Top 5 Most Misunderstood Remodeling Terms

That can cause chaos, frustration & potential disaster

Misunderstandings can happen long before the work does: Actual phone call, circa 2016:

Murphy Bros: “Murphy Bros. how can I help?”

Homeowner: “Yes, hi, I’d like to know if you can redo my attic in crystal.”

Murphy Bros: “That’s going to be pretty expensive, especially for an attic, and I don’t even know if you can structurally apply crystal to…”

Homeowner: “No, no, (laughter) I LIVE in Crystal.”

Murphy Bros: “Oh, well, that changes things.”

All of us during any remodeling project experience some level of frustration. Most often this is the result of misunderstandings AKA unmet expectations, whether valid or not, shared or not, realistic or not...

Homeowner: “What gives?! The schedule says your guy would be here at 9:00 am. It’s already 9:03!

Company: “We just heard he was hit by a bus, so he may be a little late.”



Take the top 5 quiz and see if you can spot what's realistic and what's not...


A. The perfect plan on a Monday that will not survive to Friday.
b. The perfect plan on a Monday that should not change, ever, period.
C. Not a performance contract.
D. A managed plan capable of handling any emergency, change, or delay and still get the job done.

If you answered ‘A’, you’re a moderately jaded project manager who has been doing this for a while. If you answered ‘B’, we are all going to be disappointed (okay, miserable). Answer ‘C’, is actually correct, and dispels the common assumption that the schedule is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Answer ‘D’ is actual reality, and when trusted, the road to true inner peace.



We know how hard it is for any plan to survive the unpredictable nature of weather, people and the unknown behind every wall. So when something on the schedule changes or doesn’t happen within the exact time frames on the calendar, DON'T PANIC. Try not to get too upset. Scream for 5 minutes, then take a deep breath and remember the schedule is a tool we use and not a tool that uses us.

We use the production schedule to coordinate dozens of people on hundreds of jobs, every day, throughout the year. It will change. There may even be a several days (see above) when people or materials aren't available to work on your job. And no we didn't go fishing and our commitment to getting the job done right is still solidly intact.




A. The Devil.
B. Used all too often out of frustration, to temporarily overcome homeowner indecision, in order to get a contract signed and a project moving forward.
C. An inadequate sum of money set aside to help homeowners temporarily avoid the eventual truth that their budget isn’t adequate.
D. A best guess sum set aside to cover what can’t be known at contract signing.
E. What was never enough when you were a kid.

Answer ‘A’ is true because of answers ‘B’ & ‘C’. Answer ‘D’ is the commonly accepted use of the term. Answer ‘E’ is true for all kids everywhere.

Most remodels have some allowances, which is basically a sum of money set aside to cover unspecified items. Why? Since remodeling is a fluid enterprise, there will always be some things that can’t be known until a wall is torn into, selections that must wait for pricing and availability to name a few. However, all too often “allowances” are over used as a license for indecision or self-delusion regarding the actual cost of things—The Devil. There is nothing worse than having your remodel (and your dreams) come to a crashing halt after weeks or months of planning because you finally have to choose between what you can afford, laminate countertops, and what you really want, Cambria.

The take away here—allowances should be the exception to the rule. If they are the rule you are probably heading for trouble.



A. The Devil’s handmaiden.
B. How you go from stained to painted cabinets with a swipe of your forefinger.
C. How you go from a basement floor update to a 10-lane bowling alley.
D. A document, which modifies the plans and specifications and/or the price of the construction contract, AFTER the contract is signed.



Answer ‘A’ is true because just as with allowances, change orders can also be abused for the same reasons. Answer ‘B’ is one of the most common change orders that can be made without significant changes to the project schedule IF MADE BEFORE the stain is applied. Answer ‘C’ is plain crazy but illustrates how important the design phase is to a low-change order remodel. ‘D’ of course is the generic industry accepted definition.

Homeowner: “I found the countertops I want, but on second thought I think the cabinets would look better painted rather than stained.”

Designer: “I see. Well, Stephanie, I can send you a digital change order through our BuilderTrend software, but per our schedule, we just got done staining them, sooo this will come close to doubling the cost and delay the project by several weeks at least.”

Homeowner: “On third thought, I think they’ll look just fine.”

Designer: “Oh, Stephanie, thy name is wisdom.”



While change orders are there to document agreed changes to the signed contract, they should be carefully considered and limited to changes that are necessary to achieve the desired goal of the remodel that could not be foreseen prior to contract. The beauty of conducting a change order with today’s technology is you can do it in a few second with your finger and your phone. Ironically, this is also the scariest thing about it because significant change orders can also impact the design, the contract and the schedule.




A. The process of discovering your favorite color is all of them.

B. The timely, collaborative efforts of building a detailed construction plan & budget reflecting your desired aesthetics, functionality and lifestyle.
C. The heroic act of trusting someone you barely know with a lot of money resulting in dramatic changes to your home you will have to live with everyday.
D. All of the above.



Answer ‘A’ describes the subjective merry-go-round most of us experience throughout the design phase. Answer ‘B’ is the realistic, generic industry standard, while ‘C’ is how it feels from a homeowner’s point of view—scary. So, ‘D’ is correct because all are in play.

Designer: “Here's the finish on the cabinets I recommend, but do you prefer the lighter or darker shading for the trim?”

Homeowner: “Yes.”

Design is that 8-12 week period, depending on the scope of the project even longer, where we, as your designer, go from fan, to player, to coach and back again, and again, and again.



We are a fan in that we share and support your dreams for what your remodel can be; player in that we collaborate with you in making decisions; and coach in directing what has to happen for it all to work out. And that takes time. In most cases quite a lot of it to create the plan, nail down the pricing and selection options. It’s a lot of work and why we cannot do it for free and remain in business. It is also why the design phase cannot go on forever in hopes of reaching perfection. For in the design/build world, perfection is the enemy of progress, while the pursuit of excellence is the antidote for both.





A. Same as a free lunch.

B. The approach used by unscrupulous contractors to gain access to your checkbook.
C. The approach used inexperienced contractors, who will be out of business very soon, along with their warranty.
D. Something worth what you paid for it.
E. All of the above.


The answer is ‘E’ of course. Nearly every inquiry phone call we get begins like this…

Murphy Bros.: “Good morning, Murphy Bros.”

Homeowner: “Oh, yes, I'd like to get an estimate for a new kitchen…”

Murphy Bros.: “No mam, I’m sorry, but we would never do that to you.”

Homeowner: “Say, what?”


The truth of the matter is the term “estimate”, which really means “free estimate”, doesn’t really work in the design/build world. It can work for simple, single product installations, like roofs or siding, but the subjective complexity we deal with in a kitchen, bath or addition remodel that must involve design work, cannot adequately be achieved with the same approach used to fix your car.

Instead, we can offer a ballpark range based on our 35 years of experience, so you can decide if you should take the next step to design. By using the “design” approach we take care of determining project scope, required resources and availabilities, actual costs and developing a budget based on detailed plans and selections. That can take dozen's if not hundreds of hours, depending on complexity, to prepare for building. Your design delivers much, much more than an estimate of guesses—it is the essential foundation of your remodel and worth every penny.



Bonus Term For Extra Credit


A. Genetically modified sheep.
B. Manufactured structural wood beam.
C. What you’ll need if your adding a bowling alley to your man cave.

Answers B & C are your best choices here. We hope answer ‘A’ will never be true for the sake of near-sighted shepherds with big feet.



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