Friday, February 27, 2009

We met on Craigslist

There are many websites stored in my list of favorites including Fox Sports, Google, ESPN, and of course Meadowview Construction, but 2 of my most visited are Ebay and Craigslist. I went through a period on Ebay where it seemed like I was constantly bidding on either a tool or bass fishing item. Becoming the winning bidder on Ebay can be a science as certain items draw more interest than other. My rule of thumb was to not spend more than 50% of the replacement value of any item I was bidding on but when bidding on collectibles or rare items you can throw that policy out the window. There are plenty of greedy sellers who try to get far more for their crap than it's really worth and I was constantly on the lookout for a good bargain. In fact, I probably outfitted more than one crew with all the tools they needed from Ebay and I couldn't even begin to place a value on the tools I purchased.

A few years ago my focus shifted to Craigslist, primarilly because you can find more local items and there are no commissions to pay for the items. Cash is king on CL and it usually involves a local pickup and no shipping which is nice because you can see what you are getting. When I was outfitting my cabinetry shop 2 years ago one of the big items I needed was a metal storage cabinet for flammable liquids such as paint and solvents so I turned to CL. Immediately I found a guy in Andover who was getting rid of a sharp yellow flammable storage cabinet for about $400. Although I can't remember if I got him down in price, I do remember that he responded in 5 minutes and suggested that for $40 he would drive it over to my shop in 30 minutes. Wow, what customer service. My shop manager, Bryan, took his card when he dropped off the cabinet and I actually never met the guy but I saw his Dodge pickup pulling out of my driveway. I am sure glad Bryan grabbed his card because Jonathan Rummel turned out to be one heck of a gem. Come to find out, he has a cool company called Hand Forged Works where he designs and builds custom architectural metalwork pieces from handrails to fireplace screens. He even makes a line of custom metal belt buckles which you can see on his website.

My wife and I decided to bite the bullet and call Jonathan last year and invited him to our home to consult with us on 2 projects. The first was a metal handrail to finish of our new stairway and the second was to come up with a unique powder room vanity. We were immediately impressed with Jonathan's design skill as he listened to us describe what we were looking for. We showed him photographs and sketches and he came back to us a week later with some amazing designs to choose from. We chose to combine features from each design and we speechless when he came back to us a few weeks later with the final version. "Holy Crap" was what I think I said when he showed us. You have to believe me when I say that the finished product was 5 times nicer than we even imagined. This stairway is kind of small and needed something that could hold its own without being too gawdy. Jonathan created a masterpiece with this railing and what had me scratching my head was how he made all the connections. Some of these connections would be tough enough trying to accomplish with wood where you can easily cut it and glue or nail it together. Each piece of metal is perfectly fit and shaped with each textured baluster flaring out at the bottom and the top rail has a gentle curve at the bottom with the softest oil/wax finish you can imagine. It feels so perfect in my hands each time I walk up and down the stairs. I could go on and on about his work but I guess the point I want to make is that this guy is an Extreme Craftsman who I have the utmost respect for. It is an honor to recommend someone like Jonathan where I just know he will blow people away with his work. And just think, we met on Craigslist.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Outside the box

Ok, so I occasionally stay up late and happen to see the odd cable channel commercials that leave me shaking my head. I tend to think out of the box but a few recent As-Seen-on-TV ads have taken this to the extreme. First is the Snuggie. When did having a nice blanket to cuddle in become not good enough? Now they have this blanket that you actually wear like a robe with holes cut out and sleeves. I constantly make fun of this ad but it is probably the ad that I will long remember among all other ads. What is it about this ad that is so memorable? The concept, the bad family actors, the tacky camera work, and the ugly colors might have something to do with it. I have to admit, there have been several occasions this winter where I could have envisioned myself on the couch with my very own Snuggie, especially with our effort to conserve oil by turning back the heat. I suppose I ought to be willing to try something this out-of-the-box in this day and age to drum up business.

The other TV ad that got me thinking was the Topsy Turvy upside down tomato plant hanger. I never knew you could grow a plant upside down. I wonder who the first person was to stumble upon this idea. It had to be an accident or maybe the plant pot tipped over and they left it there. I always thought plants grew upward toward the sun but gravity kind of overrides logic in this case. For $19.99 anyone can buy this marvelous invention and supposedly be able to harvest tomatoes up to a month earlier than with convetional growing methods. I can see many crops that this would be applicable to. What's next....hanging carrots? I can see a world record 1500 pound pumpkin in the near future all because of the Topsy Turvy.

All these ideas are silly and far fetched but I imagine someone's making a boat load of money and they were willing to take the risk by thinking outside the box. I can guarantee The Topsy Turvy company had to ask more than one investor before they got financing for this idea. Persistence is probably the other key factor. Now if you'll excuse me, I just spilled my coffee so I am going to clean up with my new Shamwow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What happpened to Good Customer Service?

I spent the better part of a half hour on the phone the other day with a representative from Panasonic because I was having a problem with a bath exhaust fan that we installed in a client's home. I was totally expecting to get the run-around so when I finally got a human on the phone I immediately asked if I could speak to someone who was very familiar with these bath fans because they make so many different products. The last thing I wanted was to speak to some guy in another country who had no idea what I was talking about. As luck would have it, that's what I got. He spoke broken English and what should have taken 5 minutes took closer to 15 minutes after we got everything squared away. The bottom line was he could not help me and all he could do was establish a case # so someone more qualified could get back to me with help. Well, that was 8 days ago and do you think I have heard back from them yet? What has happened to good Customer Service?

I know I/we are not perfect in our business when it comes to customer service. When a problem arises we make it our priority to address the issue as soon a humanly possible. I am sure that Panasonic genuinely cares about their customers but I am not sure they are committed to finding the best way to satisfy them when a problem arises. It was hard enough just to get a human on the phone. It seems as though all these big corporations are concerned about is finding the cheapest country to handle the staffing needs. Here is a cool website that has phone numbers so you can reach an actual human being at most large corporations.

I experienced a different kind of poor customer service yesterday as I ate lunch at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. We paid our $17 each to walk in the door and after dealing with the rude coat room woman, we headed for the cafe to eat. It literally took us about 3-4 minutes before anyone greeted us at the "wait to be seated" sign and the young woman who greeted us took her sweet time walking over from whatever she was doing before that. It just looked like she was doing us a favor by greeting us to show us to our table. Now, when you are seated you typically expect to be met by your wait staff within a couple minutes at the latest to place your drink order. There had to be 3-4 waiters that passed us by for over 5 minutes without so much as eye contact just to acknowledge our presence. We felt ignored and I spent the next few minutes stewing over the fact that nobody was paying attntion to us. What happened to good customer service? Although the food was excellent, I left with a bad taste in my mouth.
This experience was thankfully not repeated later in the evening when we visited Bella Vista restaurant on Hanover St. in the North End. These mom and pop establishements truly get it. The husband and wife team that treated us to a delectible diner catered to our every need and made us feel like we were the most important customer they had that evening. It was a refershing treat and they had the most amazing lobster my wife ever had. Truly worth the visit.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Katrina emergency far from over

Every once in a while we all need a shot of inspiration. So, last year in January, I accepted an offer from a dear friend to spend a week in Biloxi, MS helping to rebuild homes destroyed by Katrina. I've never been to the Gulf Region prior to that, but I quickly gained a deep affection and respect for the people of the area. Their positive spirit was so refreshing-even though quite literally every possession they had was destroyed, they still truly rejoiced in life. But looking at vacant landscape and clearly seeing where each home was before the storm is sobering. Most of the debris was gone when we arrived, but the empty foundations were eerie.

I went down to Biloxi to do some true volunteer work-to clear the cobwebs from the brain, and to do something that had nothing to do with life back home. I was expecting hard work and blisters (I don't ever swing a hammer any more unless the wife makes me), but there was also fun, great food, seeing New Orleans for the first time, and I got to pitch in with a bunch of strangers with fabulous attitudes. I thought it would be somewhat of a depressing experience, but instead it was amazingly spirit-lifting. My wife noticed the bounce in my step and a changed perspective when I got home.

As soon as I returned home I knew I was going to have to go back. There are still so many houses that need to be rebuilt and the debate of whether they should rebuild will go on forever. The sponsor group Project Rehab, under the auspices of Habitat for Humanity, knew what they were doing, and the whole effort was very well organized. I got to work with some terrific Americorps kids as well. In April of 2008 I was able to organize a group of 6 to go back down for another work vacation. Two strangers, a client, my attorney, my wife and myself made the trek down and had the good fortune to work with a Vietnam Vet whose home was almost completely destroyed. He managed, with the help of other Project Rehab volunteers, to get the home rebuilt and our team finished off the trim work, installed the kitchen cabinets and hung all the doors. Again, it was a very satisfying week and for those that have not participated in a work vacation I would strongly urge you to do it as it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

To read the newspaper article written about my trip
in the Georgetown Record, please visit Wicked Local Georgetown.

Please check out the trip photos in my Biloxi Photo Album.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I am willing to adapt.....Are you?

If you live in New England you will likely recall seeing very few Robins during the winter. I think the myth is that Robins leave the cold Northern regions and fly South to a warmer climate. I, too, thought that until I started reading about birds. Who knew? The truth is that most robins remain close to their breeding grounds throughout the winter and don't actually fly South. It reminded me of a recent trip to Home Depot because the store was so empty I thought all the contractors up and left for Florida. You might wonder what the robins are feeding on this time of year. The last time I looked out the window I didn't see any worms. A month ago I spotted what looked like an orange bird down back behind the barn. I grabbed my Nikon with the zoom lens and scurried down to the barn to get a closer look and they had gone. After about 20 minutes perched up in the loft with the door slightly ajar, they finally came back. But much to my surprise there wasn't just one or two, there were about 10 robins of all ages, both male and female. It's quite easy to tell the difference between the juveniles and the adults by the color of their feathers. Since the worms were frozen or 5 feet down in the ground they made do with a berry-covered tree. wasn't their preferred diet but it got them through the lean times until the ground thawed out and the worms came to the surface. I was quite shocked to see so many together at once since in the summer you rarely see more than one pair together at a time, probably for mating purposes. The fact that they were huddled together and flying around the neighborhood eating their 2nd choice (berries) shows how adaptable these birds are.

I was just reading today's National Geographic and there was a story about Darwin's theory of evolution and how the strong and most adaptable animals survive. It is so true with us human beings as well. With the current economic situation bearing down on us, there are many similarities between General Contractors and the flock of robins. For example, my company is taking on smaller and less profitable jobs these days because they are like the berries. Maybe they are not our first choice but they'll get us through the lean times until the worms come back. I am optimistic that the remodeling outlook is bright and that shortly the demand for good remodeling contractors will be quite high, especially for necessary projects like painting, roofing, rot repairs, energy upgrades, kitchens and baths. Inevitably there are going to be some remodeling companies that insist on living on worms only and cannot adapt to eating berries. Fortunately the boys at Meadowview have been snacking on berries for years now so we don't so much mind the taste.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to stop a door from opening/closing by itself

I got a great question the other day so I thought I would post it for everyone to see. Please feel free to write me with any questions you might have and I would be happy to answer it the best I can. See the question and answer below.

Question: Several of the doors on the inside of my house like to open/close themselves, or even sit in between open and closed. It got worse after I used some WD-40 on some of the squeaking hinges. (The doors to some of the kid's rooms squeaked so bad, we could wake them up just trying to check on them.)
I'd like to know what the trick is to adjust the hinges on a door to keep it from closing on its own, or opening on its own, or even sitting half-way opened.

Answer: Here is a simple fix to you problem that is a permanent solution. Take out the bottom hinge pin (easier to get to, is the only reason). Place the pin on a hard surface and hit the pin with a hammer to bent it slightly. Then reinstall it,(you might have to tap it into the hinge with a hammer) and the little bit of a bend in the pin will hold the door open or make it a little more "stiffer".

I sounds crazy and ridiculously easy but it really works great. Go try it and let me know how it worked. Cheers!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Should I replace those old windows?

I get asked all the time if it is worth it to replace windows in a house. Those beautiful single glazed wood windows in your older home are not nearly as inefficient as you have been led to believe by the advertising industry. Nor will window replacement necessarily be in your financial best interest. How do I know this? I investigated how much it would cost to replace the existing single-glazed wood windows (R-1) in my older home with new, highly energy efficient double-glazed, low-E, argon-filled vinyl replacement windows (R-3). Here is what I found out (numbers are only approximate values):

· My existing 19 windows lose about 17.4 million BTU's of heat each heating season

· The annual cost of this lost heat is about $130

· New highly efficient ENERGY STAR rated vinyl replacement windows would lose about 2 million BTU's of heat annually. The annual cost of this lost heat would be about $16.

· If I install the vinyl replacement windows the total annual savings on my heating bill would be about $114.

· To realize this annual $114 savings I would need to invest $8000 in vinyl replacement windows.

Spending $8,000 to save a little over $100 per year is not a good method for saving lots of money on heating bills. And vinyl windows will subtract from the beauty of my older home, rather than add to it as my older windows do. In addition, there are other less expensive options available to me for reducing loss of heat through my older windows.

Simple, quick steps for tightening up an older window:

Replace cracked/broken window panes. Even cracked pieces of glass will let in lots of cold air

Replace missing/deteriorated glazing. This prevents air from entering from around glass panes and is also very important for long-term maintenance. Always paint the glazing after it has cured, and remember to overlap a thin line of paint onto the glass. This will help to keep moisture from running down the outside of the glass and getting under the glazing where it can eventually rot the muntins.

Make certain that a sash lock is present and in good working order. A proper fitting sash lock has significant impact on the air-tightness of a double hung window. The lock should pull the upper and lower window sash tightly together, and at the same time push the bottom sash down and the top sash up. You may need to spend some time cleaning the back meeting rails. Often dried paint drips will prevent the top sash from fully contacting the bottom sash at the meeting rail. Make certain those surfaces are flat and smooth for a good seal.

Wide window sash may require 2 window locks to get a tight seal across the full width of the meeting rails.

Adding a thin piece of foam weather stripping to the sill and head jamb to improve the seal when the windows are closed and locked will further increase air tightness, which increases energy efficiency.

Putting a thin bead of caulk where the interior casing touches the interior walls may also increase air tightness.

There are special gaskets made that are designed to fit over counterweight pulleys. They are made in such a way so that they allow the pulley to turn and allow the sash cord move, but still seal out the cold air that may be infiltrating from a poorly sealed counterweight cavity.

Replace excessively worn parting bead (the narrow vertical piece of wood that separates the upper sash from the lower sash) to increase air tightness between window sash and window jam. The parting bead must be removed if you need to repair counterweights for the upper sash. Removing the parting bead will also allow you to take the upper sash out. This may be helpful if you need to replace much of the glazing in that sash.

There is a local company that we recommend to restore old wood windows called Window Woman.

A far more inexpensive but temporary option is to use a product from DAP called Seal 'N Peel. Apply it around all the cracks using a caulking gun and when the spring rolls around you can peel it off easily. It emits some nasty smelling fumes so be prepared to exit the room for a while. The caulking is stocked at Home Depot or you can buy the caulking online at Amazon

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Compact Flourescent Lightbulb CFL facts

I have been asked on more than one occasion if it actually makes sense to switch out all the light bulbs in a house to the new energy efficient bulbs.

According to, around 10-15% of every household’s energy usage is for lighting. This usage can be dramatically reduced by swapping traditional bulbs (known as incandescent bulbs) for energy-efficient bulbs.
Whenever a bulb needs replacing, always swap it for an energy-efficient bulb. But the sooner you change, the better – so it pays to swap even before your old bulbs blow.

Energy-efficient bulbs are no longer the large and cumbersome objects they once were. You can now buy them in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit almost all light and lamp fittings/shades.

Most also now come on as fast as standard bulbs and provide the same quality and level of lighting as a normal bulb - both common complaints about low energy bulbs in the past. Low energy light bulbs use up to 80% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb while still emitting the same level of lighting.

This is because the old incandescent bulbs waste up to 90% of their energy through heat being emitted by the bulb rather than light. The low-energy bulbs also last up to 10-12 times longer than traditional bulbs so, although the initial shelf price of the low energy bulbs may be higher than traditional bulbs, they more than pay for themselves over their lifetime.

Bulb disposal: Please remember to dispose of your used low energy light bulbs safely and correctly. Similar to other items such as used batteries or printer cartridges, CFL bulbs can contain materials which may be harmful to the environment if simply placed in your normal waste bin and sent to landfill. Always take care to dispose of your bulbs at a suitable recycling facility. Home Depot recently started a CFL recycling program and you can read about it here:

Here is a spreadsheet showing the cost savings you could achieve by switching from standard incandescent light bulbs to either Compact Flourescent or LED light bulbs. The comparison is based on $.23 per KWh but you will need to plug in your actual current cost for electricity which I think is closer to $.13 per KWh in the Boston area

Here is a simple Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Energy Savings Calculator that will show just the energy savings that you can expect to achieve if you switch over to CFL from incandescent. It does not factor in the cost of the bulbs but it is helpful to know that the cost is dropping all the time and currently is about $3 for a CFL that is equivalent to a 75 watt incandescent bulb.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gaining the trust of your clients

My wife and I had the good fortune of adopting a new cat this afternoon and it immediately struck me it might take some time to earn the trust of this new cat. We basically removed Benny from his nice comfortable home in Ipswich with 3 other cats and thrust him into our home which must be a tremendous shock to his system considering he lived there most of his life. Consider the fact that he’s only 9 months old but he had his family already established, he was the leader amongst all the other cats and he had his own space. After his previous owner left our home, Benny was very quiet and has been snuggled up in his new bed with what looks like a pout on his face. Let’s face it, he’s not happy right now and I’m sure he is feeling very vulnerable with the expectation that he will soon be back in his normal environment. “When is mommy coming to get me?”, he meowed.

I guess I just assumed that we would bring him in to our home, provide him with the things he needs to live and he would instantly bond with us. Wrong answer! I can’t recall how many times we’ve gone into someone’s home to do a remodeling project and we just assume everything will go well and that they will trust us as if we are part of their family. Most times it goes that way but every so often we encounter a cat (read as: client) who does not immediately trust us. It is hard not to take personally because deep down inside we know we are “trust worthy” and overall good people. How could anyone not trust us? I think the builder/client trust is something we just take for granted some times and it is something that has to be earned and not assumed. For the time we are working in their homes they are at the height of vulnerability with little privacy and few places to escape to. Having gone through a major renovation on our own home 3 years ago I can honestly say that I do know how stressful it can be and let's face it, it stinks.

Trust means being able to predict what other people will do and what situations will occur. If we can surround ourselves with people we trust, then we can create a safe present and an even better future. I can imagine Benny feels this way in his own little kitty way. Generally I find that a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of honesty. Therefore honesty is one area I place the greatest importance on and I really like to show how much I care about my clients by my actions and not by how much I know. It is easy to get sucked into trying to “show off” in front of a client by blurting out all that I know and how great our crews are and what awesome subcontractors we have. I love the following quote - “People Don’t Care How Much You Know, Until They Know How Much You Care”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stop wasting money

I don’t know about you but I am a fairly wasteful person and I am guessing we could all save lots of money and valuable resources if we all made an effort to waste less. Everywhere I look there is waste. My wife and I have a constant battle about turning off lights when we leave a room. Even if the yearly savings is less than $100 it would be 1-1/2 more dinners we could have at no extra cost. So what keeps us all from turning off the lights or using less toilet paper? I am considering switching to recycled toilet paper. I basically wipe my butt with one moderate-size tree a year. If we each purchased just one recycled 12-roll pack a year, we'd save 5 million trees annually.

Buying in bulk seems like a way to save money but I am convinced that it a waste for the most part. Buying bulk has its own time and place. Buy only in bulk if you know you are going to use all of it. For example, I buy toilet paper in bulk. I am 100% sure that there will be a day when I run out of toilet paper. In fact, it seems that the more I buy, the quicker I run out. Paper towels are one thing that I avoid using whenever possible. It is so easy to unroll 5-6 sheets to wipe up a small spill without even thinking of it. My wife and I arrived at a compromise by purchasing the select-a-size paper towels that have half-sized sheets for those smaller messes and I still shy away from using them.

Speaking of waste…..who needs so many designer handbags? I doubt that it really makes a difference if someone has a generic one or seven Louis Vuitton bags. How can this possibly improve the quality of one’s life? I like coffee as much as the next person but is the premium cost for Starbuck’s worth it when I can get a Dunkin Donuts coffee for about half the cost or better yet, Folgers home-brewed for about 10 cents a cup. I realize my time is worth a lot to me and sometimes I am willing to pay the premium. Bottled water, in my opinion, is one of the worst things we could have ever started buying in mass quantities. There is just no meaningful benefit to us or the earth by consuming it other than the fact that it’s very convenient. Water is free. Let’s start to conserve it a little more and we’ll have more to drink instead of throwing the plastic in the trash. Of course they are recyclable but if they weren’t made in the first place then we wouldn’t have to recycle them.

Payback period seems to be on everyone’s mind when making purchases that are better for our environment. One item with a small financial payback is getting a new low flush toilet but the amount of water it saves is huge. For our customers we are starting to put in these new dual flush toilets by Toto where it has a smaller flush for #1 and a regular-sized flush for #2. It’s the next best thing to the old saying “if it’s yellow let it mellow….if it’s brown flush it down”.

With my personal investment portfolio taking a big hit this year, I am naturally looking at ways to save money as I am sure that most Americans are these days. I know that paying rent for an apartment is the only option for many folks but there has never been a better time to be able to invest in real estate. You owe it to yourself to at least look into it if you can somehow muster up some initial start-up money. I have a good friend who teaches small groups of investors how to find properties, renovate them and then rent them for positive cash flow. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Let me know if you want more info and I can connect you with him. I am going to go check the mail now to see if my economic stimulus or bail-out check has arrived.

feel free to email me at

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When did gift cards become so popular?

I saw an interesting story on the news the other day. Planned Parenthood of Indiana was making gift cards available in any denomination. When I think of gift cards I immediately think of Chili's, Best Buy, Radio Shack, or Home Depot. I have to admit that I have never considered giving someone a parnethood planning gift card. How do you present a gift card like that? Do you put it in an envelope or in a basket wrapped in a bow? I can just see it now-I give one of these gift cards to a friend who is not actually pregnant. Hmmm.

I understand that gift cards are basically a gift with a guarantee and that they are very convenient gifts for the person who has everything, but I want to get a bargain or buy something on sale. Have you ever seen gift cards on sale? I DID find a website that offers discounted gift cards for restaurants in your area. The truth is, approximately 20% of gift cards never get used which amounts to huge profits for these businesses. A gas card is one that I would surely use but I feel bad for all the folks who got Circuit City gift cards recently. Since I stash most of these gift cards and certificates away where I will never find them it is a bummer that many of them have expiration dates.

So how did gift cards get so popular? Somehow in our twisted sense of giving, we gave up on buying meaningful gifts for other people. Cash seems tacky for some reason, so instead we try to pretend to know what people would like at one store or another. "Mike likes gadgety crap, let's give him a Best Buy card."

The ones I really like to receive are to local restaurants since they are usually to places I have never been. My wife and I visited 9Elm in Danvers, MA this week and were pleasantly surprised at how nice the place was including the food and nice wait staff. Had I not received the gift certificate perhaps we would never have visited and now we have a new local favorite. It is interesting to see how some restaurants give you cash back and some just give you a credit for a future visit. What if I hated the food and didn't want to come back? The $18.46 that was remaining would be pure profit for them while losing a return customer. The other one I always look forward to is from Amazon since I am such a book junkie. Never have I not been able to use one of these and they usually get redeemed on the same day I receive them. Thankfully Amazon has a nice checkout system where you can log in, buy the item and be done in about 2-3 minutes. What a great business model and getting a slightly used book for $1.50 is great, but the shipping is always $3.99. I guess they lose so much on shipping large items that they have to make it up by charging 4 bucks to ship a book which usually shows up in an envelope with $1 postage. I think UPS or the USPS should demand a greater percentage for doing all the dirty work.

Maybe I should consider offering gift cards for use at Meadowview Construction. Just imagine how excited your sister would be if you gave her a $50 gift card to be used toward a $300,000 renovation with a 6 month expiration date. Or maybe we could even set up a web page for wedding registries. Forget that china set for 8 and go for the kitchen renovation. Here's a little tip for anyone wanting to get me a gift or a gift card. GIVE ME CASH. Gift cards cost just as much as cash and they are far less useful.

feel free to email me at

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cardinal rules of attraction

The word cardinal has a couple meanings to me and the most obvious is the red bird we often see at our bird feeders. The other definition which usually preceeds the words rule or sin could mean "of foremost importance or paramount". We've all heard the phrase Cardinal Rules or Cardinal Sins and I am guessing it is often used rather loosely without giving it much thought.

Being an avid birdwatcher has given me a new perspective on many of life's situations and I think the thing that keeps me interested in birdwatching is how similar it is to people watching. I really like people watching - I do it wherever I go. There is something calming to me and peaceful about taking a seat on a busy boulevard and watching people live their own lives in public. It is kind of like a cross between public voyeurism and reality TV. When I camp out at my kitchen window to watch the birds congregate at the birdfeeder I just never know what will happen, what kind of birds will show up, and how aggressive the squirrels will be that day. Pecking order exists not only with birds, horses or cats, but everywhere in society. Seeing the birds argue, bicker and scaring the weaker ones off while some are very passive and content to just eat seed by themself off in the corner is so consistent with human society. I see it every day in the workforce, with my personal relationships and also my client/builder relationships. Who has ever worked at an office where there hasn't been one person who wants to dominate every conversation? How is this any different from a horse that needs to control every other hay pile besides her own in the paddock? If that horse just spent the same energy worrying about her own hay pile then all the other horses could eat their own hay and everyone would be happy.

It also seems like every kind of bird has its own little quirks. Some birds prefer to eat from a perch while others can only pick at loose seed from the ground. We switched the bird seed in our feeders this year with some unexpected results. Having used a small inexpensive blend of seed for years we decided to buy a bag of raw shelled nuts so there would be less waste to clean up in the spring. It was very expensive but after the sticker shock faded we realized that it also attracted a wider variety of birds. We kept a seperate feeder with the generic seed and although it gets its fair share of visitors, most birds (clients) seem to be attracted to the gourmet seed and the generic seed seems to outlast the gourmet seed by 2-1. My guess is that the gourmet seed tastes better, is less effort to eat and the work-to-calorie ratio must be lower. They can sit there stuffing their bellies while consuming more food in less time. And here I thought only humans were lazy. Maybe this frees up their time for more important bird activities.

I can't help but compare the quality of the food at the bird feeders to the way we need to market our companies in this current market. Wouldn't logic suggest by putting out the most appealing seed catering to the kind of birds (clients) we want to see at our feeder, that perhaps we might start to see more of those kind of birds.? If I want to see a red-bellied woodpecker feeding from my feeder then I would make doubly sure to hang a suet feeder and if I wanted to attract a specific type of clientele then I would surely make sure to install the correct kind of feeder with the most appealing seed. As I see it, the Cardinal Rule in marketing a business (or most other things in our lives) is to be specific about who you are trying to attract. Fill up your feeder with the right kind of food and you will likely see more of those birds. I am off to check on the birds...

feel free to email me at

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I have never taken Performance Enhancing Drugs

In the aftermath of yesterday’s confession by Alex Rodriguez it only seems appropriate to add my 2 cents. But first I just want to start by declaring that I have never used Performance Enhancing Drugs. As hard as it might be to believe, my on-field performance has and always be au-natural. Over the years in this crazy construction business I, like A-Rod, have felt incredible daily pressures to perform at high levels by my clients, my employees and even my wife. It has never occurred to me to resort to cheating or taking “The Juice” to get ahead of my competition. Remodeling someone’s home involves a far more intimate relationship with our clients than being on the baseball diamond looking into the stands. Our work is not judged by the immediate results shown in the box score but rather by the long term happiness of our clients and how well the work holds up over time. The “Meadowview Experience” is something I am constantly trying to instill with my lineup of craftsmen and office staff as it is the first thing our clients observe and the last thing they will remember when the project is long complete.

What excites me when I watch a baseball game are the special moments in the game where a player makes an amazing play or when a pitcher gets himself out of a bases loaded situation with no runs scored to preserve the lead. I have to believe that our fans (read as: clients) also appreciate when we pull off the unimaginable or when we act quickly to avoid a major problem on the job site. Now that I think of it, what could possibly go wrong on one of our job sites? Believe it or not, just about everything has and it’s happened more than once, even with our talented bullpen of starting pitchers (read as: lead carpenters) and well-intentioned coach (read as: production manager). The truth is, sometimes things go wrong and it is critical to have the correct people in place to deal with these eventualities. I’d like to think that we go about as far as any company would go to please their clients on day to day basis. And we don’t “Cheat”.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

How to choose a bathroom exhaust fan

There are not many topics that I a true expert in and exhaust fans are no exception. I will say, though, that I have a very good working relationship with exhaust fans as most of our projects seem to have them. Why someone would renovate a bathroom and not install a GOOD exhaust fan is a mystery to me. The difference in cost between a crappy fan and a good fan is about $75, well worth the money in my opinion. What makes one fan better or worth $75 more than another fan? First of all, efficiency is the big one. A cheaper fan will use cheaper parts that are not designed to run continuously for years and they use more electricity in the process, making the $75 seem like a drop in the bucket after a few years. One big advantage to the more expensive fans is how quiet they are. Bathroom fans are measured by SONES. 4.0 Sones is the sound of normal television (Ridiculously loud for a fan) 3.0 Sones is office noise (Still very loud for a fan) 1.0 Sone is the sound of a refrigerator and 0.5 Sone is the sound of rustling leaves. A very quiet bathroom fan that will just make a gentle whoosh is a fan at 1.0 Sone or below. All of the fans we use are at or below 1.0 Sone.

There are basically 2 types of exhaust fans to consider in a bathroom. The most common is a ceiling mounted fan where all the fan parts are mounted just above the sheetrock. We try to stick with fans made by Panasonic because they are both quiet and efficient but Broan also makes a good exhaust fan which detects excess moisture automatically. The other type is called an in-line exhaust fan made by Fantech and the difference is that the actual fan housing and motor get mounted up in the attic away from the bathroom so the noise is far less, sometimes inaudible. Both types can more than adequately remove humidity from a bathroom but only if they are left on for about 15-20 minutes after you leave the bathroom. Many people forget to turn on the fan before they start their shower which is going to lead to mildew in no time. Here is the best way to deal with the fan switch scenario. We like to use a switch by Energy Federation Incorporated called a timer delay switch. Turn the switch on and both the lights and the fan will turn on. Turn the switch off and the lights will turn off but the fan will continue to run (user settable up to 60 minutes). The adjustment screw is on the face of the wall switch, but will be behind the cover plate, so once you set it you won't have to think about it again. You can also use a conventional timer switch but unless you get the $40 electronic switch you will be annoyed by the ticking of the basic $18 switch. I suggest spending $40 on the timer delay switch and end all worries. If the fan is quiet enough to begin with then it won’t be an issue when it comes on along with the light every time you enter the bathroom. I would suggest wiring the fan up with the main light you turn on when you enter the room. It is not necessary to connect it to every light in the bathroom.

There are a few other factors to consider such as appearance, air suction (CFM), options such as heater and light. Some fans do not have a light and some have both a light and heat lamp. I stay away from the units that have every option because they seam to be noisy and lower quality units. The inline fans are nice because the round ceiling register is only 6” in diameter and blends in nicely with the ceiling. The register can also be adjusted to allow for different air flows. This would be important if you had a large bathroom with two or more registers. When you have multiple registers you sometimes need to adjust them individually so they don’t whistle or make noise. This is because the ducts tend to be different lengths leading to the registers and unbalanced air flow can lead to excess noise.

Whatever fan you choose you need to make sure that the exhaust is vented directly to the outdoors and not into the attic space. This could lead to excess humidity in the attic which translates into mold and condensation. Many novices use the flexible white dryer vent which is a no-no. It is critical to use insulated ductwork in the attic because the warm moist air that is being exhausted could condense in cold un-insulated ductwork and turn into water which will end up finding its way back into the bathroom in the form of drips.

Here are a few final tips to improve the performance of your fan. Check the gap under the bathroom door. There should be about ½” space under the door to allow air from the rest of the house to enter the bathroom. If there isn’t adequate air entering the bathroom from the rest of the house then the fan will not be able to pull the moist air out of the bathroom. This is called make-up air and is often overlooked. Also keep the register clean and free of dust. The sign of a properly operating fan will be an accumulation of dust around the register. You can remove the register and rinse it off or vacuum it off. If you are not sure how well your fan is working try one of these two tricks. Take a single sheet of toilet paper and hold it up to the register. If the fan is working properly it will hold the tissue tight against the grille when you let go. You can also puff some baby powder into the air next to the register and a good fan will instantly suck all the powder out of the air.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Strange Last Voyage

I was going to write about ice dams today but as timely as this subject is around New England, I thought it might be a bit boring for people outside of New England. The truth is, I am so anxious to get out on the local ponds to start largemouth fishing again. I have had several invitations to go ice-fishing now that we have 8 inches of ice to stand on. After hearing of the Lake Erie ice tragedy yesterday I am not too sure I will be ice-fishing any time soon. The fishing part sounds fun but the thought of not being able to feel my extremeties has little appeal to me and the only thing I am likely to catch is a cold.

I have never owned my own boat (except a 13 foot canoe) so I cannot truly appreciate what goes into owning a boat, caring for it, the navigation tricks and the cost of ownership. This has not kept me from reading some good books related to boats and sailing. Wooden Boats by Michael Ruhlman was a gem and The Last Navigator by Steve Thomas (yes the same person who hosted This Old House for years) had me fascinated with how ancient sailors could navigate at night with nothing more than the stars and wind and no compasses or charts. My senior production manager at Meadowview Construction has always had a fascination with wooden boats and when I first hired Dan he was in the middle of hand-building a cedar/mahogany sea kayak which is a work of art. His love of wooden boats progressed to a larger wooden boat built in the 1960's complete with original trailer, outboard and fish finder. Some day I would like to build my own wooden boat and now that we have the shop space I have no excuses.

Last week I just finished a good read titled The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst at the suggestion of one of my favorite clients and it certainly got me thinking. In 1968, Donald Crowhurst set out from England in his untested trimaran, a competitor in the first singlehanded nonstop around-the-world sailboat race. Eight months later, the boat was found in mid-Atlantic with no one on board. Crowhurst's logs and diaries revealed that, although he had radioed messages from his supposed round-the-world course, he had in fact never left the Atlantic. What he did was hide in the South Atlantic to avoid the main shipping lanes in order to keep from being exposed. The voyage started out with the best of intentions and confidence as Crowhurst thought he prepared to handle what was ahead of him only to find out that he grossly miscalculated. I see many parallels with Crowhurst's story and today's business economic climate. It seems that there are many businesses today sailing in circles out in the South Atlantic trying to weather the storm until it is safe to head back to the home port. Survival is on every business owners' minds today. I wonder if some of us would be better off radioing in for help every now and then instead of circling around with our ragged sails trying to JUST survive. I am most certain that Crowhurst had wished he'd turned back when he discovered that he made a mistake. Instead he continued forward, his lies getting bigger and bigger, and struggled with his dishonesty the remainder of the voyage. Ultimately he and his family both paid the price as he deprived his family the chance to share the rest of their life with him. Don't be afraid to ask for help with your strange voyage.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ice Ice Baby

.....and I am not referring to the song by Vanilla Ice from 1990. I took my first ride this morning up around Southern New Hampshire and was shocked at all the damaged and toppled trees everywhere. See this youtube video clip to get an idea what it looked like the day it hit. On my way to look at a cool kitchen project in Atkinson, this is the first thing that caught my attention and I had honestly forgotten that just a month ago that area experience a legendary ice storm that crippled that region and left it without power for 11 days. My electrician who is from Plaistow (who ironically had no power either) got called out to restore power for over 60 homeowners after their electrical service was ripped off the house by a fallen tree and is still waiting to collect some money from all the insurance companies. Can you say "credit line"? This is one argument for accepting credit cards if you own a company, especially for times like these where people are desperate for the repairs but may not have the cash on hand. My friend is a representative over at Heartland Payment Systems and I am seriously thinking of accepting credit cards soon as an alternative payment solution for our clients. What electrician or trades person has time to sit down and send out 60 invoices on the day they work for someone? The answer is not many. For many small companies with no office staff to handle the billing they were forced into spending the daylight hours out in the field handling the emergencies instead of handling the emergency back in the office of collecting $$$. As a business owner, I struggle with this every week in trying to balance doing the actual work and asking for the money to pay for it. The work is far more fun so inevitably I end up favoring the fun work and procrastinate the billing. Not good if you are a small business and you depend on the cash flow from one job to carry you to the next.
I suspect this situation will probably put many small companies out of business as they struggle to pay their bills with no money coming in. Undoubtedly, much of the work was probably covered by homeowners' insurance so the home owners are still probably fighting to see some money from them which then can be turned over to the electricians, carpenters, roofers and tree trimmers. It is an unfortunate event which at the time seems like a gold mine. Time will tell how it shakes out.
Here at home (Meadowview Construction) we are getting our share of calls these past few weeks from home owners who are experiencing major roof leaks due to ice dams. This is a subject that I could dedicate several blogs to so I will defer it to tomorrow's blog. Let me just end by saying that most ice dams are a perfect storm consisting of heat in the house and poorly insulated/ventilated attics.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Green Study Group

On Wednesday of this week I participated in the first of 12 weekly study group meetings that will focus on becoming a Green Certified Professional (GCP). You may be wondering what is a GCP. In the world of Green there are several official designations which relate to being recognized as practicing Green within a certain system of checks and balances. Most people in the home related industry have heard of LEED certified and there are several others although not as popular as LEED. You can see some of the others at this Design Green Construction website.

I think it mostly relates to being held accountable so that builders don't falsely claim to be performing green work. When a builder falsely claims to be doing green work or when a company represents its products as being green or eco-friendly when they really aren't, it is considered Green-Washing. Although having a GCP designation next to my name may not be as widely recognized as being a LEED-AP, the main benefit that I can see is that my knowledge will be verified by an independent organization ensuring that I have the knowledge needed for the job.
The study group will be hosted by the Sterritt Lumber company in Watertown and is facilitated by the local NARI chapter. Two certified contractors (Paul Morse and Daniel Glickman) will be leading the study group and I look forward to spending the next 11 weeks with some of my peers in the industry. At the end of the 12 week study group I will have the option to actually take the GCP exam which, if I pass, will mean that I am officially certified. Until then I guess I am just a wanna-be GCP, or just plain certifiable.

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