Home Improvement


Question  No. 1

Hi Robert,

I’m an avid reader of your article though I don’t live in the area. My daughter does live in town and when I visit on the weekends I read your article, otherwise she saves them for me to catch up on. I’ve certainly learned a lot over time, and enjoy the information that you share.

My husband and I are doing something that we’ve never done before — we’re adding to our home, including a second level.

We started with an architect who did the drawings, and took them to a contractor that we liked and who had a good reputation, and got our price. We then submitted them to the city who made a whole bunch of changes.

Now the contractor tells us that the price will change because plan check made corrections. Is the contractor not bound to his original bid to do the work even though the city made some corrections? He looked at the plans and should know about corrections, right? We want to be fair, but don’t want to be taken advantage of, either. What is your opinion?

Linda C.


I have several opinions on this.

If there are many corrections, perhaps the architect may not be well-versed and the problem may lie in the architect who you chose. This is why the city is there, to check on those planning the project and making sure that all plans are following city guidelines and local codes.

The contractor is not responsible for omissions of the architect, although I do wonder why he bid the work prior to you getting them through plan check so he could accurately bid on an approved plan — perhaps you were just asking for a preliminary number to work with.

In our company, we will typically bid on an approved plan, so that we are not putting folks through what you’re going through now.

Legally your contractor is not bound since he didn’t receive monies, and if he is reputable and recommended, you may want to continue with him. Please be sure before anything else though, that you check the status of his license, and ask him to have his insurance documents sent to you directly from his agent, making sure that he is fully covered for general liability and worker’s compensation.

You need to be sure that you are working with someone who is fully insured, in case of any incidents. This step is the most important step in the process, I can guarantee it.

Be sure to not pay the final amount at the end, until you are sure that you have final inspection signed off with the city, and all work has been performed to your liking, including clean up.

You aren’t obligated to pay until all parts of the agreement have been satisfied.

Good luck to you,


Question No. 2


I live in town and would like to put tile on my fireplace which currently has drywall and texture. Do I need to put any type of board down first or can I install this right onto the drywall? A photo is included for your review, and the tile is textured but flat. I’m pretty handy and know I can do this but just want to make sure that I’m not missing an important step in the process.

John N.


This is a great project for the do-it-yourselfer. No need to take off anything or add any additional board or drywall, you’ll just need to rough up the current surface, so that the thinset will have something to grab on to.

Take a utility knife and cut grooves (horizontally) into the current drywall, and this will be what the thin set can adhere to. The process is simple after that; rent your tile saw if necessary and be sure to wear safety glasses, and use caution with your hands.

Begin with a dry fit to start, beginning in the center and working your way out, so you know where your cuts will need to be.

Once this is figured out then begin by setting the tiles with the thinset. After it’s dried for 24 hours you can then add any grout.

Be sure to use a level throughout the install as this will give you the most accurate layout along with measuring your cuts. This is a pretty straight forward project and is a great one if you’ve never laid tile before.

Good luck,


Question No. 3


I live in Canyon Country and have a dispute with my neighbor regarding a block wall that we share, and a large palm tree that is in my neighbor’s yard right at the wall.

She keeps saying that this palm tree only has a root ball, but the wall as you can see in the pictures, is cracking and lifting.

She said this tree isn’t the problem, and couldn’t be the issue, because of the type of roots that this palm has. I disagree and believe that this is, in fact, the cause, as there’s nothing else near that could be causing this. Which one of us is correct on this?

Anne S.


Your neighbor is, in fact, incorrect.

Trees of any kind are destructive to block walls, foundations and structures, when in this proximity to any of those. I have no doubt that this tree is the cause of the wall issue and do believe that this wall is salvageable at this point, but if the tree is not removed, you are looking at the footing snapping at some point, and that wall will come down. Unfortunately many people plant trees for aesthetics at the time, but may not be knowledgeable enough to think ahead at what the tree will be like full size, and what it could do to nearby items such as this wall. Hopefully your neighbor will agree after seeing this information, though you may need to have another professional on site to also give their opinion. Good luck, neighbor issues can be difficult but usually if they hear that they’ll be responsible for the whole replacement if it’s their tree doing the damage, they’ll rethink the removal. If you are in a Homeowners Association, you may have to get the Board involved but hopefully you can work it out between you and your neighbor.

Good luck


Question No. 4


I live here in Santa Clarita and am going to throw you under the bus and ask you to be the tiebreaker between my wife and my disagreement. She recently watched an episode of a home improvement show where they did a PVC trellis or pergola and she now wants me to do something like this, using a pre-fab kit. She believes that we need to pull city permits for this project, but I say that because it’s a pre-fab kit, we don’t need city permits. What is your take on it?

Nick P.


Not knowing exactly what you’ve purchased, I cannot accurately determine who wins on this one. The trellis or pergola will need to be mounted to the ground somehow for wind shear, and the minute you start doing this it involves footings and proper securing. I would take the diagram to the building department, they are great at analyzing this stuff and they will absolutely be able to guide you on any possible permits needed for this project. The city of Santa Clarita is fantastic, they won’t charge you to speak with them on this, and you’ll then know exactly what you’re getting in to. My guess though, is that you’ll need footings and this will have to be properly secured, and the city will want to make sure of it. On that note, my best guess is yes, so get back to me and let me know the outcome.

Good luck,


Robert Lamoureux has 38 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected].

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