Tag Archives: Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Water Softener Installation

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question:  We are new to Santa Barbara and have just purchased an older home that we plan to fix up and remodel over time.  Our previous home was in a mountain community in Colorado where the water was spring fed and naturally soft and we are shocked by how hard the water here is.  So our first project is to get a water softener installed ASAP but we have no idea how to do it.

Your Handyman:  Santa Barbara has to be one of the nicest places on our planet to live, the people are friendly, the beaches are gorgeous, but the tap water is terrible.  I personally don’t know people stand showering and cooking with un-softened Santa Barbara water, but many people are concerned about the added sodium in their water or that water is wasted in the softening process.

To install a water softener you will need to find a location in your house or garage that has nearby access to a drain line, an electrical outlet and most importantly, access to the main water line that supplies all the water to the interior of the house. You don’t want to be supplying softened water to the outside garden hoses and sprinklers, and you also don’t want to have just your interior hot water and not the cold water softened, or vice versa.

Commonly a house will have what is called a plumbing loop which is an exposed section of the main water line in the wall of the garage or laundry room that is meant for the placement of the water softener.  If a plumbing loop is not present and your home is on a raised foundation allowing access to the plumbing lines under the house, then with a little reconfiguring of the main water line you should be able to correctly set up the water softener.  If your home is on a concrete slab then you probably will not be able to get access to the main interior supply line without quite a lot of plumbing work.

If you are unsure about how the water supply lines run in your home, you might consider hiring a plumber for an hour or two to look over your home’s pipes and to give you a solid quote on what is involved to get your softener plumbed correctly.  Santa Barbara has many excellent plumbers and every family eventually needs a good doctor, a good lawyer and a good plumber.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Kitchen Cabinet Facelift

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question: My wife and I own a condo in Santa Barbara that we used to live in and now rent out to supplement our retirement income. The unit is in good shape overall and is easy to rent, but the kitchen cabinets are starting to show their age and we would like to spruce them up without doing a major kitchen remodel. Our renter is moving out next month and we would like to get this taken care of quickly so we can show the unit as soon as possible. What are our options?

Your Handyman: If the cabinets are not damaged and are of relatively good quality then there you have two options for an affordable face lift rather than going through the often major expense and effort of installing new cabinets, countertops and plumbing. Your first option is to give the cabinets a very thorough scrubbing down inside and out using a cleaning solution like Murphy Oil Soap which can be purchased at most grocery stores.

Fill a bucket with hot water and Murphy Oil Soap, wear gloves to protect your hands, use a non abrasive but stiff sponge to aggressively scrub the cabinet surfaces, and you may be surprised how many buckets of dirty water you go through before the cabinets are clean. Even the cleanest appearing cabinets can be coated with large amounts of grease and oil generated by years of cooking and the resulting coating of dust sticking to the oil. As a final step in the cleaning process, wash down the cabinets with a rinse of hot clean water to remove any residual of the cleaning solution.

Once the cabinets are completely clean inside and out, they need to be left to dry which may take a day or two in foggy weather or just an afternoon if the weather is hot and windy. After the cabinets are thoroughly dry, you then want to select a wood stain from a product line like MinWax, choosing a color that matches the original stain color of your cabinets as closely as possible. Along with the new stain you will want to purchase some plastic drop clothes, a small plastic bucket to hold the stain while you are working, a package of nitrile gloves to wear while staining, a roll of blue painters tape, and a couple of cloth staining pads; all of which can be purchased at any paint store or the paint department of a hardware store. Use the plastic sheeting to protect your floors and counter tops from the inevitable drips and splashes of stain, and then wipe down the exposed surfaces of the cabinets, doors and drawers with a generous application of stain. After the stain application is complete, go back over all the stained surfaces with a clean white rag to wipe off any stain that has not been absorbed into the wood. The cabinets will immediately look much improved as the clean dry wood soaks up the stain and after airing out for a couple of days will be ready for showing to potential renters.

Note that it is very important that the new stain color closely matches the original stain color. If your intention is to change the stain color of your cabinets then your cabinets need to be stripped and sanded down to new wood which will require considerably more time and elbow grease, and it may be best to hire a professional painter for this option.

Your second option is to do what is commonly referred to as re-facing the cabinets which involves the removal and replacement of all the cabinet doors and the matching wood fronts on all the cabinet drawers. Fabricating cabinet doors and drawer faces require very specialized and expensive wood working machinery and are thus typically made by very large cabinetry mills. Even if you have a local carpenter build custom cabinets for your home, more often than not the doors and drawer fronts are being ordered from a large regional cabinet mill. Typically these mills will only sell to contractors, kitchen designers or lumber yards but there probably are some that sell online to consumers. However great care needs to be taken to ensure that the correct sizes are ordered, this may be a project best handled by a professional, and Santa Barbara has many skilled finish carpenters and kitchen shops that can handle this job for you. Once the old doors and drawers are out of the cabinets, then the cabinet frames and faces will need to be cleaned and stained as previously described in the first option prior to the installation of the new doors and drawer faces. Re-facing gives you the opportunity to update your cabinets with an entirely new look, or you can order the new doors and faces to match the original style.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Repair Double Hung Wood Sash Windows

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question: Our Santa Barbara home was built in the early 1920’s and has the original wood windows that slide up and down with the antique wavy glass. The windows add a lot of charm to the house but have become very difficult to open and close. Can the windows be adjusted in some way or have the wood frames swelled from humidity over the years and need to be planed down a little?

Your Handyman: Wood sash windows can be a beautiful detail to a historical home but a window or door should only by planed as a last resort and the planed should be done by an experienced carpenter. Your window style is called a double hung wood sash window and usually the weight of the window is counter weighted by lead weights that ride opposed to the window up and down inside the outer window frame, connected to the window by a braided cotton rope. If these ropes are worn through then the windows will not operate correctly until the window frames are opened up by a carpenter and new ropes are installed. If the ropes and rollers are intact then the problem may often be solved by lubricating the vertical window tracks with paraffin, commonly called wax, which is sold at many hardware stores for home canning enthusiasts. Take a block of the paraffin and rub it all through out the track faces and sides and you will find after a couple of passes that your windows will be much easier to operate. Paraffin is inexpensive and I would not recommend using any silicone or petroleum lubricants, the butt of an old candle but not surf board wax.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Expansive Soil Causing Ceiling Cracks

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question: Our home was built in the 1920’s and several of our bedrooms have terrible cracking in the ceilings that we have tried to patch over but the cracks keep coming back. It really looks bad and we want to permanently fix the cracks. Any ideas?

Your Handyman: This is a very common problem in older homes that were built on raised perimeter foundations in areas with expansive soil. Expansive soil is very common in the Santa Barbara area, it heaves up in the winter when wet and then settles and cracks in the summer when dried out, and the house moves in lockstep with the soil supporting the older foundation.

Your plaster ceiling cracks are the tell tale signs of these seasonal slight settling movements. Patching this type of cracking, as you have found out the hard way, can be a challenge and I suggest that you give up on the patching and install a new drywall ceiling. A layer of new ½” drywall can be fastened to the old plaster ceiling by screwing through the new drywall and the old plaster and into the ceiling joists. After texture is applied to the new drywall ceiling to match the walls, along with a coat of primer and a color top coat of paint, your ceilings will look like new and the plaster cracks are gone for good. You might also consider the installation of a beautiful new crown molding as part of this project, which are common in homes of this period as a nice finishing detail. Your new ceiling will also provide a little additional insulation value as an added benefit helping to keep the home a little warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Santa Barbara Faucet Repairs: How to Shut Off Water Supply

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question:  Our home is in the City of Santa Barbara, our bathroom faucet has been dripping for months and now the drips have become a trickle.  I have replaced the washers on faucets before but my problem is that I can’t shut off the water in order to do the job.  The small valves under the sink are old and the handles no longer will turn.  Our house doesn’t have a main shut off valve and in the past I have turned the water off at the meter on the street, but now it will not completely shut off any more either.  How can I get the water turned off for a few minutes so I can work on my faucet?

Your Handyman:  It is not uncommon for an older home to not have a main shut off valve that is usually located near the front door where the water pipe enters the house allowing the water to be shut off quickly in the event of a plumbing emergency, or for the type of routine maintenance that you want to perform.  However the water meter on the street is the property of the City of Santa Barbara and they do not want anyone other than a public works employee using the meter valve for any reason.  So your first step is to contact the City Public Works Department to report that your meter will not shut off and they will schedule a time for repair or replacement of your meter and or meter valve.  The next step after public works is finished is to install a shut off valve where the main water line enters the home.

The shut off valve should be a ball style valve that is easily operated and it should be installed above ground.  A ball valve turns off and on with a 90 degree turn of the handle and is much more reliable than the older style gate valves which inevitably get fouled by mineral build up from our very hard water or from corrosion.  This is a relatively simple plumbing job if you are proficient in the cutting and sweating of copper pipe and if not, call a contractor to do the job correctly.

Once you have the shut off valve in place you can then easily turn off the water for your faucet repair project or if needed in the event of a future plumbing emergency.  You should also replace both the hot and cold angle valves under the sink so that they too can be quickly turned off when needed.  Purchase and install new angle valves that are also of the ball valve style, which are a little more expensive but will hold up much better over time.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Removing Old Mirrors

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question:  We recently purchased a Santa Barbara home that was built in the early 60’s and we would like to remove the original wall to wall mirrors that the original owner had installed in the bathrooms.  The mirrors seem to be supported by little plastic brackets that are screwed to the wall at the top and a shiny metal track at the bottom.  Can we just lift the mirrors off the wall after unscrewing the brackets?  I am concerned that the mirror will shatter while we are trying to get them off the wall.

Your Handyman:  Large wall to wall mirrors over a vanity or on living area walls were a very popular feature in homes built in the 60’s and 70’s.  The popular style now for a bathroom seems to be large mirrors that are framed with a heavy wood frame and hung on the wall like a picture.  Removing the old wall mounted mirror is a job that may seem to be a simple task, but actually is a job that is potentially very dangerous and needs to be thought out before being attempted.  A large mirror can be quite heavy and if broken while being removed can inflict saber like cuts to arms and legs while crashing to the floor creating a true medical emergency.  Most large mirrors are supported by a stainless steel track along the base that is screwed to the wall studs and the plastic brackets that you described at the top, but more often than not the installer first applied adhesive to the wall board before setting the mirror in place.  How much adhesive was used is not known until you start the removal process and usually the adhesive will tear off the top layer of the drywall, requiring drywall repair and painting for wall areas not covered by the new mirror.

Two capable adults will be needed for this job and both need to be wearing heavy gloves, eye protection, sturdy work pants and work shoes.  Remove the top plastic brackets while supporting the mirror and try to work the mirror loose while both workers are very ready to jump back immediately to a safe distance if the mirror were to separate from the wall and fall.  If you are lucky and there is a minimum of adhesive, the mirror may just easily be lifted up and out of the bottom bracket.  If the mirror does not want to easily come loose you can carefully start working it away from the wall and start slipping several wedge shaped wooden carpenter shims in along the top edge which will slide down between the wall the mirror and wall as you pull the mirror off the wall.  Most mirrors can be removed without breaking if this process is patiently followed and the mirror should then be carefully loaded into the back of a pickup truck and taken to the county dump.  Breaking the mirror into smaller pieces that can be put into your trash bin is a bad idea and you will end up scattering glass shards around your yard that a child or pet may cut their foot on.

There are few first aid scenarios’ more urgent than severe bleeding, so don’t underestimate the potential for injury from glass cuts for this job.  Call a contractor if you have any uncertainty that you and your helper can do the job safely.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Hola El Nino: Get Your Home Ready

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Regardless of how you may feel about the politically hot issue of global warming and if the burning of carbon based fuels is permanently altering our climate, I personally have a feeling that our 4+ year drought is going to end with a bang this winter.  Though I am not a true local and have only lived in good old Santa Barbara for 40 years, I don’t ever remember a summer where we had a real rainstorm in June and these monsoonal cloud patterns throughout July and August.  My fishermen friends tell me that the water temps in the channel are so warm that tropical fish like Dorado are now being caught in local waters.  Predicting the weather seems to me to be part science, part intuition and a good measure of luck, and I think it is likely that we are going to experience a very wet winter this year.  After so many years of dry weather, it has been easy to postpone weather related home maintenance and here are a few issues that homeowners should address while we still have a month or two of summer left on the calendar.

Leaking Roofs:   A roof only leaks when it rains and if you have been putting off repairing or replacing a worn out or leaking roof, trying to get a roofing contractor to return your call after El Nino arrives while be less likely than trying to call the IRS on April 14th.  Now is the time to take action if your roof has leaked in the past or if your roof has exceeded the recommended life of the manufacturer of the roofing shingles.  If your roof shingles are starting to look frayed or have been damaged by wind, it is probably time for a new roof.  Now is the time to call a roofing contractor.

Leaking Skylights: If your home has sky lights and you see any sign of water damage or water stains when you look up at the sky light, then you need to call a roofing contractor.  Most sky lights are constructed sort of like a Tupperware lid that fits down over a metal frame that is water sealed often with a rubber of plastic seal or gasket.  If any water is passing through this seal, then a roofing contactor needs to lift the skylight off the roof, check the integrity of the metal flange and rubber seal, and make any needed repairs or install new parts.  Climbing up onto the roof and trying to seal the skylight with silicon or tar is a waste of time and a good way to take a bad fall.

Rain gutters:  The purpose of rain gutters is to move rain water away from your house ideally to an area where the natural slope of the ground carries the water away to a street, stream or storm drain.  When the soil around your home becomes overly saturated, a home can experience moisture damage to the exterior walls, water can flow under a cement slab and enter the home via foundation cracks, or your crawl space or basement can flood.  Now is the time to make repairs to your gutters and to make sure that they are securely fastened to the rafter tails or eve fascia boards.  It your gutters were installed using aluminum spikes, these spikes often work their way loose over time and should be replaced with long threaded screws that can be purchased at the hardware store.  If your yard is graced with mature trees that shed leaves onto your roof, cleaning the gutters can wait until late fall before rains may arrive unless you live in a wild fire zone in which case your gutters should always be kept free of leaves.

Paint:  Painting a house is one of the easiest maintenance chores to postpone but if your siding and trim is cracking and any bare wood is exposed it is time for paint.  Ideally a house should be prepped and painted every 8-10 years. The primary purpose of a coat of house paint is to protect a home from the relentless eroding forces of sun, wind and rain.  If your home’s protective layer of paint is in bad shape, you possibly will need the services of both a carpenter and painter after your home is subjected to another winter of wet weather.  Homes with siding made from manufactured wood products are especially prone to water damage as even the smallest amount of moisture will cause these wood products to swell and crack.

Surface Drainage:  If you are fortunate to have a home that is built on a slight slope and has natural drainage make sure all surface drains or swales are free of leaves and dirt so you are not out working in the storm with a shovel and rake.  If your home is on a flat lot with poor drainage you may need sand bags to prevent water from entering your garage or house during extended down pours.  Your neighborhood fire station usually makes sand bags available free of charge when bad weather arrives.

Sump Pumps:  Basements and crawl spaces under older homes can be prone to flooding and are often equipped with a sump basin and a submersible electric pump.  Now is the time to check to make sure the sump is free of dirt and crude and that the pump is working correctly.  December of 2011 was the last really wet month we had and I was fortunate enough to purchase the last available sump pump in Santa Barbara for a customer whose pump had failed and their basement was quickly filling with water. Test the pump by running a garden hose into the basement and make sure the pump turns on and the drain line is intact.  A submersible pump needs to be plugged into a GFI protected outlet and always be very aware of the potential for electrocution if you have to enter a flooded basement.

Be Prepared is a good motto to live by and with a little preparation and planning your home will do just fine when and if our old friend El Nino returns to Santa Barbara this winter.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

It Only Leaks when it Rains

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

“It Only Leaks when it Rains”

As we enter into our fourth consecutive summer of drought, it is easy to forget that most droughts seem to be followed by seasons of above average rainfall and there is much continued talk in the scientific community of warming ocean temperatures creating another “El Nino” winter. During these unusually dry years it can be seductively easy to ignore and postpone pressing home maintenance issues that cause major headaches when our weather predictably changes and rain starts to fall.

Most roofs that were installed on homes in the 1960s through the 1990s for the most part had a limited life of about 25 – 30 years while more expensive roofs that have been installed in recent years can last as long as 40 or even 50 years. If you have any concerns about the condition of your roof or if leaked at all during the last wet weather we experienced in December of 2011, then now is the time to call a roofing contractor for an inspection and evaluation. A small roof leak in the past is not going to heal itself by some miracle or act of God and more likely will be a much bigger problem when the rain eventually returns. A leaking roof can cause all sorts of expensive damage to ceilings, walls, electrical systems and even the most minor leak can give dry rot fungus the opportunity to get a foot hold in your eves and rafters. Trying to get a roofer to answer your frantic phone call when the first signs of a wet winter appear, will be like trying to be first in line at the Apple Store to buy the latest version of the iPhone.

One of the easiest home maintenance projects to postpone indefinitely has to be painting. There is no hard and fast rule for how often to paint your house but if 10 years or more have passed since your painter packed up his ladders and drove out your driveway, it is probably time to call him back. Paint of course is most noticed for the color that it gives to a home but it is easy to forget that the main reason a house is painted is to protect your eves, trim, and siding from the relentless assault from the sun, wind and rain. Take a few minutes to really closely look at your houses exterior and if you see areas where the paint has cracked or peeled away, then your home is vulnerable to water damage. If your home has manufactured wood siding that is either laminated in panels like plywood or is made from compressed sawdust similar to particle board, then a solid coat of paint is especially crucial. Putting off a needed paint job can change the nature of the work from requiring a painter to needing the much more expensive services of a carpenter to remove and replace damaged wood. The dog days of summer are the best time for painting, so don’t gamble that next winter will be our 5th dry winter in a row and put off calling your painter for another year.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Installing a Water Softener

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Installing a Water Softener

Question: Like most homes in Santa Barbara we have very hard water that leaves mineral streaks in our dishwasher and crusty lime buildup on our faucets and shower heads. Recently we were house guests at a relative’s home in Northern California who has a water softener and we really enjoyed the way the soap suds up in the shower and my wife loved how light and full of life her hair felt after shampooing. Now that we are back at home we want to have a water softener installed but don’t know what all is involved. How does a water softener work and what plumbing work will be needed?

Your Handyman: I personally have enjoyed softened water for most all of my life and really notice how the soap and shampoo sticks to me when staying as a house guest or at a hotel where the water is not softened. The water softening process greatly reduces the amount of minerals in your home’s water and it is these minerals that explain why the dishes that you thought were cleaned in the dishwasher come out covered with spots, why the water in your shower leaves a unpleasant film on everything it touches, and why your expensive plumbing fixtures are slowly being encrusted with mineral scale. These minerals in our water prevent soaps and detergents from dissolving entirely which makes the soap less effective, and they also partially bond with soap creating a sort of soap scum that clings to your skin and hair. The crusty mineral scale that you see on the outside of your faucets and shower heads is also slowly building up inside your pipes and faucet valves.

Rain water is almost entirely free of minerals but as it soaks into the earth and heads into the aquifers deep underground, it picks up a little of whatever soluble minerals that it passes through and depending on the local geology, it can reach varying degrees of mineral content. Typically water districts that rely on wells that pump ground water will have much harder water than districts that source their water from mountain streams and lakes. The San Fernando Valley to our south gets its water from the Eastern Sierras and has some of the softest mineral free tap water that can be found.

The solution is to remove the minerals which are primarily calcium and magnesium from the water and the easiest method is to properly install a water softener. The heart of the water softener is the mineral tank which is filled with thousands of tiny polystyrene resin beads, and these beads naturally carry a negative electrical charge. Minerals have a positive charge and as the hard water flows through the mineral tank, the positively charged minerals bond with the negatively charged resin beads and cling to the beads. Periodically a water softener goes through a process called regenerating, which is when concentrated salt water (brine) is used to flush out the mineral tank. Salt (sodium) has a positive charge and the sheer volume of sodium ions are able to break away the minerals bonded to the resin beads and wash them out of the tank. The tank is then flushed with water to remove most all of the salt.

A water softener can be purchased at a local appliance or hardware store for about $600 and is typically an easy installation depending on your home’s plumbing. The water softener needs to be installed into your plumbing ideally at a location where the main water line for your home’s interior water supply enters the home. You want to make sure that the supply line does not also provide water for outside hoses and sprinklers.   Often in newer construction the plumber will provide an exposed pipe loop on the main water supply line which is intended as the location for the softener. An electrical outlet will be needed to supply power for the circuitry that determines when it is time for the softener to regenerate, and a sewage drain line is required for the brine and flushing water created during the regeneration cycle. If you don’t have a location with a drain line, there is the option of having a local water softening company deliver and install a recharged resin tank on a periodic basis and they flush the tank out back at their place of business.

The frequency that the softener regenerates and the amount of salt that is used will be determined by how much water is consumed inside your home. A typical family of four will need to refill the salt tank about once a month with 2-3 bags of salt that can be purchased at the hardware store or at Costco. The salt bags usually weigh 50 lbs or more and can be difficult for seniors to handle. Potassium can be used instead of salt in the brine tank but a bag of potassium costs about $20 while a bag of salt pellets costs about $4. Many seniors have the salt bags loaded into their car’s trunk at the store and later have their gardener or a strong teenage neighbor unload and pour them into the brine tank.

There are no health hazards associated with softened water however the trace amount of salt left in the resin tank which goes into the tap water can pose a problem for a person on a sodium free diet. A reverse osmosis water filter system will remove this very small amount of salt and can be installed under the kitchen sink for drinking water and for the ice maker. The only other complaint people may have about water softeners is that they use quite a lot of water during the regeneration cycle that can be considered wasteful especially in light of our ongoing drought. This is also the case for the reverse osmosis filter system which also creates waste water in the filtering process.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Dealing With Contractors

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Dealing With Contractors

Question: My wife and I are in the planning process of what we consider to be a big remodeling project at our home in Santa Barbara. We are expanding the size of our kitchen by pushing out the exterior walls, converting the attached garage into 2 new bedrooms and building a new garage. We are trying to find a reputable general contractor to work with who understand our needs, and will remodel our home in a timely professional manner. We have heard many “horror stories” from friends about experiences they have had with contractors and want to avoid these types of problems. How do we go about finding a general contractor who can be relied upon to do a good job?

Your Handyman: Santa Barbara has many excellent contractors in all the different construction trades, but like every community, has a few bad apples. It certainly is not uncommon to hear of situations where friends or relatives have hired a contractor to do work at their home and things went less than smoothly. Unfortunately, contractors are right up there with used car dealers and cell phone providers when cited by consumer groups for frequency and volume of customer complaints. But with a little knowledge of the laws governing contractors in California and a little due diligence beforehand, your remodeling project should go off without a hitch.

The typical homeowner is unaware of the basic California State laws governing the business of providing labor and materials for home improvement or construction. In California a person or business contracting to do any job exceeding $500 including labor and materials, is required by law to have a valid contractor’s license specific to the trade. A person who wants to apply for a contractor’s license must have years of verifiable experience in that trade, pass a comprehensive exam on the specifics of the trade and of contracting law that is administered by the Contractors State License Board, not have any history of criminal arrests, and post a contractors bond of $12,500 with the State. In California, different trades like plumbing, masonry, painting, and electrical each have a different license category with a test specific to that trade. A homeowner can easily go online to the Contractors State License Board website www.cslb.ca.gov and search by contractor’s name, business name or license number to verify that a license exists, who the license is issued to, if the license holder currently has workers compensation insurance, and if there have been any disciplinary actions against the license.

It is my opinion that any person who works in the building trades, who is self employed, does not have a criminal background, and is serious about their work will early on in their career acquire a contractors license. No license = no legitimate business = no insurance. It is very important that anyone you hire to work at your home has general liability insurance to protect you against any one of the myriad things that can go wrong in construction, and also workers compensation insurance if they have any employees. A contractor with insurance can simply request from their insurance broker that you are sent in the mail or email an insurance certificate confirming the details of their insurance coverage. If someone is hurt on the job at your home and the contractor doesn’t have worker compensation insurance, then you may be left paying some or even all of the medical bills, lost pay for the injured worker, and rehabilitation. There are more than a few law firms in Santa Barbara who do nothing but represent injured workers with their worker compensation claims against either the injured worker’s employer, or the property owner of the jobsite where they were working when the injury occurred. A contractor should also be able to provide proof of automobile coverage in case a truck gets backed into the wall of your house or a worker gets in a fender bender while picking up materials for your job.

California State Law states that the amount of a deposit on a contract is limited to $1000 or 10% of the total contract amount, whichever is less. There is no legitimate reason for an established contractor to require a deposit greater than these amounts and it is a serious red flag warning sign if a contractor is asking for a large deposit. I know a local custom home contractor who has built over 200 homes in Santa Barbara in the past 30 years, who requires zero deposit and submits only 1 bill to the owner when the house is fully completed. Most contractors however will ask to be paid by a percentage of completion agreement where basically the contractor presents an invoice weekly or biweekly billing only for work that has been completed at the date of the invoice. It is not a good idea for the homeowner to pay ahead for work that is yet to be completed or to pay for materials that are still on order or sitting on your jobsite.

Possibly the best way to find a good contractor for your project is by referral from friends or neighbors. Talk to people you know and associates at work to find people who have had work done at their homes that is similar to the project that you are planning, and who were happy with their contractor and the quality of his work. When interviewing contractors ask them for referrals to past clients, be sure to call the referrals to hear from them how their projects were handled, and ask them if you can stop by to take a look at the finished work. With some research and leg work you should not have a problem finding the right contractor for your project, your job will run smoothly and you will soon be enjoying your new kitchen and extra rooms.

 -Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259