Doing it right the Mike Holmes way

This week, our columnist Claudette Sandecki talks building contractors

Television rerun season has made me search for new programs to watch. One program I enjoy is “Holmes on Homes.”

Mike Holmes, known for “making it right,” tackles building projects that have been botched by unqualified, unlicensed builders with no pride in their work.

I know just enough about construction to appreciate Holmes’ expertise and insistence on quality workmanship to give the customer value for his money and a safe, comfortable home.

The first Holmes’ program I watched from start to finish involved rebuilding a ramp for a man wheelchair bound by multiple sclerosis.

The original contractor had ignored so many code rules and cut so many corners it was pitiful. He built the ramp on supports set on top the ground where freezing and thawing would cause the ramp to move up and down weakening its underpinning.

He added no railings to protect the man from wheeling right off on to the ground.

He made it too steep, so that the man’s wife had difficulty pushing his wheelchair up the ramp.

And he used ordinary bolts and nails – rather than galvanized or stainless steel  – that began rusting within a year.

Other of Holmes’ programs have given me the willies seeing how homeowners have been duped into paying good dollars for a shoddy job – load bearing walls removed to satisfy an interior decorator; exhaust from an attached garage piped into the home’s basement; driveway sloped so runoff goes directly into the basement to keep everything wet and mouldy.

A wheelchair ramp built to code rises gently at one inch per foot, which is why many ramps need a switchback to fit the 30 feet or so length within a standard sized home lot.

The ramp sits on supports dug four feet into the ground, each resting on a concrete pad at the bottom. Both sides of the ramp have sturdy railings that can prevent a wheelchair from tumbling over the side, and also protect children and anyone walking up or down the ramp.

The ramp  surface has to be non-skid. Holmes painted his ramp with a paint containing grit.

Along the way Holmes give tips on getting value for money when hiring a contractor to perform any work for you.

First, “don’t let the contractor begin work until the building permit is in the window.” Don’t settle for taking the contractor’s word that he has a building permit for your job.

Ask to have it posted where neighbours can see it. Having a building permit means the plans (whether drawn up by an architect or a qualified carpenter) have been vetted by a building inspector to make sure the plans meet code and the construction will satisfy local bylaws. The building inspector’s approval is a second opinion safeguarding your investment.

Pay your contractor in increments as the job progresses rather than one lump sum before the work begins or when the job is done. That way if some part of the job proves to be substandard, you have some financial leverage.

Before hiring a contractor, ask to see other jobs he has done, check with friends or neighbours who have hired him and been satisfied with his work.

Be leery about hiring a contractor who shows up out of the blue to tell you you need a new roof or other renovation. He could be a fly-by-night scammer.

Too often customers can’t see exactly what’s been done or how a contractor has carried out his job; they must trust that he knows his stuff and takes sufficient pride in his work to do each step correctly.

Once wallboard is added and painted over, or a foundation backfilled, who can guess what might be lurking out of sight to create major problems later.