Lawrence Walsh: Honest contractor builds a reputation

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

By Lawrence Walsh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After reading about the serious misconduct of several contractors I've written about this summer, Frank and Christine Targoss wanted to share their favorable experience with a Washington County company.

The couple, who live in Wintersville, near Steubenville, discovered a crack in a white brick wall of an addition at the rear of their home. The crack was about 1*2-inch wide and 4 feet long. It stair-stepped its way along the mortar lines to the ground. It didn't go through any of the bricks.

The Targosses called a few contractors who specialize in such work. The bids ranged from $2,000 to $10,000. They signed a contract with the lowest bidder, J & D Waterproofing Inc. of Canonsburg, and made a $400 down payment.

Jim Noga, a company foreman, and his helper, Jerry Prevost, both of Langloth near Burgettstown in Washington County, arrived on Aug. 12 to do the work. Christine Targoss, 56, a retired advertising account manager, showed them where the problem was.

"[Noga] said the crack didn't appear to be through the concrete block," she said. "But there didn't appear to be any way for him to check because there's just an inaccessible crawl space under the addition."

Fortunately, there was a ventilation opening on the opposite wall. Noga removed the vent, used a flashlight to scan the concrete block wall and said he had good news. It wasn't cracked.

After checking with his office, Noga said he and Prevost would remove the cracked mortar and replace it at a cost of $200. A delighted Christine Targoss told them to go ahead.

"It was a pleasant surprise, especially since the other companies we contacted wanted to do an extensive amount of work," she said. "One contractor wanted to pour a new footer and install a steel beam."

"The honesty of this crew needs to be applauded," said Frank Targoss, 60, a counselor at West Virginia Northern Community College in Weirton. "We very well could have spent anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 and been none the wiser. We thank J & D Waterproofing and their crew for their honesty and integrity."

I called company owner Joseph W. Billante and asked him if that was any way to do business.

"Absolutely," he said with a laugh. "Sometimes the damage isn't as bad as it looks."

Billante said his parents, Joe and Dolores Billante, started J & D Home Improvement in 1939. Billante, 60, took over the business in 1981 and started J & D Waterproofing in 1985. His son, also named Joseph, works for the company.

"We have 25 employees -- we don't subcontract any work -- and we do more than $2 million of business a year," Billante said. "About 84 percent of our business is waterproofing work. And most of the remodeling work we do is for the Washington County Redevelopment Authority."

Cindy Linville, the authority's rehabilitation director, said J & D Home Improvement is one of several companies that help income-eligible families upgrade their homes.

The Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania said Billante's waterproofing and home improvement companies have been members since 1987. The bureau said they have a satisfactory record. Among other things, a satisfactory record means the companies "properly and promptly address matters" the bureau refers to them.

On its Web site -- www.pittsburgh.bbb.org -- the bureau has the following advice on basement waterproofing:

"There is no foolproof cure for wet or damp basements. The type of treatment that may help will depend on the source of the problem [condensation, leakage or seepage]. Before taking drastic, expensive measures, take some other steps first.

"Make sure your lawn slopes away from the house, install gutters and downspouts where needed and check those already there to make sure they are not clogged or leaking. Trim dense shrubbery existing around basement walls to ensure good ventilation.

"If the problem is not severe, waterproofing paint or other interior compounds may correct the problem or at least help. If you are hiring a contractor, choose one carefully. Check with several contractors regarding a diagnosis and recommended solution.

"Ask for a written estimate that includes a description of the work to be done, the cost of materials, labor and financing, if applicable. Get any guarantees in writing."

For more information, call 412-456-2700 and listen to Tel-Tips message 50407.

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