|Ask Mr. Contractor:
If you have questions for Mr. Contractor, please e-mail them to MrContractor@dueyenterprises.com.
Q: My little bungalow is a frame house built in about
1930. I'm just about 100% sure that the windows are original equipment. They are double
hung with the old rope mechanism. There are sixteen windows in the whole house; six panes
in the top half of each window. Some work pretty good--one doesn't open at all. I hate the
storm windows which are aluminum. They're very hard to open and are dirty and gross.
So I'm trying to decide what to do. Should I reglaze the old windows, which I'm sure they need and buy some storms that I like better? Or should I buy new windows, which I know will be very expensive, especially since I want to have money to do some redecorating (wall covering, curtains, some furniture)?
What do you think?
A: Window questions probably rank near the question -
which came first - the chicken or the egg? Fixing old windows and/or putting in new
storm windows vs. putting in new windows is a cost difference of $4000 (about $100 vs.
$350 labor & materials). This is the initial cost difference. The
maintenance cost difference is another consideration. New LowE windows should have
little maintenance. Replacement of conditioned air (hot & cold) savings for new
windows is about $25 per window per year. Energy savings per year for 16 windows is
about $400 per year giving you a 10 year payback on the difference between storms and new
However, new windows usually means you would no longer need to have storm windows because the storm window screens are usually already built-in. If it was my house and I planned on staying there 10 or more years, I would install new windows. If I did not anticipate staying there that long, probably new storms would suffice.
Q: We have tar on our side of the house which is brick. This looks unsightly and we would like to remove it. A contractor told us to use a blow-torch to melt it off. What do you think would work?
A: Tough question - so I asked my masonry supplier what the thought. They said that heating the tar with a blow-torch would likely imbed part of the tar into the porous brick and the balance of the tar would flow over all masonry below the tar. This solution would appear to compound the problem. After exploring different alternatives from freezing the tar to sandblasting to finally chemical removal that would probably bleach the bricks; the masonry guru's settled on a new process called soda-blasting. This is similar to sand-blasting but leaves less damage and discoloration. Give it a try.
Q: How can I tell when the salesmen at the lumber stores are becoming disingenuous with me?
A: Several of my lumber supplies salesmen say it's east to tell. It's when their lips start moving! They also informed me that they were an exception to the rule.
Q: What is the best time to hire a contractor?
A: Many contractors will frequently give better prices on jobs that let them work through the December holidays (a time when many homeowners don't want their home torn up). The prices are also set competitively. In a week economy or sometimes in the winter when little construction or remodeling work is available, a contractor will add in less profit in order to keep their crews working.
Q: Can the contractor and I start the remodeling job on a handshake?
A: Not on your life. Once you've selected a contractor, it is vital that you put your agreement in writing. The hallmark of a great contract is that it's fair to both sides. Every protection afforded to the homeowner should also have a way of covering the contractor. You are both at risk, so put it in writing.
Q: If we remodel, will we get our money back when we sell the house?
A: It depends. Some improvements like kitchen remodels and bathroom additions will pay back around 90% of their costs. Other improvements, like deck additions, window replacements, and home offices average about 65%, but still about double the payback for a swimming pool.
Q: Should I limit my funds to the exact amount of the contract sum?
A: Allow yourself to have funds available that exceed the contract by 10%-15%. This is to ensure you that any unexpected or unforeseen items and upgrades you may request can be paid for and the project can continue as scheduled.