Home & Living

Titans of the Tool Belt

How to find a great home-improvement contractor? We’ve already hammered out the list for you.

If you’re considering a remodeling project or home addition in the new year, you have lots of company: That industry is booming right now, with homeowners spending $130 billion last year on remodeling projects, up 3.1 percent from 2012 and the largest amount of spending since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that means you’ll soon be having to choose among the gaggle of companies that claim to be good at such things.

Where to begin to find the best one for your specific job? We’ve done the work for you, identifying just 10 companies—out of the hundreds licensed in the region—that we believe are the best for any significant home redo, whether it’s a new kitchen or bath, an addition, an outdoor entertainment area, or a whole-house renovation.

Most of our picks are design-build operations, and all have demonstrated great attention to detail, the ability to solve unusual problems, solid communication with clients, and have earned the respect of their peers in blind project-award competitions judged by other builders.

We also looked at four projects that allowed some of our top builders to strut—and grout and hammer—their stuff.

Four Projects We Liked

These projects offer a glimpse at the attention to detail of our Top 10 contractors:

Take it outside

Think a grill and a kiddie pool are all you need for your backyard? In 2013, homeowners went way beyond the simple wooden deck, adding indoor/outdoor patio spaces wired for sound and boasting pizza ovens, fireplaces, and even full kitchens.

A leader in this type of work is American Contracting Services, which replaced an in-ground pool with a timber-and-stone entertainment area that included covered and outdoor spaces with a grill, furniture, a fireplace, and a fire pit surrounded with cozy seating. In his award-winning project, company owner Bruce Quackenbush paid special attention to the homeowners’ aesthetic likes and dislikes and the entertainment features they considered must-haves. He also addressed the basics of a major backyard redo, including practical answers to landscaping and drainage.

Showered with praise

Frank and Bettye Fennell left the details of their bath remodel in the hands of Starcom Design Build, and it proved to be a great decision. The remodel merged a small shower room and a clothing closet to create a roomy, peaceful master bath decorated in warm, sandy tones. “We left the color scheme and design features entirely to Starcom,” says Frank Fennell. “They designed it, and we were pleased with it in every respect.”

The couple’s advanced age and the challenges of blending two spaces were factors in the design decisions. The bathtub was replaced by a large shower tiled in wood-plank ceramic and natural-looking stone, featuring a bench, a supportive rail, and two shower heads, one fixed and one hand-held. “We don’t miss having a bathtub in the master bath,” Frank says. “The shower is the focal point of the room. The tile work is really extraordinary.” With the toilet repositioned in a tiny private space left by the old closet, there was room to add a granite-topped vanity and a new closet with mirrored doors opposite the shower.

“I would absolutely recommend them,” Fennell adds. “They wouldn’t be rushed, and they were professional. Much of it was new to us; we wouldn’t have known how to make the choices to do what they did.”

A country kitchen

Listed in
Remodeling magazine’s top 10 remodeling projects that are worth their weight in resale gold, kitchen renovations pay off whether you’re making minor tweaks or doing a major overhaul. In a kitchen rebuild done at a home in Sparks, one of our chosen builders, American Contracting Services, wanted to bring the patio’s rustic sensibility indoors, and achieved that by using reclaimed chestnut flooring, soapstone and granite countertops, and custom cabinets from Pennsylvania’s Rojahn Cabinetry. These country-style touches are balanced by high-end appliances and spacious dining and work areas, including a large island and a new butler’s pantry.

From top to bottom

Tackling a ground-up renovation requires strong nerves and an open mind, but the results can be remarkable. When Doug Pruett, owner of Doug Pruett Construction Company, started work on the project, the plan was to save the first floor and replace the roof of the house, a waterfront fisherman’s cottage in Shady Side. By the project’s close, the builders had encountered extensive termite damage that required them to completely replace the first floor, and the homeowners had elected to add a kayak garage at the base, as well as a second story with a bedroom, bath, office, and walkable deck. Pruett and his team managed to stay within the original home’s footprint and retain its “clean, crisp” Craftsman-like style even as they replaced nearly every part of the building, resulting in a low-maintenance retreat that kept the cottage’s simple spirit intact.

Our 10 Favorite Home-Improvement Contractors

ADR Builders
For more than 30 years, ADR has provided design-build services ranging from small repairs and basement or bathroom renovations to large multi-story additions and entire home remodeling. 410-561-0221,

American Contracting Services
This Towson-based firm’s projects include additions, kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, outdoor living spaces, modifications for the elderly and disabled, and tenant fit-outs for its commercial clients. 410-494-0900,

ARDO Contracting
Based in Columbia, ARDO designs and builds remodeling projects in Howard, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore counties, as well as southern Carroll and northeastern Montgomery counties. 410-290-9899,

Capezio Contractors
A family-owned business, Capezio specializes in the unique challenges of repairing homes throughout the Baltimore-Washington area following fire, water, and storm damage. 301-912-2300, 410-729-2900,

Delbert Adams Construction Group
This firm is known for its higher-end remodeling projects in the region, but specializes in the unique woodworking, molding, and cabinetry work required in historic renovations. 410-583-7575,

Doug Pruett Construction Company
In addition to doing residential and commercial remodeling, historic renovation, and custom-home building, this 20-plus-year-old firm promises unique solutions for “aesthetically and functionally challenged projects”—read, ugly and unworkable. 410-224-4057,

Greenleaf Construction
In its additions, kitchens, baths, and accessibility projects, Greenleaf’s full-time carpenters and craftsmen specialize in sustainable building practices and energy efficiency. 410-207-0344,

Owings Brothers Contracting
Owings Brothers does interior and exterior renovations, bath and kitchen remodeling, additions, second-floor add-ons, and garage redos. 410-781-7022,

Starcom Design/Build
For more than 25 years, Starcom has undertaken new and existing home construction including kitchens and baths, and garage and basement transformations. 410-997-7700,

T.W. Ellis
In addition to doing new home building and renovations of all kinds, T.W. Ellis has a strength in green and energy-efficient solutions. 410-420-0740,

Want to judge for yourself? Here’s one way to do it: check out the winners of blind-competition project awards judged by builders themselves and awarded by the Maryland Improvement Contractors Association (MICA) and the Home Builders Association of Maryland (HBAM) in the past two years.