Visit more than one completed project and get the builder to explain the construction process for each. You will then be certain they are not just showing you their “one and only ” or worse yet, someone else’s work. Have them explain the project from start to finish, as this will show you how involved they actually were. You should view both a high-end build as well as a budget build done by the same builder. Although one will have been more expensive and using higher quality materials, the fit and finish should be flawless in both. The builder should be patient and welcome you to examine his work. Believe me, they want to show off their talent and point out the details. Remember, if you do not like the design or decor of the cottage. This is not the fault of the builder.
Working With a Clean Slate
When you go to see a completed cottage, it is important to separate the décor and furnishings from the quality of the construction. First allow yourself to enjoy the overall effect and pay some attention to interesting décor ideas you may want to use, or architectural design features that appeal to you. Then set all of that aside, pretend the room is empty, and get down to business. Carefully observe the quality of the actual construction.
Ask the builder to show you some of the work that has not been covered over. A basement, crawlspace or attic will give you this ability. This indicates to the builder that you will be thorough in your investigations of his/her work and that you expect high quality. Even though you may not understand what you are looking for, you should still check out these areas. The structure of the building should be neat, clean and organized, with straight and level members, free of garbage, dirt and saw dust. All of the electrical and plumbing work should be clean, organized and easy to follow through the framework. An unorganized structure cannot be a strong structure.
Wear the appropriate clothing so you can get on your hands and knees and look closely at the workmanship.
Note interior detailed work i.e.: trim or baseboard. Here, the builder’s quality can be checked out fairly quickly. You are looking for perfection in this area. All the trim should be tight, smooth and free of gaps. A good place to start is the second entrance door as it will not get as much attention as the front door. You want to look at the quality and consistency of workmanship throughout the entire job, not just in high traffic areas like the kitchen and bathrooms. A builder would choose those spots to show you as they know there is more detailed work in those areas. Look in low traffic or difficult areas to observe a good representation of the builder’s work. Find an interior corner at a 90 degree joint. The baseboard should fit tightly into the corner with one board “scribed” to fit the other to create the perfect corner.
Look along the baseboard against the wall. It should be a smooth and a tight transition with no gaps. The edge of the board running along the floor should be the same, tight, no gaps and scribed to fit the floor. Note: In a renovation situation a little more forgiveness is given when working with existing construction. Ask the age of the construction. You should not be finding gaps a year or so later. Doors are another great example of a builder’s workmanship. Open and close all the doors, do they rattle or do they shut tightly. Walk into a room and shut the door behind you. Look at the margin around the door it should be spaced evenly between the door jam and the door itself. Examine the detail in the hinges. They should be cut carefully and perfectly into the door to a flush position to allow for proper and easy operation.
A builder does not choose the materials they use for various projects. The owner’s budget, and taste, determines what is chosen and applied. Therefore a quality builder should know what materials are available for use in each range of budget. They should be educated in the different woods and products available to make your project as spectacular or as simple as you want. Whatever materials are chosen, a quality builder will work hard to give you the best fit and finish possible.
Touch and Feel
Believe it or not the best way to check for quality is by feel. Run your hands along the trim and interior woodwork. It should be very smooth and clean. Feel your way around the house and you’ll know if a quality builder has been there!