Remodeler Rick Hjelm uses a digital camera to track jobs and help him and his clients "remember" what's behind the walls of their remodeled space.
Remodeler Rick Hjelm uses a digital camera to track jobs and help him and his clients "remember" what's behind the walls of their remodeled space.

Many remodelers take before and after pictures, but Rick Hjelm of Phase II General Contractor, Lakewood, Wash., goes one further and covers the during-project action. Specifically, he and his crew take digital images of open walls right before installing insulation. They then refer to the pictures to find the location of pipes and wiring. The pictures also provide a backup for inspectors.

On one job, the clients wanted to retrofit a vacuum system after Hjelm had done some remodeling work. He pulled up the pictures and found a spot where he could drill a hole to run pipe through the wall between floors. "It made it easy. There wasn't any damage to the house and we installed the vacuum without having to redo the drywall," he says.

The photos also have come in handy for smaller jobs such as hanging cabinets or finding the backing to install a toilet paper holder. He says the images are especially useful for recalling the placement of computer and cable television wiring.

Before the digital age, Hjelm used an instant Polaroid camera. Now, he keeps several digital cameras for on-site use. The camera stores photos on standard 3 1/4-inch floppy disks. "We find that works the best because we can save it on our laptops, e-mail it to customers, or print it out and give it to someone going to the site," Hjelm says.