to take advantage is certainly there, but a reputable contractor would choose not to.

Compatibility – After you’ve determined that a contractor has the trust, experience and reputation to do the job, your next step should be to interview the key players in an effort to size up your compatibility with them. Depending on the size and scope of the project, you may wish to meet with the owner of the company, the designer and the project manager. These may be all the same person or different members of a team. Remember, you’ve already determined that the contractor has the ability to do the job, so the interviews should focus on how you feel about each member of the team and how they communicate with you and each other. Let’s look at each role as it pertains to your project.

Meeting the owner of the company – regardless of whether he or she will be directly involved in your project – will tell you all you need to know about the culture of the organization. If you feel good about the owner, chances are you’ll feel good about the company. If the owner rubs you the wrong way, the best advice is to move on.

For obvious reasons, the relationship between you and your designer is critical to the successful outcome of the project. A good designer will listen, interpret and produce a design that reflects what you want, not what they think you should have. They should be ready, willing and able to offer expert guidance and advice, but they should also recognize that you will be the one who will be living in the space. Sizing up the designer is simply a matter of listening to their ideas – not just in terms of whether you like their ideas, but also in terms of how they are presented. If you’re not comfortable with their style, you’ll need to keep looking.

Finally, there’s the project manager. The skill set required to effectively manage a remodeling project can only be obtained through lots of experience. The technical skills required to complete the work are similar to other residential construction projects, but in the remodeling business, everyone is working in a fish bowl. There’s no way to insulate you from the inconvenience associated with a remodeling project, but a skilled project manager knows how to orchestrate everything such that the impact on your home life is minimized. Aside from having a strong working knowledge of every trade, diplomacy, tact and an even temper are the things to look for in the one who will ultimately be responsible for delivering the end result.

In the final analysis, selecting the right team to take on your project is the most important decision you’ll make. In the process of evaluating contractors, remember this simple formula: Quality + Service = Price. High quality and excellent service only cost more on the front end. As long as your contractor delivers both, the price will be a bargain in the long run.

We’ll need a #4 sky hook for that

Of all the things that effect your remodeling budget, the greatest impact can be found in the design itself. Basically, a valid design needs to be functional, aesthetically pleasing and be practical to build.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) publishes and maintains two sets of guidelines – one for kitchens and one for baths – that when adhered to, will result in a perfectly functioning kitchen or bath. If the design doesn’t work, you’re going to hate it no matter what it looks like. The worst part is, a dysfunctional kitchen is usually discovered after the fact, as a result of the day to day use of the space.

Once the requirements for functionality are met, the aesthetic requirements can be applied. For example, the cabinet layout and appliance locations are a product of functionality. The cabinet door style and the color of the appliances are design decisions that only affect the look. To be sure, the aesthetics can drive the budget up. Lots of molding costs lots of money. Applying matching panels to the refrigerator and dishwasher can be surprisingly expensive since the door is the most expensive part of the cabinet.

If the design meets the first two requirements, the next thing is to determine the degree of difficulty in bringing it to life. A good designer anticipates the practicality of moving a bearing wall for instance. But is there a more practical, less expensive alternative? Not all designers are prepared to gauge the impact that their design decisions have on the budget.

In the worst case, a flaw in the design is discovered in the middle of the project. For example, it’s discovered that a wall that was to be moved can’t be moved at all. Of course, a total recon of the site as suggested in the first part of this report should insure that the design can be built. But it won’t necessarily insure that the design could have been done without moving the wall.

The message here is to make sure that the validity of the design is field verified before any materials are ordered. You do this by making sure the designer and the project manager have done a thorough review of the design early on so as to anticipate any problems in building it out.

Cheap doesn’t always mean less expensive

No matter how much money they have, everybody loves a bargain. It can be hard to resist a great deal, even if you’re not in the market at the time. But when you think about it, there are really only three reasons that price and value get out of sync; the seller doesn’t know what it’s worth, the seller doesn’t care what it’s worth, or the seller is desperate. Other than that, cheap probably means low quality, which is no bargain at all.

When it comes to remodeling, consider whether you would want a contractor to work on your house if they don’t know what the work is worth. If the job is under sold, it usually means something was missed. That’s not exactly the kind of attention to detail that you’d like to see. Then again, if there’s not enough money to do the job right, your contractor may have to cut corners.

Now consider the contractor that doesn’t care what the job is worth. Perhaps the competition for work is fierce and he just needs to sell something to stay busy. So he cuts his margin to the bone and basically works for free. Will he be able to pay his suppliers or will he need the money for himself? Contractors that operate on a razor thin budget will eventually go out of business, leaving you with no recourse if something goes wrong down the road.

Finally, there’s the contractor that’s just plain desperate. In this day and age, there are plenty of folks in this category. Imagine handing a check over to someone who has to turn around and get their tools out of hock. Worse yet, imagine handing a check to someone you’ll never see again. It happens more often than you might think.

Aside from the quality of the contractor you select, the quality of the products that go into your remodel is every bit as important. That shiny new faucet might look great when it goes in, but what will it cost you to have it replaced when it breaks in a year or so? Particularly if it leaks all over your hardwood floor. Does your contractor offer a warranty? Is he going to be around to honor it?

The lesson here is, quality may cost a little more to begin with, but it will pay off in the long run. Your best bet is to find a contractor that has the experience, the credentials, and the ability to deliver a quality result for a fair price. What more could you ask for? What more would you want?

Smith? Party of four?

Obviously if you’re going to remodel your kitchen, you’re going to have to find alternative eating arrangements. Even if you’re not remodeling the kitchen, the dust and disruption which is inevitable with many projects may cause you to eat out more often.

In the extreme, you may even want to move out during the construction phase. In this case, the associated costs could include moving your furniture into your temporary digs or a storage facility, the cost of rent added to your ongoing mortgage payments and moving your furnishings back in when the project is complete. If you’re financing the project, you can add the interest to the list of items you’ll have to deal with while you’re waiting to move back in.

Since most people are aware of these additional costs, one might not think of them as hidden costs. You’ll know in advance that you have to budget for these items. The question is, for how long?

Delays are to be expected in the remodeling business, particularly with large scale projects. It’s almost inevitable that something will show up damaged and have to be reordered. If all of the materials are in hand before the work begins, you’ll be ahead of the curve on this one. Unfortunately, accidents happen and the materials could be damaged during the construction process. Other causes for delays include the weather, building inspections, scheduling conflicts, and unexpected conditions such as mold behind the sink cabinet. The point is you need to plan for the delays and hope that you won’t have any. Therefore, the target date for completion should be worst case…unless it’s not.

Regardless of the type of project you’ve got going, the chances are you have some sort of per diem cost associated with the construction phase. As hard as it may be to understand, it’s not uncommon to hear stories about projects that take weeks or even months longer than anticipated. In these cases, the cost can be measured in more than just dollars and cents. The associated stress can become a serious health issue.

The best way to insure that you will not have to deal with an extended timeline is to select a contractor with a demonstrated history of bringing projects in on time – or at least within reason, all circumstances taken into consideration.

For information on Derby bathrooms click here.

Finding Real Deal Graphic Design Services

These days there are a lot of Graphic Designers offering services online. Perhaps too many. This article covers some useful need-to-knows about Graphic Designers and what to look for when ordering a logo design, brochure design or any of the countless reasons to order a graphic design service for your company or organization’s imaging needs.

For information on a graphic designer in Long Island click here.

Graphic design services these days (like any services these days) have been on a downward slide for some time now (in this Designer’s opinion). Take logos for example. I can’t tell you how many logos I see out there featuring a swoosh or swipe looking graphic that shoots out as though orbiting the text that makes up the logo. I would like to tell you that the Designers who created the thousands of swoosh logos out there, utilized this staple of design because it was the best solution for their client. I can just hear them stating how this simple element is really a complex and developed “less is more” approach to their client’s design and worth every drop of the hundreds of dollars they are charging for it. I would like to tell you that but unfortunately that is just not the case.

I’m not saying that if you have a swoosh in your logo then you got scammed by a false Graphic Designer looking to make a quick buck on a simple design that catches your eye. In fact I have even used a swoosh or two in my designs (though usually at my client’s request and certainly not as the only element in the design). What I am saying is that when you look at how many logos out there feature this graphic swoosh element it becomes quite obvious that a great deal of graphic design sources these days are just trying to get their orders filled as quickly as possible without actually putting thought into the purpose of the design and the needs of the client. It is sad but true that most companies of any kind in this day and age are focusing more on looking like a company rather than actually being a company. How many times have you ordered something only to find out later it was just a gimmick designed to get the sale.

So how do you know if you are hiring a real Graphic Designer focused on doing real design work and not just one of the many impostors out there trying to look like they are putting the time and thought into your design that you are paying them good money for? A good place to start is the facts.

When you are online looking for a Graphic Designer, do a little reading. They should have an About Page, a resume or some form of credentials available on their website. If they don’t then its time to leave that website. I do not recommend testimonials because these days there is no way to verify where these wonderful comments came from. Stick to the facts and information that can be verified if need be. If you are paying hundreds of dollars or more for design services then you had better see some years of experience on that Designer’s resume. Where did they get their education and did they actually even major in Graphic Design? What does their job history look like. Have they really been a Graphic Designer at every job in their resume? It is worth it to do a little research because chances are you are going to need more design work done in the future and wouldn’t it be great to have a Designer you can depend on?

Next take a good look at their design portfolio. Do the designs look similar to each other? Maybe the elements of the designs look different (because they are for different companies) but are they all arranged about the same with the same kind of type used? Are they just putting swooshes on everything? If so then you are most likely at the site of one of the impostors who uses visual gimmicks to wow their clients and get the sale.

Beware those graphic design websites offering promises that are too good to be true (if something sounds too good to be true… ). If you are paying only $50 for a logo then your are most likely getting a pre-made graphic or clip art with your company name stamped on it to make the sale. If they say that countless designers will be working on your project then chances are you will never speak directly with those designers, or you will be paying for countless designers, or they are just using visual gimmicks to get the design sold so they can move on to the next client as quickly as possible.

Medicare Eligibility

Who is Eligible for Medicare?

The price of medical bills and maintaining your health can be quite overwhelming. As people approach the age of 65 and approach retirement they need to consider how they will pay for these constant medical expenses. The US Government has established Medicare, a health insurance system to aid US citizens in meeting the costs of their healthcare. However, being a US citizen age 65 or older is not the sole requirement for receiving Medicare. You may also qualify to receive for the Medicare benefits if you are under the age of 65 and have certain disabilities or if you have permanent kidney failure. Since all Americans have different medical and financial needs, it is important to pick the health insurance plan that works best for you.

Which Medicare Plan Are You Eligible For?

The Medicare Health Insurance Program consists of four parts, Part A, B, C, and D. While Part A, B, and D are all grouped similarly as a part of the Original Medicare Plan, Part C is known separately as Medicare Advantage Plan.

Part A:
When you register to receive Medicare Part A, you will be covered for hospital insurance. While Part A covers most necessary medical hospital services, it does not cover all expenses. The medical expenses covered by Medicare Part A include inpatient care in hospitals (over-night hospital care and treatment for a minimum of three days, 72 hours), blood transfusions (units of blood received at the hospital), skilled nursing facility care (brief period care at a facility or at a nursing home after medical treatment in the hospital), hospice (at home support services for terminally ill patients), and home health care services (part time nursing care service and equipment for ill at home). The payment of a premium is not common for Medicare Part A. You are eligible for Part A if you meet any of the listed qualifications for Medicare.

Part B:
Most Medicare providers require that you also get Medicare Part B coverage when you apply for Part A. Medicare Part B is medical insurance. These are all the other expenses that your medical needs may require that are not covered in Part A. This can include necessary doctor services’ (doctor visits or medical advice), and outpatient care (medical service that does not require overnight stay in the hospital or may not even include a hospital visit). Medicare Part B is important for those with diabetes or at risk for diabetes because it covers many costs associated with diabetes. Also, Part B covers many necessary preventative shots (such as the flu shot or hepatitis B). However, unlike Part A, Medicare Part B requires a monthly premium around $96.40 a month. If you qualify for Part A, you will likely qualify for Part B.

Part D:
Medicare Part D may also be added to your Medicare Plan coverage. Part D covers prescription drug costs, which is done through private companies approved by Medicare. This, too, requires a premium monthly payment. To receive coverage from these private companies, you must either join a Medicare prescription drug plan or choose the Medicare Advantage Plan, Part C (which already covers Part D). Medicare Part D will cover your necessary prescription drugs. Depending on the costs of your prescription drugs, you may have co-pay fees. If you are eligible to receive Part A or Part B Medicare, then you are eligible to receive Part D.

Are You Eligible For The Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C)?

Medicare Part C is the Medical Advantage Plan whose services are performed by private companies also approved by Medicare. Part C combines Part A and B as well as any other necessary medical services a person may require (drug prescription, hearing, and vision services). Many people will opt for this plan because it offers the ability to add a wide range of service coverage to their medical insurance plan, but Plan C is not offered in every state. However, most Medicare Advantage Plans consist of particular doctors and hospitals in an area that a person must use in order to receive coverage for the medical treatment they receive. In addition to the premium paid for Part B Medicare coverage, a person receiving Part C coverage will have to pay a monthly premium. There are several Medicare Advantage Plans available to you. These plans include Medicare Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), Medicare Preferred Provider Organization plans (PPO), Medicare Private Fee-for-Service plans (PPFS), Medicare Special Needs, and Medicare Medical Savings Account (MSA).

For information on what is Medicare plan N click here.

How to Choose the Best Bird Watching Spotting Scopes

Bird watching spotting scopes can range in price from $200 to $5,000. So what is the difference between a cheap scope and an expensive one? The expense mostly is in the lens design and lens quality. Other features such as being waterproof, fogproof and shockproof also play into the price.

You may be wondering what makes a good bird watching spotting scope compared to any other spotting scope. These type of scopes are not used for looking at stars. You want a birding scope to see birds at long distances like viewing shorebirds or falcons in their nest on a cliff face. You need a scope to view details on birds that your bird watching binoculars cannot provide mostly because of the longer distance and inability to get closer.

Magnification is the first thing you want to consider in choosing your scope. Do not get a scope with a magnification lower than 15x because that is what your binoculars will provide. You typically do not want to go over 60x magnification on the high end because the field of view becomes very narrow and the image brightness deteriorates.

The objective lens is the next thing you want to consider. The larger the objective lens, the more light gathering capacity the scope will have and the brighter the bird images will appear. The only drawback is the bigger the objective lens, the heavier the scope and the higher the price will be for the scope.

You will want to look for a spotting scope that has high quality glass and lens coatings. Look for scopes with ED (extra-low dispersion) FL (Fluorite) HD (High Density) and/or APO (apochromatic) glass. These elements will provide you with an image of higher clarity, detail, and sharpness which in turn will reduce eyestrain.

When using bird watching spotting scopes, you typically are out in the elements and not under the dry cover of a shelter. You need to get a scope that is both waterproof and fogproof. Look for scopes that are nitrogen or dry gas filled. It is also nearly impossible to not bump your scope either getting it out of your vehicle, carrying it over a slippery slope or the like. Look for shockproof scopes that come with rubber armoring to protect the unexpected bumps and collisions.

You will be given the choice, with most spotting scopes, to choose a straight or angled design. Straight scopes have the eyepiece aligned with the barrel whereas angled spotting scopes will have the eyepiece offset 45 or 90 degrees from the barrel. If you will be doing most of your birding from the car and have the scope mounted on the window, you will want a straight scope design. If you will be viewing mostly birds from above such as soaring raptors or cliff-viewing, then get an angled scope.

Think about how you will most often be using your spotting scope and what kind of situations or habitats you will be viewing birds. This will help you decide which design and what type of scope will best suits your needs and be most functional for your bird watching activities.

People are becoming more and more aware of what they buy. And it’s no wonder, with the increasing number of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, food additives that are finding their way into our food, clothing and cosmetic products.

The only way to avoid these health hazards? Going organic. The problem is very few can afford to go all green, since organic products tend to have higher prices than regular products. Does this make organic products a luxury? Not at all.

The organic market is one of the fastest growing markets, reaching over $28.6 billion in 2010 – a 8% growth compared to 2009. The most growth was experienced by the fruits and vegetables niche – 12% from the previous year – reaching $10.6 billion in 2010. The statistics confirm the trend: consumers are starting to favor organic products, which in turn will help the organic farmers increase production and offer better prices.

But until the market will be able to offer us the best organic products at lower costs, we have to work with what we have: the current prices.

First, we can start by making at home some of the products we use. We can make perfume combing alcohol (vodka) and essential organic oils. Instead of expensive laundry detergents, we can use soap flakes not only for laundry, but also for washing the dishes (by melting the soap flakes and mixing them with a little vinegar and lime essential oil. We can make some food products in-house, such as baby food, instead of buying expensive purees.

Second, we can start by giving up products that are bad for us: sugary cereals (use integral cereals instead), all kinds of snacks with a long list of chemical ingredients, biscuits and sweets (use raw chocolate or raw cocoa to make your own sweets).

Third, you can use a price comparison site for organic products to help you find the cheapest organic products on the market.

Forth, we don’t have to go organic all at once. We can start with critical products – organic baby clothes and food – or products with a longer life span – organic shampoo, creams, deodorants, perfumes, cleaning products, organic toys…

Either way, you can start living healthier right now and avoid or at least minimize the risk of damaging your body and the environment. Organic products are not a luxury anymore, they are a necessity.