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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring an Additions & Remodeling Pro

Mention to your neighbors that you’re going to add a room to your house, and they will immediately think of saws, hammers, air compressors and every piece of noisy machinery in the book while an army of workers tromp all over your yard and roof. Your neighbors may even be right. Mention that you’re going to upgrade your bathroom, and they probably imagine a worker or two and maybe a slight commotion as they wrestle that gorgeous cast iron claw-footed luxury bathtub into your house. They might be right in that case, too.

Whichever way they think, they could be right. Not every addition or remodel requires an army of contractors overseen by one general contractor (GC). Some, in fact, can pass by quite unnoticed by the neighbors until you show it to them.

What Kind of Addition or Remodel?


Adding rooms or expanding a room is one of the most common alterations made to a house. Increasing the livable area of your house is one way to increase its value. Very few people complain about having too much room in their house! The following are considered additions:

  • Adding to the amount of living space in your home, such as adding a master suite or master bath
  • Building a sunroom or patio enclosure
  • Adding or replacing a deck or porch
  • Building a garage, whether or not it’s attached
  • Building a greenhouse for plants
  • Adding or extensively altering a kitchen
  • Renovating or repairing multiple rooms or fix-ups requiring multiple trades
  • Building a roof structure over your pool

Major Remodels

Sometimes you don’t need the extra living space. What you want is to improve the looks or functionality of an existing room. Your kitchen may need a facelift, or you may have to make a few adjustments to take care of an aging or disabled family member. Popular major remodels include:

  • Basement remodeling, most often to turn it into a bedroom
  • Bathroom remodeling, whether to make it handicap accessible or to take advantage of the latest luxury bath technology
  • Kitchen remodeling to unlock your inner master chef or simply because you’re tired of your kitchen’s dated look.
  • Remodeling a deck or porch
  • Garage remodeling to turn it into an outbuilding or a master bedroom (if attached) or to expand it for your automotive hobby
  • Resurfacing or restoring a built-in pool

Minor Remodels

Popular with people on a budget or without the resources for a complete overhaul, minor remodels are relatively small jobs that can make a world of difference with only a little effort. Some minor remodels include:

  • Redoing your cabinets
  • Building built-in furniture
  • Adding trim, molding, railings, ramps and other light carpentry work
  • Painting and staining
  • Redoing walls or ceilings with different textures or finishes
  • Replacing your tub or shower
  • Installing or repairing countertops
  • Adding electrical features such as alarms, home automation, new light fixtures
  • Installing new flooring
  • Installing or replacing doors, windows, skylights and so on
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How to Choose a Remodeling Contractor

Not every job listed above requires a general contractor, but all require a degree of skill. Most of the minor remodels can be done by a handyperson if the job doesn’t run more than $500. However, jobs that require wiring, plumbing and structural modifications will require a contractor. Just so you don’t lose any sleep wondering how you’re going to find the right one, here are some things to look for:

  • Get referrals. Word of mouth is one of the best forms of advertising. Ask people who have had recent work done if they would refer their contractor. Friends, relatives and neighbors make the best sources. Ask them whether the contractors were prompt and professional and how they handled any trouble spots.
  • Check credentials. Whether you visit a website or head directly into the office, make sure the contractor has all of the correct licenses both for the state and for the municipality. Also check for certificates from organizations such as the National Kitchen & Bath Association, National Association of Homebuilders or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. A contractor who has taken further courses for his or her trade shows an interest in the work that is above and beyond the bare minimum.
  • Interview. Pare your list of potential contractors down to about three and arrange meetings with them. Pay attention to how they answer questions. Also pay attention to how many questions they ask you. A contractor who doesn’t ask about your particular job isn’t too interested in the details of what you want. Be sure that you and the contractor can communicate effectively.
  • Check references. Ask to see some of the contractor’s previous work, preferably within the year. Speak with previous customers  to find out how they liked the contractor’s job performance.
  • Business Management/Experience. You want to make sure the contractor has the following:
    • A permanent contact point including a mailing address, e-mail address, personal phone, cell phone, fax and voicemail.
    • Insurance that will protect you from liability.
    • An established presence in the community. How long has he or she been in business and doe he or she have a good relationship with plumbers, electricians and others worked with on a team?
    • A track record of success and good standing with customers and peers.
    • Any professional designations or membership in any trade organizations.
  • Check the paperwork. The contract should be read thoroughly and include the following:
    • A bid price
    • A payment schedule
    • A site plan
    • Specifics about the job
    • Schedule of primary construction tasks
    • A change-order clause
    • Procedural list for close-out
    • A warranty
    • A clear explanation of dispute resolution
    • A Waiver of Lien (this protects you from subcontractors’ putting a lien on your property if the contractor doesn’t pay them.)

It may seem like a long laundry list of details, but your house is a major investment, and remodeling is expensive. You want to be sure the job is being performed by a qualified professional.

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Questions to Ask a Remodeling Contractor

Before hiring anyone to do your remodeling, you need to ask some questions. This will help you find someone with the proper training, skills and licenses to handle the job. If you don’t ask these questions, you may find yourself needing to pay even more money to have the job redone correctly.

Can you itemize your bid?

Some contractors prefer to give you a single price for the entire project. An itemized bid lets you know just how much each stage of the project will cost. If you need to trim your budget, you’ll have a much clearer picture of where to do so.

An itemized bid should include:

  • Demolition and trash removal
  • Framing and finishing carpentry
  • Painting
  • HVAC
  • Plumbing work
  • Electrical work
  • Floor covering installation
  • Lighting
  • Drywall

Any other charges particular to your job should also be listed, such as whether the contractor charges travel time to a remote location.

If a contractor balks at providing an itemized bid, find someone else. A lack of itemization means that while you know how much you’re paying, you don’t know specifically what you’re paying for. If you forego the kitchen island, how much should come off the price? With an itemized bid, you can answer questions like this quickly.

Is this an estimate or a fixed price?

An estimate is only an educated guess at what your project should cost. The actual cost could go up or down depending on various factors. A fixed price is a solid, out-the-door amount. These are usually for straightforward tasks such as carpet installation for which difficulties and complications rarely arise.

Sometimes a contractor can’t give a fixed price because of unknowns. For example, a contractor may be working on part of your ceiling and discover asbestos that had never been removed. Eliminate these unknowns if possible. Have the contractor go in and look at the situation firsthand. This will give the two of you a better idea of the scope of the project. Sometimes the variables just can’t be determined until after the work has begun.

How long have you been working locally?

Contractors who have been doing business in town for 10 years have more at stake with their reputations than does someone who has only been in business a few months or who has to come in from out of town. They also will know local subcontractors and vendors and their reputations, too.

Be sure that the contractors have an actual address you can visit. Just having a PO box means that you will not be able to easily see the contractor face to face and often indicates that they don’t want to see you if they don’t have to. They should also have a personal phone, a cell phone, an e-mail address and other ways to contact them.

Who are your suppliers?

Knowing where your contractor gets his or her materials can tell you something about the quality of the work being done. If contractors buy from wherever is cheapest (some even buy off the back of trucks), they may not be providing the best quality for the price. In addition, by knowing their vendors, you can visit them directly and learn more about their reputation not only for professionalism but also regarding how timely vendors are in paying their bills. This will tell you how the contractor feels about punctuality and quality.

Who will be heading up the job, and can I meet them?

Some contractors are more like managers. They spend their days on the phone dealing with customers and vendors, pitching bids, coordinating deliveries to job sites, filing for permits and doing other office work. They may have your job overseen by someone else. Because this person will be the one you’re dealing with daily, this will be the person you should be most interested in. Meet him or her to make sure you can communicate well together. Ask to see him or her on a current jobsite to see how well he or she works with that team.

If the contractor you’re interviewing is going to be the one overseeing the work, ask whether he or she will be there every day. If not daily, be sure you can quickly contact him or her in the event of problems. Whatever the case might be, you want to get a good, solid response on this question.

What’s the schedule?

Some large projects have aspects that can’t be started until another aspect has finished. It would be tricky to install a countertop before the lower cabinets are in! Knowing the sequence of events and when they are expected to hit what benchmarks helps you know whether the job is falling behind and lets you stay on top of things.

Who will be in charge on the job site?

You want to know who is responsible for what. When there’s a question about a procedure, “That’s not my job” is the last answer you want to hear. Who is responsible for securing the site at the end of the workday? Whom do you go to for any questions or concerns? If the foreman has to leave the site, whom do you talk to? Knowing the “chain of command” can help keep communications flowing smoothly.

How will you protect the area around the worksite?

Ask this question before the work begins and the dust starts flying. You may be asked to move items that can get broken, such as curio cabinets and electronics. Other things, like washers and dryers, may be covered by tarps or drop cloths. Valuables will always be safest locked up away from the work area for everybody’s peace of mind. If work is going on outside, ask about protecting any landscaping.

The contractor may have suggestions for what you can do before the crew arrives. This will reduce the setup time and allow the job to be completed more quickly. Even if you can only do some of it, such as covering plants or moving breakable things out of the area, that makes the setup that much easier!

How will you contact me?

It’s nice to have daily updates on your project. Or you could be the type of person who only wants to know whether there’s a problem. Work it out with your contractor according to what you feel will keep you best informed. Weekly face-to-face meetings are a great way to remain in close touch with the contractor and know the progress on your remodel.

What are your concerns about my project?

There should always be concerns. No two projects are alike, and the contractor should have questions. Discuss worst-case scenarios and perhaps do a little “exploratory demolition” to learn what complications might be lurking on the horizon.

How do you handle change orders?

Change orders are normally covered in your contract. They should be documented in writing, noting the change in price and the scope of the work and whether the change is going to affect the schedule. Both you and the contractor should sign off on any changes needed, and both parties should receive copies of all paperwork. This will keep things straight in the event of a dispute or problem.

How will I know when it’s time for me to make a decision?

Ask for a list and deadlines to help you keep on schedule concerning when you need to make decisions and shop for materials. When do you need to decide on a pattern for your backsplash or what style cabinets you want? Knowing about these things ahead of time will help keep everything on schedule and avoid a great deal of standing around while choices are made.

How do I get a hold of you after hours?

If you’re having your house worked on and an unexpected rainstorm starts leaking into your house, you want to be able to get the contractor out there fast before any further damage occurs. Your contractor should have an emergency number at which he or she can be reached night or day. Be sure you have multiple ways to contact your contractor in case of an emergency.

What meetings will I need to have?

Aside from having a weekly meeting with your contractor, you may need to be present for other meetings, too. For example, you may need to meet with the tile-setter or the electrician before their part of the job starts to make sure the job is done exactly the way you want. This is also a chance for them to advise you of any safety concerns the existing plan might have. This is a vital part of the lines of communication you need to maintain with the contractor and subcontractors.

What paperwork will I receive after the job is done?

You should receive end-of-project paperwork when the job is done. This will include lien releases, marked-up plans reflecting all changes and modifications, copies of inspections and other such project-related documentation.

Other documents you may receive include:

  • A full set of photos from before the installation of insulation (these show you the conditions of the inside of your walls.)
  • Operating manuals for installed equipment and a demonstration of their correct use.
  • A list of subcontractors and their contact information.
  • Care and maintenance instructions for countertops, tile, woodwork, and so on.
  • A well-labeled electrical panel.

Make sure ahead of time that you will be receiving all these documents. This will help ensure that you have all of the information you need when the project is done.

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How Much Should an Additions & Remodeling Contractor Cost?

Because remodels and additions are so varied in scope, it can be hard to nail down a generalization of what they should cost. However, some of the most common additions and remodels are relatively standard across the board.


  • Converting existing floor space – Converting existing floor space into a bathroom can cost from $3,000 to $6,000 for a basic bathroom setup. A master-spa setup can cost from $2,500 to $7,000.
  • Adding new floor space – Building onto your house for the floor space can cost $25,000 to $50,000. A higher-end, more spa-like bathroom can cost from $40,000 to $80,000.
  • ROI – A bathroom addition or remodel can potentially get you a 90% to 98% return on your investment (ROI).


  • Converting existing floor space – Converting existing floor space into a bedroom costs about $7,500 to $22,500 or more depending on features such as walk-in closets, and so on.
  • Adding new floor space – Adding floor space for a typical 10x15 bedroom can cost from $10,000.00 to $50,000.00 depending on features, materials, and what sort of electrical will be installed.
  • ROI – Adding a bedroom can vary between 80% and 102%, depending on your region. Check with local home improvement experts and real estate professionals.

Family Room

  • Converting existing floor space – Converting existing floor space into a family room costs about $7,500 to $25,000 or more, depending on features and materials.
  • Adding new floor space – Adding floor space for a family room can cost from $30,000 to $100,000, depending on features, materials, and what type of electrical will be installed.
  • ROI – Adding a family room can yield a 70% to 75% ROI.


  • Adding a deck – Adding a simple 10x12 deck made with standard materials can cost from $1,000 to $2,000. A more elaborate deck made of specialty wood can cost from $4,000 to $25,000, depending on materials and complexity.
  • ROI – A deck that is intended to be more than just a wooden back porch can see as much as an 80% ROI—sometimes higher if features such as gas lines, electrical and built-in furniture are present.

Second Floor

  • Adding a second floor – A 1,500 square foot second floor can cost between $225,000 and $450,000, depending on the floor plan, features, and other structural considerations.
  • ROI – A second floor usually sees about a 75% ROI.

Other costs may factor into your remodel or addition. These can at times affect the cost only marginally, but some situations that could significantly increase the cost.


How big or elaborate your project is will have a significant effect on the cost. A simple rectangular deck that sits only a little above ground level with a small stair-step for access will cost considerably less than a multilevel party deck with a fire pit, gas line hook-ups, lights, built-in seating, and a sound system will.

Likewise, you may think that expanding a simple bedroom into a master suite just involves making a bedroom bigger. The contractor, however, may have to move electrical systems and modify a load-bearing wall.


It should go without saying that higher-end materials will cost more. Floor tiles, for example, can cost from $2 per square foot for basic quarry tiles to over $25 per square foot for custom-made art tiles.

For many basic additions, some people allow the contractor to use what is known as “builder-grade” material. Builder grade is the most basic material you can get that will look decent enough and do the job but is not anything fancy. For example, a builder-grade bathroom sink will be a basic white basin with a faucet.


It may not make sense to you that two identical projects, right down to the materials used, cost different amounts depending on where you live, especially if the materials are common across the country. Indeed, if materials were the only factor to consider, it wouldn’t make any sense at all. However, there other factors are at work that can affect the cost of your project depending on the region:

  • Cost of labor – Wages are usually set at the state level. $50 an hour may be high in some regions, whereas other regions may have a minimum of $80 an hour.
  • Overhead – A small amount of a contractor’s overhead usually is worked into the estimate. Things such as rent and insurance compose a fraction of the quoted price. In some regions, the cost of overhead may be higher -- it varies by locale. This will be passed on in the estimate.
  • Licensing and permits – Different regions have different requirements. Your state or municipality may require contractors to be licensed in specific jobs before being allowed to do them. They may also need to obtain permits to make certain changes or to add anything to an existing structure. These costs will be passed on.

Additional work needed

Sometimes it happens that a contractor begins work on a project and some complication arises. For example, if you’re having your basement remodeled into a bedroom, the contractor may discover cracks in your foundation, leaks, or hidden mold. These are not things that can just be “plastered over.” They are signs of serious problems that need to be addressed before work can continue.

This is especially true if the contractor finds a major health risk, such as asbestos. Not only is there an extra expense, but also in some situations, a specialist must be called in to remedy the situation. This can add costs and time onto your project, so make sure the contractor will contact you should these events occur.

Change orders

While the contractor’s crew is tearing apart your kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom, you may have things come to mind that you had not thought about before, including:

  • You might decide that instead of a large window looking out on the backyard, you’d rather have French doors;
  • You might decide to turn your fixed front room window into a more picturesque bay window.

A contractor could advise you that due to the location of load-bearing walls, you won’t be able to have the double-pocket sliding doors you want or that they don’t make a double-vanity small enough to go where you want one. Listen to the contractor in these instances because he or she is trying to help you avoid trouble.

Whoever suggests them, these changes should be discussed with the contractor to determine the cost and extra time that will be needed. Once you’ve agreed on things, get everything in writing.

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Remodeling Terms You Need To Know

A complete list of every term a contractor might use would be an encyclopedia in and of itself. The good news is that you don’t need to know all of them; you just need to know the ones you are likely to encounter. Here are terms you might hear when dealing with general contractors and subcontractors:

  • Aggregate – A mixture of sand and stone, it’s the main component of concrete.
  • Air space – The gap between the insulation and the exterior wall.
  • Allowance – A sum of money set aside for potential expenses that have not yet been specified. For example, an allowance may have to be set aside in case your tile floor needs an underlayment.
  • Apron – A trim board that is installed beneath a windowsill.
  • Area wells – Corrugated metal that holds soil back from basement windows, most often used to provide a clear escape area for egress windows.
  • Attic access – An opening in a home’s ceiling that allows someone to access the attic space.
  • Attic ventilators – Screened openings in an attic that allow warm air to vent outside.
  • Back charge – A bill for charges incurred by one party but paid by another. For example, if a subcontractor accidentally breaks a window during the course of the project, the general contractor would pay for the replacement and then back charge it to the subcontractor.
  • Backfill – The replacement of excavated soil after work below the ground has been finished.
  • Bearing wall – A wall that supports both itself and a load on top of it. Also called a “load-bearing wall.”
  • Board foot – A unit of lumber measurement equal to 1” x 12” x 12.” A board that measures 1”x12”x8’ is 8 board feet.
  • Builder’s Risk Insurance – Coverage on a construction project, including any added coverage for the customer’s protection.
  • Casement – The frame that encloses the glass part of a window sash.
  • Change order – A written document that records changes in the project, price and schedule.
  • Construction contract – A legal agreement between the contractor and the customer. A good contract includes:
    • Contractor’s registration number
    • Statement of the quality of work (i.e., “Standard Practices of the Trades” or “According to Manufacturer’s Specifications”)
    • Blueprints or plans
    • Timetable
    • Set of specifications
    • Fixed price or a time and materials formula
    • Payment schedule
    • Allowances
    • How disputes will be resolved
    • Written warranty
  • Contractor – A company licensed to perform certain kinds of construction work or activities. Contractor types include:
    • General Contractor – Responsible for overseeing an entire project; may also do some of the work if licensed to do so
    • Remodeling Contractor – General contractor who specializes in remodeling work
    • Specialty Contractor – A contractor with a specialty such as electrical, plumbing asbestos abatement and so on.
    • Subcontractor – A contractor who works for another contractor such as an electrical contractor hired by a general contractor
  • Crawl space – Shallow space below a house surrounded by the foundation.
  • Disconnect – An ON/OFF switch for systems like the gas feed and other major systems.
  • Drywall – A 4x8 or 4x12 sheet of gypsum, sometimes called by the brand name “Sheetrock.”
  • Earthquake Strap – A metal strap intended to hold a water heater in place in the event of an earthquake, thus reducing the chances for a gas leak.
  • Egress window – A window that can open to a specific size (usually 5.7 square feet) to allow for an emergency exit in case of fire. It is also large enough to let a fully equipped firefighter in.
  • Expansive Soil – Soil that expands and contracts depending on the amount of water in it. Expansive soil can damage foundations if steps aren’t taken to mitigate it.
  • Field measure – To take measurements at the home itself instead of relying on blueprints.
  • Fixed price contract – A contract with a specified price for the project.
  • Grade – Ground level. Anything lower than ground level is called “below grade.”
  • HVAC – Pronounced “H vak,” stands for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning.
  • Irrigation – Your sprinklers.
  • Payment schedule – A plan of payments to be made to the contractor. This is usually based on the amount of work completed and might include a deposit prior to the start of the job.
  • Penalty clause – A provision in a contract that allows for a price reduction if certain deadlines or specifications are not met.
  • Permit – Government authorization to perform certain work within an area. For example, to install a septic tank, you must have a septic permit. To perform electrical work, you must have an electrical permit.
  • Plot plan – An overhead view that shows the house, lot lines, easements, setbacks and legal description of the home.
  • Plumb – Exactly vertical.
  • Punch list – A list of discrepancies that the contractor must correct.
  • Redlined prints – Blueprints that show changes and modifications marked in red.
  • R factor (value) – The amount of resistance insulation has against heat transference.
  • Square – Having 90-degree corners; in roofing, 100 square feet.
  • Subfloor – The framing components of a floor.
  • Walk-through – The final inspection of a home to make sure everything is all right.
  • Zoning – A government designation that limits the use of a piece of property, such as “residential,” “commercial” or “industrial.”
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