Renovating and Remodeling in the Area - Block Island
Just seven years after the pilgrims’ famous landing at Plymouth Rock, a man named Adriaen Block visited a small island off the coast of Rhode Island. Whether he was a modest fellow or not is lost to the ages, but he at least thought enough of himself to give the island his name — Block Island. That was in 1617.
It wasn’t until 1661, however, that colonists actually established a settlement there. Eleven years later, it was incorporated as the town of New Shoreham. And for the next 200 years, the island’s residents lived a rather quiet and isolated life, fishing in the harbors and growing what they could in the sandy soil.
The Age of Steam changed all that. Easy, quick and affordable boat travel transformed Block Island from a remote fishing village to a popular summer vacation destination. Grand, sprawling hotels were built to accommodate those wishing to escape the din and clatter of daily life.
In many ways, things haven’t changed much since those halcyon days of the 19th century. For many, a visit to Block Island feels like a trip into the past. Even today, only about a thousand people call the island their permanent home. If you’re one of them and are thinking of remodeling or renovating your home, here are some things to consider.
Will you need a building permit to do your renovating or remodeling project? It’s likely you will. In Rhode Island, all projects that create a new structure or structurally modify an existing structure require a permit. This includes remodeling work and exterior additions such as decks, detached garages, roofing, sheds, siding, swimming pools, and temporary structures. Most electrical, plumbing, and mechanical work requires a special permit as well.
To get a permit, you need to file a completed application along with any required documentation with the local building department. You’ll also need to pay a permit fee when you file your application. There is no preset cost for permits; fees are based on the cost of the construction, the finished size of the structure or a combination of the two. Inspection fees are also required each time the project is reviewed by a Rhode Island building inspector.
When completing the application for a permit, you’ll need to provide information such as the following:
- Description of the work to be performed
- Type of improvement (new, addition, modification)
- Proposed use (garage, carport, swimming pool, fireplace, etc.)
- Lot dimensions
- Dimensions and square footage, if a new structure or addition
- Distance from property line, if a new structure or addition
- Estimated cost of material and labor
- Whether the property is in a flood hazard area
- Contractor information, including address, registration number and expiration date
Finding a Contractor
If you’ve ever worked with a building contractor, you probably have a definite opinion about the experience. While some contractors are honest, hardworking business people, others are less than reliable, don’t honor their original estimate and, worst of all, do shoddy work. Of course, every company will tell you it’s the best in the business, but how do you know for sure? Getting a good contractor doesn’t have to be just a roll of the dice. Due diligence in this area is well worth the effort. Here are a few things you should do.
If you have friends or family in Rhode Island — and particularly on Block Island — ask them. Have they had any work done on their homes? Whom did they use? Were they happy with the results? Would they hire the contractor again? If the person simply says, “Sure, they did a good job,” ask more questions. What did they like and dislike about the company and the work they did? Did they show up on time each day? Were they respectful of the home and property? Was the work completed on time? Did the original estimate match the final cost of the project? Usually, the local real estate agent is a great resource for referrals. They live on Block Island, they know the contractors!
Talk to several contractors before you hire one. And remember — you’re in the driver’s seat. Look at it like a job interview, and you’re the one hiring. Ask lots of questions. What will the work schedule be, and how long will it take to complete the project? How many workers will be involved? Will the contractor take care of getting all the necessary permits? What arrangements do they have for cleaning up at the end of the workday? Every company has its own approach, personality and methods. You need to find one you’re comfortable with.
Be sure to ask about the contractor’s availability. This includes when they can start and how many days per week they can devote to your project. It’s an important point, as some contractors may be booked out for weeks or even months, or they may have a lot of irons in the fire already. If you can wait, no problem. But if you’d like to get started — and finished — as soon as possible, a contractor’s busy schedule may be a dealbreaker.
Ask the contractor for references, and then check them. Of course, a company isn’t going to give you a list of unhappy or unsatisfied customers. Even so, speaking with former customers — and looking at the work that was done, if they allow you to — can be very enlightening. This could be the deciding factor in either hiring or passing on a contractor. Some contractors, such as electricians and plumbers, must be licensed in the state of Rhode Island. General contractors do not need to be licensed but must be registered with the state. It is entirely appropriate to ask for license and registration information.
Check online reviews as well as the Better Business Bureau. Of course, a few bad reviews could just be the result of impossible-to-please customers, but a lot of bad reviews or a poor BBB rating is a big red flag telling you to move on.
Doing It Yourself
These days, you can find instructional books and videos on just about anything in the area of home remodeling and renovation. Do you want to build an addition? Upgrade a bathroom or kitchen? Add a backyard shed? Install a deck or patio? If you have the time, are handy with tools and possess a little bit of know-how, you can do it yourself. It could be a fun and enjoyable project for the whole family, and something you’ll take pride in for years to come.
Depending on the size of the project, you can check home improvement stores for the materials you’ll need, or you may need to go to a contractor’s supply company. Don’t forget to find out what permits you need, and obtain them before you begin any work.