Q: I am building a home. I would like to contract out some of the phases to a builder. Last spring you described a brochure you have on investigating and selecting a contractor. Can I get a copy of that brochure? - James N., Livermore, Calif.
A: Who was it who once said patience is a virtue? Little did we know that there would be so much interest in this topic. It seems like most of our mail in the past few months has been either a request for this information or a question related to dealing with a contractor.Realizing that this is a hot topic, we have decided to create an expanded version of the brochure that we believe will help when you're shopping for a contractor. The problem is, we haven't yet completed work on it.
We know, we know. This doesn't offer the immediate relief you're seeking. But we can recommend a couple of useful documents that should get you started.
The California Contractors State License Board publishes a consumer guide to contracting for home improvements titled "Blueprint for Building Quality." This 25-page booklet is full of helpful information that will help you select a contractor. Planning, bids, the contract and lien law are just a few of its many topics.
You can get a free copy of the Blueprint for Building Quality by writing to the Contractors State License Board, Box 26000, Sacramento, CA 95826.
Another fine source of information is a pamphlet distributed by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry titled "Selecting a Professional Remodeling Contractor." This is brief in comparison to the Blueprint booklet. But it proves that good things come in small packages.
It tells about the importance of good planning and discusses such issues as design, building permits and the contract. A checklist is even included to ensure that you have covered all bases.
You can get a copy by writing to the association at 1901 N. Moore St., Suite 808, Arlington, VA. 22209.
Q: The surface of my 14-year-old concrete patio is so irregular that it's hard to walk on. A dozen 4-foot-square sections of concrete are separated by 2-inch strips of wood. Some of the squares have risen, some remain as placed originally and others have dropped. A contractor told me the solution is to demolish the existing concrete and pour new. Is this the only way? - Brad M., Benicia, Calif.
A: Until recently your contractor would have been correct, but no longer. An economically pleasant alternative will save about half the cost of removing and replacing it.
For years, in large commercial projects where concrete floors are placed in sections and then later shift to an irregular surface, it has been standard practice to raise the concrete sections, rework the earth below (usually the cause of the problem to begin with) and replace the concrete to a smooth, level finish.
A fellow named Alfred Allen, however, developed this technique further and specifically for residential concrete flatwork repairs, such as patios and sidewalks. He named his technique the Allen Process.
His method is interesting. Powerful air bladders are slipped under the concrete sections. They are then inflated to raise the section without breaking it. The ground beneath is releveled and compacted.
The concrete is then replaced in such a way that you'd never suspect shifting had occurred.
Sadly, as far as we know, Allen, whose business is in Napa, Calif., is the only person in the nation who does this. So most people do not now have access to it. But we have seen the results of his work, and it's amazing. We hope it will soon will be made more widely available.