Category Archives: Articles

Finding a Contractor

During the interview use the Contractor’s Checklist.

Where to Look

There are many ways to find a reputable contractor. Ask your friends and neighbors or your local paint store manager for recommendations. If you visit a home and you especially like the work, get the name of their contractor. You might also look for advertisements in the local newspaper or the yellow pages. Check licenses and references for each potential contractor.

Think it through

Before you pick up the phone, sit down with your spouse or a good friend and think through your project. Write down exactly what you want done, which colors and sheen you’re after. Also note any of your special concerns, for example, an antique table that needs to be handled delicately. When preparing your preliminary time line, expect a waiting period of several weeks from the time you choose your contractor to the actual start of the project.

Get your bids

Now you’re ready to solicit two or three bids for the work you need. Make sure you provide identical information to all bidders. Notice if the contractor returns your call promptly. Does he arrive on time to evaluate your job, and does he provide a written estimate shortly after the initial visit?

Avoid un-reliables

As more people move into the city from the suburbs, the value of your home increases – and so does the demand for contracting work. As a result, less experienced contractors have surfaced who are also less than reliable.

Here’s What Happened…

A Capitol Hill resident hired someone to replace her roof at a cost of $10,000. Shortly after the job was completed, the roof began to leak. The contractor could not be found, and she had to hire another contractor for even more money to repair the mess left behind.

Read between the lines

Once you get your bids, review them carefully. Discuss the bid in detail to make sure you understand the reasons for any potential price variations. A low bid is not always the best bid. In fact, an attractively low bid which supplies sub-grade materials or labor can easily become the most expensive bid in the end.

Here’s What Happened…

A city resident spent $20,000 to repoint the brick façade and sidewall of his home. Several years later, he decided to paint the outside of the house when he discovered that the repointing was done incorrectly. Because the mortar was literally falling out, he spent $27,000 more to have his house repointed correctly.

Quiz your contractor

The most time-consuming and labor intensive part of the quality paint job is the preparation work. This prep work will make the difference between a paint job that lasts one year or ten. When selecting a contractor, ask them about the specific surface preparations they will perform. Scraping, sanding, caulking and patching usually represent more than half of the work.

Before you sign

When you have the bids in hand, compare apples to apples. That means compare the same grade of materials and the same procedures. This includes the area to be painted, the number of coats to be used, the grade of paints and similar preparation steps.

Know that the contract protects both you and the contractor. Get all promises in writing and spell out exactly what the contractor will do. If you intend to do some of the work yourself, or have another contractor do it, write these qualifiers into the contract. Never sign a blank or partially-completed contract.

Obtain a copy of the signed contract for your records. The financial terms should clearly indicate the total price, the time of payments, and the procedure for canceling. Never pay full price up front.

Get the lead out

Finally, be sure to ask for a copy of the “Renovate Right” pamphlet if your house was built before 1978. There are laws pertaining to lead but not all contractors or homeowners are aware of the requirements.

Contractors working on homes constructed prior to 1978 must have completed a specific course approved by the EPA and received certification from the EPA. Ask your contractor for their EPA certification and which of their employees are certified.
Our National EPA Certification of being a Lead-Safe Certified Firm is NAT-50531-1.

Here’s What Happened…

A District resident hired a contractor to remove paint from the house exterior. Five workers used propane torches to illegally heat and remove the lead paint. These workers didn’t practice safe procedures, they didn’t use the proper breathing apparatus, and they didn’t take any measures to protect the adjoining properties. As a result, their grinding and sanding creaded leaded dust which literally covered entire yards nearby.

A toddler was among the neighbors who were exposed to lead hazards. One neighbor notified the appropriate authorities, and the District shut down the job for unsafe practices. Fortunately, the toddler did not suffer lead contamination; but the contracting homeowner bore the sole responsibility and cost of hiring a lead-hazard abatement company at $1,200 per day.

Taking the time to plan your project, ask questions, and check references pays off handsomely in a job well done!

From “The Voice of the Hill”

- This month’s answer provided by David Mahoney

Deciding to paint during the winter months not only means less expensive prices but can also mean you will find a larger pool of available contractors from which to choose.

There are many ways you can find a reputable contractor to do your work. Ask friends, neighbors or your local paint store manager whom they would recommend. If you visit a home where you especially like the work, get the name of their contractor.

You may also check advertisements in the local newspaper or yellow pages for phone numbers. But just because you see an advertisement in a local publication doesn’t mean the company or individual meets the criteria to engage in the work legally. Check licenses and references of each potential contractor.

Before you pick up the phone and dial, sit down and think through your project. Write down exactly what you want done, select colors (or possible colors) and sheen you desire. Write out any special concerns you may have, such as a piece of antique furniture that needs to be handled delicately. Be sure to include a proposed timeline.

You can expect a waiting period of up to several weeks from the time you choose your contractor to the actual start of the project.

You are now ready to solicit two or three bids for the work you need. Make sure you provide identical information to all potential bidders. Notice if the contractor returns you call promptly. Does he or she arrive on time to evaluate your job, and does he or she provide an estimate within a reasonably short period of time after the initial visit?

While the exodus from the suburbs into the city has increased the value of your house, it has also increased the demand for contracting work on the older homes in the city. As a result, less experienced and fly-bynight contractors have surfaced.

During the interview use the Contractor’s Checklist. Once you receive bids on the price and duration of your job, review them carefully. Discuss the bid in detail to make certain you understand any variations in price. Just because a quote is an appealing low price does not mean it is the one you should necessarily choose. A cheap bid that sacrifices materials and experience could become more costly than you ever imagined!

Painting is the easy part of the job. When selecting a contractor, be sure to quiz him on the surface preparation he plans to perform. It is the most time consuming and labor intensive part of a quality painting job. Scraping, sanding, caulking and patching usually represent more than half of the work. Be sure a contractor describes the steps he will take before he picks up a brush.

When you have the bids in hand compare apples to apples, i.e., the same grade of materials and the same procedures including the area to be painted, the number of coats of paint to be used, the grade of paint and similar steps for preparation.

Before you sign a contract, know that the contract protects both you and the contractor. Get all oral promises in writing and spell out exactly what the contractor will do. If you intend to do some do the work yourself or hire another contractor to do it, write this into the contract. Never sign a blank or partially blank contract.

Obtain a copy of the signed contract for your records. The financial terms should be clear and include the total price, time of payments and procedure for canceling.

Finally, be sure to ask for a copy of the “Protect Your Family from Lead” pamphlet if your house was built before 1978 and your contractor has been in business since 1999. Obtain a signed letter that you have received the pamphlet. It is the law, but not all contractors or residents are aware of the requirements.

Taking the time to plan your project, prepare for the contractor, asking questions and checking references can ensure that your home improvement project is a successful one.

Restoring the Beauty of Our Historic Homes – Our Responsibility as Caretakers for Future Generations

The first thing to realize is that restoration is a process. If you can’t afford complete restoration, do a little at a time. What’s important is to move forward. What you don’t finish the next owner will. If we look at ourselves as temporary caretakers of beautiful buildings that will long outlast us, that will give us the correct perspective. The two projects described here, one long-term and relatively expensive, the other quick and less expensive (nothing to do with building restoration is cheap), show the value of the facade beautification.

The contractors for the first project, the home of the Audrey and Robert Nevitt at 1000 South Carolina Avenue, SE were the David Mahoney Painting Company and Bricklands brick repair specialists.

The Nevitts hired David Mahoney to repaint the exterior of their home; the white paint was peeling badly. The painters began by scraping and washing the brick and then scrapping and washing again to get down to a firm surface. It became obvious that the brick would need extensive repointing. Also the severity of the paint failure led Mahoney to recommend completely stripping down to the original brick and completely repointing.

Bricklands, a company which specializes in historic repointing, was called in for this part of the job. It was determined that the original color of the mortar was black. Bricklands matched this and repaired many damaged bricks.

Then the David Mahoney Painting Company fabricated some missing decorative details on the facade such as the metal cornices on the windows and the detail work on the cornice. The window frames were stripped and repainted and the security bars were sandblasted and repainted. The project took three months to complete.

- Capitol Hill Rag
By Annette Nielson

Beware of the Low Bid

A quality paint job can save you money and headaches in the long run.

Before you contract for painting services, consider the professional who will extend the life of your paint job through proper preparation techniques, quality materials and extensive experience. It can save you money and headaches in the long run.

Here are some tips to help assess your needs:

Tin Roofed
Get up on your roof and check the paint for cracking, peeling, flaking, “alligatoring,” or surface rust. Problems such as these are often associated with multiple layers of paint that can no longer expand and contract due to deterioration or improper application of one of the underlying coats. Depending on the severity of the problem, removal of the old layers of paint may be the best remedy. Mild or severe signs of paint deterioration require immediate attention because the paint should be protecting your expensive tin roof and other exterior substrates. A proper paint job can save you thousands on tin roof repairs and replacements.

Historic Windows
If you have installed storm windows, check for two vents at the bottom of your storms which allow moisture to escape. Trapped moisture destroys wooden windowsills. If you don’t have vents, drill holes in the bottom of the storm frame.

Painting Exterior Brick
Check the mortar for sandy holes and other signs of deterioration. Before you paint, consult your paint contractor about “spot pointing” to repair the mortar damage completely. Be aware that the appropriate mortar mix is used to protect older bricks. Proper repair will prevent costly water migration into the masonry and will allow stronger paint adhesion to the brick surface.

Preparation
85% of the real work involved in providing a quality, long-lasting paint job is in the preparation of all the surfaces to readily bond with the new paint. The common surfaces on Washington DC and Virginia homes are masonry, wood and metal. Preparation includes labor-intensive tasks including scraping, sanding, priming, cleaning, caulking, patching, glazing and more. How much prep and how much the job will cost is due largely to the type or types of surfaces being painted. Beware of the lowest estimate because, over time, this may become your worst nightmare.

How To Select A Paint Contractor
Ask which other Washington DC and Virginia homes this contractor has painted. How long ago were these properties done? Go to each one and compare the results between Hill homes painted 2 and 6 years ago. How closely do they compare? A quality contractor’s work will hold up through the years because of the better preparation, more experience and better materials.

Check that the contractor is licensed, bonded and that he has Public Liability Insurance as well as Workman’s Comp. The contractor should be well established in Washington DC and Virginia due the historic significance of these buildings. Check references to ensure that the contractor’s staff follow strict guidelines in respecting your property as part of our national heritage. Your neighbors are going to be your greatest help in making this important decision.

Tips . . . Prep & Cleaning

prepThis is another facet of the project in which we take particular pride.

We strive to make sure that the surface is properly prepared so that your paint job will last a long time. We also go to great lengths to keep the work area clean throughout the painting process and leave it looking even better.