I get a lot of work from contractors. It's amazing how many people decide they want to do something to their home, so the call up their local building contractor and ask them when they can start.

Start what?
In the no job too small category, this is where I frequently come in. I've sketched up hundreds of little jobs quickly and cheaply for contractors, just so they have some assurance that both contractor and homeowner are talking about the same thing.

The biggest issue with the little job is frequently the timing. When that one simple document is the only thing holding the job up, it gets pretty frustrating to hear about backlogs and waiting lists. My way of working around this is to typically have no more than two big projects in house at a time, and make sure that a substantial amount of time is available for contractor calls.

Need a quick sketch or conceptual drawing and don't feel like taking a number and paying a fortune for it? I'm not proud, I like to work, and I don't own a cape and beret (sorry, that's an inside joke).


A word or two about building materials and the California State Fire Marshal's office (SFM):

Most of the areas I work in are considered Wildland Urban Interface areas (WUI). The SFM has maps available online which delineate which areas are considered WUI or not, but these won't let you drill down to the house level and can be a bit difficult to read. When in doubt, call your local Fire Protection District (FPD) and ask if this applies to your home. Short of that, if you can look out the window from a house and see lots of trees and brush between you and the nearest neighbor assume that it applies (worst case scenario).

Within the WUI areas, there are some very strict limits on building materials. If you undertake a project that comes under the scrutiny of your FPD, and they are looking at pretty much everything these days, you're obligated to ensure that the materials you use and/or application methods are approved and listed. If you fail to do this and it comes to their attention, you'll essentially be responsible for providing sufficient documentation that the materials you did use meet the standards (you'll essentially be paying to have the material certified - a very big deal, and very expensive).

Listing all the approved materials has undoubtedly become a bit of a chore for the SFM, but they're making a real effort to keep the list up to date. Regardless, it essentially falls on the contractors, suppliers, and manufacturers to ensure that a particular siding, roofing, eave vent, etc. has the necessary approval rating prior to installation. There will always be lags between the time a product is certified, and it shows up on the web accessible list, so a phone call or two is always a good idea.

Sorry, there's no easy way to get around this. I can spec out an approved material on plans, take the project all the way through the permit process, stand aside to allow the contractor to take over, and the entire horizon on materials could have changed in the mean time. In the end, it will fall on the contractor to find the currently certified materials that fit both the budget and aesthetic desires of the homeowner. I can take a beating on this subject, take a thrashing, verbal abuse, a powder, a bath, a kick-down - but I can't change the situation. Material and finish substitutions in these WUI areas are a big deal, and that's not likely to change any time soon.

Copyright 2010 K B Anderson
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