Tips on hiring a home builder

Posted9/14/2018 6:00 AM

Q. Thank you for all the useful information you provide in your Daily Herald column. Would you be able to offer my partner and me any advice on how to educate ourselves on the subject of hiring a homebuilder and doing a teardown, rebuild project?

My partner owns the current house and lot. We did speak with two homebuilders, one of whom we would be comfortable working with. As a starting point he suggested having a topography study performed, which we are doing. Since a project like this is such a complicated undertaking with many potential pitfalls (but also rewards), is there any published information you can point us to that would help us navigate a project of this magnitude?


A. Do I understand that the new house will be built in a different footprint and location than the one to be torn down?

You are right! Such a project is a complicated undertaking and the best advice I can give you is to retain the services of an architect. He or she would study and take advantage of the topo survey to design the house of your dreams and place it in the best orientation on the lot.

He or she would likely be able to recommend a contractor or builder with whom they have worked and can vouch for, and supervise the construction, freeing you of many potential headaches surely to crop up in any construction project with so many facets, including subcontractors.

The architect will also be familiar with the permit process and secure any permits required.

Much is at stake for you to end up with a lovely house in the best setup, and an architect is your best assurance that the project will go smoothly.

You may want to interview more than one architect in order to find the best fit for your project. They should show you some of their past projects. It is essential that the chemistry works.

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Q. I had a Trek deck installed last year by an awful contractor, so it had to be pulled up and reinstalled by a competent guy this spring. He reused some of the boards. Because he had to drill out previous screws, when putting them in again, I had to squirt some caulk into the screw holes first, then I insert the plugs that were no longer tight, using the caulk to keep them in. Not understanding or even seeing the leftover caulk that stayed on the deck after wiping, it has gotten dirty and is really showing up. Do you have a product or process in mind that I can use to remove the caulk residue without damaging the deck material?

A. Paint thinner should remove excess dried up caulking. Use as many clean white cloths as needed and be sure that you have plenty of ventilation to avoid breathing the fumes of this highly flammable chemical. If there is no wind, use a fan.

If that does not do it, try acetone, using the same precautions.

Q. I read your column regarding seal coating some time ago. However, time has clouded over most of your points. The one thing that I do remember is you recommended a rubber-based sealer.

We have a proposal for $1,190 that includes cleaning the pavement of all debris, dress up the edges, treat all oil spills (which there are none), fill any cracks (which there are none) and apply two coats of sealer. And one more thing, there is no warranty or guarantee of their seal coat process. The driveway is 492 square yards and located in southern Vermont.


I have no idea if what they are offering is a good product. The no warranty or guarantee is also a concern. Your comments would be gratefully appreciated.

A. Two things tell me you should stay away from this firm: Their proposal to put two coats of sealer at the same time and no warranty.

Driveway sealers should be applied in thin coats and not be renewed until the existing one is looking quite worn out, which could be several years.

You didn't mention the age of your driveway. Asphalt driveways should not be sealed until all the oils in the mix have evaporated. This may take a few months to a year or more depending on local conditions. You'll know when the time is ripe when the driveway has turned a light gray.

Before applying a sealer, the surface must be thoroughly cleaned and all oils and other pollutants removed. Cracks and other deficiencies need to be repaired. Yours seem to be in good shape on that score.

Acrylic polymer sealers are best and should be applied in thin layers in hot weather. When it's time for a new coat, the same type of product should be used to avoid potential adhesion complications.

Q. Will you please help me find a way to clean soap scum from glass shower doors.

A. There are a number of products that successfully remove soap scum from shower glass doors. They are available in hardware, tile and big box stores.

One good product to try is white vinegar, and it is environmentally safe and inexpensive.

Follow up from readers: "Regarding the question on removing cat urine smell. You recommended Pine-Sol or Nok-Out to remove the urine smell. While both products are good, I found the best one is Nature's Miracle for cats as recommended by my veterinarians. I've had many cats over the years and Nature's Miracle worked on any surface from wood, carpet, clothes, bedding to concrete. Far superior to Pine-Sol and Nok-Out. Nature's Miracle also makes a product for dog urine."

• "I have successfully removed newspaper ink, permanent markers and berry stains on my plastic laminate countertops using a product called Dawn Power Dissolver. It sprays on as a jell, and you just leave it on for a few seconds or longer depending on the stain. It just wipes off usually without much effort. I use it to clean many things including burned-on overflows on my stove top. I found mine at Home Depot, but some grocery stores now carry it, and it costs between $2.50 and $3 per 12.8 ounces."

A. Thanks. I have never heard of these products. Good to know they work so well.

• Henri de Marne, a former remodeling contractor turned columnist and consultant, is the author of "About the House with Henri de Marne" (Upper Access Publishing). He continues to take questions from readers for this column and his website, Email questions to

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