Sals Plumbing: The best plumber in Manhattan Beach wants to share how we fix, a common problems that we see everyday on the job: How to avoid home repair rip-offs. (**We are not claiming that all home repair-rips are limited to the different types of labor listed in this article**)
State attorneys general have files stuffed with stories of roofers who have skipped town with a client’s shingles — and his check. Some roofers don’t even bother using shingles, claiming that a coat of latex paint prevents leaks just as effectively.If you’ve got a leaky roof, the likely cause is flashing, which is the material — usually copper, galvanized steel or aluminum — that joins your roof to the chimney and vents. Flashing can be fixed cheaply with a black gooey substance called asphalt cement Plan on paying $30 to $50 an hour to have flashing fixed correctly.Beware the roofer who gazes up at your house and announces, “Your roof is 15 years old. It will leak soon unless you replace the shingles.” The only way to determine if you need a new roof is by walking around on it. Worn-out shingles, which have lost their oil and thus their water repellency, look brittle, curl up at the edges and often crumble into powder when broken.A new asphalt shingle roof (with one layer of shingles) costs $30 to $50 per “square” (a roofer’s square is 100 square feet), depending on the quality of the shingles and the slope of your roof, and lasts 15 to 20 years. A second layer will last about 10 years. If you plan to move within that time, adding a second coat without stripping the first will save you around 20% in labor (as well as $500 to $700 for a dumpster to haul away the old shingles).
The biggest painting rip-offs aren’t in the final coats, but in the prep work. On a three-story house, most people don’t bother climbing up a ladder to make sure every inch has been properly scraped, sanded, patched and primed. But a spot-check makes sense, since poor preparation can lead to water damage and rot. To verify that priming has been done, ask your painter to use a different color, such as light-gray primer on a white paint job.
How much will you have to pay? A detailed on-site estimate helps avoid unpleasant surprises for both parties. The old saw says get three estimates and take the middle. Don’t scrimp on quality paint, even if you can afford only a single coat. You get the most wear for the money buying one step down from the top of the line. Also keep in mind that painters often do better on paint prices than do consumers. One painter in Katonah, N.Y., buys paint at $22 a gallon, then charges clients $25. At retail, it would cost $28. Make sure to ask your painter how his paint pricing works.When evaluating exterior painters, ask for addresses of homes they painted five years ago — and then go look. A good paint job should last about seven years.One final thing to keep in mind: No matter how much you nag potential contractors to lower their prices, they will need to make money on your job. There is such a thing as pushing them too hard. Explains one painter who figures in a 20% to 25% profit margin: “With insurance and expenses, each man costs me $150 a day. If I can’t make a profit on that, I can always get cheaper men.” And cheaper men means shoddier work.
Because electricians have the most explicit national standards, they register the fewest complaints from consumers. Before hiring an electrician, though, make sure he’s a member of the National Electrical Contractors Association or a local electricians’ union. Electricians’ estimates vary widely, as with all repairs involving more labor than materials. A heating contractor can only price a furnace as low as he can buy it wholesale. But an electrician or a plumber can bill whatever he likes. Just ask the transient plumbers from Maine and Vermont now working in Fairfield County, Conn. They’re charging $14 an hour, nearly double their normal rates, but a far cry from the $55 to $60 local residents generally pay for a house call. (If you’re looking for itinerant tradesmen, check the local Pennysaver and grocery store bulletin boards. You might even drive by new housing developments, since builders usually get their hooks into any cheap available talent.)Though it’s rarer, electricians can rip you off on parts, too. A cheap electrical switch costs your electrician 29 cents, compared to $2 for a longer-lasting one. When buying such devices from your electrician, make sure he’s providing “specification grade or better” products, a standard set by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Your best weapon against shoddy electrical work is a $10 voltage tester purchased at a hardware store. This basic diagnostic tool will tell you if outlets are wired incorrectly, one of the biggest problems with electrical work.