Leah and Joe: Home DIY Projects & Crafts

leahandjoe.com · Jul 9, 2018

How We Became General Contractors

DIY’ing our Addition

We may not be licensed GCs, but we are, in a nutshell, in the thick of general contracting our own addition. We didn’t envision it this way, but I’ll try to bring you up to speed on how it happened.

Call it brave or call it foolish; we decided to take the reigns on our house addition. Here’s the play-by-play. Shortly after the storm damage was inspected by our insurance company, we planned to get the roof fixed. Insurance companies do their best to get your house back together as quickly as possible. Usually, they write you an initial check for a small amount to get your repairs started. They assume your contractor will be doing a full assessment and communicate with them more about what’s needed once they get started. So that was our plan. After meeting many potential candidates (I could do a whole post on the do’s and don’ts of choosing a contractor), we found the perfect one to do the repairs.

Own your Home

He was the first person to actually climb into the attic and truly evaluate the damage and explain what he’d need to do. He advised us to basically demand our insurance company send a structural engineer out to assess the full damage. So we did! I don’t like being in the dark when it comes to my own house, at the mercy of other people. I wanted the facts man. It turns out, rather than a quick patch job, six full trusses were cracked. We were issued another insurance check, thankfully, to address those problems. When you have engineered roof trusses, they need to be fully replaced. And this turned out to be about half of our roof! (Hence our crazy idea to add on a level.) This was a huge lesson in advocating for ourselves as homeowners. Make phone calls until you get answers and do your research.

So we ran the addition idea casually by (who we thought would be) our general contractor, not sure how feasible it would be. He loved our vision. He thought it was an idea worth exploring and a project he’d definitely want to do, so he brought out his architect. After a sunset brainstorm meeting with them in the backyard, Joe and I were floating on a cloud, hardly able to sleep afterward. We were all on the same page, and they left planning to put together some rough blueprints and pricing for us. There was also the promise they’d work with our insurance company to settle the claim.

One of our initial dates/house meetings. Plugging in some of our ideas

But a few weeks after that meeting, and the initial excitement wore off, we had some trouble getting back in contact with them. That’s when they broke some bad news to us: Their company was changing its focus to specialize in roofs and roofs alone. The architect had parted ways with them. This seemed like a dagger to our little hearts after all the dreaming and scheming. Fortunately for us, they felt so bad about it they offered to refer us to their professional contacts — the key tradespeople we’d need to bring this thing to life!

Every idea has to start somewhere. I promise our ideas got a lot more polished, but we always seemed to be sketching something up on graph paper in the early stages.

Subbing out the Trades

At this point, we couldn’t put the idea to rest. The contractors who dumped us asked their favorite draftsman to give us their discounted contractor pricing. Sidenote: To be honest, I’m not sure the exact difference between a draftsman and architect. The guy was English, so maybe that? Maybe he spelled it draughtsman? I’m sure someone can enlighten me… Anyhow, they also recommended several local builders who we could ask to do the framing/carpentry. We thought about the other trades we’d need to subcontract: roof, chimney masonry, siding, electrical, plumbing, insulation, etc. and also started to think about our personal contacts as well as what we could DIY. This seemed do-able. If it could be affordable. The first step would be to take a leap of faith and get our blueprints drawn up, then start showing them and shopping around for our skilled laborers.

In the meantime, we hired a public adjuster to make sure our insurance claim got settled in the event we decided to go solo with this thing. A big fear of mine was handling insurance on our own and getting taken advantage of. A friend suggested hiring a public adjuster and I looked into it. How it works is pretty simple: they get a 10-20% fee for any additional insurance money due. I figured we had nothing to lose. After much deliberation and review, we were not awarded any more money for our insurance claim, therefore we did not have to pay the adjuster. A wash. It provided peace of mind knowing the claim was handled properly and fairly, although this process took months. Flash forward from July, it’s now well into the holiday season.

To be continued…

With a little luck and a lot of patience, a path starts to appear for us to follow.

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