Samples from the Book

We want you to get a feel for the level of detail and quality of the material in Working With Your Contractor, as well as the presentation style.  Below are some typical excerpts from the book.

Sample Text from Chapter Eight

The chapters are a "user manual" or coach to guide you through your construction project.

What to do if you don’t like confrontation

Many people dread confrontation and may feel that it is easier to give in than to risk being in such a situation. In a construction project, you will be involved with a decision making process that will have negotiations of some kind. Be prepared for this, and do not be afraid of the process.

We recommend that you not label this confrontational; instead, call these types of discussions information gathering sessions. If this is your approach, most of the elements that would possibly lead to dispute will be softened. Instead of having to disagree with someone, simply say that you had a different understanding and need to have more information in order for you to better understand how to address the issue fairly. This approach will almost always defuse any type of tension.

Please remember that it is your time and money. Do not cave in to demands you are not comfortable with. Most quality contractors would not want you to do this either, because these types of decisions will introduce distrust in a relationship that will not be helpful in the long run.

Sample Tip from Chapter One

Throughout the book, the author offers tips and procedures to help your designing and building process proceed more smoothly. Here's one, excerpted from the first chapter:

  • Almost all construction projects are "additive" in nature. Usually, rough construction for structure, plumbing pipes, electric lines, etc. all have to be in place prior to finishes being installed. If the finish isn’t known during the rough construction times, certain finishes or details can become quite expensive to add to the project. Most of the time, a finish detail may require that a rough detail be accomplished in a certain way. If you are thinking about a specific finish and all of the related rough construction is not properly in place, this finish detail may be costly to transform into reality. Of course if the finish or detail is known ahead of time, this isn’t an issue.

Chapter Three Summary

At the end of each chapter is a summary of the main points of the chapter- this serves as a review of the material and will help you retain the information better. Here is the end of How Contractors Actually Work.
  • All contractors are project managers who coordinate labor and material to make a project complete, in accordance with the decisions made in the course of the project.
  • All contractors will accomplish the project on the basis of how they understand the project requirements and the tasks will be accomplished from this specific project planning. This means that the contractor will set up the project schedule and task list thinking about the individual talents of the people who will be doing the work. This also means that if you change the project requirements, you alter the tasks that have already been communicated.
  • It is reasonable to expect that contracting firms of similar size will accomplish the same project using different approaches. This is normal, and this variance in approach occurs with the most competent contractors.
  • Projects have a tendency to run for distinct time periods, and because contractors are human, life issues can have an effect on their performance over this period of time. Maintain contact with your project on a regular basis.
  • Communicate in writing as much as possible so that misunderstandings are minimized. Verbal communications on a project are dangerous, unless the project is quite simple or short in duration.
  • There are many different issues involved with a project. Be careful of making assumptions that things will be completed in a way that you have not clearly requested. There are many different ways to construct.
  • Do not simply count on building codes to make sure that you are building what you want. Building codes are only minimum standards for construction.
  • An effective way to work with a contractor is to make sure that you treat them as part of a team. Work to communicate that you respect the pride that they have in their work.
  • Contractors make money on the basis of their time. Use them in an efficient way, and you will be in your rights to ask for pricing that reflects this. You will most likely have improved value for your own time and money.

Sample Appendix Excerpt

There are a large number of appendices that expand the chapter text from concept to practice, offering details and concrete examples of actual projects and experiences.

What You Need to Know About Specifications

In this appendix you will find:

  • General overview about how specifications are organized and what should be in specifications.
  • Four Samples of what different types of specifications that you can copy and change for your own use (A complete set of sample specs are downloadable from the book web site).
  • A general list of an industry standard organization for describing construction projects.
  • A detailed list of specification categories for you to use as a check list for your project

General overview of specifications
The success of your project is quite dependent on the quality of the information that you can provide your contractor about what it is that you require. The more definition you provide, the more precise the contractor can be with the project costs and duration time. Much design information can be provided with drawings, but almost all projects benefit more from high quality specifications.

Specifications are generally organized in a format based on an industry standard, set up by an organization called The Construction Specifications Institute, or CSI for short. This organization is made up of contractors, architects, specification writers, and even some construction librarians. These people have worked together over the course of many years to arrive at an industry standard that works for many different types of projects.

The way the specifications are organized is quite important, as it provides you with an organizational format for your entire project. As architects, we typically request that the contractors provide us with pricing using the same organization (see Appendix C), and we typically use the same to track project costs (see Appendix J).

Actually, we generally use a modified CSI format for most of our residential and small commercial projects. Most architects and contractors modify the CSI format for their particular purposes, so do not be alarmed if a contractor wants to work on your project using a slightly different approach than what is described here. Regardless of the way the work is defined, make sure that you have provided all of the information.

Your specifications should be written in as simple language as possible so that everyone will understand what it is that you require. The specifications need to include information about:


Sample Glossary Entry
We explain not only the basic definition, but expand to inlude the context & usage of the term, and how it might affect your project. Our goal is to have these definitions prep you so you can:

Generically, allowance is a place-holder in a budget or contract to represent the cost of an item that has not been completely defined. An example of this could be bath floor tile. You may not know exactly which tile you will be using in a project, but you know that this will cost something. Typically you have an idea how much tile you will need from the floor space it’s covering. The contractor provides an allowance either by unit price or by a total amount. If there is 100 square feet of tile, the contractor may provide an allowance of $5.00 per square foot, or $500.00 total, for tile.
This is a term used in many contractor agreements, and most people don’t understand that the term can have multiple meanings. An allowance can be for material only, which means that it is a material allowance. An allowance can also apply for both material and labor. Therefore, it is important to be clear about two things:

What kind of allowance is it? The allowance can be a material allowance (meaning that installation is included as a separate number in the contract), or if it is an installed allowance (including all related costs, including labor and materials), at the time of the contract agreement.
What are the quantities that the allowance number is based on? Many times contractors do not include enough quantities in the allowance, but you should not assume that this inaccuracy is intentional. Sometimes this is due to what type of actual material the contractor is assuming or the way that material is installed. An example of this is a standard floor tile set with a diagonal pattern, which typically uses slightly more material than other layouts. If that contractor is not aware of this potential pattern approach when calculating the quantities, the resulting bid may not include enough material.

Webpendix(TM) Consumer "Bill of Rights" - a different approach

The Webpendix will supply a variety of supplements and goodies to augment your understanding and skills. Here's one concept presented in a different light...

In our culture in the United States, we have been trained to believe that we have certain rights, and this is certainly true in the way contractors do their work and interact with you. The issue not readily acknowledged is that
                     contractors can rarely do their work
                     without information and decisions
                     from the people they are working for.

This is the difference between purchasing a product and using a management service, which is primarily what a contractor is.


You have the right to:

  • Feel comfortable and not be intimidated
  • Ask questions and be informed

You are obligated to:

  • Communicate clearly in a timely manner, and in a respectful way
  • Listen to the answers and make sure that you understand what is being said

complete text of this section


Sample Webpendix(TM) Excerpt
There's just too much information to print in one book, plus we want you to have easy access to extract and modify for your own needs all the lists and forms we offer you. Each table or chart is downloadable in your choice of formats:  Acrobat PDF, Microsoft WORD(tm) .DOC,  or plaint text (.txt). Some spreadsheets are available in Microsoft Excel format. Plus we present a large number of useful links for additional internet resources.

Here's a brief example of the Webpendix's goodies - an example of a progress (mid-project) payment request made by the contractor.

requisition  is an industry term for an invoice.  It is a request by the contractor for payment from the owner.  These requisitions are typically made on a regular basis and indexed by number and date.

For this example, this requisition is the first after some of the work had been completed in the first four weeks, in alignment with the payment schedule agreed-on in the original contract.  Note that the contractor is a bit behind the original schedule as shown in the book's Appendix E, mostly due to weather-related issues.

The contract had a $5,000 down payment at the time of contract signing.

Sample Webpendix(TM) Excel Spreadsheets Excerpts

You'll be blown away by the thoroughness and detail included in these spreadsheets throughout the webpendix. Perhaps the most valuable one is the Bid Pricing Blank Template to help you list all possible items that might come up for contractor line item costs.   But "Blank" it is not!    In addition to the lists of line item topics, the spreadsheet has the columns linked with formulas, and a plethora of comments explaining what each line item includes and references similar items that are to be placed in other categories. You add (but this has most everything including the kitchen sink) or delete items to fit your project and the contractor fills in the prices.

Although its intended purpose is for bid pricing, you can easily make use of it as:

Here's just a tiny portion of the bid spreadsheet (ready for you to download and fill in):

Punch List Steps Excerpt:

If these samples have convinced you that this jam-packed book and Webpendix is for you, click here:


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