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The perfect contract? (and why I DIY)

Our fireplace needs help. More specifically, it needs a mantel if we want to have our television installed above it. I know most interior designers consider a television above a fireplace faux pas, but it’s our house, our television and our fireplace and we’ll do what we want, thank-you very much.

family room with gas fireplace
The family room with gas fireplace (and mounting bracket for the television).

No mantel

The fireplace is gas and the surround bumps out a few inches. The ledge stone cladding is installed vertically (rather than horizontally). It may be wrong but it is unique and both my wife and I rather like it.

The problem is that whoever did this work did not think to install a mantel to deflect the heat away from the television. With the fireplace on, I held my hand at the level of the TV bracket in the picture. I quickly realized that we would be subjecting the delicate electronics to excessive heat. Plus there are code requirements regarding fireplaces and combustible materials. We need a mantel to deflect the heat.

Impossible to retrofit

We thought of various ways that we might install a mantel. However, the stone is staggered and isn’t flat. Therefore, installing a mantel would simply be impossible (or at least extremely difficult and way more trouble than it’s worth). So we decided that it made more sense to remove the existing bump out and re-do it.

DIY or Contractor?

I’ll admit that I would not be comfortable doing any kind of demolition around a gas fireplace. And the speed of my DIY is less than dazzling. After some discussion, my wife and I decided to hire the job out. So we got an estimate from a reputable contractor back in January.

A perfect example of a perfect contract

I have talked about contractors before and what constitutes a good contract, both on the blog and on the podcast.

The following summarizes the 6 page document that this contractor presented to us:

Total investment

The same paragraph thanking us for our consideration also quotes the total cost of our investment. ($3479).

What is included

  • Lay floor coverings from entry to work area to protect floor.
  • Tear off existing stone from fireplace bump out
  • Remove wall board on bump out. Supply and install new wall board. Install bracing for customer supplied television bracket, if needed.
  • Compound, sand and prime upper walls
  • Supply and install wood mantel (Unfinished. Cost to finish is additional)
  • Supply and install tile on lower section of fireplace wall (allowance for tile is specified and must be purchased through the contractor’s company). I measured and the entire bump out, floor to ceiling amounts to only about 56 square feet.
  • Remove job debris

Terms and conditions

  • Construction dust is unavoidable and customer should take necessary precautions. Workers will clean up general work area only.
  • Adequate space must be cleared for workers
  • Any additional work not included in this contract payable upon completion.
  • No flooring allowance is included
  • No electrical allowance is included
  • Payment schedule (35% at signing, 35% when work begins and balance upon “substantial completion”)
  • Drywall finished ready to paint only. Painting is extra.
  • Interior wood is unfinished. Cost to finish is extra
  • Some smell may result from adhesive. Allow for proper ventilation
  • No allowance has been made for the cleaning of building or contents as a result of the escape of dust.
  • No allowance made for repairs as a result of new installation
  • Cost not included/ no allowance made for any type of repair/replacement/primer/paint on walls/ceiling finishes as a result of work done in adjoining areas
  • Customer is responsible for arranging cable and phone line changes where applicable.
  • A clause regarding default of payment.
  • Another clause about the escape of dust– it’s the customer’s responsibility to protect their stuff.
  • Price doe not include rerouting of vents, pipes ducts or wiring that may be discovered during removal and/or demolition phase
  • Another clause about keeping work areas clear for the contractor
  • Customer shall remove articles form the wall and other locations that are not secure or may be dislodged or damaged..
  • Contractor holds no responsibility for items left by owner in areas affected by renovations including access points and traffic through house.
  • Owner responsible for removal and safeguarding of all furnishings and electronic devices that may be affected by renovation, including damage by dust.
  • Any work not specifically mentioned in the contract is additional and will be charged as an extra to the contract.
  • Quote includes WSIB (Canada’s OSHA) and public liability insurance
  • All products are ordered specifically for your project. Not all products can be returned and returned products are subject to restocking fee.
  • Contract includes removal of construction debris.

The price and agreement

Ready to sign? Page 5 specifies the quoted price, tax, deposit etc. And more “fine print” that you expect to see on this sort of thing regarding access to the property, overdue charges, credit checks and the like. Oh, and that restocking fee? That’s 25%.

The final page detailed a few options– or “EXTRAS”–that we had discussed. I’ll get to that in a moment.

DIY may be our only option…

When my wife and I first discussed this renovation we had a ball-park figure in mind of about $1500-$2000, and that was really stretching the budget.

When the contractor came to the house to look at the job, he ball-parked it at around $3000. Now we’re getting into “living on ramen for the foreseeable future” territory.

So when the price for a bare minimum renovation came in at almost $3900, it was quite a shock. Minimum renovation is installing tile only up to the mantel.

Full height tile would cost us an extra $833. If we wanted to upgrade from a wood mantel to a concrete one, that was another $1950. We had also discussed some built-in cabinets on either side of the fireplace. He gave us a few options ranging in price from $4300 to $4700 on top of the original contract price.

So to do everything we want, or more specifically, for the contractor to do everything we want, we’re looking at close to $10,000.

I will have to seriously crunch some numbers but my hunch is that I can probably do this renovation myself for a quarter or third of that price.

But even at that reduced amount, it’ll still be a while before our budget allows us to tackle this project.