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Remodeling Q&A

Caustic Words Can Poison Your Project


Question: My wife and I are planning to have our kitchen remodeled in the near future. Do you have any recommendations for people about to venture into the remodeling world? I've heard horror stories from friends and family about remodeling jobs that turned into disasters.


Via e-mail

Answer: It's a vast subject, so let's start with an element most people don't think about--the behavior of the homeowner.

In the last 11 years, I've interviewed more than 400 homeowners about their projects, and I've noticed a few traits in the homeowners that I think helped lead to successful remodels.

Most important, all of the people with good results were grateful for good craftsmanship and respectful of those working on their homes.

I suggest you adopt an easygoing attitude and be willing to pay a fair price for good work. Distrust, harsh words and criticism from you can make contractors dread coming to your house. You need to help create a positive working environment. Who among us doesn't do better work when we're appreciated and treated with kindness?

At the same time, successful homeowners pay attention to their projects and don't rely on blind trust.

"You don't get a remodel like this by not caring," a contractor told me at the site of one of his jobs.

Long before the remodel started, these folks did their homework. They talked to many people they knew, and some they didn't, about remodeling.

In looking for a remodeling contractor, don't just ask a friend or two for a referral. Ask the industry. Call every local lumberyard, hardware store and paint store from the phone book (even plasterers and electricians) and ask this question: "I'm going to do a remodel and I want to hire the best company in town. Will you give me a few names?" I wager that the same few names will come up again and again.

Don't do this: Don't think you can create a negative, caustic situation in your home and expect the people remodeling it to do their best work.

Do this: Abide by the Golden Rule and treat people working in your home as you'd like to be treated. Even if things go wrong, and in remodeling they invariably do, continue to address the workers with kindness and respect. If these people go the extra mile on your project, your doors will swing better and your floors will creak less.

Composite Siding Has a History of Problems

Q: My 70-year-old parents are having a rotting problem with the wood siding on their home. A friend of theirs told them about some class-action suits being brought against one of the siding manufacturers. Can you point me to any resources (Web sites or articles) for this type of information?

Sean C. Ryan

San Diego

A: Rotting hardboard or composite siding (made to look like wood, but composed of wood products mixed with wax, adhesives and other materials) has become a huge construction debacle, with lawsuits involving hundreds of millions of dollars. It's typically a bigger problem in moist climates, like the Pacific Northwest, or the Southern states, but there are plenty of problems in Southern California.

Determining where the fault lies has been confusing and contentious. Manufacturers often say their products are fine, but the installation was faulty--that the product wasn't allowed to acclimate to the site, was allowed to get wet before it was put on the house, wasn't primed properly or was installed over poor waterproofing.

The installers counter that the product is at fault or that proper installation is so difficult, if not impossible, that the product should never have been made. These days, houses are built faster than ever by workers who receive increasingly less training. The product is fairly new and requires different handling.

If you have wood-look siding that is buckling, crumbling, swelling, won't hold paint or is growing mold, you may be entitled to compensation to have it replaced.

The first step is to determine who made your siding. The patterns stamped on the front are easily identifiable to industry experts, but not to the average homeowner. If a piece is loose, pull it out and look for the name stamped on the back. If the siding is on a garage without a finished interior, you may be able to see the back of the siding there.

Or, take a piece to a lumberyard and ask for it to be identified. In some cases, you can determine the manufacturer by asking the builder of the home or the remodeling contractor, if it was installed during a remodel.

Several giant companies--including Louisiana-Pacific and Masonite--have settled their lawsuits. You can reach the L-P claims administrator at (800) 245-2722 and the Masonite independent claims administrator at (800) 330-2722. More information is available online at and

Don't do this: If you have hardboard siding, don't assume it's going to rot and crumble. When installed correctly, it tends to be an excellent and environmentally friendly product.

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