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Armand L. Fontaine

Tips to Homeowners


Question: You have written about the importance of hiring a licensed contractor. I really don't see the merit of it as there are no guarantees that this individual is any better than the less-experienced journeyman.

Answer: In many instances, you are right. But at least in theory, in order to become a licensed contractor, one has to be a proven, four years of experience in the field. Secondly, he has passed a rather lengthy examination through the Contractor's State License Board to prove he knows the legal and technical aspects of the trade.

While there are schools to help persons pass these examinations, there is no doubt that people of marginal capabilities enter the field. But at least there is some sort of consumer protection. The other side of the coin is that a license bond of $5,000 ($10,000 for swimming pool contractors) is required. While this bond is easily purchased for a nominal fee, it offers some consumer protection in cases of non-payment of wages or materials by the prime contractor.

There are, without a doubt, skilled journeymen who are possibly even better at some phases of construction than licensed individuals, but I think generally speaking, this is not the case.

Normally, if you need work of any kind done, particularly in trades such as electrical or plumbing, I feel it is important that a licensed contractor be used. An unlicensed person can certainly do a great deal of damage if he or she is incompetent.

The California laws are probably the most stringent in the United States in regard to licensing. At the same time, there are several problems involved that make it difficult to administer them because there are more than 150,000 licensed general and specialty contractors in the state.

Q: I recently saw someone doing a deck around a swimming pool and laying concrete. When they had finished, one of the men threw something that looked like gravel on the concrete. This made the concrete look pockmarked. What was the substance?

A: In all probability, it was salt, which is often thrown on swimming pool decking and will leave it "pockmarked" as you say. The reason for this is that little air spaces on the cement will make it much cooler to the feet while walking around the pool area.

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