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Caution when closing a deal with your contractor

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5 tips before you sign the contract

So you’ve finally chosen your contractor. Truth is, most of us decide on a whim because we’re not expert on these things. We just trust and accept what people tell us. You can protect yourself by following these simple guidelines when awarding a project to a contractor.

caution contractor

 

1. Remain skeptic & ask weird questions.

Yes, your contractor was referred to you by a close friend but you’re not the contractor’s friend. Truth is most of us don’t know much about repairs and we tend to trust the next person beside us. While most doesn’t have much option, it’s wise to pretend you know much and questions.

If you are having a home renovation, do a little research on walls, paints and ask simple questions like “will gypsum board be better than hollow concrete?” You don’t have to be an expert, but you can pretend to be like one. A contractor will likely reconsider overpricing you if you appear you know what’s happening.

2. Act-out and stick to the plan

It’s hard to stay focus especially if you don’t draft a 3D design. A change in job order can increase your budget dramatically so take caution. Review your plans at least 5 times before making the final decision. Share your thoughts and ideas, better yet – ask a second opinion from an expert.

Stand on the spot where you plan to make repairs or renovation and try to imagine it’s done. If it’s a kitchen extension, pretend you’re cooking or chopping vegetables. You never know what thoughts come out when you try to act-out on it.

3. Never pay before work starts

A trustworthy contractor asks for progress payments. This means you never pay in advance but only based on the completed phase. Usually, your contract will ask for 20% payment for the first week, 20% succeeding and final payment upon completion.

A reputable contractor has a credit line from their suppliers. If he asks for advance payment to buy materials, think twice! We’ve heard of horror stories of contractors who instead of purchasing the material use the money for personal use. Contractors can easily walk away with an unfinished project – they just move on to another victim from another town.

4. Make a contract with retaining fee.

Never trust anyone – especially friends or relatives. The people who will likely hurt us are those near us. It’s a weakness everyone shares because we’re comfortable with people we trust. Business is business and a contract will go a long way.

A “retaining fee” is at least 10% of your total contract price that you don’t settle until at least 30 days after the work is done. This gives you time to test the repairs or check for faults. The contractor will remedy problems, knowing there’s still money. This is a standard practice and if a contractor resist this clause – change your contractor!

5. Lastly, you buy peanuts – you get peanuts

The customer is always right but be realistic. If you ask for too much discount, expect inferior materials or a shabby finish. If you think you’re being overpriced, a survey or comparison from 2 other contractors will settle this.

A contractor who dives its price more than 20% less in comparison with other contractors will likely do a bad job. In the end, you will likely spend more within the next few years.

August 21, 2012 |

GO-BAG: 30 items you need to survive

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go bag

Each household should always be prepared in case of an emergency. An earthquake, flash flood or standoff can strike anywhere, anytime. We have seen this happen across the globe and it’s better to be prepared that sorry. Below are necessities you may consider stacking.

1. GO-BAG
A “go-bag” is literary a bag full of disaster kit. This can be a large gym bag, backup or small luggage that is easy to carry or drag during an emergency. Ideally, each member of the family should have his/her go-bag. This can be kept in an easy to reach place, ideally at the ground level of your house.

Basic must haves:
Alcohol or Iodine
Flashlight
Radio – battery operated
Batteries
Blankets
Compass
Whistle
Lighter
Dust mask
Pocket knife
Permanent marker, paper and tape
Photos of family members and pets for re-identification purposes
Medical sheet that contains allergies or drug maintenance
Copy of health insurance and identification cards
Reading glass if applicable|
Thick polyester ropes

2. WATER
Water is essential for hydration, it’s needed to reconstitute freeze dried food, cook, and for basic hygiene. You may not always have direct access to clean water, thus you need to have a small bottle of hypochlorite liquid or better yet powder in case you need to use water that are not potable. Hypoclorite is the basic ingredients found in products like Zonrox or Clorox Bleach.  Instead of go-bag, you can also have a small drum where you can keep at least 2 5-gallons water or bottled water as emergency backup. Bottled water can be stored to as much as 3 years without expiring.

3. FOOD STOCK (you may choose or have all of the suggestions below)

Salt – Rock salt is important in our diet during emergencies. It can be used to preserve food or prevent dehydration.

Whole grains, rice or cereal – Properly stored grains will last even for decades.

Beans – Beans or legumes can last for a few years if sealed well. It’s not bulky to store but when boiled with water gives all the fill and nutrients you need to survive.

Dried Meat – You can also keep meats to compliment your beans. Dried or preserved meats (dried fish as best option) can last a long time as well if salted well. It’s also not bulky to keep and is very tasty once mixed with beans or rice.

Dried fruits – These usually are packed with sugar can be an easy source of energy during an emergency.

Powdered milk – If you have children in the family, you should have a can of milk handy in your go-bag or go-drum. It’s packed with nutrients and can be stored for as long as 3 years.

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July 21, 2012 |

How to make your house cooler

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Cooler homeVentilating your home
By Dianne Lee, Construction Philippines

Summer in the Philippines can really be hot. Unless you have money to spend on electricity for air-conditioning, 3-months of summer can be very uncomfortable especially for infants. Generally a tropical house is built with large windows, awning and wind access on all four sides. However, urbanization has limited space thus limited ventilation as well. Worse, more and more Filipinos have lost the love for nature, particularly trees and gardens that naturally makes homes cooler and fresher.

Studies show that 75% of the heat inside your home comes through the roof. This is specially true to about 90% of houses in the Philippines which are constructed using metal roofs with low ceiling. Unlike in the provinces, homes are usually cooler because homes are near trees and the use of “nipa” definitely cools the house.

When the sun heats your roof, it radiates the heat energy into the house. In the evening, heat from the sun-baked roof and walls will begin to diffuse inside the house within a few hours. This will create a warm condition, even though nightfall has arrived.

Another reason is through heat and humidity. If you leave your windows open in summer, you will invite “hot air” to come inside your homes. If you combine this with high humidity, you will create your own steam room effect known as convection.

If you live in dense areas where you have neighbors that have low metal roof, the heat that comes from it is transferred to your house. The bake-hot concrete road also contributes in transferring some of its heat to your house. This is known as conduction where outside heat elements are transferred to your homes.

Thus your house gets heated in three ways… by Radiation, Convection and Conduction.

What you can do to reduce the heat?

1. Dress your home.
Use 2 layers of curtains, one dark to block the sun’s ray and light material when there’s less sunlight. Most household assumes that when the weather is warm, you should open your windows. This is not necessarily the case when temperature outside (full sun) is higher than inside your homes. When windows are open, heat from outside is invited to the inside when windows are left opened. The sun’s rays also should be blocked using these curtains. What you should do is to leave at least 2 windows open for ventilation and close all windows where you feel the heat are coming from.

2. Insulate your roof and walls.
Roofs should be provided with adequate insulation in order to reduce heat and conserve energy. There are insulation materials such as foam that can reduce your roof’s absorbed heat, giving you with much more comfortable dwelling. While it may cost you more to do this, eventually the savings you get from electricity will pay for itself.

Airofoam is a brand we can recommend. Its durable and high quality material will help cool your homes. Unlike other “cheap” brands, Airofoam is a composite material that combines the best of reflective and bulk insulation. Airofoam has one or two layers of reflective material and a micro-cellular polyethylene foam core.

3. Ventilate your homes
Houses in the Philippines are relatively small. As a result, most houses increase their floor area by maximizing extensions.

Even if you have 10 windows located in one façade of your house, air cannot move enough. Windows should be situated farther apart. The best is to have windows located where the breeze is (observe this during nightfall) and add a window on its opposite end. (North and South or East and West sides)

If you cannot do this, be sure to add an exhaust either on the ceiling or on the farthest corner of the house, opposite the window.

You may also open a 1×1 meter “open enclosure” where you can get the air movement vertically. Use vertical ventilation and add an exhaust fan. You will surely feel the difference.

4. Plant trees
The most practical and easiest way is to cool your house by planting trees. If you have a small space, you can still plant within a 1×1 foot of soil area. Use Mahogany trees. It is cheap, has slim body, shady leaves that does not rot easily. Its root penetrates deep and does not destroy property if you plant the seedling at least a foot deep. You can also use grafted Mango trees which doesn’t grow too big to destroy your property.

If you want a fast growing tree, plant  Mahogany or Knife Acacia trees. These trees are easy to manage and you can easily control their size. It is also not prone to pest nor will it destroy property, unless it’s a hundred years old. If you do not want a tree, you can opt to train a Bougainvillea to grow a top of your metal roof, they are excellent when it comes to shading.

You can also convert your outside premises into grass instead of tiles or concrete. An ideal house should be surrounded with soil/grass. If your outside area is a bit shady and has heavy walk traffic, Use “grass pavers” where there are wholes fitted for grass. Use Carabao grass as it can grow in a bit shady area.

 

March 27, 2012 |

Tips for getting a good contractor

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Construction companyTips on getting a construction supplier & what to avoid.

Even before canvassing for an Engineer, Architect, Interior Designer or a building contractor, you should know exactly what you want. These will not only help the supplier or designer quote more accurately, but it will also give the impression you are in control of the project – not the supplier. Designers and construction suppliers normally have large contingency and sometimes, way too large that you can actually save as much as 30% if you know what you want.

Ask yourself the following:

1. What is your time-frame?

2. Make a list of specific things you want (Cut and paste pictures from magazines of things you want in your construction)

3. Set a maximum budget and a contingency fund (If you have set your maximum budget, you may declare this amount to the contractor less 30%, as your buffer or contingency fund should things go unplanned)

4. Make a rough sketch of your desired floor plan.

5. Without considering budget, what are the things you want?

6. Considering your budget, what are the things you could let go?

7. Pay a small fee to an Engineer, Architect or better yet a Project Manager to get his/her professional opinion on the contract your about to sign.

 

Which contractor to avoid?

1. Those who quote prices before actually seeing the job.
– A professional sends someones to inspect or make an ocular inspection himself on the proposed project. The more questions the supplier asks, the more responsible he will likely be when delivering your products or services. An ideal contractor is engaging, letting their clients know they know well and mean well.

2. Those who happen to be in your area doing some other work and can give you a “special price”.
– Many still fall for this scam. There are no “special prices” – a supplier can either give you the best price or not at all. Most contractors can actually give you a good price, but would not normally “offer” it unless they’re up to something. Worse, many will pretend they know what they’re doing. Consider one of our clients who actually thought he was dealing with a “real” architect. He finished the job right but there were many things that seem not right – then he finds out that the supplier “pretended” to be an Architect. The client didn’t do a background check.

3. Contractors that demand more than 40% deposit “to buy materials”.
– Reputable contractors maintain charge accounts with their suppliers and large deposit is not necessary. There are few suppliers that will bite on low budget projects. If you are having one, always assume that the contractor that bites into your low budget project has limited capital, thus never give more than 40% down payment. If the supplier insists on this condition, watch out for possible pitfalls! What usually happens is that contractors never finishes their project. They will reason that the budget was way too low and they did their best to maximize everything. Worse, they will scrimp on materials which is something you should watch out for.

4. Those that will not supply you with a detailed  contract.
– Always demand a detailed accounting of the project, including materials, sizes and actual materials that will be used. It may seem tedious but all reputable contractors do this. If your supplier gives excuses when it comes to giving out details, better look for another.

5. Those that don’t have a permanent address
Builders or professionals usually have an office, however in today’s micromanaged economy, many have their SOHO or home offices which is acceptable. If someone doesn’t even have a home-office, accountabilty will be a problem. Obviously, this contractor is hiding or is wanting to hide from something. Contractors who doesn’t have a good track record naturally will change their name and location to avoid being credited from a previous project disaster.

6. The lowest price is not always the best price.
– A common pitfall, cheap is not spelled quality. Check works they have recently done in the past. If you cannot get a reference, consider going to their office and asking people or neighbors around.

 

Materials you should not scrimp on:
1. Tiles – Never buy cheap tiles. It may look nice but its luster will disappear in few months and cracks easily. You can never go wrong with branded tiles.

2. Steel gauge in your foundation. When strong earthquakes happen, your house can actually collapse.

3. Exterior paint – Be sure that your paint are all-weather when painting the exterior.

4. Wire gauge – Your investment could literary turn to ashes with sub-standard wires.

5. Water proofing compounds – Always get the brand your contractor recommends

6. Wall paper quality – If you cannot afford quality wall paper, settle with ordinary paint. You will only be peeling away your money within the next year.

7. Cement – In most third world countries, there are unscrupulous cement supplier that actually repacks cement mixed with clay. These produce brittle cement work that eventually chips off or caves in.

Look for warning signs such as (a) Cheap pricing, (b) delivered by a truck that has no company logo or signage that it came from a legitimate supplier and (c) observe curing time – Quality cement hardens quickly while adulterated ones take time.

Remember!
Check for at least three contractors to bid. Asking for referrals is a good way to decide. Lastly, never sign a contract on the first few meetings with the contractor, even though you’ve gained confidence with this contractor. Excitement to start your construction may get on the way of right- thinking.

March 27, 2012 |

Things to consider when buying old houses

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antique house for sale

Tips when buying used homes

The Philippines is home to many antiquated and decrepit houses. Since it’s a tropical country, maintenance should be easy but out of ignorance and sheer negligence of many, we are left with about 70% of homes unknowingly condemned or technically unlivable. Most aren’t maintained so thorough investigation is a must when buying a previously occupied house. Consider the following before making your payment.

Check electrical works

Electrical wiring is the first thing you should check. If the house was built before World War II, its wiring is most probably naked to the wire. Those built after does not guarantee better wirings so you should bring along an electrician to check the wire’s condition and capacity.

Wire gauge is important. Wires were cheaper before that’s why they can use thick gauges. Gauge standards during this time were above today’s standard. If the owners used below standard wires, chances are, the rest of the house may have below standard specification. Although today’s wires are thinner compared to before, it has 20X better insulation that can last a hundred years. Check also if there are outlets available for air-conditioning. This would mean that the house is ready to accept heavy voltages.

Breakers are now standards in any home, if they don’t have this, electrical installation may be primitive and you may need to upgrade.

Check for electrical ground. Turn off everything in the house that can consume electricity and see if the electric meter stops. If it moves, the house has electrical ground that consumes energy and can be hazardous in the future. This should be fixed before you move in.

Check plumbing

Old homes are usually a mix of old and new material. This is quite tricky but if the house is say 30 years old, chances are, it no longer use the traditional steel pipes that rusts in time. It was probably replaced by durable PVC pipes which can last several decades if properly installed. An old house with a recently gutted plumbing is better than not at all.

Check drainage

Carefully examine house drains. Does water come down easily from the gutters and drains? When I flush the toilet, does it bubble up? Check the last time the septic tank was drained. While old houses generally have large drain pipes, some that weren’t built with “real” architects or engineers but was just “directed” by the owners, may not have “standards” implemented. Check the owners if they hired “professionals” to do this.

Main drain pipes should not be free from rust, but should have no indication of scaling, as this could pose a major problem in the future. Unlike recent developments, old houses have exposed main pipes that easily lead to rust, worse is if the pipes are exposed outside.

Consider also the general drainage of the entire street / vicinity of the area. Most areas in Manila flood easily.

Roofing

Traditional roofing in the Philippines uses GI sheet. Older homes such as those built before the 70s have thicker gauges. If it is maintained with paint, you need not worry. To know the roof’s condition, you can check the “kisame” and check for rusting on the opposite side of the roof. Chalking paint roof is not good, you should consider the cost of replacing it.

Foundation

If the house was built before 1991, its foundation is probably stable, given that it survived one of the strongest earthquakes our country has experienced.

Check for hairline cracks. If the cement part has been sealed and repainted, check obvious gap repairs if there are. Thickness of the foundation maybe an advantage but if the steel inside is below standard, it doesn’t really make much difference. Check also how deep the foundation goes.

Is the soil within the area soft? This can be a problem as foundation sinks slowly in time. Survey the area for towering buildings, this would mean that the soil bedding is probably rock-hard.

Old houses with old wood foundation are not much of a worry, unless you will be using heavy furniture on the above floor.

Neighbors

Lastly, ask the neighbors about the house. What you hear may save your life  and money.

March 27, 2012 |

Repainting your home?

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Paint ideas for homesChoosing the right colors
By Dianne Lee, Construction Philippines

Homes need repainting at least every 5 years, not just to make it look new but also for protection from outside elements. Paints also help camouflage undesirable areas and the obvious reason is to make you happy. Remember that the house is where you live, and doing your part to make it perky helps you live a happier life – cost becomes irrelevant!
Careful planning is important. However the first step is not choosing the right color but validating your objective. Here are practical tips you can consider…

1. Determine you priority
If your primary reason is just to make your wall look pretty, the rest could be easy. Just choose the color and you’re set. However, one should consider that “protection” in the long run will save you money. Using elastomeric paint prevents outside moisture from seeping through the wall and damaging your inside paint within few months of exposure. It also bonds better to a well prepared wall reducing peel off for years. Elastomeric paints have become affordable and most come in already mixed color shades.

2. Make a survey
Survey your neighbors and identify the houses where your heart leaped and said – this is it! Observe the house at different angles. Depending on the time, an afternoon sun may change your appreciation of the color.

Ask yourself:
What parts do I want to hide?
What parts do I want to people to notice?
What colors can’t I alter (e.g. your roof, brick or stonework)?
Do I want to stand out from my neighbors?

4. Do I go with Pastels or Deep colors?
Whites & off whites
– Popular colors Ivory, magnolia and bone white
It’s an inviting color, clean and safe to match with anything. This is the best color to use with trimmings that has natural wood colors. Plant trees and greeneries around your house and your white exterior will look impressive.

Pastels
– Popular colors are lavender, pink, blue grey, light yellow hues
This is the next best color you can choose if you want it “cheerful”. All pastel colors say the same thing – we are dandy and dainty. Most American homes color their walls this way, not only does it give happy thoughts, it also help expose white highlights of your homes, such as beams, baseboards and cornice. Pastel colors are best combined with white colors on these areas.

Deep colors
– Popular colors are burgundy, deep green, terracotta-mustard
These colors are best for large areas. It creates a cozy and elegant space. Using it for exterior should be complimented with lighter or white shades for the trims and exterior highlights. Deep colors are great on dining areas but not on bedrooms. You can paint your living room with one side dark but the rest using a lighter but within the same color spectrum. The result will be dramatic and your furniture will come out distinctively against these colors.

Colors to avoid
While colors are a matter of taste, unless it’s ok for you to look queer, you shouldn’t consider loud colors for homes. Loud colors are usually rest best on restaurants or establishment. Even if you’re Vincent Van Gogh, colors should be limited unless you live a top of a hill where your house color won’t look obscure from neighbors.

Yes I know you want to stand out, but standing out is different from being the talk of the neighbors. So what colors are best avoided? Hot and loud colors such as Magenta, Red, Yellow and Blue. However, if you feel these are the colors that best reflect your personality, consider muting these colors. Magenta can be deep magenta, Red can be blood red, yellow can be summer yellow and blue can be blue-grey. This will work and may even leave neighbors mystified instead of being the laughing stock!

Tips on painting trims, gutters and window frames.
Decide only on the color of these parts once you’ve chosen your main body color. Most designers will recommend that you choose at least one-step lighter tones. The safest color to use is white. It’s classy.

Matt or glossy paints?
Glossy paint is better outside preventing dust & soot from sticking on the surface. Matt finish is best for ceilings and bedroom walls. However, it may be difficult to clean up when kids write on it or when moisture seeps in.

Expanding room using colors
ideally, ceilings should be painted matt white to expand any room. The walls then should be at least one-step stronger. Pastel colors opens up small space. Use deep, warm colors to make a large room more intimate and cozy. Warm colors are best in spacious rooms and it stimulates conversation and appetite. Remove tall furnishing and maintain across low ones to create a seamless horizon thus expanding the room.

March 27, 2012 |

How to Maintain Hardwood Floor

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hardwood treatment flooringWant shiny wood floors?
Wax is not always the solution
By Adrian Andaya, Construction Philippines

Disclaimer: This information specifically applies to hardwood flooring finished with polyurethane coating. This is NOT appropriate for the older wax-based finishes! While most will rely on commercial floor wax, in time, it actually diminishes the sheen on your floor. It also makes it course and antiquated in time.

1. Clean your floor both by sweeping and wiping. Never use abrasive cleaners such as sharp or rough objects.

2. Apply hardwood floor cleaner on a small section of the floor or directly onto a terry cloth wood floor mop. DO NOT WET WOODEN FLOOR. This may leave puddles of water that can leak down between the boards and cause the finish to expand or lift your wood.

3. Wipe flooring with dry mop, regardless if its solid planks, hardwood floor, synthetic wood or mahogany planks.

What you should avoid
1. Hardwood floor (with polyurethane) should never use wax, oil-based detergents or vinegar. Vinegar will etch the surface because its acidic, therefore avoid all formulas with acidic nature. Waxes and oils leave a sticky residue on the surface of the wood and prevent the polyurethane from shining. When cleaning hardwood floors, you can use any commercially available product.. Vinegar and water or lemon based cleaners, are acidic and will over time pit the polyurethane finish, and ultimately reduce the shine of any wood floor.

2. Never allow any amounts of liquid (water or solution) to puddle on any floor for long periods of time. This will shrink your wood and discolor it.

3. Never use a dirty mop to clean hardwood floors! Any grit caught in the mop will scratch the finish.

4. Never drag heavy furniture across your wood floor without something underneath the feet to prevent scratches and distribute the weight. You can buy furniture protections in any DIY (do it yourself) hardware shop. If you want a homemade device, cutting out used rubber sleepers can do the trick.

 

March 27, 2012 |

How do I get rid of molds & mildew?

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mildew remove howRemoving molds and mildews
By Dianne Lee, Construction Philippines

Molds can be a health hazard and constant exposure can include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory problems.  It also leaves stains and lasting stench that’s not good when visitors come. While “moisture absorbent packs” bought at hardware department store thus absorb moisture, you would need lots of it to make it work fully, and may not be economically practical. Unless you’re using it for a small box or cupboard, it may work but only for a limited time. Charcoal can also help a little but it can also be messy. Besides, to really make charcoal work, it too will require a huge sack just make it work say on a clothes cabinet – which of course is not a practical solution at all.

To get rid of the mold, get rid of the source! – It’s that simple and practical. If the mold problem is inside your homes, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.

Practical tips:
1. Consider if there is a water problem or leak from pipes or roof.

2. Reduce indoor humidity (to 30-60%). You can do this by venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside. Bottom line is increasing ventilation and the best way is to have bigger windows to let the sunshine in.

3.  Clean and dry damp or wet materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. You can do this by sun drying furniture, rugs and accessories made of wood or fabric.

4. Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent. An easier way is to use Zonrox Bleach (but do not use on colored materials). Follow instruction for a drop can be potent and enough to kill and remove the mold within minutes.

5.  Prevent potential condensation such as cold surfaces like airconditioning, piping, walls, roof or floors. Have a professional check you can add more insulation to these piping.

6. In areas where there is perpetual moisture (like basement, and those near a swimming pool or sink areas) do not install carpet or stack papers. The only way to remedy this is to make sure there’s enough air movement in this area. An exhaust fan installed will be a good solution to move the damp air elsewhere.

7. Molds can be found almost anywhere, but the best target would be paper, wood, carpet and of course food so always keep watch over them.

Five warning signs of mold:

  1. Damp Musty Odors?
  2. Evidence of Water Leaks?
  3. Family Members Complaining of Not Feeling Well?
  4. Water Seeping Through Home Foundation?
  5. Constant Coughing, Dizziness or Flu-Like Symptoms?

 

March 27, 2012 |
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