Spot the Fraud: Signs You Need to Fire Your Contractor ASAP

Contractors don’t exactly have the best reputation. Search “contractor scams” and you’ll turn up loads of articles enumerating the latest contractor ploys. Nightmare contractor stories are about as numerous as the stars. For a business that deals with something so important—your home—home repairs sure do attract some shady characters.

There are plenty of reasons why a relationship with a contractor goes south. Some of it you can probably chalk up to unrealistic expectations—some homeowners want their builder to bring them the world on a platter. And sometimes it’s just a matter of juggling too much. Very few contractors are able to hire administrative employees, and so they end up doing most of the scheduling and paperwork themselves while trying to get your kitchen remodel done.

And then there are the people who see a trusting and vulnerable homeowner with little-to-no knowledge about their home’s inner workings, and think, cha-ching! It’s this last category we’re here to discuss today, specifically how to sniff one out and boot them from your life before they turn your dream home into a nightmare. Here are six surefire signs that you need to cut ties with your contractor—and cut your losses while you still can.

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They Can’t Show You Any Credentials

Here’s where it pays to do a little detective work right off the bat. In many states, skilled work, like the jobs performed by electricians and plumbers, must be completed by a licensed contractor. So don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy of your contractor’s license—a pro won’t be offended. Also ask to review their proof of insurance and a list of references, too. If your contractor gets cagey or can’t produce credentials like these, set them loose. They may not be as much of a “pro” as they say they are.

They Want You to Pay for the Whole Project Up Front

If your contractor hands you a bill before they get started, don’t panic! It’s customary for pros to ask for a portion of their initial quote up front—but typically, it’s no more than 30 to 50% of the quote. However, what they should not do is ask you to fork up the entire estimate right on the spot. It makes it way too easy for crooked contractors to cut and run, and anyone worth their salt knows better than to ask for 100%. That’s a definite red flag right there.

You Can Never Get Them on the Phone

Having trouble reaching your contractor to get a project started? It may be time to say sayonara. No one can answer the phone every time it rings, of course, but your contractor should make an effort to get back to you promptly. If you feel like your contractor is ghosting you, it’s time to start looking for new candidates. After all, there are plenty of workers who will make you a top priority—or at least call you back!

They Break Your Contract

This one is tricky, since you don’t want to go around accusing contractors willy nilly. A breached contract is a serious offense that often gets settled in court, so you’ll want to have your facts straight before you approach your contractor. You’ll want to have documented proof—photos, receipts and other records—showing that your contractor has broken your agreement. And first, you should have an open—but firm—conversation with your builder and air your issues. If your contractor makes no effort to remedy the problem, you may just need to get a lawyer involved.

Their Quote Comes In Way Below Other Bidders

A deal is a deal, except when it comes at the cost of quality, materials, or skill. You should always collect at least three separate bids for a home remodeling project. For one thing, it’s a great way to get a feel for the average price of this kind of work. But it will also give you a sense of your contractors’ trustworthiness, as well. If one of those bids seems way too low, it’s not necessarily a reason to bite. You get what you pay for, and with contractors, as often as not, a low bid is a sign that something is wrong. Maybe the contractor is using recalled materials, hiring less-than-skilled subcontractors or maybe they’re planning to do the work as quickly—and shoddily!—as possible, and then cut and run. Whatever the reason, you’ll probably wind up paying for it later, so it’s best to avoid these kinds of cutthroat quotes.

They Can’t Stick to a Schedule

Delays happen in the construction business. Estimates are off, materials need to be reordered, unpredictable weather pops up—it’s not uncommon for a job to take longer than expected. However, a contractor who keeps missing their deadlines—or doesn’t show up to work some days—is no one you want working on your home. Do yourself a favor and give them the boot. In the long run, your wallet will thank you!

Drought-Proof Your Home with These Clever Water Saving Tips

We don’t mean to be a wet blanket here, but we could probably all stand to get a little more wise about our water consumption. Homes and lawns use thousands of gallons of water every month—and that’s only expected to get worse as the population grows. In fact, the Columbia Earth Institute says that somewhere between 30 to 60 percent of urban freshwater goes straight to watering the lawn, where leaking and inefficient sprinkler systems waste millions of gallons each year.

There are other wanton water wasters inside the home, too. Even a very slow leak from a kitchen faucet adds up to tens of gallons wasted every year (to really get a sense of the problem, check out the U.S. Geological Survey’s drip calculator). Inefficient showerheads tack on thousands of gallons of extra water to annual household water consumption numbers. Long showers pour gallons of useful water into our drains; in fact, the EPA estimates that about 20 percent of the average 40 gallons of water used everyday for household hygiene goes to waste. It gets lost while we wait for the tap to heat up or when we take those extra five minutes in the shower.

But what are you going to do, stop bathing? Let your lawn turn to a brittle husk in summer while your neighbors watch on, horrified? If you’re smart, you won’t have to. There are plenty of common-sense solutions to address water inefficiencies in the home. In fact, once you get good at it, saving water can be almost like a sport—it’s almost fun to see how much less you can use. To get you started, here are a couple of tips you can use around the home to reach virtual camel levels in water conservation.

a woman catching water in her hands

Turn Rainwater into Gardening Gold

Humans have been known to resort to some creative measures to make it rain: in Thailand, for instance, farmers in the central and eastern parts of the country will host a “cat parade” when they are in need of a good shower. Locals carry cats through nearby homes and the residents splash water on them, which is thought to drive away droughts. You could try this custom in your home—or you could just make your rainwater last longer by collecting it for later use. Rainwater harvesting with a barrel stowed under a downspout allows you to get the most out of those summer thunderstorms. Many barrels even have a hose hookup, making watering lots easier. But hey, if you decide to try the cat parade instead, we won’t be offended!

Shore Up Those Leaks

According to the EPA’s estimates, household leaks waste about 10,000 gallons every year—that’s enough water for 100 baths! On the other hand, fixing these leaks not only improves your home’s water efficiency, it may also lower your monthly utility bills too. Some leaks are more obvious than others; it’s pretty easy to suss out the telltale drip, drip, drip from a faulty faucet. A broken sprinkler system or leaking hose is little bit sneakier. In these cases, your best bet is to review your water bill: the average household of four shouldn’t use more than about 12,000 gallons of water per month. You can also use this video from Thornton Water Conservation to learn how to uncover other sources of hidden leaks in the home. Most leaks are relatively easy to fix, even if you don’t have much plumbing experience under your belt. Or you can bite the bullet and hire a pro to fix your home leaks. Even if you save just a few dollars every month, it’s worth it. After all, wouldn’t you rather be spending that money on something fun instead of flushing it down the toilet—literally?

Be “Water-Wise” With Your Mowing

As we mentioned above, thirsty lawns suck down a huge percentage of the local water supply. But there are several ways to boost your lawn’s water efficiency, while maintaining the lush turf you’re used to. One of the simplest steps is to let your grass grow a little bit longer—doing so allows the root systems to become better established, so that your lawn absorbs water and nutrients from the soil more effectively. Another easy fix? When you do mow, keep the clippings on the lawn instead of raking them up. That way, the water and nutrients in the cut blades gets recycled back into your lawn. Saving water by being lazier about lawn care? You can’t ask for a better deal than that!

Install Water-Saving Toilets and Showerheads

A low-flow showerhead is more than just a good gag from “Seinfeld”—it’s an easy way to get back up to 7.5 gallons a minute every time you shower. Meanwhile, if the toilets in your home haven’t been replaced since that episode originally aired, you might want to think about investing in some higher-efficiency models, which can reduce your water consumption by 1.28 gallons a flush. Products like these may even qualify you for a rebate from your local government; check out the EPA’s WaterSense Rebate Finder to find out if you’re eligible. Yep, that’s free money just for upgrading your home. Pretty cool!

Break These Water-Wasting Sink Habits

Most of the time we’re wasting water without even really thinking about it. After all, when access to water is literally right at your fingertips, it’s easy to be cavalier about the amount you use. That’s why it’s worth revisiting some common water-wasting habits to see which ones you can cut out of your daily routine. Maybe you tend to run the faucet while you brush your teeth or keep the water on while you rinse the dishes before they go in the dishwasher. Or you like to indulge in an extra-long shower or use the garbage disposal like it’s going out of style. All the extra water required for these activities adds up fast, which can sink your household’s water efficiency. Longtime patterns like these are hard to break, but research suggests that if you can change your thinking around your habits, you’ll be more likely to stick to your convictions. For instance, just telling yourself “I don’t waste water” instead of “I can’t waste water” may increase your success rate.

Remember, when it comes to water conservation, your efforts are no mere drop in the bucket!

20 One-Hour Home Improvement Projects to Reclaim Your Weekends

Hear that noise? It’s the sound of your weekend draining away! Somehow, those brief 48 hours never seem long enough—especially when you have a bunch of home improvement projects cluttering up your weekend to-do list. Spending all day at the home improvement store, watching a bunch of nonsensical YouTube videos, just to call a contractor in the end anyway? Not exactly our idea of fun!

DIY isn’t always a weekend timesuck, though—you just have to work smarter, not longer. Take these genius home improvement projects, for instance. They have all the perks of a large, leisure-gobbling job: you’ll get a more beautiful, well-maintained home and the sense of accomplishment that goes along with it. You just won’t have to forfeit your whole Saturday to do it! Professional-style home improvement in 60 minutes or less? Here are 20 projects that are our go-tos for a quick fixer-upper.

a relaxing hammock

Clean Your Refrigerator’s Condenser Coils

When was the last time you looked behind you refrigerator? Thought so. Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. Cleaning the fridge coils isn’t a glamorous job by any means, but it can improve your refrigerator’s energy efficiency by up to 30 percent and makes it last a lot longer, too, so it’s definitely worth it. Here’s how to get it done fast, from the appropriately named WeekendWorkbench.

Clean Your Range Hood Filter

While you’re at it, you might want to have a look at your range hood filter as well. This guy sits underneath your range hood, with the sole purpose of collecting excess grease, smoke, odors that drift up as you cook. Needless to say, it gets pretty filthy after a while, but nothing that a little baking soda and some determination can’t handle. Get the full instructions from The Kitchn here.

Paint the Front Door

The beauty of this fix lies in its simplicity. A couple coats of paint in a bright, eye-popping color is enough to take your entryways into next-level curb appeal. This is also a great time to finally use that paint leftover from redoing the kids’ rooms. Pick a strong, bold choice like brilliant red, stately navy or eclectic turquoise to put your own unique spin on your front-door decor.

Touch Up Your Baseboards

Baseboards tend to get passed over for the more decorative parts of your home, but the truth is, tiny touches like these easily make or break its overall aura of sophistication. And from their spot on the floor, where they’re subject to grime, dust, and dings, chances are your baseboards could probably use some love. There are lots of simple fixes for any kind of baseboard damage your feet, furniture or pets can come up with. If you just need to cover up a few marks or paint chips, a quick paint touch up will do the job. For gouges and scratches, you can either follow this tip from YouTuber AdamDIY and fill the damaged places with joint compound or replace a small section using this guide from The DIY Network. Either way, it will be well worth the sixty minutes you spend on it.

Switch Out the Hardware on Your Cabinets

This is another place where a small change gets you big-time bang for your decor buck (and effort!). Cabinet handles and drawer pulls often become grimy from years of use, so switching them out with shiny new hardware offers a lightning-quick fix for that problem—while allowing you to modernize outdated kitchen accents at the same time. We recommend oil-rubbed bronze bar pulls, or splurge for a set of glass or ceramic knobs that will really stand out. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a kitchen remodel in less than an hour.

DIY a Concrete Firebowl or Planter

Concrete planters and tabletop firebowls have a super modern look that makes your exteriors sing! But they’re also pretty expensive, especially when you consider how easy it is to DIY one for yourself. Get the 411 on this stylish project from DIY Creators here.

Fix a Slow-Draining Sink

A slow draining sink isn’t just annoying, it’s also a lightning rod for stains and soap scum. And it’s only a matter of time until it becomes clogged, which often means a much more time-intensive repair. There are a couple of different ways to handle a slow sink: you can go with the traditional chemical drain cleaner, or a less abrasive alternative, such as baking soda mixed with vinegar. Or try one of the more drastic measures detailed here by The Spruce. No plumbing equipment necessary!

Install a New Faucet

This one will make you feel like a bonafide Bob Vila. Replacing a sink faucet is actually not all that complicated and can have a huge impact on your kitchen and bathroom decor. Goodbye rust, hello stainless steel! Lowes explains what you need to know.

Fix a Running Toilet

A running toilet is annoying, sure, particularly when it happens at three in the morning. But it also wastes gallons of water too: not great for your utility bills. Luckily, though, it’s a pretty simple fix, as long as you’re willing to get your hands wet. About 90% of the time, running toilets result from a problem with the flapper chain or the flapper itself, which has the job of creating a seal between the tank and the bowl. Replacing either piece is a cinch. Homeowner Series on YouTube elaborates.

Flush Your AC Drain Line

ACs are pretty miraculous little pieces of machinery, when you think about it. But just like many of our most ingenious contraptions, they do require a little maintenance from time-to-time to keep working in all their wondrous cooling glory. Beyond basic filter upkeep, you need to pay a little attention to your AC’s condensation drain line every so often. The line, which typically sits at the back of your outside unit, has the job of carrying humidity out of your home and depositing it outside as condensation. Algae and mildew can collect here eventually, which may clog the line if you’re not careful. A bad clog can shut your whole system down. Flushing the line occasionally with water and bleach or vinegar can make all the difference—and prevent you from spending a  night without AC. More on drain line cleaning here, from Today’s Homeowner.

Install a Rustic Beam Mantle

Fireplace looking a little more busted than rustic? A mantle is a great way to inspire a warm, cozy feeling in your living room—but there’s a fine line between quaint and antiquated. Give yours an updated Brooklyn rustic charm with this DIY beam mantle that you can have finished well before dinner. Full instructions available from Addicted2Decorating.

Hang Pretty Outdoor Curtains

What could be more relaxing than a lazy Sunday morning spent reading the paper on the porch? That is, if the glare doesn’t get to you first! Solve that problem for once and all with this unique and charming solution that’s as easy to install as it is on the eyes! Houzz provides some design ideas to get you inspired.

Make a Spa-Worthy Riverstone Bath Mat

Nothing washes away the stresses of the week like a long soak in the bath. To make yours extra marvelous, some spa touches are essential, like plush towels, scented candles, and this DIY bathmat you can make with some contact cement and 60 minutes’ worth of elbow grease. Find out more on Curbly.

Create a DIY Open Cabinet System

Super-trendy cabinets are just a few minutes away with this clever kitchen hack. In this stylish version from Better Homes & Gardens, trim added to the edges covers hinge holes and gives your cabinets a neat, professional look. And it will probably inspire you to finally clean out your cabinets. Bonus!

Powerwash Your Driveway

Does anything make you feel more powerful than blasting away dirt with a pressure washer? Sixty minutes spent wielding one of these babies will not only make you feel like a home superhero, they also bring the “like new” luster to cement walkways and drives. Take that, grime!

Create a Peel-and-Stick Faux Wood Plank Backsplash

Don’t you just love a good kitchen backsplash? Wood planks, newly in vogue, offer a game-changing backdrop for your kitchen counters. And with peel-and-stick flooring, they take literally no time to get up on the wall. Now that is the kind of backsplash revamp we can really get behind!

Weatherproof Your Doors

Air infiltration and heating and cooling leaks through doors make homes infinitely less comfortable and energy efficient. Even a gap as small as an ⅛ of an inch makes a difference—This Old House says it’s about equivalent to the air allowed in by a 5 ½-inch hole in the wall. With weatherstripping and a door sweep, you can stop phantom drafts in winter and lower your energy bills all year long. Here’s how.

Update Your House Numbers

Your home’s house numbers are sort of the like the font on your business cards: a small chance to add a touch of personality to an otherwise perfunctory feature. We particularly love stainless steel numbers in a classic mid-century font for a doorway that’s a part Wes Anderson and 100% charming. Nothing could be easier!

Wash Your Windows

You don’t even realize how dirty your home’s windows have gotten until you start cleaning them. The difference in visibility gives you a whole new outlook on life—literally! This usually-daunting task becomes simple with the right tools. This Old House explains how to use a strip applicator and squeegee to make window cleaning a cinch.

Sharpen Your Lawnmower Blades

This is one of those “spend time now to save time later” kinds of jobs. Sharpening blades twice a mowing season is an awesome shortcut, since dull blades can add serious drag to your mowing time. Once you nail this technique, it only takes about 10 minutes—and makes you feel like a serious pro around the lawn. More on that here, from The Family Handyman.

Only one last thing to consider: now that you’ve got your weekend chores lined up, what are you going to do with all the extra free time?

“Is My Grass Dead?” and Other End-of-Summer Home Questions Answered

Hot, hot, and hotter: three words that describe mid-August weather. And like any kind of meteorological extreme, summer heat can do a number on your home and yard, leading to plenty of end-of-the-season maintenance questions. To help, we’ve compiled a list of frequent queries homeowners have this time of yearwith answers, of course! You can use this list as your guide to August home maintenance or just to answer some lingering concerns you have around the home this time of year.

the sun shining through a leaf

Is My Grass Dead? Should I Fertilize It?

This is one we hear from homeowners all the time. Yes, a patch of brown, thirsty thatch isn’t all that attractive, and that can make it tempting to rush right out and run for the fertilizer. However, that may not be the right move. Grass that’s been stressed out by dry, hot weather will sometimes go dormant. It’s still alive, but not putting out new growth. It’s a protective measure the grass employs during hot, harsh weatherand it’s totally normal.

How can you tell if your grass has gone dormant or if it’s dead? Take a small handful and tug. If the grass comes loose easily, it’s gone to a better place. But if you feel resistance, it’s still kicking. In this case, the best thing to do is to give it a slow, gentle soak at about ½ an inch deep every two or three weeks. Or you can start giving it one inch of water every week to get it green again, but only if you’re prepared to continue watering regularly like that for the rest of the summer. Grass is weakened after it comes out of dormancy, so another period of drought just might be enough to kill it. Whatever you do, don’t flood it with waterit won’t make your lawn green up any faster. Same goes for the fertilizer. Spreading it now will either burn your lawn or cause it to send up a bunch of tender young shoots that will wither quickly in the heat. It’s best to wait until the weather gets cooler for that!

My AC Bills Are Through the Roof. How Can I Lower Them?

High cooling bills are like an unwanted house guest: no one invited them, and they’re using up all your toilet paper and eating all your food. Okay, so they’re not exactly like that, but you get the gist. While it’s normal to expect some increase in energy bills throughout the summer months, a huge spike could be a sign that you’re not getting the most out of your AC. Luckily, you’re not totally at the mercy of your utility company; there are some things you can do to improve your home’s cooling efficiency.

The simplest thing to do right off the bat is to change your AC filters. According to the Department of Energy, this simple act can potentially make your AC unit run 5 to 15 percent more efficiently—not too shabby! Other things you can do? Try cleaning the condenser coils on your outside unit, which can get gritty after a season of mowing and dust. You can also run your ceiling fans at the same time as your AC. That act alone has been known to help homeowners reduce thermostat settings by up to four degrees. And every degree you can shave off means more energy savings!

How Do I Get My Grill Ready for Fall?

Late summer marks the end of cookout season, and for many of us, that means it’s time to bid your grill a fond farewell for the winter. But before you do, give yours a little TLC so that it’s ready to go in spring. First and foremost, scour grates, heat plates and the warming rack with a wire brush to break down baked-on grease and grit. Scrape out the ashes and buildup inside the burner box, and wipe down the inside of the grill cabinet and the grill exterior with a gentle, food-safe solution, such as a mixture of water and vinegar. Wash the drip tray and grease cup in soapy water and allow them to dry thoroughly before reinstalling. Keep in mind that this little cleanup routine is great for year-round grills as well: you can keep your grill space too clean!

To prevent rust throughout the winter, apply a coat of cooking oil to the grates, heat plates, warming rack and burners. For gas grills that have an electronic igniter system, remove the battery and keep it stored inside for the winter—that way it won’t be damaged by moisture. Finally, put all the parts back in place, top it all off with a grill cover and move it into a garage, shed or other protected area to sit out the winter’s hibernation. So long until next year, cookouts!

Can the Sun Damage My Siding or Deck?

Absolutely. The sun beating down all day can be pretty rough on the surfaces of your home. While many kinds of vinyl, aluminum, and fiberglass siding are tested and waranteed against UV damage, you won’t get the same kind of guarantee with wood boards. For wood-clad homes, it’s not a bad idea to walk around your house this time of year, looking for cracked or peeling paint on the exterior, especially on sides that are regularly exposed to the sun all day. If you find a lot of damage, you may want to consider repainting with a UV-resistant exterior paint.

Now, onto your deck. If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to give it a new coat of sealer, stain, or paint, since you’ll be able to get it done before the leaves start to fall. As you do, take a moment to put eyes on the boards, posts and stairs, too, to make sure there’s no rot or water damage there—otherwise, you’ll have bigger problems on your hands. Once you get a fresh coat of sealer on, you’ll be all set for winter moisture. Bonus!

Is There Anything Else I Should Do Before the Hot Weather Ends?

Hot weather provides an opportune time for a couple of other maintenance items, as well. Specifically, if you have an asphalt driveway in need of repair, now is when you should fix any potholes or cracks. You can DIY them yourself with liquid filler or crack-patching mastic.

Also, if you haven’t given your gutters any attention lately, you may want to do that now. Check the downspouts in particular—loose shingle granules can collect here after hailstorms, which could be an indicator of problems with your roof.

Lastly, start planning or researching large jobs, like roofing or siding projects or window replacements, that will expose part of your home to the elements while the contractors work. These are good projects for fall, when the weather is more comfortable.

Now go take a break and get yourself some ice cream! Armed with some home know-how, hot weather won’t keep you down!