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Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - Tips for a Successful Shower Renovation Project: by Kelly Grant at MaxWell Realty

When undertaking any kind of major renovation project, it can be a daunting task. More than just allowing for the high cost of renovating, the property owner must also guard against a myriad of other construction risks that can develop. This article summarizes implementation steps to mitigate many of these risks to help make sure your shower renovation proceeds as smoothly and successfully as possible:

(1) Select Qualified Suppliers – First, select a company that supplies shower fixtures / components and if you will be doing a tiled shower, you will also need to select a tile supplier. My advice is to do research on the internet in advance and make sure they have a good reputation and showroom available so you can view all of the components you will be purchasing. You want to ensure they have a wide range of store hours because you may have to make several trips back during your project. The most important consideration should be quantity and variety of products available – the more you have to choose from, the more likely you will find the exact products you desire.

(2) Select Competent Sales Representatives – It is important to select sales representatives that listen to your concerns; are knowledgeable to answer questions; and work hard to provide you the best possible service and advice. Make sure you give your representatives as much information as possible because this helps them understand what products you want and what limitations are present which can govern the products you select. If you are not getting the service you expect, ask the manager to assign someone else until you are satisfied that your needs are being met.

(3) Define the Installation Scope of your Project – For a shower renovation, below is a summary of many of the common scopes to be covered in quotes received from a selected installer. To gauge the competency of your installer, ask them first how they would complete your project:
a. Provision of WCB and Insurance Letters (note: if the contractor is self-employed the WCB (Workers’ Compensation) letter may not be applicable – varies by jurisdiction).
b. Provision of all necessary permits (note: with a shower renovation project, if the shower is being taken out and replaced in the exact same position then a plumbing permit may not be required. Similarly, if only one light bulb is being installed and it is wired into the existing wiring with no additional switch, then an electrical permit may not be required. Anything more sophisticated (e.g. building a new shower in a new location, for example) would require a permit. If uncertain about the applicability of a permit on your project it is a good idea to contact your local municipality and review the municipality website.
c. Demolition, cut-up, and removal (haul away) of existing shower; surround; tiles; doors; caulking; plumbing fixtures; and cutting away any excess flooring (if required).
d. Pick up and deliver pre-paid order of tiling and other components from the tile supplier (unless you are prepared to transport and lift 100s of lbs. of tiles into your property).
e. Supply and installation of all required blue-board, etc. materials (i.e. maximizing mold-resistance); supporting studs; cement; caulking; and any wood or metal backing that may be required to support the door / panel hinges and the shower assembly.
f. Assemble and install shower kit (if required) with extra floor waterproof membrane.
g. Place tiles, grout, and caulk (indicating approximate dimensions) of all walls; ceiling; floor; curb; any column wrap; install any ceramic or other shampoo holder, drain cap, etc.
h. Install (with approximate dimensions) all trim indicating the wall, ceiling, curb locations.
i. Any additional scopes of work to complete at the same time (e.g. re-caulking other plumbing fixtures and / or installing any other new fixtures such as sink faucets, etc.)
j. Provide and use any protective tarps as may be required to protect existing finishes as well as common area when transporting materials (e.g. in the case of a condo building).
k. Definition as to who will be present to supervise the work (i.e. the home owner plus the installer contact that will be expected to be on site at all times supervising the workers).
l. Schedule definition including start date; expected end date; continuous work expectation; and the approximate times each day that work will likely be commencing and finishing. Scheduling note: in any construction or renovation project, the schedule will be constrained by the 'critical task' - defined as either the longest supply item delivery date or else governed by the schedule availability of the busiest selected installer. Understanding the critical task allows you to select the optimal construction timeframe to minimize disruption (i.e. selecting latest possible start date and achieve earliest possible completion).
m. Payment arrangements (i.e. how much will be paid and when; any holdbacks; etc.) Such extra considerations include Builders’ Lien (10% for 45 days) and deficiencies. Note GST will automatically be applied on top of the installer quotations offered.

(4) Hire your Installer(s) - After selecting your suppliers and sales representatives, you can now proceed to hire your installer. If you do not know of a competent installer, ask your suppliers for references of companies they have worked with in the past with success. This is an indication that the installer is competent and if you encounter any issues, you can then ask the supplier for their advice for resolution (this also helps to avoid problems in the first place since good suppliers will not refer companies whom they are not very confident will do an excellent job and good installers want to retain their supplier reference pipeline of new jobs). Contact each installer for a quotation and make sure you disclose 100% of the scope to them (in writing, with photos or measurements if necessary) to make certain they have every opportunity to allow for all costs required in their quote. If anything was left out of your scope definition, there is a high chance you will be looking at paying a higher amount via change orders since contractors will not do anything extra for free. Note some tiling contractors can also do demolition and install plumbing fixtures. However other specialty work (e.g. installing glass shower doors and panels) will require a specialized installer.

(5) Take Accurate Measurements and Photos – While measurements sound simple, remember that the curb and adjacent columns will take tiles, and often tiles are cut to fit into the edges. This means that for the wall tiles, there is usually some waste and one should order at least 10% extra to account for the waste. Measurements should also be taken of the floor; ceiling (which is usually different than the floor since the curb protrudes into the floor); each wall; and the amount of trim that is required. The most important measurements include (a). the height of and distance between the supply lines required by the shower assembly; and (b). the expected 'after tile' opening size width for any specialty doors and panels (even 1/4" or 1/8" too little or too much can result in installation issues). Make sure to give your measurements and photos to all your suppliers and installers in advance even though they will still take their own measurements for custom orders.

(6) Select and Order your Products – Below are some key items to consider when selecting your products:
a. Tiles – If you will be doing a tiling shower renovation, you will likely need several types of tiles. Depending upon the advice received from your tiling supplier, this can include the following: 12” x 12” tiles (walls, curb, and column wrap); 6” x 6” tiles (ceilings); and 1.2” x 1.2” tiles (floor). It is important to select a quality tile that is durable, waterproof (i.e. designed for showers), and select colour and textures that match the preferred décor.
b. Trim – There are special types of trim that are used for shower tiles and it is important to select a colour that matches the preferred décor and will fit with the tile you selected.
c. Shower Kit – These usually come with a pre-sloped Styrofoam base and can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. To order the right type of shower kit, make sure you have your dimensions handy including your drain location. Having this information ready will best assist your supplier in guiding you to select the right shower kit for your renovation. Note the shower kits usually contain most of the waterproof membrane (however order a little extra membrane for the floor); and includes the drain assembly and a drain cap.
d. Grout – When doing a shower renovation, the grout may be one of the most important supplies because inadequate grout will compromise the water-resistance of the shower. Therefore it is important (regardless of your budget) to buy a powerful and water-resistant grout designed for showers. Other attributes of a quality grout include: resistance to staining; efflorescence-resistant; fast-drying; provides good resistance to shrinking and cracking; does not require sealing; and lifetime supply warranty offered.
e. Shower Door / Panel / Hinges / Supports / Handle – When selecting these items, it is important to select a product meeting the following criteria: (a). Will fit in the space opening available; (b). Adequate backing will be available for all hinges to support the weight and size of the components (e.g. 10 mm vs. 12 mm thickness); (c). Looks good to match your décor; and (d). Are easy to maintain. My suggestion: consider the long-term merits of custom ordering higher quality glass doors built in Canada vs. cheaper 'off the shelf' models built overseas that are usually lower quality glass composition and do not last as long.
f. Shower Assembly – Selection of the shower assembly is the most important decision of any shower renovation project and must therefore be made with utmost seriousness and intelligence to avoid catastrophic consequences. The first thing to check is the size of your existing supply lines (e.g. ½” or ¾”) to make sure your supply line matches the supply lines required of the shower assembly selected. The second consideration is whether you want to build a valve or install one built-in. The third consideration is to carefully analyze the material and construction quality of the assembly, plus know the weight of the assembly to ensure you will have strong enough backing to support the shower’s weight. The fourth consideration is quality and material of the brackets. My advice: select a shower assembly that has metal brackets, not plastic brackets (which unfortunately are very common on the market today). Metal brackets are much more resistant to snapping and breaking and although the metal bracket shower assemblies cost more, it can be well worth the investment when all the costs and risks of sudden replacement; loss of shower; etc. are considered. The final consideration is the shower’s features as well as the colours to match your décor. Allow 1 to 4+ weeks for delivery depending if items are in stock or need to be couriered.

(7) Get Ready for the Work to Begin – To get ready for the work, there are many ways to prepare to help make the job proceed as smoothly as possible. Examples include: moving any furniture out of the ‘walking lanes’ as installers move materials in and out of your home; make advance garbage bin, elevator, and parking arrangements; thoroughly clean the room they will be working; and place bottles of water (and snacks) for the workers to help make them feel comfortable and enjoy working on your home (sometimes the little extra things help to make all the difference).

(8) Monitor the Work – while most workers prefer to work without anyone watching over them, this does not mean ignoring them. My advice: check up on the work every one or two hours just so that they know you are keeping an eye even though you are letting them proceed at their own pace. When they take coffee or lunch breaks, be sure to take progress photos of the work at every opportunity because these photos can come in handy (e.g. identifying support backing locations). If any obvious or flagrant problems happen with the work for which the current contractor cannot or will not address, depending on the issue it may be as simple as throwing the contractor off of the job and hiring contractor #2 or else consulting a lawyer for legal advice in more complicated matters. Either way it is critical to monitor the work to avoid unwanted / sudden surprises.

(9) Deficiency Identification – as work is being completed, if something does not look right, tell the installer right away because often it can easily be corrected or explained at an early stage before the work proceeds to a point where the deficiency cannot be corrected. If there are deficiencies that are obvious and acknowledged by the contractor, negotiate a suitable holdback with the contractor (e.g. 10% or more depending on the cost to correct) that would be paid out only once the deficiency is corrected. If the contractor does not agree that a deficiency exists (which may or may not be correct) you may need to hire another specialist to come in for a second opinion.

(10) Project Completion – Once all deficiencies are completed and Builders’ Liens are no longer applicable, the installers can then be paid in full. Ask the installers what length of warranty (usually 1 or 2 years) they will provide (in writing) on their installation work and you are finally ready to enjoy your new renovation!

In summary, conducting any type of renovation or construction project can be a highly difficult ordeal particularly in situations where a large problem occurs that is beyond a homeowner’s ability, knowledge, and experience to handle with poise and assertiveness. Note that regardless of how much good advice is followed on a home renovation project, in my opinion most homeowners would be best served by hiring a reputable general contractor (renovations specialist in the area of choice) to deal with all the suppliers, all the trades, and day to day tasks and scheduling that is required to make a renovation project successful.

[Article written and ©2013 by Kelly Grant, M.Eng., ABR, NCSO, P.Eng. - REALTOR® at MaxWell Realty in Edmonton, AB]

Disclaimer: for those readers not currently represented by another licensed REALTOR®, to obtain more information on this topic and / or if you are serious about selling or buying in the Greater Edmonton Area, call Kelly at 780-414-6100 (pager) or send Kelly an email to to schedule a confidential appointment.

posted in General at Tue, 22 Jan 2013 19:50:11 -0700

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