Visit any community group on any social media channel, and you’ll find lots of neighbors asking for recommendations for professionals to do a variety of home improvement projects – construction, electrical, plumbing, etc. These requests frequently include something like, “I need someone who will call me back,” or “The last person I called didn’t show up.”
Clearly, many people are struggling today to find skilled tradespersons. Why is it so hard to get someone to redo your bathroom, or pave your driveway, or even call you back to give you a quote?
It is a complex problem.
“First, contractors not calling you back is often an issue of staffing and business structure,” said Doug Bierer, owner of DBC Remodeling & Construction, 8391 Wattsburg Road. “At DBC, we place a very high priority on communication, so answering calls and returning emails as quickly as possibly is something that we place a lot of effort and staffing behind. We want to give people answers quickly, even if we can’t help them.”
At smaller companies, there may not be office staff to handle calls and schedule estimates and the contractor may be trying to handle those things between jobsite work.
Many reasons, and one big one
Bierer, whose company specializes in basement finishing, sunroom additions, decks, awnings, and full kitchen and bath remodels, said some jobs are just harder to schedule than others for a variety of reasons.
“Some of that has to do with demand, some of it has to do with supply chain issues, and a lot of it has to do with the incredible shortage of people in skilled trades,” Bierer said. “Our current culture and education system have not elevated the trades to young people and we’re seeing the results of that now. The demand will continue to outpace the supply of people skilled enough to do the work well. We believe working in the trades is honorable and satisfying work, and we are invested in seeing more young people in the Erie area take the route of skilled trades as their profession.”
Bierer who employs nearly thirty of those skilled tradespersons who work at DBC, said they value their employees and have no trouble keeping them busy with jobs big and small. Bierer points out that even “small” jobs require more work than homeowners may realize.
“The cost is often higher for ‘small’ jobs than a homeowner may expect, but that is due to many factors including time, materials and difficulty,” he said.
Additionally, jobs that require materials that a client must choose, such as a kitchen or bathroom, often take longer to schedule.
“Cabinets take a long time to get, no matter what,” Bierer said. “So, we are booking weeks out on those types of jobs, but other projects, like decks and basements, we can often move very quickly to get done.”
Bierer advises homeowners to do research when picking a contractor and urges caution when deciding to do projects themselves.
Choose DIY projects carefully
“As a company, we admire the many DIY people out there willing to learn and attempt what we do every day, but our word of caution would be to evaluate your ability and available time to accurately finish the job all the way to the end,” Bierer said, adding that few contractors will accept the task of finishing a DIY project gone wrong.
Home improvement projects you should leave to the professionals include any structural changes that involve load-bearing walls, electricity, plumbing and concrete work. But there are some home improvement project that most people can handle.
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Start with paint
If you’re itching to make some updates while you wait for the pros to handle the big stuff, Michelle Hannold, 46, a Wesleyville resident and longtime DIY devotee has some advice for you. She has been doing home DIY projects, including painting interiors and furniture for others, for many years.
“Early on it was through necessity,” she said. “Now, it’s simply for the love of it.”
Hannold is the owner of Purposely Repurposed by Michelle, a furniture and home-décor repurposing business she started on Facebook last year. It’s a hobby for Hannold, who has a full-time day job, too.
“After buying my home in 2015, I managed to decorate and furnish my entire house by thrifting and repurposing,” she said. “Family and friends started requesting pieces that they owned to be transformed and I saw it as an opportunity.”
Hannold’s DIY go-to is her first love when it comes to home improvement – paint.
“I love how a coat of paint can inexpensively change the entire look of a room,” she said. “And now, I use it to transform thrifted items, including furniture, wood, metal and plastic. There is a paint available for nearly any surface you want to change,” she said.
Hannold’s painting tips: Spend the money on good supplies and high-quality paint; priming is not always necessary, but is usually worth the effort; always clean your pieces or walls before painting (Dawn dish soap is an effective and inexpensive degreaser); shiny surfaces should be lightly scuffed (research the grits and purposes before starting); allow the paint to dry for the recommended amount of time; and know that just because paint is dry, does not mean it’s cured, be patient and follow instructions on the can.
Another important painting tip: heed the temperature suggestions. “They are on the paint or stain can for a reason,” Hannold said. “Trying to paint in a space that is too cold or too humid can result in having to sand it off and start over.”
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More DIY jobs most can handle
Here are a few more home improvement projects that aren’t too expensive or technical for the do-it-yourselfer. Be sure to check out YouTube, where you’ll find plenty of how-to videos:
• Install a backsplash. Choose a “penny tile” pattern made up of small tiles strung together in a one-foot section and you won’t need a tile cutter as you can easily trim it to size before placing and grouting.
• Put down new vinyl flooring. Today’s “snap-together” vinyl flooring, which comes in a wide variety of colors and wood looks, is durable, inexpensive, and requires no specialized tools other than a T-square and sharp utility knife. New flooring can transform any space, big or small.
• Swap out light fixtures. Updating your light fixtures is a job that most homeowners can handle if you are simply taking one down and putting a new one in its place as the wires are color-coded and standard among fixtures.
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• Strip or paint woodwork. Changing the woodwork in your home, from windows to trim to front door, can be a messy, but rewarding project. Removing it is the best way to do it, but does require some skill and special tools to remove and reinstall.
• Add molding or beadboard. An easy way to add elegance to any room is to put up some DIY crown molding or beadboard. This is something most amateur woodworkers can handle with few special tools.
• Buy new hardware. Update your kitchen or bathroom with minimum effort by changing cabinet handles and drawer pulls. Similarly, fancy new doorknobs can make interior doors shine.
• Swap out a door. This job requires a bit of know-how as doors will always need leveling and adjusting, but most doors come pre-hung, which makes swapping them out a fairly easy job for those with minimal construction skills.
• Replace faucets/showerheads. While plumbing projects can sometimes be more trouble than they are worth, replacing faucets and showerheads are usually not difficult.
• Painting/reupholstering furniture. As we mentioned earlier, nearly any furniture can be painted and reupholstered. Hannold has found reupholstering to be more complicated than it looks, but said it is doable, particularly for those who have a DIY can-do mindset.
• Refresh your outdoor cushions. Replacing patio cushions can be pricey. Try painting it with one of the new spray paint products now available for outdoor fabric. Be sure to follow the directions on the product.
• Put up a wrought iron fence. While it is best to leave big vinyl and wood fencing jobs to a pro, wrought-iron fencing is said to be more DIY-friendly.
Tips on finding/hiring a pro
Doug Bierer, owner of DBC Remodeling & Construction in Greene Township, offers the following advice for hiring a tradesperson or contractor:
• Ask to see a project they are working on and to meet the crew.
• Choose a contractor that you like and that has a crew that you enjoy being around. “They are going to be in your home, up-close-and-personal for a while,” he said. “Make sure you’re comfortable with them.”
• Do your homework. Read reviews. Ask friends for suggestions.
• If you know anyone who works in the construction industry, ask them who they like to work with. They know who does good work.
• Ask a lot of questions so that you are not surprised later. And, always require a contract.
• If something seems too cheap or good to be true, it is. For more tips, visit www.dbcremodel.com where you can download a free guide to help you get from idea to construction.