Sunday, November 04, 2007

Watch Out for the Arrogant Contractor

By Mark J. Donovan

It has been about 2.5 years now since I started and I created these sites to share my experiences, and allow others to share theirs, on home construction projects. As I have always made it clear, I am not a professional contractor. By profession I am an electrical engineer, and marketing manager who has worked in the high tech industry for 25 years. This said, I am also a veteran homeowner of 20+ years who has gone through many home addition, home remodeling and home construction projects.

My experience with home construction began as a 10 year old kid, helping my father build a couple of family room additions, sheds, and two houses. Since purchasing my own first home, I have completed many home construction projects. My projects have included finishing basements and unfinished upstairs, putting on attached garages and family rooms, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, and even acting as my own general contractor on building one of my homes. This final project, building my own custom home, was actually showcased on the DIY Network back in 2005 (Being your Own General Contractor – Vacation Homes).

One of the greatest skills I have learned throughout my years being involved in home construction projects is how to find the right building contractor. In particular, I have learned how to discern the differences between a good contractor and an arrogant contractor. Note that I say arrogant contractor and not a bad contractor. Bad contractors are usually easy to spot, if you check their references and you ask a few questions. The arrogant contractor, on the other hand is a little cagier. As a matter of fact, the arrogant contractor may actually be good at his trade. However, he is the type of contractor that is impossible to work with. He is the primo Dona that talks a lot of bravado. He’s the guy that wants you to work your build schedule around his. He is inflexible and is always right, and is never hesitant to tell you this fact.

My experience has been to avoid the arrogant contractor like the plague. He is the type of contractor that forgets you’ve hired him, and instead thinks you work for him. Besides being just plain obnoxious to deal with, this type of contractor also has the tendency to fast talk you into spending more money than you need or having extra work done that is not required.

The trick is identifying the arrogant contractor, before you’ve hired him. Over the years I have learned a few basic techniques in exposing the arrogant contractor before I have hired him.

First, always check the references. Make sure when you call or visit the references you ask them how was their experience working with the contractor. If the reference expounds on the virtues of the contractor for 15 minutes you probably have identified a contractor that you will be able to work with. On the other hand, if the reference gives you a “yes, he got the job done” type answer, then this should be a warning sign. Don’t hesitate to probe further with the reference.

Second, find out who the prospective contractor uses as his material suppliers. Visit the suppliers and ask them their experience with the contractor. You’ll quickly learn if he pays his bills on time and is good to work with. If the contractor does not want to share with you his material suppliers’ names, then this is a clear warning sign to stay away from him.

Third, interview the prospective contractor when he provides you with a bid for the project. Really try to get to know the contractor during this process. If during the interview, you feel the contractor is dismissing your questioning or is giving you half answers, then stay away from him. Do not assume that he is just a busy guy that doesn’t have time for your na├»ve questions. If he is unwilling to explain his bid thoroughly during the proposal phase of a project, then chances are he will become even more difficult to work with once he has your signature on his contract and your deposit in the bank.

Finally, place a couple of calls to him during the bidding / proposal phase of your home construction project. See if he returns your calls promptly and answers your questions. If he does not, chances are you are seeing how he will operate once you have hired him.

To conclude, there are many good contractors to choose from when starting a new home construction project. You just have to find them. The fundamental technique in finding a good contractor for you building project is to get to know him first, before you sign a contract with him. Make sure you check the references and suppliers, and spend some time with him during the bidding phase of your project to really get to know him. If the references check out, and you feel completely comfortable with him during the proposal phase of the project, chances are you have avoided hiring the arrogant contractor.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ceramic Tile Calculator

By Mark J. Donovan

Finally a Ceramic Tile Calculator that is easy to understand and gives accurate results. Check out's Ceramic tile Calculator. It allows you to specify your tile area, and select (via drop down menus) your required surface tile and border tile sizes. Its easy to use and its free!!

Check out the Ceramic Tile Calculator at today!!!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Preparing your Home for Winter

By Mark J. Donovan

With summer unofficially over, it is now time to think about making sure your home is ready for the winter ahead.

First, make sure the caulk around your windows and doors is still forming a tight seal. If not, remove the old caulk and replace it with fresh caulk. Air infiltration is high around leaky windows.

Second, check the roof. Make sure there are no loose shingles and that the ridge vents are securely fastened to the roof. Replace any broken shingles and re-secure the ridge vents if they have come loose. Make sure any exposed roofing nails are covered in roofing tar.

Third, have your furnace system cleaned and checked by a professional. In the process make sure the air filters are replaced with new ones.

Fourth, drain all lawn hoses and store inside the garage or basement. If the hoses are left outside during the winter months, the water in them can freeze and expand, which can lead to hose damage.

Fifth, if your water heater is not wrapped in insulation, then do so. Wrapping your hot water heater in insulation can save you significant money on your energy bills.

Sixth, have your chimney flues cleaned. Built up creosol due to burning wood can lead to chimney fires. Also, the chimney flues should be checked for cracks. Chimney flue cracks can also cause chimney fires.

Seven, make sure the gutters are clean and free from leaves and debris. Otherwise they will cause snow and ice to build up which could lead to failed gutters.

Eight, attach storm windows to your home’s exterior windows to help curb heat loss.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Taping and Mudding Sheetrock

How to Tape and Mud Sheetrock

By Mark J. Donovan

Taping and mudding sheetrock involves some artistry and craftsmanship. However, most do it yourself homeowners can tape and mud a small sheetrock project with the right knowledge and tool set.

Proper Installation of Sheetrock

It is imperative that the sheetrock be hung properly in order to do a quality taping and mudding sheetrock job.

Sheetrock should be first installed on the ceiling.

After the ceiling has been sheetrocked, you can then move on to the wall. You should start at the top of the walls, by hanging an upper row of sheetrock.

After the first row of sheetrock has been hung on the walls you can then install the second row. It is important that the sheetrock seams be minimized to help ensure a quality finished wall look.

It is also important that the tapered ends of the sheetrock butt up against each other so that they create a slight depression line at approximately half way up the sheetrocked wall. This depression, or recessed area, enables the tape and mud to be applied over the joint seam so as to not create a significant bulge on the sheetrocked wall.

Taping and Mudding Sheetrock

Apply the First Coat of Mud

If you are using sheetrock paper tape, first apply a skim coat of mud, also known as joint compound, over the joint seams before applying the tape.

If you are using the fiberglass sheetrock tape with a sticky backing, you can apply it directly to the sheetrock seams and joints.

Once you have applied the sheetrock tape to the seam or joint, apply a thin skim coat of joint compound over the tape and seam/joint. Use a 6” broad knife to apply the joint compound and run it down the tapeline with long continuous smooth strokes. Do not run the knife perpendicular to the seam or joint with many short strokes. Otherwise you will create many vertical lines that will need to be sanded out. Once you have applied the first coat of joint compound let it dry.

Apply Second Coat of Mud

After the first coat has dried, use a 10” wide broad knife and apply a liberal amount of joint compound along the length of the seam or joint. Again, make long smooth strokes with the broad knife that run parallel to the seam.

When applying the second coat of joint compound, angle the blade slightly such that there is more joint compound left near the center of the seam. Ultimately you want to build up the seam/joint area with a little extra joint compound to fully cover the tape.

Note that this second coat of joint compound should spread out over the seam such that it is approximately 10 inches in width.

Again let this second application of joint compound dry. Usually it will take about 24 hours for it to dry.

Application of Third Coat of Mud

Before applying the third coat of joint compound use your 6” knife to knock off high spots on the sheetrock seam.

Now apply a final skim coat of joint compound over the seam, again feathering out the seam slightly wider than the previous application of joint compound. The purpose of this coat is fill in any miniscule cracks or lines in the existing sheetrock mud seam and to flare the seam out a little more.

Again let this third coat of joint compound dry over night.

Applying Mud to Corners

You may want to purchase Inside and Outside Corner trowels to help in taping and mudding corners. Corners can be a trick and it is where the real artistry comes into play. I would suggest starting in a closet for doing corners to get some experience on areas that will not be seen.

Applying Mud to Nail Holes

As with the seams, apply 3 coats of joint compound to the nail / screw holes. No tape is required for the nail holes.

With each new layer of joint compound, feather out the sheetrock patch so that after the 3rd coat the nail hole is covered with approximately a 6” wide circle of joint compound.

Note that you can apply the mud to the nail holes in parallel with the taping and mudding of seams.

Sanding Joints and Seams

The use of a sheetrock pole sander will produce the best finished drywall look, as well as save you significant time in sanding the joints and seams. I highly recommend the use of one. They are relatively cheap and well worth the investment. A pole sander is about 4-5 feet long and has a flexible 3.25”x9” head on it that you apply sheetrock mesh sheets to. You can also use a sheetrock hand sander as well.

When sanding the joints and seams make long smooth strokes with the pole or hand sander that run parallel to the seam. Apply less pressure to the middle of the seam and more toward the edges to feather out the edge of the joint seam.

It is important that you sand the edges of the seam so that they completely feather out to a smooth finish with the sheetrock. As you near the edges of the seam, you can turn the angle of your pole sander such that it is on a 45o angle.

Priming and Painting the Walls

With the sanding of the seams and joints complete, wipe down the walls with a damp rag to remove the sheetrock mud dust.

Next apply a coat of primer.

Finally apply two coats of paint, and your ready for trimming out the room.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Luxury Home Sales are still on a Tear

By Mark J. Donovan

Everywhere you read the housing market has cooled. However there is one exception, the luxury home market. The wealthiest Americans are still buying up luxury homes and vacation homes. Some reports suggest that the wealthiest 10% of the nation’s households could account for nearly half the home sales this year.

So what are the reasons for this anomaly, and are the wealthy setting themselves up for a major correction in their own ball field?

First, wealthier households, with incomes greater than $250K per year and high net assets, are typically immune to higher mortgage interest rates, inflation, and other household cost increases such as gasoline and grocery products.

Second, wealthier households in general have bigger appetites than the average household. Historically their diet has included big-ticket items such as homes, automobiles, and boats.

Luxury homebuilders have been more than happy to help fuel the demand, and I might add, increase their prices. At some point, however, even the rich will begin to feel the pinch, or at least become smart enough to know when they are not getting good value. When that point comes, the luxury housing market will probably have at least a soft landing. Until that point comes, however, this last bastion in the residential home market will probably continue to flourish.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Opening the Pool

By Mark J. Donovan

Yesterday I spent much of the day opening our pool for the summer. As usual I was filled with in trepidation as I began pulling back the cover. Opening the pool never goes smoothly.

There is first the process of removing the cover. Inevitably it is filled with water with decaying leaves. No matter how much you skim the cover first, you still wind up dumping dirty water and other organic matter into your pristine pool water that sits below the cover.

Next comes the installation of the water filter and its associated chemical delivery contraptions. There are a myriad of hoses that connect to these pieces and to the pool itself. Without fail, there is always something on this hulk of plastic and hoses that either breaks when you tighten it or springs a leak when you turn the pump on. To lower the risk of leaks, I normally buy a new set of hoses annually. However something else usually breaks. I am convinced pool manufacturers use the lowest quality plastics possible. One season in the sun and they become brittle and crack. Its as if the pieces are human, and burn like our skin.

Once the filter and hoses are hooked up its then time to remove the rubber seal that is covering the drain trap. This can be a challenge. Sometimes you drop a screw into the pool or you wind up loosing 100 gallons of water in the process. I’ve learned over the years to remove just two or 3 screws at a time when removing this rubber seal. You minimize water loss and you have fewer screws to fumble around with in your hands.

After removing the rubber seal on the drain trap, all that’s left to enable you to turn on the motor is to remove the plug on the output vent. This usually takes a towel and a little praying and cajoling to get it off.

With all the hardware connected it’s now time to start the chemicals. Again, I like to plan ahead and get them well in advance. Unfortunately, I always still find myself short of some chemical or a PH tester, or in this year’s case water. Yes, there was water high enough in the pool that it flowed into the drain, however this year it was apparently insufficient, or so I initially thought. The jet pressure was low and I could not seem to build it up. After multiple tries I finally discovered that as usual, there was a crack/leak in the system. This year it was the 2-year-old chlorine delivery contraption. There were multiple pinhole leaks that sprayed out a fine mist of water when the motor was running.

So today I am off finding a new chlorine filter. With a little luck, by this evening my pool will be operational and I will be reflecting whether or not it’s all worth it. Right now my opinion is, its not. However when the hot, sultry days of August hit, I’ll probably be changing my tune once again.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Home Depot Introduces its own line of Micro Homes

By Mark J. Donovan

Apparently the Katrina cottage is gaining popularity throughout the country. Initally Lowes developed these micro-homes for displaced residents of the New Orleans area. However, national interest and demand is growing for these micro-homes. So much so that Home Depot has just announced its line of Katrina cottages.

Both Lowes and Home Depot plan on offering plans and building materials for these micro homes. Each offer a variety of plans for homes between 500-1000 sqft, with a price tag of between $25,000 and $50,000.

With large stick built home building costs well exceeding $100 per sqft, the micro home just may be the future in affordable housing, particularly as lot sizes shrink in populated areas.

Monday, March 19, 2007 now Available on YouTube adds Helpful DIY Home Improvement Videos to its Collection of Home Improvement Information

Monday, March 19, 2007: announced today its move to expand its presence in the Do-it-Yourself home improvement space by now providing video content on its website. The video content will complement its existing collection of Home Improvement, Home remodeling, and home repair information., and the HomeAdditionPlus channel on YouTube, which can be seen at, is targeted to provide informative and useful video information to do-it-yourself homeowners on all aspects of home remodeling and construction. In addition to how-to advice, the sites will also include home building product reviews, and interviews with various experts in the home building trade.

Visit and make sure to subscribe to the channel. will be adding new and useful home improvement videos on a regular basis that you will not want to miss. is the home improvement resource for finding accurate and helpful information for your specific home project needs.

Contact Information:

Mark Donovan

Sunday, January 21, 2007

DECRA Metal Roofing Shingles

By Mark J. Donovan

DECRA’s metal roofing shingles, look like traditional asphalt shingles when installed. The metal shingles are sold in bundles and squares. Each metal shingle is 21” x 52” in width and height and is stone-coated in one of five color variations.

DECRA’s stone-coated metal shingles are much less sensitive to damage. You can walk on them without concern for denting. They are also guaranteed to not be damaged by hail due to their unique construction.

DECRA’s metal shingles weigh approximately one third of standard asphalt shingles. They are extremely light which enables them to frequently be installed over existing asphalt shingle layer(s). As a result, the labor cost savings associated with installing metal shingles can somewhat mitigate their high unit cost.

DECRA metal shingles are installed similarly to regular asphalt shingles, however they include an interlocking mechanism between the top of one course of shingles and the bottom of another. This interlocking mechanism helps to enable DECRA to provide a 120MPH wind warranty with its metal shingles.

To learn more on metal roofing installation and technology see Metal Roofing Installation.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I’m Buying a Portable Electric Generator for the Home

By Mark J. Donovan

Today I decided that it is finally time to buy a portable electric generator for the home. I have been putting off buying a portable electric generator for years, but no longer. After spending the past 24 hours in a frigid home due to an ice storm and a subsequent loss of electricity, I told myself today – No More.

As the sun was setting and I was contemplating how I was going to keep my plumbing pipes from freezing this evening the electricity finally came back on. However, only after the freezer defrosted and several trips to the creek to fill buckets of water to flush toilets.

Next week, when Home Depot has replenished its portable electric generator supplies, I’ll be there, credit card in hand. Unlike 5 years ago, this time I mean it!