Experts

Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary Interview with Baruch Tenenbaum Contractor

Baruch Tenenbaum

Anglo homeowners want the high quality that they’re used to but need to know that the contractor they’re taking on for their recent project can measure up to the task. There can be no shortcuts when it comes to the biggest asset you own or compromises on your family’s safety. Baruch Tenenbaum was born and raised in Ottawa, and made Aliyah from Toronto with his family 16 years ago to Ramat Bet Shemesh. Baruch has worked in the renovation industry for 22 years, doing apartment renovations and additions to existing structures.

What is your background in the construction business?
I actually have a BSc in Computer Science and worked in the field for four years, but was dissatisfied and sought a career change. I visited a contractor friend who was building a deck, and was intrigued by the fact that you could use your hands, build a product, see the finished results and get paid for what you accomplished! The creative juices started flowing.

Where did you learn the trade?
I apprenticed with my friend (who has since made Aliyah) and took courses in the evenings. But there’s no experience like “on the job training.” I would hire skilled craftsmen and work as their schlepper. I actually paid them to boss me around! But I learned hands on from professionals about every aspect of building a house; from foundations to framing, electrical and plumbing, tiling, boarding and taping (a.k.a. geves over here), down to painting and hanging a towel rod on a tiled wall. In Israel, I also apprenticed under a few contractors until I went out on my own. I took courses through the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Labour and became a kablan rashum, registered contractor, under the Ministry of Construction & Housing.

Tell us about some of the values of your company.
I strive to work together with the client to achieve their goals. I believe that even clients with limited budgets can have a beautiful renovation. I’ll suggest ways to reduce costs without sacrificing quality. •I strive for a high-level finish. •I don’t compromise on the electrical, plumbing or gas systems, that are “behind the scenes” in a renovation. •I keep an organized job site. •I brought my North American level of service with me from the old country. Canadian service with a smile!

Is there a difference between contracting in Canada and Israel?
Materials and techniques are different over here and often superior. There is an emphasis on stone, block, and masonry work as opposed to wood, because of Israel’s natural resources.

What type of projects do you undertake?
I work with any kind of renovation, from a single bathroom upgrade to a whole apartment gut and re-do. I enclose porches, do additions, kitchens, tiling patios, waterproofing and work on a popular project in Israel—the challal.

Please tell us about some interesting projects you have undertaken.
I recently finished work on a 400+ sqm house in Bet Shemesh, built around 50 years ago. We completely re-vamped the utilities and brought them up to code, added radiant floor heating, converted an inaccessible roof into a cozy space with a spectacular view of the city, enclosed porches to add living space for the client’s large family and replaced every single floor and wall tile. The designer was top notch and the place looks absolutely stunning. I once installed floor to ceiling picture windows on the 6th floor of an apartment building. B”H for cranes! I separated a duplex apartment into two separate units and merged two separate apartments into one. Those projects were challenging because we had to separate or join all the utilities.

How do you manage to keep to tight deadlines?
I make sure all the different components are in place and the plans are complete before we begin. I send the clients to choose tiles and fixtures then we order the materials and line up the appropriate workers or subcontractors. It’s worth staying a step or two ahead of everyone else so the project flows smoothly and efficiently.

What turns an ordinary project into a high-end one?
Good quality architectural plans with fine detailing will ensure that the final product is more high-end than ordinary. Features like the clients’ or designers’ choices of tiles and fixtures can make all the difference. Drywall (geves), niches, decorative tiles, and bay or Belgian windows can also indicate a premium project.

Do you think Anglos and Israelis have different expectations?
The Anglos certainly expect a higher level of customer service, yet I’ve found that both expect the same high-level quality of work.

Is it worthwhile investing in more expensive materials?
You definitely get a better product when you invest in better quality materials. However, these are not always more expensive.

What should a client be aware of before building their dream home?
The crucial step can be summarized in three words: planning, planning, and more planning. Not only for building a home, but for any renovation project. The clients should identify their needs, how they want to use the space, prioritize their wish list and start thinking about the level of finish they want to achieve. These aspects should all be communicated to the architect or designer in the planning stage. Then, the plans or blueprints are drawn up and I take it from there.

How do you coordinate between all the different professionals involved in a construction project?
Communication is key. My role is to interface between all the parties: clients, architect, designer, engineer, project manager, workers and suppliers. I try to make sure all the pieces are in place for the job to flow smoothly. I look over the plans, point out contradictions between the architectural and the structural and help come up with solutions.I consult with my project manager on any technical or scheduling issues. I listen carefully to my workers, who often have creative suggestions for how to do things or solve problems that inevitably crop up.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy helping people realize their dreams. My clients have often saved for years for their renovation and I strive to give excellent value for their money. I am happy when they are happy in their new, spacious, modernized and rejuvenated home.

What would you like to see change in the Israeli building industry?
I have noticed my clients are more savvy about better building practices in the past few years; specifically in the areas of waterproofing and insulation. They really want to make sure they’ll stay dry in the winter and cool in the summer. Often they’ve had a bad experience in the home they’re living in or from a previous renovation they’ve done. I keep up to date with the latest in industry trends and attend educational courses and trade shows. I hope the industry as a whole will place a stronger emphasis on waterproofing and insulation to prevent callbacks and dissatisfied clients.

Have you ever had callbacks?
Of course. Once, I built an addition with a gag reafim (clay tiled roof). A few years later, after a rainstorm, the client called me to complain about a leak. I inspected the roof, replaced the broken tile, and gave the client a big fat baseball (I think it was a softball, actually) that was lodged in the roof cavity, courtesy of an upstairs neighbor’s kid. No charge for the callback!

ABOUT BARUCH TENENBAUM

Baruch Tenenbaum, owner of Quality Home Improvements, is a professional local contractor, providing, high-end jobs with proper Anglo service.

He can be reached at 050-674-1976

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