It's inherent in the concept of total compensation that the cost of employee benefits will limit employee wages. Health insurance, in particular, is so expensive that the hourly cost to most remodelers is equal to as much as $4 per hour. So what do you do if an employee declines coverage and then asks for the money to be applied to wages?

Judith Miller, a remodeling consultant and regular contributor to REMODELING, argues that ethically, employers are obligated to pay the higher wage. Pennsylvania remodeler Bob Tilghman agrees. The owner of Tilghman Remodeling gives new candidates the choice between health insurance and a higher wage, explaining that insurance is available but that it costs the company several dollars per hour.

"When we're hiring people, we make it clear that if they accept the health insurance, the money has to come from somewhere. But if they don't accept it, or if they're on their spouse's plan, we offer them a higher wage, " Tilghman says.

Steve Shattuck, owner of Shattuck and Associates in Puyallup, Wash., made a similar decision after hearing the complaints of two employees who declined Shattuck's insurance in favor of their wives' plans. Shattuck gave his employees the option of keeping their plan or having the hourly cost put back into their wages. He put it to a vote, and his staff decided to take the higher wage, allowing those who wanted insurance the chance to pay the money back to Shattuck and those who didn't to pocket the cash.

"I said to myself, 'If I was one of them, what would make sense to me?'" Shattuck says. "I thought about what our options were and this seemed like a win-win for everybody." -- D.Z.