The Inside Outside Guys: Full-service contractors

Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Fifty years ago, the process of getting a foundation built for a new home involved numerous sub-contractors.

You paid a surveyor to locate the building on the property, then brought in an excavator to dig the hole.

Another team would form and pour concrete footings in preparation for the masons to lay the block walls and parge them with masonry plaster.

Yet another group would apply a modified asphalt to the walls and the last people in would install the weep tile, pea-gravel and straw filter. Later on the “cement-heads” would place the concrete basement floor after the plumbing contractor had installed floor drain systems.

Eight different teams would have to be scheduled, monitored and paid, but the worst of it was tracking accountability. If the footings were out of square they blamed the excavator. If the walls were less than perfect they blamed it on out-of-level footings, and so on.

It was a nightmare for any general contractor to track. When we finally found a single company that could handle all these phases it felt like redemption. One call, one company, one point of contact.

Remodeling projects   with full-service contractors  mean homeowners have to do less of the heavy lifting of scheduling, hiring and organizing.

The Guys receive many listener emails asking for three to six different trade specialists to handle multi-phased renovation projects. They want a roofer, a plumber, a framer, a designer, a dry waller, etc.

On the plus side, the construction industry has become an arena of specialists due to the complexity of design, specification and product installations. This is a great thing for a homeowner needing a new roof or new windows; but most homeowners are simply not equipped to strategically design, budget, schedule and oversee completion of modifications that involve multiple trades.

In effect, the homeowner has elected to become their own general contractor, a decision we would compare to a defendant electing to act as his own attorney, who is said to have a fool for a client.

When we get these requests our response is always the same: “Hire a great full-service remodeling company.” Firms like McComb Construction in Troy, Barrier Free Plus in Macomb and MI Remodelers in Lake Orion are one-stop companies that can handle literally every phase of a residential construction project.

Like the conductor of a symphony orchestra, they have spent decades assembling professionals that excel at unique trades from concrete to mechanical systems, carpentry, design, and more.

Gary Muehling, owner of MI Remodelers, enjoys the design challenges of unique projects. In Gary’s words, “We love the jobs that others shy away from.”

Bob McComb is a second-generation owner of the Troy-based firm. He embraces the notion of sharing a coffee and the “Dream Folder” that buyers have assembled featuring torn-out pages from magazines, sketches, and hand-scribbled notes detailing wants and preferences.

Dave Malkiewicz started Barrier Free Plus after witnessing the haphazard way that longtime homeowners were trying to adapt their living spaces to changing needs and abilities as they age.

What these three companies have in common besides a passion to build is the ability to take a plan from concept to completion within the fixed parameters of time, budget and people occupying the space being re-worked. They either employ or have relationships with professionals in every phase of construction so they can assemble plans, specifications and budgets for the entire project.

They understand that framing plans should anticipate all mechanical installations and that plumbers have to be scheduled before electricians. They have long-standing policy and procedure that minimizes mistakes, delays and re-working of completed operations.  

Based on the owners' wants, needs and ability, they create a single budget for the entire project, then orchestrate its completion.

They are responsible for literally everything that gets done so all communications, monies, and responsibility flow through them.

What this means for a homeowner is less grief and less stress in an already stressful situation. Having a problem with the plumber? Call the remodeler. Issues with the concrete guys? Call the remodeler. One touch point. A single center of responsibility and accountability. Keep in mind a house is a complex assembly of thousands of pieces, each of which must work in concert.

 And don’t forget warranty. As any listener knows, the Guys are big on companies that handle warranty in-house, minimizing hassle for owners when problems do occur.

A full-service company like the ones we have discussed will handle all written warranty as it was incorporated into your agreement.

Some call them general practitioners, but companies like these are much more. The work and impact of every trade is a critical piece of an integrated network. Every specification must work well with every other material and product. These companies “see” the completed puzzle long before the pieces are even on the table.

So the next time you are contemplating a multi-trade project on your building or home, call a full-service company like those you’ll find at

 For housing advice and more, listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at