The last time I changed our furnace filters, I sliced my finger open. I’m not a handyman by any stretch, but I do attempt to take care of things around my house. There are times, though, when you just have to call in someone else to fix something. How can you be sure you’re not getting ripped off? Tedd wrote in to tell me about his brother-in-law’s construction company, and to give us his top tips on what to watch out for when hiring someone to work on your home.
- Leaky Roof: A con artist will try to convince you that water is seeping through the shingles, so you should have the shingles removed and replaced. This can cost $5000 or more. Most of the time, the leak is caused because the sealing around vent pipes and chimneys has deteriorated, or the connections between roof sections have eroded. Replacing the sealant or flashing is a cheap and easy fix. Normally, an asphalt roof lasts 10 – 20 years. You should replace the roof when you see curling or missing shingles, or a large amount of granular material from the shingles collecting in the gutters. Don’t get talked into having the old roof removed, which can raise the replacement price by 50%, unless your building code demands it. Many towns allow a second, or even third roof to be installed on top of each other, as long as the framing can support the extra weight. Beware of a roofer that says you need an entire new deck, which is the wood beneath the shingles. This is needed in only about one out of a thousand times. Usually only a portion of the deck will need replaced, and then only if it is rotted.
- Basement Water: If your basement is chronically wet, con artists will attempt to convince you that they need to dig out your entire foundation and waterproof it. This can cost anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 dollars. More often, the solution is simple and costs very little. Many basement leaks are caused by overflow from clogged gutters, misrouted downspouts, unsloped land around the house and even poorly aimed sprinklers. Damp walls may be caused by humidity. To test, simply tape a piece of aluminum foil to the wall. If moisture shows up after a day or two on the patch, it’s just condensation. You can then start shopping for a dehumidifier. If water is still seeping in, repair cracks in the masonry with hydraulic cement, and apply a quality waterproof paint.
- Termite Problem: There are a lot of myths about termites. One of the most common myths is that termites can bring down a house in as little as 6 months. Con artists use this incorrect information to scare you into paying up to $3000 for unnecessary and shoddy work. The most common termite in the USA is the Subterranean, of which there are two main kinds: Workers and Swarmers. The Workers hollow out the wood, while Swarmers mate and produce new colonies. They burrow through the soil until water and wood or wood-like products are located. To get into your home, they usually build moist tunnels across the foundation, a clear sign of infestation. Be wary of exterminators showing you termite colonies on wood piles or fences not connected to your house: This may be a scam. You have a problem only if there is evidence of termites inside your home or close to the foundation. Bugs flying in the home during the Spring are another sign of a problem, but these may simply be flying ants. Termites have full waists and long wings. Ants have a pinched waist and back wings shorter than the front wings.
- Mold: Since Hurricane Katrina, con artists have been playing up fears about disease from mold in the home. They try to convince you to pay $300 – $600 on tests to identify the mold, and recommend a company to remove it which they are in cahoots with. The truth is, healthy people usually don’t have anything to worry about. If your immune system is compromised, or you have asthma or allergies, it might cause issues. Other than that, mold is not dangerous. The CDC doesn’t recommend that you get the mold tested, because if it is a problem to the occupants, it should be removed no matter what kind it is. All you need to clean the mold from small areas is soap and water, followed by a mixture of one cup bleach with one gallon of water. To prevent mold growth, keep the humidity between 40 and 60 percent, promptly fix leaky roofs, windows, and pipes, and ventilate shower, laundry and cooking areas.
- Chimney Sweep Swindle: A chimney sweep knocks on your door and says he just fixed a neighbor’s chimney and offers you an inspection for the low price of $39.99. Once inside, he finds a problem and tells you that you need a new liner for instance. Suddenly, that $39.99 becomes thousands of dollars. Chimneys can indeed be dangerous, and occasionally a blocked chimney causes carbon monoxide to come into the home. This doesn’t happen as often as chimney sweeps want you to believe. Experts recommend annual inspections to check for creosote buildup and structural soundness. This costs between $100 and $250 dollars. If cleaning is required, an additional $100 – $150 should be expected. Hire only those that are certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Also, lately sweeps use cameras to complete their inspection. Ask to see the video, and have him explain it as you watch. If he balks, he’s scamming you.
Thanks so much, Tedd, for sending in these tips. I know that when we first moved into this house, we had to deal with a lot of contractors. The ones we went with, were the guys who talked us down in price. They were honest, and good at what they do. We interviewed four contractors (always good to get more than one bid), only ONE of them was talking us out of spending more than we needed to spend. We have been recommending him to people ever since.
Watching out for scams is something we all have to be cognizant of. It’s embarrassing when we get caught… and can cost us money and time. Be alert, and do your homework.
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