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Hiring a contractor can be a very daunting task for the first time, as you may not know where to start looking or what questions you need to ask. It can also be intimidating to hire a contractor if previous experiences with other contractors have been negative, disappointing or frustrating. If you stopped for a minute and thought about what you were looking for in a contractor what would come to mind? What skills and previous experience do they need to have? What do they charge? Are they reliable?

These are all very important questions that you need to be asking. Lets break it down and make it easy for you to take those first few steps in finding the right contractor for you and for your job.

Hiring a Contractor

Location/recommendations:

There are many strong arguments as to why it is best to hire locally. Firstly, it builds connections within your own community. Secondly, just the same as buying goods locally, it keeps those in your own community employed. You may already be familiar with a contractor in your town through recommendations from family and friends or perhaps you have seen their truck driving around with their logo on the back. If you are interested, make sure to do your research. You can start by doing an Internet search of the company and read any reviews that have been included. Review their website and browse the photo gallery outlining work done in the past, perhaps a project like the one you are thinking of doing yourself. Ask around to see if possibly one of your friends or family members have hired them in the past and can provide you with some insight on the quality of work they provided.

Contact them:

Contact them via e-mail or by phone. Most contractors will have a contact page on their websites or a form in which you can fill out with the information you are seeking from them. Ask them some questions about the project you are looking to complete.

Have you done this before?

Do they take on projects of this size?

Are they willing to finance any of the supplies before hand?

How long have they worked with their sub-trades?

Asking these questions will provide you with the initial insight that you need to decide if you want to pursue a working relationship with them. Keep in mind that they may not have immediate answers for you although should be able to get back to you with the information that you need.

 Meeting:

Depending on the results of your initial research (internet search, phone call) you are now at the stage of deciding whether you want a face-to-face meeting. This is a very important next step. You generally can get a better sense of a person when you meet with them and talk through the finer details you have in mind for your project. It is important to be prepared with your plans and provide as many details as possible with your contractor. Remember, this is your hard earned money, so make sure you are getting exactly what you want out of it. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if they have any history of disputes with past clients or sub-trades.

Let the bidding begin:

Now that you have met with a few contractors and have gone over your plans in detail, it’s time to start getting quotes. Depending on the size of your job, this will be free, but if it’s a larger project, you might have to pay ahead for plans or consultations with engineers. If your plan is very detailed and a lot of back and forth discussions are required, a contractor might need to charge for their time as it will be taking them away from other paying projects.

The bank:

Okay, so you’ve picked that one contractor that you feel is best suited for the job and are ready to get started. But wait! How are the materials and labour going to be paid for? This is something that you will have to budget for in advance and know that it could go over budget. What you are willing to invest into your project will determine the size and scope of work you can afford at this time. So perhaps, think about this; if you want a new kitchen and are willing to spend $20,000 on the whole project, budget for $16,000-$18,000. This will leave you a little extra in case you decide to change a few things or you want that upgraded granite countertop. The minor details can quickly add up and it’s not only the material you have to be thinking of, it is also the labour.

Don’t always go with the lowest bid

Money is always one of the main factors in your building project. Be very careful of the lowest bid. You have to ask yourself, what did they forget to add in their quote? Are they going to use sub par building materials to get the job done? I always recommend staying away from the lowest bid in most cases. You want to be assured that your project will be done right with the highest building materials you can afford or want. The last thing you want is someone cutting corners when you’re not on site. Spend the little extra and be happy with what you’re getting, after all you’re the one who has to live with the results.

Lastly get it in writing

A written contract can help down the road if there are any details that were missed or if you are charged more then what was originally agreed upon. A written contract shows both parties the full body of work being completed and what each task includes or excludes. Ensure that your contractor pays their trades. If they don’t, this can come back onto you and the trades can place a lien on your house or project. Remember your project details can and often will change due to unexpected circumstances so make sure to add the changes to your contract otherwise they will be excluded and get expensive very quickly!

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Layering up for Winter Work

For many of us, working outside on a weekly basis is just a way of life. From the perspective of someone who has worked outside for a couple of decades, I wanted to share some tips that I have learned over the years.

Not only do you want to dress warm to stay comfortable while working outside, but it can have some fatal effects if you are not dressed according to your local weather. Long term effects of being exposed to cold below 0 temperatures can lead to Hypothermia, when your body’s core temperature drops below what is required for normal metabolism and body functions. If a worker is new to the area or site they may not be aware of the dangers of cold weather, so stress these factors about dressing warm.

Knowing what to wear:

Winter clothing is the most important thing you need to consider if you are going to be doing anything outdoors for an extended period of time. Dressing in a loose fitting layer will help trap heat, resulting in a more comfortable body temperature as you complete your tasks. If your clothes are too form fitting, within a few hours you will start to sweat, which can lead to dehydration. It is important to adjust your activities and remain hydrated to avoid this. When you’re not as active, your body will start to cool down and these layers will help to trap the heat, keeping you warm.

Fabrics that you need to beware of: cotton and goose down. Once cotton becomes wet, it will extract heat from your body leaving you cold and may possibly lead you into the starting stages of Hypothermia. Goose down is an excellent insulator, but again once, if it becomes wet, it will loose all its insulating power to keep you warm and dry.

Layers and how they work:

Layers, layers, layers. Dressing in layers, will help keep that much needed body heat trapped but will also ensure you are not going to sweat and become cold. A wicking layer is the layer closest to the body. It is the first step in removing moisture from the skin. After that heavier more durable layers can be worn.

The first layer: This will be the first item of clothing that you put on. To avoid cooling down, this layer removes moisture from your skin, moving it to the next layer. These layers can be made of Polypropylene for socks, underwear, and long johns. There are a lot of great brands out there like Under Armor, Nike, Reebok.

Light insulating layer: This is your second layer. A thin wool or light fleece sweater will work best to trap in heat.

Heavy insulating layer: You want to trap in the heat while letting moisture out from your skin so you can use another heavier wool or fleece sweater for this layer.

Waterproof/ Windproof layer: Next you will want a layer that keeps water and wind out. As we all know, our Canadian winters can bring snow and even light rain. As a result, this layer is important, as it will keep those other layers dry. I personal like to use a light motorcycle jacket that’s waterproof and windproof. I like that fact that I can have multiply layers on and not feel to bulky with them being thinner materials.

Wearing a toque: 30-50% of body heat is lost through the head. A winter toque helps to trap this heat in along will protecting your ears from the wind and snow. A full-face mask can also be another great option to protect your cheeks, nose, neck, and chin. This will help to keep your facial tissue from frostbite. This is extremely important if you’re wearing a hard hat and open to cold working conditions.

Winter gloves: Mitts should be worn if possible as they keep your fingers warmer as they are closer together. As we all know, gloves are much easier to use while working outdoors as they provide ease in grabbing required items. Gloves can also be worn in layers. I personally use two layers of cotton gloves in the winter. I have a large bag of dry, clean gloves I leave in my truck. Once a pair has become wet, I grab a new pair and continue this throughout my day. Once at home, I bring them in to dry and can keep doing this for several weeks until the cheaper cotton gloves rip or become destroyed from use. I also like to keep a pair of smaller rubber gloves in case I know I will be handling any wet materials. I can put them on quickly and then change back to my cotton gloves after my task is completed.

Socks: Layering socks can be a lifesaver while working outside during the winter. A thin polypropylene sock with a heavier wool sock over top will let moisture out while keeping your feet warm and dry. It’s important to make sure that the footwear your wearing isn’t too tight around your feet. You should be able to wiggle your toes a little bit; anything tighter than this can slow the circulation to your feet. If your boots are already insulated a second layer of socks might not be needed. So make sure to wear whatever you feel most comfortable in and can walk around in for long periods of time. I love to personally wear a normal pair of cotton socks and then a heavy-duty pair of Redheads from Bass Pro the extreme blue ones. I have used these for several years now and they always come through for me.

Winter boots: Depending on where you are located, the amount of work you have to complete, and the length of time you will be outside on your feet, choose a winter boot that will best suit your task. You want to avoid being stuck working long hours outside with cold feet. Also, when choosing your boots, ensure the height is appropriate for the amount of snow your area typically receives in the winter. You want to make sure that snow won’t be coming in over top of your boot and having the snow melt and drip onto your feet. Something else to consider, is whether or not you will need waterproof boots. If not, long periods in which you are walking in snow might result in wet boots, which can be highly uncomfortable as well. I have a few pairs of boots from all brands. For wet weather I stick it out with my old fashion insulated rubber boots with 2 layers of socks. If it starts to get to cold out for rubber boots I switch a heavier boot. I’ve been using the new Terra “Crossbow” boot for the last 2 winter seasons and I’m so happy with these. They are big enough for my wider feet and lots of room for my toes. They are also so warm. I’ve never gone cold wearing these boots.

In conclusion wear what’s best suited for your environment and weather conditions. What works for one person might not work for the next. So try out a few different things and see what keeps you comfortable and warm and stick with it!