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Choosing a Contractor: 4 red flags

As a contractor for quite a few years, and constantly meeting with customers ,giving bids, proposals, and  contracting various home improvement projects, I am amazed at how many people have gotten themselves involved with unscrupulous individuals operating with a truck and a business card. To a legitimate contractor, these people are very irritating. They give our profession a reputation that is undeserved and they leave customers with unneeded frustration and expenses. There are some very simple steps a homeowner can take to protect themselves. A little caution and questioning can, in most cases, assure you of a hassle free , professionally completed project.

1)Make sure your contractor is Licensed: Most states require the person doing the work to pull permits. They are also required to carry proper Workers compensation insurance, general liability, and in some cases to carry a bond. Reputable contractors will probably volunteer this information , if the customer fails to ask ! It is in your best interest to make sure your contractor has up to date insurance, otherwise an injury or accident that occurs on your property, may fall on you.

2)Make sure your contractor uses a Contract to outline work to be performed: Contracts are not only to protect the Contractor but also to protect the customer. My preference is to detail as much information as possible in the contract. The more information in the contract on the front end, the less likely any misunderstandings will happen on the back end. Demand some kind of written detail , something in writing is your only documentation in the event legal action is required. Most reputable contractors will prefer to do business this way.

3)Make sure your Contractor is financially stable. Agree on a fair payment schedule and stick to it .Payment schedules should be one of the things that is outlined in the contract. If your contractor needs a 50% draw so he can order materials ,RUN RUN RUN.! This is where I have seen homeowners left holding the bag ,more than once. Most contractors work with many different suppliers and have accounts with their suppliers, and if in good standing ,will have no problem supplying materials until a portion of the work has been completed. On small jobs, $3000.00 or less, we require a 10% deposit. On larger jobs, we do as many as 4 draws based on predetermined, in writing, amounts.

4)Make sure your Contractor has a good reputation. Ask for references ,a couple of phone calls to past customers will tell you if their experience was a good one or not .Check with the state licensing board to see if they have a clean record. The BBB is a fast and reputable source for information on companies. If a contractor has had problems in the past you should proceed with caution.

 The responsibility of the homeowner is to protect himself. The points discussed above are a good place to start. A good contractor, while not always the cheapest,  may be in the long run, rather than dealing with  unlicensed, un-insured, and un-funded builders. Reputable contractors cannot compete with Billy Bob and his other brother Bob that a friend of a friend told you about.  Our company pays approximately $15,000.00 per year in licenses, insurance, and other costs of doing business ,before we ever break ground on the first job. Framers alone, according to insurance cost per profession classification, cost us about $38.00/$100.00 of payroll .for workers compensation and general liability. You can see that the cost of doing business RIGHT, is expensive. Do not gamble with your home. Search out and hire reputable contractors.   

Mike Mathis
Owner Affordable Building Concepts

Pros and Cons of Aluminum carport and patio covers

Aluminum carports and patio covers have become a popular and attractive home improvement. The product itself has been in use for years. As a light weight and durable material, aluminum can be a great alternative to stick built or steel structures. Features, ,colors, and styles have evolved over the years to give homeowners many choices. Today we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these popular aluminum structures.

1) Durability –My parents have been living in the same house for over 30 years. Their patio cover was installed in the late 1960s,and is still standing and functional. This product will stand the test of time with little more than a cleaning once a year. Most companies engineer their units to withstand wind and snow loads. As a result ,baring natural weather disasters, your patio cover or carport should give you years of use. 

2) Attractive-:As stated above with a little maintainence your carport or patio cover will stay looking good for years. The aluminum pans will never rust. There are a variety of colors to choose from and several styles of framework that should satisfy any homeowner. 

3) Structural simplicity-Because of the light weight nature of aluminum , a patio cover can be attached directly to your patio slab, and carports can be attached directly to your driveway. Also attachment to the house requires minimal anchoring. Note: some areas may require posts to be set in concrete, check with the codes department in your area. One of the best advantages of Aluminum structures is the minimum fall required for installation. Aluminum carports and patio covers require only ¼” of fall /ft. spanned. A shingled roof requires a minimum of 4” of fall /ft spanned ,which often creates problems with head room on the outside. 

4) Functionality- Very few home improvement projects can provide the quality usefulness that an aluminum  patio cover or carport can. Patio covers over decks and patios offer escape from direct sun and weather, and can make them much more useful and enjoyable. Aluminum carports (free standing or attached ) can provide great shelter for your vehicles when a garage is not available .

1)Bird Nests-The W-pan aluminum is notorious  for attracting birds. There are several plugs that manufacturers offer and it is highly recommended you insist on these at the time of installation. They do add cost but will save you from the endless hassle of cleaning out the pans.

2)Trees- All Aluminum carports and patio covers come with built in gutters and downspouts , in the fall if you live in a wooded area leaves are a constant problem. Since
Aluminum structures do not require as much slope on the roof ,leaves and debris is much more likely to accumulate. The most common problem I see is where this accumulation of leaves is left unattended, stopping up gutters, backing up water and ultimately causing the panels to bow and leak.

3)Rust on framework- Most aluminum patio covers and carports are installed with steel bar joists, and posts ,and while painted before installation ,the natural exposure to the elements will eventually cause the parts to show rust (especially at ground contact)

4)Hail – The single most ,problem with aluminum carports and patio covers is hail. We replace several of these each year. Because of the light weight nature of aluminum a hail storm can leave small unattractive dings in the panels. Most homeowners insurance cover this and in most cases if hail is hard enough you will have other damage to your home 

As a contractor for many years ,I have learned to appreciate the functional beauty of aluminum carports and patio covers .The advantages of these products far out weigh the disadvantages Almost all the disadvantages can be prevented with simple maintenance.
For ideas for your carport or patio cover project visit our web site

Michael W. Mathis owner Affordable Building Concepts/ ABC Backyard Basics


We recently built a garage for a customer who requested Techshield roof deck be used in his construction. After  doing a little research on this product and actually using it on this project I felt the need to offering my customers this as a option on every job.

Techshield is made by LP and is a thin but durable layer of aluminum applied to oriented strand board sheeting .It is designed to not only keep heat out of attic spaces ,but also help keep conditioned spaces more efficient .The foil side is installed down towards the attic ,the radiant barrier is a highly reflective and low emitting material that helps reduce the solar heat gain  in the attic space. According to LP Techshield will prevent  97%  radiant heat from penetrating the panel into the attic  Techshield is installed like any other roof sheeting, It should be noted that this does not eliminate the need for attic insulation. Techshield  will not create any problems with roofing shingles and most shingle manufactures back their warranties ,as long they are installed properly

I was surprised by the relative minimum cost difference over regular OSB roof sheeting ,on this particular job it was only about $4.00/ sheet ,adding only about $100.00 of additional cost to the homeowner. The potential energy cost saving to a homeowner ,using this product in home construction would be immediate and over the years substantial. The initial up front cost would probably be recovered in the first year in utility savings. But the advantages of this product cannot be measured in dollars alone. Most garages and storage sheds are not heated and cooled ,thus anything that can be done to lower interior temperatures inside these buildings is a positive. During the construction of this job the temperatures were well into the 90”s and just walking inside the structure you could tell a substantial difference. The manufacture claims up to a 30 degree reduction in a homes attic space temperatures with use of this product if you only get ½ of that Techshield will be well worth the investment and in garages and storage sheds even a small temperature reduction can make a big difference. We will now offer this option to all of our garage and storage shed customers.

Michael W. Mathis owner Afforadabel Building Concepts/ABC Backyard Basics

Anatomy of a well built storage shed

So you have decided to purchase a storage shed and finally use the garage to park cars? Choosing a storage shed can get quite confusing. The market seems to have been flooded with barn builders and retail outlets that claim to have the best quality and price around. So who do you believe? We will attempt to give you some tips to look for in your search.

Construction of storage buildings vary from place to place. Any building can be made pretty with a good paint job and cheap options.  The actual test of a well made storage building is in the construction and quality of materials used. Here are a few hints to be looking for when you are out shopping.

Floor systems: Since most storage sheds are designed to be in direct contact with the ground ,be sure all floor construction is made of treated materials. Do not accept that the runners are treated only ,all floor joists and floor decking should also be treated materials. Building codes in most areas require that any wood within 24” of the ground be treated. Many companies build their sheds without treated joists and decking. Regular plywood or even OSB floors are unacceptable.

Framing: Ask what floor joists are centered on. Any spacing of floor joist over 16”on center is a problem. Make sure all walls are framed with full 2x4 studs. I have seen barns framed with 2x3s and while it may look fine on the showroom floor  ,it will be a problem some day. Does your barn have a ridge beam? A ridge beam is a structural member at the peak of the building that the rafters frame off of. Most big box store and roadside lots offer buildings with a metal truss plate attached to both sides of the rafter, without a structural ridge beam. Also pay attention to the spacing of the rafters. Framing on 2ft centers is acceptable as long as ply clips are installed.  This is a code requirement in most areas. Ply clips are small metal inserts that are to be installed at the butt joints of roof decking, between each rafter, They are used to prevent the sagging of the decking between rafters. 

Roofing: Make sure your barn has felt over the top of the roof sheeting. Many barns are sold without this protective underlayment. In many cases it is sold as an option or an up charge, 
Drip edge is another essential item many storage shed companies offer as an option. We consider this to be a very important feature. .Drip edge is a small metal strip that fits over the edge of the roof decking ,and is made to prevent water from running under the shingles.

Ventilation: Almost all storage sheds come standard with metal gable vents, and they should! But many do not include a ridge vent. The purpose of vents is to allow air flow thru the roof system and prevent premature shingle deterioration. Most storage sheds are not built with much if any overhang ,which in your home allows air flow through the attic space , A ridge vent becomes the only way ,working with gable vents, to create this positive air flow through a storage sheds roof system

Siding: The most common siding is wood sheet siding.  This is fine ,and offers you the option of painting to your liking. In my opinion the best storage shed siding is Louisiana  Pacific’s Smart panel siding. It is a structural rated composite sheet siding that has a 30 yr. manufacturers warranty. Plywood backed sidings are another option ,but this lacks the long term durability of the Smart panel siding. In my area we have seen an influx of the pressure treated T11 siding, and while the thinking is pressure treated siding should last longer ,the product carries virtually no warranties. My experience with the treated T11 is that within 2 years it will turn a very ugly gray color and require painting. This will be difficult to paint. Another reason to avoid these plywood backed sidings is that since storage sheds are built relatively close to the ground ,they tend to wick moisture around the bottom edges and prematurely rot  

Doors: The first thing to give you problems on a sheds are the doors. Look for double framed doors. Doors framed inside and outside are much less likely to warp. Also look hard at the hinges. Often times the life of the doors is related to the strength of the hinges.

 Storage buildings are very useful and practical solutions and serve a variety of needs, but are also an investment in your home and landscape. Don’t accept low quality products. If you look around and do a little comparison shopping, you will find a quality building. Built with quality materials , and properly maintained, your building will last a lifetime.     
Mike Mathis
Owner Affordable Building Concepts

OSB not you grandfathers wafer board

OSB or oriented strand board is a very common building material these days. OSB is made by using water proof resins and glues that are pressed together under very high pressure to create a structural sheeting that is universally accepted by codes. Since the product is manufactured from strands of wooden chips ,it does not require large old growth tree harvesting and is seen as a very environmentally friendly product .The resins used in the manufacturing process make this product less likely to to warp and more resistant to rot if exposed to moisture. There have been some mis conceptions regarding this product, I assure you this is not the wafer board of your grandfathers day. The old wafer board as it was called when exposed to moisture had a tendency to delaminate.OSB has come along way since those days and is considered by many contractors one of the best material advances in the last 25 years. For some great information on this product visit the OSB guide website pages   manufacturing description              visual of manufacturing process            video presentation of manufacturing  

The video is excellent!!!

Basic Considerations when building a garage

There are a variety of considerations to consider when planning your garage.In this article we will give you the basic things you should take into consideration when in the planning stages of your garage

Size: Choosing the size of your garage will probably be determined by your personal needs and budget ,so we will give you some basic guidelines that will help you make educated decisions. We recommend that all garages be a minimum of 20ft. deep. This should accommodate most standard cars, but could be a little tight for large trucks. Measure your vehicles and add about 4ft. to have comfortable walk around space. Standard residential garage doors are 9x7  and 16x7 ,although you can get them in a variety of sizes. We recommend 2ft. of spacing from corners and between each garage door. If you want extra storage space, or work area you can adjust depth and width accordingly. If you are considering a garage with a upper floor be sure to allow space for the staircase. Staircases by code have to be a min. of 3ft. wide and assuming a 8ft. ceiling height will require 16-20ft. of linier space.Another consideration with upper floor garages is the span of the floor joists, rule of thumb you can clear span 24ft. with a 16in. deep TJI floor joists ,but anything over 24ft will require some kind of load bearing posts downstairs.

Turnaround radius: Pulling into and backing out of your garage is another important consideration. If space is not a issue this may not be a problem, but every situation is different so we will give you a couple of rules. Back out space should be a minimum of 22ft. If your garage is in the rear of your home be sure to consider turning radius around the corner of your home. If you have plenty of room many times some additional concrete driveway can solve entry and exit problems 

Curb appeal: One of the most important considerations is building the new garage to be a attractive ,natural, and astatically appealing addition to your home. Of course the exterior finish is the most obvious way of blending your garage to your home ,and if possible should match, but there are quite a few other considerations you should weigh that sometimes cost very little but provide big impact. The pitch of the roof should be considered., simple gable vents or shutters on windows, that match your home are cheap  and simple accents .Dormers, eyebrows ,accent posts, porches window accents and roofing should all be considered when planning a garage to be a natural extension of your home

Building a Garage: site considerations 

Building a garage is a big investment in the long term value of you home. Therefore a good amount of planning and thought should be done to insure your garage is functional ,attractive and cost effective This is pat 1of of a ten part series of articles that will take you setep by step through all the things to consider before beginning construction of that dream garage.

 Your first decision will be to determine the location of your garage. Most areas have setbacks that are determined by your zoning. Setbacks are the distance from property lines that any structure must be built Checking with the planning and zoning department for setbacks is a good place to start. You should also be aware of any overhead power line or under ground utilities. Overhead power lines must be at least 5’feet above any structure. Under ground utilities can be built over but expect some additional costs for sheaving of water lines and sewer lines. If you home is on a septic system ,the code in most areas is that you must be setback a minimum of 10ft from tank or fill lines. You cannot build over tanks or fill lines, even in areas with no code departments ,the risk of damage to septic systems is not a risk worth taking, plus building over these could potentially undermine the structural integrity of you building. If you are unfortunate enough to have major power lines running thru your yard ,your local power provider has an easement to these lines ,I have ran into situations where the easements were as much as 40ft. to each side, from the center point. Most people are provided a mortgage plat when they purchased their home and many times the utility easements and property line setbacks are noted on these plats, if you do not have these then your local zoning and planning departments can provide that information. In order to locate septic systems the place to contact is your county environmental departments ,since these systems required permits at time on installation ,they should have a pemit on file that maps this system. Neighborhood covenants and restrictions are also something that should be checked, these vary from subdivision to subdivision ,but many prevent garages from opening to the front, require a certain percentage of brick or require additional setbacks that are greater than what codes would require.

Configuring your garage for easy use is a vary important consideration. The grade of your property and most importantly the elevation of where the garage doors are located will dictate , the length of driveway adjoining the garage. Turn around space is very important ,we usually recommend a minimum of 25 ft. to comfortably back out of your garage and turnaround. Take a close look at your entry into and backout space when planning your garage.

 Every situation is different and we can not possibly cover every scenario you might encounter ,but using the information we have given you should provide you with food for thought and give you a place to start when planning your garage   

Mike Mathis owner Affordable Building Concepts/ABC Backyard Basics

Permitting your garage

After putting some serous thought to site considerations you are ready to permit your garage. As a home owner in most areas, you are allowed to pull your own permit, but I don’t recommend this. Hiring a competent contractor is your best bet, but be prepared to furnish some of the important information needed to obtain the permit. We will attempt to outline most of  what your local environmental, planning and zoning, and permitting office will require in order to issue your permit.

Plans: While many areas do not require a full set of building plans, be prepared to provide them. There are several places online that plans can be obtained, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200.00 for basic garage plans to $800.00 for more complex garages. Many garage builder contractors can provide a basic set of drawing and many times through their relationships and good standing with codes departments can pull permits with a minimum of plans. Plans should show a footing detail, exterior finish, and all framing details.

Site plans: All codes and planning and zoning departments will require a scaled site plan. A site plan is simply a dimensioned drawing showing your home, property lines, other accessory structures and the place where the garage will be placed. The site plan should indicate all property line dimensions, setback dimensions from property lines. Many people have a mortgage plat ,which works great as a site plan since it has all pertinent dimensions as well as the map ,book , subdivision ,deed numbers,

Septic Drawings: If your property is on a septic system, in order to pull a permit you will have to provide the system drawing. In most areas you are required to be 10ft. from tank and fill lines. The septic permit is the best place to obtain this information. The county environmental or health department should have a copy of the system drawing on file and are usually very easily obtained

Building a garage: Installing a slab

One of the most difficult and important part of your garage is the slab. Of course you site will dictate what you will have to do with your slab, in this article we will address several different scenarios’ Slabs on level ground, slab on grades falling from front to back and slab falling from back to front. But first I would like to discuss footings. Footing are required by codes everywhere and are essential to the long term stability of your garage. Footings are the foundation of concrete which supports all perimeter load bearing walls. Footings are required to be below grade a minimum of the freeze lines for your area. In my state the freeze line is considered 8” below grade ,this varies ,depending on the area of the county you live  in, In Kentucky its ,24” and as you go north the requirements continue to go deeper. In areas with sandy soil such as Florida the width and depth is also required to be greater. Rebar is also required in most areas , usually at least 2 strands of ½”  around the perimeters. Rebar should be set 4” above the bottom of footings, using chairs. Codes requires the any spliced rebar overlap a minimum of 2 ft.  We suggest that you contact your local codes department exact specifications. In all cases a minimum of 4” thick slab should be poured, we recommend a minimum of 3500 psi concrete with fiber additive.

Slab on level sites: Monolific turn down slabs as they are called, are slabs which are formed and poured with the footings and floor all at the same time. These slabs require a site that is fairly level (my cut off is within 24” of level.) Turn down slabs should be formed at least 8” above grade, so that framings is adequately above the moisture of the ground. These slabs should have a minimum of a 4” gravel base with a 6mil. Poly moisture barrier spread over top of the gravel. Make sure adequate bracing is installed around the perimeter of forms to prevent bowing when concrete is poured. 

Slabs on sites falling from front to back: Any site that is more than 24” out of level usually will require a block foundation. With this type of application footings will be dug and poured first. Blocks will be laid and the concrete pour inside of the block. If block height exceeds 4ft. tall block should be reinforced with rebar tied from the footings up through the block and core fill with concrete. If block height exceeds 5ft. then you should consider going with 12 in. wide blocks and reinforcing with rebar and core filling. If 12in. blocks are required, adjust footings to allow for 4in. of concrete to each side of block. Codes requires a minimum of 4” concrete to each side of blocks, using 8in. block footing must be 16in. wide, using 12” block footings should be 20in wide. After block is installed gravel fill should be used to bring up to desired level and 6 mil moisture barrier laid over gravel. With block foundations slabs can be poured with a couple of inches of fall towards the front.

Slabs on sites falling from back to front: This particular situation will require excavation. Dirt will need to be removed to approximate driveway level. Blocks will be laid similar to above and will be below grade. All blocks below grade must be water sealed from the outside, to insure water will not leak through blocks. We generally recommend installing a French drain to the outside of blocks below grade .A French drain consists of a 4” perforated drainage pipe surrounded with gravel ,which will ensure that water will be drained and eliminate water standing near blocks. Rules for sizing blocks, footings and reinforcing will apply as above.

It is difficult to discuss every situation, but the above guidelines should encompass the majority of situations you may encounter.  Installing a slab correctly is difficult and should only be done by professionals. As always be sure your contractor is licensed, bonded and insured and ask for references. This article should give you a idea of what to look for. 

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          Call today for your free on                    site consultation!
             Office 615-443-2071

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