Book Report: ‘Screw It! I’ll Be My Own Contractor’

I think of contractors like orchestral conductors. The symphony members (subcontractors) are each experts in playing their instruments (hanging drywall, laying tile).

Still, for all their talents, these musicians or subcontractors need a conductor, a leader, someone holding the baton, to coordinate the whole effort into a beautiful symphony, or into your new house or remodel.

In my mind, good contractors have skills and abilities beyond anything the average homeowner could ever hope to possess. But not everyone wants to pay for the services of a contractor (perhaps 20% of the cost of the project). And not everyone is convinced they can find a good contractor. And for these people, self-contracting becomes the goal.

It is to these enterprising souls that William Trimble’s new book is aimed. The title — “Screw It! I’ll Be My OWN Contractor” — reflects the frustration people often feel just before setting upon this course of action.

If you have decided to travel along that road, the question here is: Will this book be a good companion on your quest?

First I’ll discuss the presentation, and then the substance. The book itself is not flashy and it appears to be self-published. There are no color photos inside, no illustrations and very few other graphic elements to break up the text. If you are a person accustomed to a certain sophistication in printed matter, this book will appear stilted and hard to grasp. This is not a book of sound bites.

As for substance, it holds up better. Trimble is a former contractor and thus understands very well the dynamics of getting a house from dream state to finished state. His perspective is miles ahead of similar types of books written by homeowners, whose anger toward contractors seeps through the pages. Trimble does not disparage contractors. He simply knows what functions they do, and can convey them to you.

The book is separated into five parts: Preliminary Concerns, Assembling Your Team, Getting Started, Keeping the Momentum and Finishing Up.

Throughout the book, Trimble presents examples of the types of documents you are likely to encounter, such as a lien waver, bid proposal, certificate of insurance and inspection card. And he explains their purpose and value to you.

Savvy about the building process is contained in the instructions he suggests you give to those bidding on parts of the job. He writes that you might receive a bid for drywall, for instance, that states: “We will hang, tape and texture the drywall for the sum of $4,500.”

What you need, however, is much more detailed. Your ideal bid should read like this:

“We will hang, tape and texture the drywall for the sum of $4,500 and will include the following:

  • 1/2-inch wall board throughout, fastened with drywall screws
  • Square metal corner bead
  • 4-way wrap at windows
  • Green board where designated in bathrooms
  • Light spray or “orange peel” texture
  • All scrap material removed and floors left clean at finish”

See how much better the bid becomes? When it comes to comparing bids, you need this type of detail to make what is known as an “apples to apples” comparison.

In my two decades of writing about remodeling, I’ve come across homeowners who really revel in this type of thing. They are super-organized, often scientists or accountants or other detail-oriented folks. And they do quite well. I don’t think their projects are as artful as one coordinated by a good contractor, but the money saved and sense of accomplishment seems to overshadow the quality of their projects.

If you decide to contract your own project, you need to absorb a lot of information beforehand. And this book could be a important part of your education.