General Contracting? "We can do that Ourselves!"


The general contractor is responsible for the liability, ordering building materials, and importantly keeping the entire construction project on schedule and within budget.  The general contractor hires and schedules all subcontractors.  Examples are: Framing, Electrical, HVAC, and Plumbing, these are only a few.  Any problem that arises rests on the shoulder's of the general contractor to delegate and solve.  A misstep in building code, lack of trade knowledge, an unfortunate subcontractor hire, can all spell disaster for a project.  We've personally seen this train wreck happen, and everything is affected!   A homeowner must be very careful when taking this position on.  

Helpful Hints

  • Experience is required and watching an entire season of "Flip this House" will not help. 
  • Some contractors are not interested in coaching a homeowner that is not willing to pay for their service & expertise as the general contractor.  
  • A homeowner can turn the best contractors away who wish to general the project themselves and have no idea of the process.






Composite Decking Conundrum

A lot of people ask what is the cost difference between at treated deck and a composite deck. Here is the rough answer using a treated deck as the base.  

  • A cedar deck is 2 times the price of a treated deck
  • An entry level composite deck is 5 times more than treated
  • High end composite is 6-7 times more than treated.

Capped PVC Decking

Capped PVC is the forerunner in composite decking.  It is relatively maintenance and problem free.  Composite is explained as the mixture of several materials to form a new one.  Composite deck materials are a mixture of wood and plastic fibers extruded in the form of boards or railings.  First generation composites would see mold growth and fade issues because the tiny wood particles were still exposed on the face, however these composites were temperature stable (little shrink and contract).  Capped deck products have recently took over.  They offer the best of both worlds: the stable wood and composite core and the durable PVC mold and stain proof cover.  The difference between low and and high end decking is really color, one will not out last the other.  Entry level deck boards are usually single one color boards, while high end decking has rich color variations to give the look of a tropical hardwoods.  One thing to remember, the darker the color the hotter it will get. Dark colors are the trend!  Be careful and choose lighter colors on Southern exposures so you can at least enjoy it.

Decking Companies

Everywhere you turn, a new decking company is popping up that is "the best".  At Freeborn Lumber we've realized, if this new decking company hasn't established itself at least 10 years, stay the heck away!  Minnesota winters and summers play havoc on composite decks.  These composite newcomers have undergone accelerated testing to simulate our climate, not the real thing.  What the real thing does to these decks is down right scary, I've seen off brands open up 1 inch on splice and butt joints in January.  Stick with known brands like Trex or Timbertech, we sell both because they have proven products and a valid warranty.  



Condensation gets a lot of attention during the winter months and can be a real hot button with window companies.  Sometimes it is directly related to the window but the majority of cases stems from the humidity of the structure the windows are installed in. The average R-value on the glass of a window is R-3, the R value in your wall can range between R-11 and up depending on your insulation.  The insulating ability of your wall is 4-10 times more efficient than your window.  

  • Condensation will reveal itself in well insulated homes when moisture laden air attaches to cold interior window glass.
  • Condensation will not reveal itself in poorly insulated or drafty homes, the moisture laden escapes through drafts.

What creates condensation? 

  • Cooking
  • Washing Clothes
  • Dishwasher
  • Showers/Baths
  • Humidifiers
  • People



How do I stop it?  

During a Minnesota winter condensation can only be managed, every day activities produce moisture regardless.

  • Run your bathroom fan at least 30 minutes after showers and baths, make sure the vent terminates outside and not in the soffits (natural intake brings the air into the attic)
  • If a bathroom fan is not present install one or crack the window.  Make sure the vent terminates outside not in the attic or soffit
  • Run your air exchanger (just because you have one does not mean it is running)
  • If the windows are single pane or 20+ years old it may be time for an update for something more efficient
  • Run ceiling fans to circulate air
  • Open window treatments to allow air movement near the glass

My experiment:  I have a 36x30 heated & insulated garage with 3 different brands of windows installed in it: Marvin, Integrity, and Andersen.  During the winter snow on our vehicles would melt and the moisture was literally stuck inside the structure.  It felt like a jungle inside, and all the windows condensated to the point of ice up.  The structure was too tight, I tried a large floor fan, I ran the ceiling fan nonstop, nothing helped.  Mold started populating in the corners and even on the garage doors. It was a losing battle with moisture.  

During the summer I installed an exhaust fan and this winter I have witnessed a dramatic decrease in moisture.  The droplets are barely visible. The fan is designed to run 24/7 and it does during cold or snowy periods.  The results are this: You can have the best window brand, however if the moisture is not managed problems are going to arise. 


Have you ever asked a friend after a remodel or new project, "Hey, where did you get your kitchen cabinets?"  The friend replies with a hint of arrogance, "We went with custom cabinets." Custom cabinets sound expensive and good don't they?

By definition most of the cabinetry sold in the United States is custom made for each buyer.  Custom made cabinetry is made by companies of all sizes with buildings ranging from small shops to large manufacturing facilities.  Shop size in itself does not indicate a level of quality or ability to personalize to great detail.  Quality and personalization reach their highest levels in companies that have the financial resources to acquire the finest wood-working equipment coupled with a work force that has a significant percentage of the work force experienced in creating furniture grade cabinetry.

Those companies also purchase their raw hardwood from select mills that will provide them hardwood graded above industry standards vs. “off the shelf” lumber purchases from a distributor.  From there, frames and panels are made internally rather than out-sourced to random suppliers.  Upon build completion of the cabinet components, the parts are moved into a highly regulated finishing area.  Applications of high solids industrial finishes are then applied that fulfill each customer’s paint or stain selection.  Finally, hinges and drawer glides complementing the quality built into the wood components are installed.

Because of consumers’ varying preferences in personalization and budgets, Freeborn Lumber has developed long term relationships with custom cabinet suppliers that can meet and / or exceed the desires of their customers.  This allows each client to invest in cabinetry that reflects their needs and desires.

  • Price is all relative to what options are chosen.  Before rushing to the total amount of the estimate and making your decision solely on price, stop and think why is this so cheap or why is it expensive.  Ask the dealer. Some dealers will price to get the job and surprise you later with extras, others will price actual options that will be used with your job.  Think about comparing these estimates side by side and how easily a person can be led astray by price alone.  Here are just some of the factors determining price: hardware, door style, drawer boxes, the actual cabinet box, wood species, grade of wood.
  • Finish is everything!  If there is a place where a cabinet manufacturer leaves a custom shop in the dust it's in the finish.  The best comparison is using a spray can to paint your car versus going to an auto body shop.  Lacquer is primarily used in custom shops.  A catalyzing finish is used by cabinet manufacturers.  Lacquer cures by air, a catalyzed finish cures by chemical reaction and heat.  Catalyzed finishes are applied in technologically controlled environment, while lacquer is applied in a spray booth.  A catalyzed finish is your automotive finish and lacquer is the spray can from the hardware store.
  • Hardware: A great place to get caught when choosing the low bid.  Hardware can vary from a $5 set of drawer glides to a $50 set.  The $5 set is no different than what comes with the DIY furniture from any box store.  Imagine paying top dollar for Rustic Cherry cabinets, only to find the drawers and doors were fitted with cheap hardware to beat out another competitor. Beautiful cabinets that operate like a 9th grade shop project.  It Happens!!
  • Little things  Look at the drawer boxes, are they dovetailed hardwood or white particle board screwed together? It is another corner that is easy to cut and that means less money.   
  • Time frame:  What is the time frame?  Being without a kitchen especially when remodeling is crippling


I've heard it time and time again from customers and even our own people, "Warranties aren't worth the paper they're printed on!"

When they don't go as expected, that is always the rebuttal.  The point is all companies have to start and stop somewhere, and being able to understand the fine print will divert you away from a surprise. 


  • An install error is not a warranty claim!  Make sure you or the builder has read the directions on installation.  About 50% of the warranty claims are rejected because the installer attempted to improve on the manufacturers install method. 
  • An install error is not a warranty claim!  Repeated for a reason!!  
  • Warranties protect the consumer from manufacturing defects.  A product failure does not mean as the end user is allowed to choose the solution they want.  Warranties typically state what the manufacturer will do at their discretion.  "Their discretion" is very import terminology, or in other words the company will replace or have an alternative to fix the problem.  These are the rules they have set and will follow even if you do not like the solution.

  • Many warranties cover MATERIALS ONLY.

  • A few warranties cover everything.  A manufacturer that has a tested product may have a warranty that covers product and labor for a certain time period.  This is a highly advertised selling point.  

  • Installation is Acceptance. If a product has a noticeable defect do not install it.  The product will be replaced.  Who will pay to tear out the defective one?  Who will pay to install the right one? 

  • CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT  Something has gone wrong with a product or service and the damage is affecting a large group of people.  An important thing to remember with a class-action is that the company with the failed product has been to court.  A judge has already awarded money to be dispersed to its class members based on quantities purchased.  This money has been placed in escrow and is to be used to cover the expense of the defective product.  The process is handled by an administrator that may or not be affiliated with the original company.  With a class-action you must prove you are a class member.  This will be made evident by filing proper paperwork, documentation of ownership, and photographs.  These steps eliminate fraud.  Again these are the rules, attempting to fight on a predetermined settlement is a losing battle.  IMPORTANT: A cashed check is an agreement to the settlement.  The consumer has agreed to that amount and cannot reopen the case.

  • Minimum-maintenance.  Periodically you must clean the product.  Use what the manufacturer suggests.  In extreme cases using the wrong cleaner can void a warranty!

  • Pay attention to what will void a warranty.  Example: Having a dog or cat indoors will void a floor warranty  Many times the warranty is just that straightforward.