Material Selections

As remodelers, one of our biggest challenges is material selection. We have come a long way from the days of Henry Ford when you could have your choice of colors, as long as it was black. This is an area in which, as experts in our field, we cannot remain entrenched in our methods and materials. Even a very basic kitchen or room addition involves hundreds of decisions. In order to make intelligent material selections we need to involve three areas of our businesses: our education, our team and our systems.


Education is the first priority. Educating ourselves about material selections can take many forms. Try tapping into national trade publications such as Qualified Remodeler that periodically have sections devoted to new products. Often these magazines have insights on the best applications and tips from others who have used these products. The range of topics these trade publications cover is mind-boggling.

Become active in a local NARI Chapter, most offer periodic seminars that can be a great resource to remodelers. Many of us have chosen to be certified in one or more of NARI’s certification credentials and the study group is an invaluable part of certification process as well as a great way to exchange ideas and methods. I have been involved in both the CR (Certified Remodeler) and CKBR (Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler) programs as well as the new Green Education Program) and all three have proven to be hot beds of ideas. In the CKBR program we discussed topics from cabinet construction, options available for counter surfaces, types of floor coverings, to bathroom fixtures. We also discussed general topics like cleanup and surface protection to the best techniques for installing cabinets. All of us have learned something on a multitude of topics.

We also take advantage of the trade shows that travel the nation. The educational opportunities are endless. And don’t be afraid to branch out and attend shows that could be considered specialized such as the ACI national or regional conferences or one of the many Green Building shows now being conducted. They present great opportunities to learn about new products, preview upcoming ones, and learn about new process and techniques. All of the companies that display products are anxious to answer any and all of your questions. You may even able to borrow a sample of a “just off the line item” to show a customer who had only previously seen it only in a picture. All of these opportunities are available under one roof.

Your local vendors will often provide excellent educational opportunities. Many can arrange to have manufacturers do on-site training for specific products. Many vendors will allow you to sit in on their in-house training and learn about new products. The advantage to them is that you are a more informed contractor selling their products to your customers. The advantage to you is you stand out as someone who knows more about your field.

Many local lumberyards offer seminars, ours even throws in pizza. They present new products as well as re-educate attendees on items used every day. It’s a great partnership and can often be sponsored by the manufacturer.

The Internet is another tool you should be familiar with and use often, your clients will. Almost all major suppliers have web sites that will offer general information. Many times I have run across something on a plan or in a spec and have been able to find a source online without even leaving my desk. You will also find that some manufacturers provide websites that provided product specific education that in some cases qualify for NARI CEUs.

Though a great resource, I would caution against using specific information gleaned from the Internet to build by, simply because you don’t know how often the site is updated and how current the model numbers are.

Our Team

The second key area is making sure our team understands the material selection process. The worst thing for us is for one of our team or trade contractors to find out about a new product is in front of a new client as the client explains the latest features of an appliance to you. Worse yet is being asked if you have ever heard of this new green something and your answer is a blank look of surprise.

Make sure your employees and trade contractors are informed and ready to install that new “moon beam log lighter” for Mrs. Jones. In order to offer new and innovative products to your clients, you need to have trade contractors and employees that can deliver. It is our job to ensure that they are not so entrenched with the “this is how we have always done it” way of thinking that that they are unwilling or unable to try something new.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everything new is good and the old way is bad. However, as the saying goes the only constant today is change, being open to change and be able to adapt new products to old houses is the prime requirement for success.

Our Systems

The last key ingredient to our material selection process is the development of our systems. On a daily basis we face questions on cabinet finishes, door styles, fixture selections and countertop choices, just to name a few. What are some of the ways to manage this kind of information? The CKBR program material can give you a great start at a list to use as you review a project. It covers a number of the decisions that need to be made in the planning process. These areas include, but are not limited to, special features, eating areas, appliances, sinks, faucets, floors and electrical fixtures.

With software spreadsheet tools like Microsoft Excel, we can create lists that automatically calculate prices and require little in the way of adding and subtracting. This is a great tool that can be as simple or as complex as we need. In addition, many computer aided design (CAD) packages not only will provide a complete list of take offs but provided an estimate as well.

Most estimating software programs and some CAD programs have catalogs that can be shaped to fit your companies offerings. The point is to find a system that works, and then fine-tune it into a money-making machine for your company. None of us like to look back at our job cost and see material that we donated to our customers.

Proceed to the test