Getting Ready for a Remodel

Remodeling a home is exciting and rewarding. As a homeowner, you get to see your dreams come to life over just a few days or weeks. However, there are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about remodeling. There’s nothing like a solid beginning to make for a smooth finish when it comes to your remodeling project.

As with most things, a good remodeling plan leads to the best outcome. Every plan has three basic components: time, cost and quality. By establishing a timeline with your contractor, a budget with your spouse (if applicable) and documenting the features of your remodel, you can put together a pretty solid plan. Fortunately, there are many tools available to you for little or no cost to help you put your plan together.

Be sure to establish a priority order across the components of your plan. For example, is time more important than cost? Is quality (the features you want) more important than cost or is your budget the highest priority of all? Only you can decide which is of the primary importance, secondary importance and tertiary importance. Communicating your priorities to your contractor will help them implement your plan and deliver a satisfactory project.

One of the simplest and best tools is a sketch pad with a grid. Often called “graph paper”, you can pick up one of these pads at virtually any big box retailer or office supply store. The grid, when combined with a ruler and a pencil, makes drawing out your floor plan relatively easy. It doesn’t have to be perfect but even a simple sketch can help communicate your ideas to your contractor.

Pinterest is another free tool that makes collecting your design ideas easy. It also makes showing them to your interior designer and contractor very easy as well. If you have a laptop, smart phone or tablet of some sort, you can save your ideas on your Pinterest account and pull up the pictures when discussing your project. Pinterest is also a great place to find ideas for your project.

The more detail you include in your plan, the better. From things as significant as the floor plan to as insignificant as the pulls on drawers and doors, the devil is in the details. What may, on the surface, appear to be relatively insignificant may, in fact, turn out to have a major impact on your project’s timeline or budget.

Speaking of interior designers, give some consideration to hiring one to help you with your plan and the project as a whole. A good interior designer should ask lots of questions, listen even more than they talk and come back with ideas that fit with your concept of the remodel. Many interior designers also have a network of contractors with whom they have worked on previous projects. They should be able to give you a list of reputable contractors to help jump-start your contractor selection. Although … finding a good interior designer can be just as difficult as finding a good contractor.

You’ll also want a timeline as a part of your plan. This should be developed jointly with your contractor. As you develop your plan, remember that there are two types of plans: Those that have failed and those that may fail. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid putting a plan together. It means that you should build some cushion and flexibility into your plan. Don’t let your contractor give you the “just two more weeks” line, but also recognize that unexpected things can and do happen and that your plan should have contingencies in it to allow for these events. As with most things, the more detailed the questions, the more detailed the design and the more detailed – and unexpected event proof – the plan. (See the Contractors section for more on details.)

Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to prepare.

First, prepare yourself mentally. Most kitchen and bathroom remodels take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Your kitchen or bathroom will be out of commission throughout most of this time and … yes, it’s true … your house will be a little bit of a mess. If you’re a “foodie” and you love your kitchen, think about how you will need to adapt while your kitchen is inaccessible. If you’re remodeling a bathroom, give consideration to everyone’s schedule so the members of your household can utilize the remaining bathroom(s) without causing an all-out family feud.

Now that you’re mentally prepared, follow up on the functional preparations necessary to accommodate your family’s needs during the remodel. Will you need a bathroom use schedule? If so, draw one up and let all of your family members have input. Will you need to eat out more, order in or cook meals in the microwave in another room? Gather up take-out menus, coupons for your favorite restaurants and make the necessary space preparations. Move the food in your cabinets, refrigerator and freezer to its temporary location. Remove the toiletries and supplies from the bathroom and store them in other bathrooms, linen closets or the like.

With a plan in place and your preparations made, contractor selection is the final critical element in ensuring a smooth remodel.

Let’s start with the basics of contractor selection. A great way to find a great contractor is by talking to your friends, relatives and neighbors who’ve had similar work done on their homes. If you don’t know anyone who has had remodeling work done recently, Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau are good places to start your search. Other online search engines and tools can also be helpful. Take a look at potential contractors’ websites. If their site is well-designed and professional, it’s a pretty good sign that they will also be professional. After you’ve found a few prospective contractors, check their credentials. Do they have liability and third-party loss insurance? Are they bonded? Are they licensed for the kind of work you plan to have done? How about their hiring practices? Do they conduct background checks and drug screens prior to hiring employees? Are their vehicles clean and in good repair? All of these factors tell a story about the contractor.

It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Choose a contractor who is familiar with remodeling and, specifically, your type of remodel. There are remodelers and then there are contractors who occasionally “remodel” a room. Some contractors focus on kitchens and baths, others focus on new additions and still others focus on finishing basements. How do you know if your contractor is truly a remodeler? Ask them for references. Ask them for pictures of previous remodels. Pay attention to the questions they ask as they’re putting together your bid. Are the questions detailed in nature or are they very general. Contractors who ask detailed questions will pay attention to the details of your project.

This leads me to the second consideration when choosing a contractor. Look for a contractor who will give you a fixed bid and document the scope of the project. Many contractors will provide an estimate based on generalities. Invariably, those estimates change. Other contractors will provide “allotments” or “allowances” for certain features or the remodel. If you know you can stay within the allowances, that’s fine. If you aren’t up to speed on the price of your materials and your contractor’s labor costs … you might want to avoid the allowances route. A contractor who provides a fixed bid should discuss their policy for scope changes with you. That way you know how they handle changes to your project and the associated costs.

Purchasing your own materials, if you understand how to estimate the amount necessary, can be a way to save a little bit of money on most remodeling projects. However, most good-sized contractors will be able to purchase materials at a discount. While it’s usually necessary for the contractor to mark up the materials to recoup their costs for purchasing and hauling them, you may only break even (or possibly end up spending more) in the long run if you’re not very familiar with estimating the amount of material necessary for a particular job.

I mentioned the mess associated with most remodels earlier. Talk to your contractor about how they will minimize the mess and what they will do to clean up when they’re done, both at the end of each day and at the end of the entire project. If you don’t want your contractor to leave tools and supplies at your house during the project, it’s only fair to let them know that at the outset. It takes time to break everything down at the end of every day and set it back up again the next.

Yes, a remodeling project is a lot of work. Yes, it will make a mess of your home and your life for a while. In the end, however, you’ll enjoy the fruits of those labors for years to come and you’ll increase the value of your home along the way.

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

  • Check exterior basement walls for cracks
  • Caulk exterior basement wall cracks or schedule repairs
  • Inspect for peeling paint
  • Check for signs of rot
  • Inspect roof for missing shingles
  • Glean gutters & down spouts
  • Inspect garage door weatherstrips
  • Inspect driveway for cracks
  • Inspect entry door weatherstrips
  • Check caulk around windows & doors
  • Change furnace filter
  • Schedule heating system check-up
  • Change batteries in smoke detectors
  • Inspect supports, railings & stairs on decks
  • Drain & coil garden hoses; winterize hose bibs
  • Inspect for signs of pests & insects

Don’t “Dis” Your Disposal

Remember the days before garbage disposals? Food remnants actually had to be carried out with the trash. Those were difficult times. If you want to avoid such struggles, you need to treat your disposal with a little respect.

Your garbage disposal may very well be the hardest working appliance in your kitchen. Most of the time it takes whatever you give it, shreds it up and sends it on its way down your drainage system. Treating your disposal with a little bit of respect will help it to keep doing its job for years to come.


  • Always run cold water when running your disposal.
  • Keep your garbage disposal clean. Pour a bit of dish washing detergent down the drain and let your disposal run for a minute or so.
  • Use your disposal frequently. This prevents rust and corrosion and keeps food particles from building up and clogging the drain.
  • Occasionally grind ice cubes in your disposal. This creates a scouring action that cleans the disposal’s walls.
  • Grind peelings from citrus fruit in your disposal once a week or so. This helps keep your drain smelling fresh.
  • Cut larger items into smaller pieces. Put them in the disposal one at a time instead of shoving them all in at once.
  • Allow the cold water to run for 15-30 seconds after grinding is complete.


  • Never put anything in your disposal that is not biodegradable – no glass, plastic, metal or paper.
  • Never grind anything combustible.
  • Never grind cigarette butts.
  • Never pour grease, oil or fat into your disposal.
  • Do not use hot water when running your disposal. Hot water may cause grease to liquify and then accumulate on the drain pipes as it cools. This can cause blockages.
  • Do not grind fibrous materials like corn husks, celery stalks, onion skins or artichokes.
  • Do not turn off the disposal until grinding is complete.
  • Do not put potato peels in your disposal. The starch will turn into a paste that can cause the blades to stick.
  • Do not put foods that expand, like pasta or rice, into your disposal.
  • Do not grind large animal bones.
  • Do not put coffee grounds in your disposal. They can cause clogs.
  • Do not use harsh chemicals like bleach or drain cleaners. They may damage blades and pipes.
  • Do not put gelatin or whipped topping in your disposal. They will cling to your pipes and cause blockages.


  • Always unplug your disposal before performing any work on it.
  • Water and electricity are a bad combination. Turn off the breaker for your disposal before performing any work on it.
  • Never stick your fingers or hand into the opening of the disposal unless it is unplugged.


  • Most disposals come with a reset button. This serves as a fuse, of sorts, when the disposal is overloaded. If your disposal stops working, clear the blockage (see Safety, above) and press the reset button.
  • Almost all disposals can be rotated manually to assist in clearing blockages and jams. Some require an Allen Wrench to be rotated manually. Others require a special tool. Insert the Allen Wrench or tool into the corresponding opening on the bottom of the disposal to rotate the grinder.

Basic Tool Kit

Even if you aren’t very handy, we recommend that every homeowner have a basic tool kit. Armed with a few basic tools and the information available here on the Handyman Joes website the tool kit will pay for itself many times over.

If you didn’t grow up around tools, putting together even a basic kit can seem a bit like interpreting a Greek manuscript. A walk down the tool aisles of any home improvement store will reveal dozens of different hammers, screw drivers, saws and other basic tools. Each has a use for those who venture into more complicated home repairs, maintenance and upgrades, but the average homeowner only needs a few basic tools.

Let’s start with a container for the tools. If you don’t keep your tools all in one place you’re unlikely to be able to find them when you need them. A tool box is nice, but you may need nothing more than an empty drawer in the kitchen or a storage area. The choice is yours. We recommend an inexpensive tool box/bag, however, to make it easier to carry your tools to the room in your home in which you will use them.

Tool Bag or Box
Tool box or tool bag? There are literally hundreds of choices for tool boxes and tool bags. If you follow our suggestions here, your kit will be relatively small. You won’t need a big tool box on rollers or a $100 soft-sided bag with the logo of some tool company on it. In fact, you can probably get by with an $8.00 tool bag from Harbor Freight (sometimes on sale for $6.00). Although we don’t recommend buying many things from Harbor Freight (the quality is often not up to par), their 11″ canvas tool bag (SKU 35539) is a pretty good buy at $6.00 – $8.00. The average homeowner is not likely to wear out the bag or fill it so full of tools that the handles will pull off. If you want a little more room, Harbor Freight also carries a 15″ canvas tool bag (SKU 32282). These bags are available at your local Harbor Freight store or online at

OK, you have your tool bag. Now, what to put in it …. Let’s start with a hammer. Even for jobs as simple as hanging a picture you’re likely to need a good hammer. For the average person, we don’t want a hammer that’s too heavy nor do we want want that’s too small for some of the larger, easy jobs around the house.

Hammers come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. We recommend a curve claw hammer, for most homeowners. A fiberglass handle is nice as it absorbs shock better than a steel handle. A quality wood handle is OK too. For a person with relatively strong arms, we recommend a 16 oz. hammer. For someone with not-as-strong arms, we recommend a 12-14 oz. hammer. Take a couple practice swings in the store with hammers of different weights to see how the different weights feel. Some stores will even allow you to drive a nail in a piece of wood if you ask nicely. Good sources for hammers – and most of the tools to follow – are big box home improvement stores, hardware stores and Sears stores. A good hammer will cost about $20.00.

Most homeowners should also have a good set of screwdrivers. Basic screwdrivers are either “flat head” or “Phillips head”. Flat head screwdrivers have a flat blade (the end that fits into the head of the screw). Phillips head screwdrivers have a blade that looks like a plus sign (+) when viewed from the pointed end (the end that fits into the head of the screw). Most stores sell sets of flat and Phillips screwdrivers in various sizes. Many stores also sell combination drivers that use one handle and allow the user to change out the blades to the desired type and size. Whether you purchase a set of screwdrivers or a combination driver is entirely up to you. If you decide to purchase a set of screwdrivers, you probably won’t need a set with more than five different drivers. Most basic combination drivers will have two different bits, each of which can be reversed to give the user a selection of four different size-type bits (one on each end of each bit). A good combination driver will cost about $10.00 – $12.00. A good set of screwdrivers will probably run about $20.00.

Several wrenches should also be a part of any basic tool kit. A pair of Crescent wrenches (sometimes called adjustable wrenches – Crescent is a brand name), one larger and one smaller, should be in every homeowner’s tool kit as should a set of hex wrenches, sometimes called hex keys, in SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers, i.e. inches) and Metric sizes. A good adjustable wrench should cost between $10.00 and $15.00. A good set of SAE and Metric hex wrenches should cost between $15.00 and $20.00.

Putty Knife
A putty knife is handy for repairs to small holes and dents in drywall. Putty knives come in various widths – usually narrow, medium and wide. You may want to purchase one in each width. Wider knives are useful for working with larger areas. Putty knives are available with steel blades or made entirely of plastic. While the steel-bladed knives will last much longer, plastic knives are much less expensive. A good quality, steel-bladed knife will cost about $6.00. Plastic knives are usually less than a dollar.

Sanding Block or Sponge
A sanding block can be as simple as a piece of scrap wood. The purpose of a sanding block is to provide support for sandpaper to ensure that sanding is done evenly. Sanding sponges are another alternative. The down side to sanding sponges is that they are thrown away after they sanding surface wears out. If you’re doing much sanding, this can be more costly than purchasing sandpaper. However, a pack of six sanding sponges usually runs about $10.00 at most home improvement and hardware stores so you’re not likely to break the bank purchasing them. They are very convenient – which may be worth a bit more expense. Like sandpaper, sanding sponges come in various “grits”. The higher the grit number, e.g. 220, the smoother the sanding surface. An 80 grit sanding sponge (or sandpaper) will remove quite a bit of material with each pass and usually will leave small striations that will have to be sanded out with finer grit sandpaper/sanding sponges.

A small box or I-beam level is an essential for hanging pictures, shelves, television brackets and virtually anything else you want to hang on the wall. The level doesn’t have to be large or expensive, but it should be of good quality. A 24″ long level should be adequate for most homeowners. Basic levels are usually made of plastic or aluminum. Either material is acceptable. Some levels have hardwood inserts. These are usually higher-quality levels and not necessary for the average homeowner. Make sure your level has bubbles for horizontal and vertical level and plumb. You may also want a level with a 45° bubble. A good quality 24″ level should be in the $20.00 ballpark.

Stud Finder
The walls of most homes are framed with 2X4’s or 2X6’s, often called studs (or joists in floors and ceilings). A stud finder is used to find these pieces of wood – not to find good-looking men! Why would you want to find a stud? A stud provides support. When hanging anything heavy on a wall or from a ceiling, it is important to nail or screw into a stud. At times it is acceptable to hang something heavy on a wall utilizing a wall anchor but it is usually better to attach heavy items to studs. The stud finder will save you from having to put several holes in the wall to find the studs – well worth the $12.00 – $20.00 it will cost.

Measuring Tape
There aren’t many projects around the house that don’t require some kind of measurement. A good tape measure will pay for itself hundreds of times over. “Measure twice. Cut once,” is an old adage used by many skilled tradesmen. Take an accurate measurement, step back, look things over then take the measurement again. A tape measure will make this much easier than trying to use a ruler or yard stick. Look for a tape measure with a positive blade (the part with the measurements on it) lock. Some tape measures require the lock to be released to pull out the blade (sometimes called a LeverLock). If you do much measuring, you will appreciate this feature. The thicker and wider the blade, the farther you will be able to push it without support. Make sure the blade recoils quickly without the need of any assistance. A 16′ – 25′ tape should be adequate for most home owners and cost between $10.00 and $15.00.

Caulk Gun
Caulk keeps moisture from getting into places where it shouldn’t. Arguably, maintaining good seals with fresh caulk is one of the most important preventive maintenance tasks that you can do around the house. To lay down a bead of caulk, you need a caulk gun. Caulk guns can be as cheap as $2.00. You might want to spend a little more and get a slightly better quality gun – say $10.00 – but either way, you’ll quickly spend more on tubes of caulk than you will on the gun. That’s OK. Both the tubes of caulk and the gun are worth it. Make sure any gun you purchase will accommodate standard, quart-size tubes. A couple convenient features to have on the gun include a tip cutter and seal punch. Most caulk guns will come with a swing-release plunger.

Utility Knife
“No knife, no life,” is a common saying among outdoor enthusiasts. While your life may not depend on it, a utility knife is an absolute essential for projects around the house. From something as simple as opening the clamshell containing a new product to cutting packaging tape to scoring drywall a utility knife is … well, very utilitarian. One of the nicest things about utility knives, when compared to traditional knives, is that when the blade gets dull you simply throw it away and put in a new blade (please dispose of the blades safely). You never have to sharpen a utility knife. A supply of blades is relatively inexpensive and the blades are very, very sharp. You can spend as much or as little as you want on a utility knife, but we recommend that any utility knife at least have the following features: some sort of retracting mechanism, a blade lock, standard replace-able blades, a handle made primarily of metal, the ability to change the blade without the use of a tool. You can purchase a knife will all of these features for less than $10.00. You’ll want to pick up a pack of spare blades when you purchase the knife. A pack of five blades should be less than $2.00.

Along with your tool kit, you might want to keep a few supplies on hand. First and foremost, every tool kit should have a roll of duct tape and a roll of electrical tape. These two products are useful for much more than sealing duct work and electrical connections. Quick-set spackling paste is handy for filling nail holes and making other small repairs to drywall. There are even brands that change color as they dry so you know when you can paint over the repair. You may also want to keep several tubes of different types of caulk on hand. (Stay tuned for an article on the different types of caulk on the market.) A small assortment of nails and screws can also come in handy. Even just a handful of each type might save a trip to the hardware or home improvement store and help you finish your project more quickly. With this small set of tools and a handful of supplies most homeowners will be able to complete quite a few simple projects on their own. At Handyman Joes, we don’t mind doing small, simple projects, but most homeowners will receive more value if they reserve our services for larger or more complex projects. As our library of articles and videos grows, please feel free to take advantage of the information and complete projects on your own. Of course, if you ever feel like a project is beyond your skill set or you would just rather be doing something else … give us a call. We’ll take care of it.