By Francie Healy

She hired him because he was in her circle of acquaintances. She knew him pretty well; she figured he’d do a good job.

But Mary (not her real name, at her request) discovered there are two ways to renovate a bathroom.

Hers was the wrong way.

She had visions of a shiny new space. She could hardly wait to see it.  But all she saw was mess, dirt, and an irritating pile of tools taking root in the middle of the floor.

She asked the “renovator” repeatedly when he’d come back to finish what he started. He’d promise Tuesday; she’d stay home and wait for him. He didn’t show up. Then all of a sudden, early Sunday morning, she’d hear the doorbell ring. Still in her pyjamas, trying to have her first cup of coffee, she’d go to the door. There he was, ready to work.

“He was like a bad boyfriend,” she said. But he was charming. She had known him a long time. She figured she could trust him.

In his case trust wasn’t even the issue. It was the incredible annoyance of having someone around who didn’t do what he said he’d do, who was messy or who worked so slowly and sporadically that she finally had to send him packing.

At the time, Mary had “absolutely no idea” about RenoMark™. She found out when she lucked into a first-class renovator who stood by the RenoMark™ code of ethics.

John Liptak, President of Oakwood Renovation Experts, hears this all the time. It’s why he’s so determined to make sure the word gets out about the reliable, accountable standard of excellence in the renovation industry.

He and Patricia Liptak were instrumental in bringing RenoMark™ to Ottawa, and they are among some of its most impassioned spokespeople.

“Finally we have a standard that homeowners can look for,” he says. But it’s not enough, he adds. Not nearly enough.

Standards in the renovation industry are like the “wild, wild West,” he says. “It’s a terrible situation.” Terrible because there is no certification and no government requirement for renovators to be licensed. Electricians, plumbers and engineers all have to prove certification. But renovators can be anybody – Joe Schmoe down the lane, anyone.

“When Nortel collapsed a few years back,” he says, “there were suddenly about 200 more renovators in Ottawa.” You can be out of a job, hang up your shingle, and demand huge prices whether you can do the job or not. “You can pretend you’re just as good as the real renovators.”

Most of them don’t even last two years, he says.

RenoMark™ renovators are held to the highest industry standards. They have to do the big things – carry $2 million liability insurance and enforce strict workplace safety – and the smaller things that give you comfort: they pledge to call you back within two business days, for instance.

In addition to insurance, safety and courtesy, they must:

  • Give you a detailed written contract for all jobs, big or small
  • Provide a minimum two-year warranty on all work except minor repair
  • Carry the proper licences and permits
  • Keep their worksite organized and safe
  • Be a member in good standing of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) and abide by the GOHBA Code of Ethics.
  • Stay current, through consistent and continuing education, in their professional knowledge of building codes, permit procedures and technical skills.

Until renovators are licensed, John says, RenoMark™ at least brings credibility to the industry. It’s not a true certification, but it is an accreditation, a code of ethics.

“And there’s nothing else out there,” he says. “This is the very best there is in the industry.”

He says there are about 1,600 renovators in Ottawa but only about 40 of them are registered with RenoMark™ – or in other words, only 40 who are truly “safe”. Sadly, he says, many people go with the cheapest bid and often end up paying much more.

Oakwood makes a point of marketing RenoMark™ along with all they do. The logo goes on everything from Oakwood brochures to t-shirts to trucks. John, who is on the steering committee of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association Renovations Council, says the council approved the production of a video about RenoMark™ that is expected to be widely available online.

“We’re taking it to the next level,” he says.

At the moment, RenoMark™ renovators are the “elite of the elite”, he explains. These are the people who take their work “extremely seriously” and do everything it takes to protect quality and reputation.

Among the “elite” is a small sub-community of renovators who help each other when they can. If renovators are overworked and one has a particular expertise in an area – for instance, kitchens and bathrooms – they’ll call on that renovator, knowing they can fully trust the kind of job they’ll do for the client. RenoMark™ is a “good program among peers,” he adds.

It might have a way to go yet before it becomes a household name. “But it’s better known by far than ever before,” he says.