Decorative Tile: A Guide

Once upon a time, choosing tile for your home was as easy as picking from a handful of pastel ceramic squares. Would it be mint green or pale blue? What about light pink or bright yellow? Today, the choices can be overwhelming – porcelain tile can be made to realistically look like everything from aged wood to sleek Italian marble, and tiles made of glass, cork, mirror and even leather are available in all shapes and sizes. With so many options, it’s tough making a choice: here’s some tips to guide you through the decision-making process.

Create a Plan

Before jumping into tile choices, you should lay out where the tile will be. Not only will this set your plans in stone, but you’ll have a general idea of how much tile you’ll need to purchase in order to complete the job. Your plan doesn’t have to be a professional layout; a hand sketch or elevation of each wall will do. The sketch can be given to your contractor or, if you’re taking a DIY approach and shopping at a smaller tile store, the professionals there can work with your layout to help you find the perfect tile.

Alternating vs. Consistent

While in the past homeowners chose a particular tile and used it throughout the space, some contemporary design trends favor alternating between large and small tiles. Simple changes, like using two different size subway tiles, can make a bathroom more stylish and interesting without risking it looking dated in a few years’ time. Another option is alternating the thickness of the tile so some rows jut out further than others. Some homeowners get creative with grout: thick lines of grout in bold or dark colors that contrast with the tile is one way to make a statement. No matter the type of tile you choose, deciding between a traditional or more contemporary style is crucial.

Tile Types

Once you’ve created a plan and decided on a style, it’s time to choose a tile type. If your tastes lean towards modern, clean lines, consider incorporating subway tile into your bathroom. If maintenance and durability are high on your list, you can’t go wrong with porcelain: it’s virtually maintenance-free and can be used on any surface or area of your bathroom. Glass tile is especially popular in bathrooms because the reflectivity is a great way to add light to dark spaces, but it shouldn’t be used in high traffic areas, such as bathroom countertops or floors, as glass can break more easily than other tile types.

Regardless of the size of your budget or home décor, incorporating decorative tiles into your bathroom is a great way to create an upscale look in your home. If your budget is small, consider using tile in a small area of your bathroom – such as a backsplash or behind the walls of your bathroom vanity. The variety of tile styles and designs for your bathroom are vast; find the one that works for you and transform your bathroom into the stylish, upscale haven you’ve always known it could be.

Accent Walls: Tips & Tricks

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and easy way to add a bit of dramatic style to your bathroom, creating an accent wall is the perfect way to liven up a room while creating an immediate focal point. Typically known as painting one wall a completely different color, accent walls aren’t necessarily limited to paint – some accent walls include patterned wallpaper, mosaic tiles, and other decorations. If you’re interested in revitalizing your bathroom with an accent wall, here’s some tips.

Pick a Wall

Before you settle on a paint color or material it’s important to decide which wall you’d like to accent. Typically, walls that feature a large piece of furniture or a large bay of windows are the natural choice. If there’s no clear architectural feature in your bathroom to build your accent wall around, don’t worry – an accent wall can create drama on its own. In situations where there’s no specific features, the most common choice is the wall directly across from your bathroom’s entrance. Once the accent wall is complete, you can add more interest with mirrors, décor, or a piece of artwork.

Choose an Accent Material

Whether it’s a coat of paint or adding a design, the next step is choosing the material you’d like to use. If you’re a minimalist at heart, consider a solid coat of paint. If you’re on the more ambitious side, the only limitation is your imagination. Textured wallpaper, geometric patterns, wall murals, weathered wood planks and chevron paint patterns can all be used to create an accent wall. For a contemporary look go for patterns in mid-century geometrics and bright colors. If the rest of your bathroom is traditional, try a subdued damask paper design.

Decide on a Color

When most people think of accent walls, bright oranges or reds probably come to mind. If that level of commitment scares you, you’re not alone – a wall doesn’t have to be bold for it to be beautiful. When choosing a color for your accent wall, it’s important to decide what color temperature you’d like. If you’d like your room to be cozy and inviting, colors like red, orange, and yellow produce warmth. Cooler colors, such as blue, purple, and green, tend to transform bathrooms into cool, restful, and serene spaces. Repeating a color already present in rugs and accessories can also help you decide on a color.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

For an accent wall with a bit more character, try experimenting with a graphic wallpaper pattern, tiles, or color blocking. Some companies’ custom make wallpapers to work with the other colors in your room, so if you’re worried about your interior decorating skills, they can offer advice. Additionally, adding decorative tile to the space behind your vanity is a cost-effective way to make a statement in your bathroom. Finally, it’s important to remember not all accent walls have to be a solid color – you can get creative with color blocking by using striped paint or wallpaper patterns for your accent wall.

The Top Five Remodeling Apps

Whether you’re in the beginning stages of planning a renovation project or are already midway through, DIY project guides, calculators, and color matching swatches, would all come in handy, right? Lucky for you, there’s an app for everything nowadays – including home improvement, design, and renovation. With these helpful mobile apps in your virtual tool-belt, you’ll be able to tackle virtually any project without having to get your contracting license.

WikiHow (Android, iOS)

This free app is like Wikipedia for the DIY community. Within the app you’ll find thousands of how-to-guides ranging from life hacks and quick repairs to DIY projects and food recipes. Users can browse by category, search by term, check out featured articles and bookmark how-tos for offline reading – all from the comfort of their own home. If you’re using the iOS version, there’s an additional perk: a collection of first aid and survival guides that come preloaded for offline use – because you never know if you’ll hurt yourself while at the hardware store.

Houzz (Android, iOS)

Often referred to as the “Wikipedia of Interior Design”, Houzz is a popular social network dedicated to interior design and home improvement. Their official app is the home of thousands of articles, discussions, and photographs intended to inspire and motivate DIYers to take the next step in renovating their homes. Whether you’re looking for ideas or inspiration, this is the app for you. When the time is right, the app includes a directory of local professionals including architects and contractors.

Home Improvement Calcs (iOS)

Perfect for homeowners interested in forecasting the costs of certain renovations, the Home Improvement Calcs app includes a variety of helpful DIY calculators and estimation tools. The database includes over 74,000 present functions that range from mulch coverage to attic insulation volumetrics. With the amount of explanatory illustrations found in Home Improvement Calcs, you’ll be able to make your way through the flooring section of Home Depot with ease.

iFixIt (Android, iOS)

This DIY-oriented app focuses on do it yourself repairs, and includes repair and teardown guides for a variety of categories and devices, ranging from vehicles and smartphones to common household appliances and furniture. Whether you’re fixing a leaky sink or replacing your cell phone’s battery, this site can help. Users can browse by category, check out featured guides, and even create their own guides straight from within the app. If you don’t have the necessary tools or parts, the app includes a handy link to iFixIt’s own online store.

House Maintenance Schedule (Android)

So, you’ve installed a new vanity sink – but will you remember when to deep clean the oak? Now, thanks to the House Maintenance Schedule app, you’ll be reminded when it’s time to give your vanity a little TLC. Anything from flushing the water heater and inspecting fire extinguishers to changing HVAC filters and cleaning the rain gutters can conveniently be scheduled using this app. Over time you’ll find that remembering miniscule maintenance tasks can prevent them from becoming large and expensive issues.

Bathroom Lighting: A Guide

When it comes to a bathroom remodel, lighting is probably the last thing on your mind. Whether you’re remodeling an existing bathroom or building one from the ground up, natural light is at a premium – if natural light is minimal or non-existent in your bathroom, you’ll want to find lighting that suits your style, budget and bathroom space. If done poorly, lighting can produce unwanted shadows, glare, and can create an unpleasant ambiance. Explore these bathroom lighting ideas and get ready to create a welcoming, well-lit, and functional bath space in your home.

Choose a Style

Before moving a step further in exploring bathroom lighting options, you’ll want to decide on a preferred style of lighting. If you’re matching the lighting to theme or style of the rest of your home, this is as simple as choosing contemporary or traditional elements to match. Some lighting options, like classic wall sconces, can work in any style bathroom – especially as they’re now available in both contemporary and traditional styles. If you’re on the fence, a transitional style strikes the perfect balance between traditional and contemporary.

Use Daylight as Model

The true color of our face, clothing, hair, and makeup is best represented in daylight, so this is the quality of light you should try to mimic in your bathroom. This can be achieved by installing bathroom lighting fixtures with white shades, and using bulbs that render colors appropriate for the room. Although incandescent bulbs and LEDs are popular choices, compact florescent bulbs can be a good choice too – as long as their CRI is 90 or above. For more information on picking the right light bulb for the type of lithe you’d like to achieve, visit a lighting professional in your area.

Consider Dimmers

Dimmers are your best friend because they give you absolute control over the lighting and mood of the room. Whether you’d like to relax in the tub with minimal lighting or apply make-up with the lights blazing on a mirror, you can achieve both by using dimmers. An added bonus: dimmers conserve energy. The total savings depends on how much the bulb is dimmed, but one bulb dimmed just 10 percent will last twice as long as a bulb used at full brightness. Modern day dimmers can work for every kind of light source, though you’ll need to know what to ask for.

Pay Attention to Safety

Although paying attention to the aesthetics of a bathroom is important, it doesn’t diminish the importance of safety. The incorrect combination of electricity and water can be lethal, so consult a certified electrician before tackling even the smallest lighting project in the bathroom. The National Electric Code has specific requirements which must be met, including the requirement that all fixtures within a certain distance of the tub or shower must be “wet” or “shower-location” rated. An electrician who understands these codes can help ensure the lighting in your bathroom adheres to all standards.

Ambient vs. Task vs. Accent

Did you know there’s actually three types of light in the bathroom? Ambient lighting illuminates the entire bathroom with the majority of the light directed towards the floor, task lighting provides visual clarity and shadow-free light so tasks like shaving and putting on make-up are easier, and accent lighting draws attention to specific areas or decorative objects in your bathroom. Most bathrooms include all three, so all three should be kept in mind when shopping for lighting in your own bathroom.

Avoid These Mistakes During Your Bathroom Renovation

When it comes to home improvement projects, transforming an old bathroom from an eyesore into the bathroom of your dreams can add significant value to your home – but only if done correctly. From the tub and shower to the sink and vanity, there’s a lot to think about during a bathroom renovation. Save yourself time, money, and headaches by avoiding these easily preventable renovation mistakes.

Budget Wisely

According to Remodeling Magazine, the average cost of a bathroom remodel is $16,634. Although this is the average, you’d be wise to budget more, especially if you’re remodeling in an older home. The bathroom is unique in that there’s hidden problem areas which you won’t find out about until you start ripping the room apart. Dealing with mold, water damage, dry rot, and plumbing issues can take a serious chunk out of your remolding budget. If you’re not prepared with emergency funds to address these issues, you may have to temporarily put your bathroom remodeling project on hold.

Get Help, If Needed

While it’s fun to take on a new DIY project, perhaps taking on a bathroom renovation isn’t the best idea. Although the bathroom is relatively small, all the skills needed to build a house come together in the bathroom – electrical, plumbing, construction, flooring, and wall covering or painting. If you don’t have the experience, tools, and skills required to take on a bathroom renovation project, hire a contractor or handyman to help you through the process. Before beginning a bathroom remodel, make sure you understand all the different elements you’ll need to know and decide who you need to hire from there.

Avoid Being Too Trendy

If you’ve ever shopped for a new home, we’re sure you’ve come across once-trendy bathrooms that now seem outdated: whether it was the bathroom with pink tile from the 50s, avocado green tile from the 70s, or massive Jacuzzi tubs that were popular in the 80s, these bathrooms may have looked great at one time, but now they’re nothing but an outdated mess. Instead of going with the latest design fad in your bathroom, consider sticking with something classic. Neutral colors, simple tiles, and a clean, fresh look will never go out of style.

Don’t Cheap Out

If you’re purchasing bathroom fixtures that seem “too good to be true”, be advised – they probably are. By surrendering quality for cost, you’ll likely have to do another renovation in less than a decade. It’s especially important not to skimp on paying for a quality contractor; the person who gives you a quote that’s far cheaper than their competitors probably isn’t the right person for the job. Although initially you might be hesitant about spending more money on better quality fixtures, you’ll save in the long run as these items are built to last.

Be Smart with Contractors

One of the biggest complaints against contractors during a bathroom remodel is that the final bill is far larger than what was estimated. Obtaining a properly written bid at the beginning of the project is one of the biggest protections you have. Even if your contractor seems like the most trustworthy person in the world, never hire them without a written proposal. Make sure basic terms are laid out in the bid. At the very least the bid should include the total price, specific description of the work to be performed, estimated completion date, and warranties. If the contractor refuses to leave you with a written bid, then choose another contractor.

How to Make a Small Bathroom Look Bigger

Unless you live in a custom-built home with a luxurious bath and walk-in closet, chances are you wish your bathroom was a little bit larger. While a small bathroom can feel cozy and intimate, it can also feel claustrophobic and cramped. Did you know it’s possible to create the feeling of more space without being forced to add more square footage? With these changes in color, lighting enhancements and decorating tricks, you can transform your small bath into something that appears a bit more spacious.

Pedestal Sink > Vanity

When you’re tight on space, replace your bulky vanity with a pedestal sink – or two! While a traditional vanity provides plenty of storage space under the sink, it can also obscure shower entrances and take up valuable floor space. Replacing a vanity with a pedestal or wall-mounted sink is a fairly inexpensive way to provide functionality while opening up floor space. Additionally, don’t install tall shelving units or cabinets that reach from floor to ceiling – these will only make your bathroom seem shorter and smaller.

Paint the Ceiling

Painting your bathroom ceiling the same color as the walls is a great way to open up a room, especially if your ceiling is angled or oddly shaped. By painting everything a unified color, unusual shapes will disappear and the space will visually expand. But how? Painting the ceiling to match the walls will cut down on the number of transitions and intersecting planes, creating a cleaner, more expansive upper space in the room. If your ceiling is flat, consider painting it a shade lighter since ceilings tend to read a bit darker than the rest of a room.

Color Selection

Pale, soft color schemes tend to great the illusion of more space. “Cool” colors, like light pinks, pale blues and sea foam greens, give the feeling serenity while strong, exciting colors can actually make your bathroom appear smaller. If you’re set on hot pinks or dark reds, consider using these colors for accessories, towels, and accent pieces. For the walls and ceilings, stick to pastel tones, neutrals, and whites. Additionally, keep everything the same tone/value as much as possible – avoid the contrast of dark walls and light tiles in favor of a more uniform color scheme.

Use BIG Mirrors

When it comes to mirrors in small bathrooms, the bigger the better. Nothing can make a bathroom feel larger than a mirror that reaches to the ceiling. When trimmed out in wood or tile and with lighting installed on top of it or in front of it, an oversized mirror will double the impact of the light and make the space grow. Note: don’t use double mirrors over side by side sinks, as this will chop up the space and have the opposite effect. Additionally, be sure to use clear glass in your shower – although textured glass promotes privacy, it can make the already small space feel like it has an extra wall.

Take Advantage of Natural Light

If you’re fortunate enough to have windows in your bathroom, take advantage of them. In many cases, windows are covered with shutters, shades, blinds or curtains in an effort to create privacy. Instead, cover a window with a translucent window shade or a light-toned stained glass window – this way you can have natural light while still enjoying your privacy. If you don’t have a window, consider installing a skylight, as natural light is one of the easiest ways to make a small bathroom appear larger.

Bathroom Demolition: How to Remove Old Vanities

Before you can remodel your bathroom, you’ll have to demolish it – this includes removing existing vanities and fixtures so your bathroom is prepared for the facelift you’ve always dreamed of. Whether you’re a total novice or somewhat of an expert, it’s important to take the time to demolition the right way – after all, a successful demolition isn’t about who can swing the hammer the hardest. There is a process to the demolition phase and it requires a plan and lots and lots of patience. Here are some tips for demolishing your existing bathroom without creating extra dust.

Have a Plan

Before beginning a demolition, you should either rent an industrial-sized dumpster or a truck to haul the debris to the landfill. Be prepared for tons of dust and grit, as removing plaster and tile will cause quite a mess. If your vanities and other bathroom fixtures are still in good condition and you feel guilty tossing them in a landfill, you may wish to consider donating them to organizations like Habitat for Humanity – they’ll get a second life in someone else’s home. If you’re working with a hired team, let them know about your donation plans ahead of time so they won’t damage or trash them upon removal.

Collect Tools & Supplies

Whether you plan on performing the demolition yourself or with a hired crew, you’ll need the following tools and equipment in order to perform the demolition properly: sledge hammer, utility knife, wheel barrel, large shovel, shop vacuum, heavy duty gloves, face gargles, face aspirators, duct tape or construction tape, screw drivers and wrenches, old towels, a large bucket, and high intensity light.

Although you’ll have to buy most of the above items, some of the larger tools, like wheel barrows and sledge hammers, are available for rent. Before renting, compare the purchase price and the rental price. In some cases, it may be cheaper to buy the tools and either sell them in a yard sale or save them for later use.

Turn Off the Water Supply

Before beginning any demolition job, think about what household elements you’ll be dealing with. Water? Gas? Electricity? All of the above? In the case of bathroom demolition, it’s important to turn off the water supply. Before removing a bathroom vanity, turn off the water supply below the sink by twisting the hot and cold nozzles. Turn the handles the opposite of their current position, and test both faucets to ensure the water is turned completely off before you move forward with removing the vanity.

Next, you’ll want to unscrew the supply lines that flow from the piping in your wall to the faucets. You can do so by wrapping a wrench around the nut that connects the line to the faucet and turn it until it becomes loose enough to unscrew by hand. If your home has copper pipes that have corroded over time, spray a plumbing liquid lubricant into the joint before beginning the process.

Remove Drain Pipes

Disconnecting the plastic piping that connects your drain to the hole in the wall is one of the easiest parts of a bathroom demolition and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. If you’re having trouble with turning the pipe connectors, try using a dry rag to get a better grip. If you’re dealing with a double vanity, the job is still simple but you’ll have to disconnect both before trying to pull apart the sink. Once the drain pipes have been removed, you’re ready to remove the vanity and cabinets.

Vanity Countertops & Cabinets

If the countertop is attached with silicone caulk, you’ll have to use a utility knife to loosen the countertop where it attaches to the cabinets. In some cases there are clamps securing the bathroom countertop, which can be removed with the appropriate tool. Once the bathroom countertop has been lifted, discard of it in an appropriate area. Now that the countertop is off, it’s time to remove the cabinet. Using a screwdriver or screw gun, remove the screws. Once the screws are removed, you should be able to remove the bathroom vanity.

After removing the vanity, cap off the drain pipe to prevent sewage gases from escaping into your home. Either push a large rag into the drain pipe or use plastic and tape to cover the opening. Now that your old bathroom vanity is removed, you’re ready to install your brand new bathroom vanity.

Black is the New Black: How to Incorporate Black into Your Bathroom

Although black is not a favorite for use in home interiors, it can be an amazing idea if executed properly. When applied wisely, the color black can transform your bathroom into an elegant, dramatic, and trendy room. By incorporating black into your bathroom you’ll have the unique opportunity to create a room that’s the perfect mix between drama and elegance. Keep in mind the following basic rules and you can creatively use the color black when decorating your bathroom.

Use Black to Add Depth

One of the biggest misconceptions about using black is that it can make a room look cramped and small. While including black into a person’s outfit can make them look slimmer, black in the bathroom can actually add depth and make the room appear larger. One way to ensure your bathroom doesn’t look cramped as a result of using black Is to be mindful of how you’re incorporating the color – if you don’t have a large bathroom, consider only painting one or two of the walls black. If you’re still worried about using black on walls, consider opting for a black tiled floor or accent pieces instead.

Don’t Forget About the Lighting

There’s no denying that black works best in bathrooms with a large window and lots of natural light. If your bathroom doesn’t have large windows or is completely lacking natural light, you can still incorporate black by paying attention to the lighting. By adding contemporary light fixtures or a large mirror into your bathroom, the reflective surfaces will help light bounce through the room. If you’d really like to take it to the next level, consider installing a mirror with surrounding spotlights.

Don’t Feel Restricted

When incorporating black into the bathroom, many homeowners may feel restricted to painting the walls completely black. While this can work well when executed properly, it’s not the only solution. For those a bit less adventurous, there are a lot of fantastic wallpapers incorporating black and white patterns. Additionally, chevron stripes using two different shades of black can be a great way to add black to the bathroom without going overboard. Finally, don’t be afraid of experimenting with different textures. The use of materials like stone, granite, and slate can work brilliantly.

Consider the Ceiling or Trim

One more substitute for black walls or black floor tile is to paint your ceiling black. While ceilings are typically painted white, there is no great cause or reason for this. A black ceiling is a great way to draw attention upwards, and can make a bathroom look very chic and cohesive, especially when combined with black accent pieces, like rugs on the floor or knobs on the bathroom vanity. For those a bit wary about black ceilings and walls, coloring the trim and other accents of the bathroom in black is also a unique and interesting style statement that carries far less risk.

Classic Color Schemes

Black, when incorporated with white, is a classic color scheme perfect for virtually any size or style bathroom. One of the best things about this color scheme is that you can hardly ever go wrong with it – the color combination has survived centuries and has never seemed to go out of style. Whether you opt for the classic black and white checkered tiles or black and white striped wallpaper, you’re sure to enjoy the classic black and white color scheme we’ve all grown to love throughout the years.

The Basics of an Eco-Friendly Bathroom

As a homeowner, you’ve probably put some thought into how your bathrooms fixtures (and your daily routine!) impact the environment. The bathroom tends to use more water, chemicals, and paper products than any other room in the house and, as a result, is often the first stop on the path towards creating an eco-friendly home. “Going green” in the bathroom is a great way to save money, conserve water, and avoid the health risks of using cleaners loaded with harmful chemicals. Whether you’re in the market for a complete bathroom overhaul or are looking for a few easy fixes, here are the basics of an eco-friendly bathroom.

Water-Efficient Toilets & Showerheads

Did you know most toilets account for approximately 30 percent of household water consumption? Although low-flow toilets often come standard in newer homes, older toilets can consume up to eight gallons of water with every flush. According to the EPA, a high-efficiency toilet can save a family of four nearly $100 a year, in addition to working wonders for the environment. If you don’t want to invest in a brand new low-flow toilet, you can retrofit your existing toilet by installing an efficient flushing handle.

Many homeowners falsely believe that by installing a high-efficiency showerhead they’ll be singlehandedly decreasing the water pressure, which is not the case. Most models won’t affect water pressure, and some even filter or eliminate traces of chlorine in the water. On average, traditional showerheads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute, while water-efficient showerheads use 1.5 gallons of water per minute, or less!

Consider Ceramic Tiles

For those considering a complete remodel, ceramic tiling is the way to go. Ceramic tile isn’t easily damaged by moisture, and some can even be made in a low-impact manufacturing process. You can find environmentally friendly tile by looking for words like “post-industrial” and “post-consumer.” Tiles that fall under these categories are often manufactured from recycled bottles and car windshields. Additionally, keep an eye out for paints with a low volatile organic compound (VOC) label; these are less toxic and are verified to have no negative effects on your indoor air quality.

Switch to LEDs

If you haven’t already made the switch to LEDs, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Now, thanks to enormous strides in technology, consumer can now find “warm” LED light bulbs, which will create the same cozy color produced by old-fashioned light bulbs. Switching to LEDs is one of the easiest ways to save: not only will your energy bill be noticeably lower, but you’ll be replacing bulbs far less often. On average, LED lights consume 80 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Clean with Homemade (and Eco-Friendly) Products

Multiple studies have shown that conventional cleaning products can be detrimental to both the planet and your health. If you’re looking for ways to clean your bathroom safely and ecologically, a bit of baking soda mixed with vinegar is all you need – sprinkle baking soda on problem areas, add a little white vinegar, let it foam, and scrub the area down with a sponge or brush. Those interested in masking the vinegary scent can add lemon, their favorite essential oil, or rosemary.

From bath towels to toilet paper, chances are everything in your bathroom can be purchased more “green.” By purchasing certified organic products, you can rest assured knowing your bathroom routine will have a lower environmental footprint and the items used will be safe and healthy for your body. These products also have a larger global implication – they often use natural ingredients sourced from fair-trade organizations; so you’ll be supporting ethical business practices as well.

Execute Water Saving Practices

Saving water and helping the environment doesn’t have to be as complicated as replacing toilets or installing ceramic tile – it can be as simple as limiting showers and monitoring water usage. By taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth or shaving, employing the “yellow-mellow-brown-down” toilet flushing method, or saving water in buckets while waiting for it to heat up, becoming eco-friendly can start with mending the habits and daily routines of you and your family.

How to Find the Perfect Contractor

Whether you’re thinking about renovating the guest bath or want to give the master bathroom the whirlpool tub you’ve always dreamed of, you’ll want to find the right contractor – because a home remodel is only as good as who you hire. As a result of the sluggish housing market, many Americans are staying in their homes for a longer amount of time, and many are choosing to remodel and renovate along the way. With these tips, you can be sure you choose the perfect contractor for the job.

Personal Referrals

Chances are, you have a few friends and family members who have recently remodeled or renovated their home. By asking those whose homes have recently gone through remodels their opinion on their contractor, you’ll be able to get personal testimonials from a trusted source. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for neighbors’ projects that seem to be going well. The advantages of personal referrals include opinions you can truly trust, the option to gauge the quality of work firsthand, and, in all likelihood, the referring friend or family member has already shopped around to find the best offer in the area.

Make Plans & Get Bids

Once you have a list of contractors whose track record is clean and work ethic seems responsible, you’ll want to stop looking back at their past work and start looking forward to your own project. A reliable contractor will not only want a complete set of blueprints, but a general idea of what homeowners want out of the project and what they’d like to spend. In order to best compare bids, ask each contractor to break down the total cost into the following categories: materials, labor, profit margins, and other expenses. Generally, materials should account for 40% of the total cost, with the rest covering overhead. A typical profit margin for home renovation work is 15-20%, depending on the size and depth of the job.

Don’t Let Price Be Your Guide

If an offer sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. In fact, many contractors and home design professionals urge homeowners to throw out the lowest bid, as it could be a sign of desperation or low-quality work. Beyond technical competence, homeowners should look for someone they’re comfortable with. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor should be how well the two parties are able to communicate. At the end of the day, it’s better to spend more and work with someone you’re comfortable with, then spend less and end up with a contractor who is difficult to work with.

Confirm Licensing and Insurance

If your state licenses contractors, you can typically do an online license check. As far as insurance goes, the Better Business Bureau’s website indicates what the insurance requirements are for each state – so that’s a good place to find pertinent information. At the minimum, all contractors should have worker’s compensation insurance, so you’re not financially liable if one of their employees injures themselves while on the job. To verify, ask to see a copy of the contractor’s certificate of insurance. Any reliable contractor should have these items on hand and will gladly provide them upon request.

Don’t Ignore Red Flags

With a large number of scam artists posing as professional contractors, homeowners should be aware of who they’re dealing with. If a contractor pressures you for a quick hiring decision, accepts only cash, wants to skip the building permit, tries to cut you a deal using materials leftover from a previous project, or quotes a final price without seeing the job, consider cutting all ties and moving onto your next option. Although some reliable contractors solicit door to door, be wary if they’re not local to the area.

Put Everything in Writing

Once you’ve chosen a contractor, be sure to draw up a contract that details every step of the project, including payment schedules, proof of liability insurance, a start date, a projected completion date, specific materials and/or products to be used, and a requirement that the contractor obtain lien releases from all subcontractors and suppliers. Lien releases will protect you if he or she doesn’t pay their bills. Insisting on a clear contract isn’t a sign of mistrust, it’s a sign of insuring a successful renovation from start to finish. Happy home renovating!