Construction School

It's almost finished! After months of domestic chaos, my bathroom remodeling project is close enough to being complete that I can shower at home instead of at the pool. Not only do I have a wonderful new bathroom, but I learned a lot and I have a new perspective on how contractors affect their clients' lives.

This was not your average cosmetic remodel. My house was built before there was indoor plumbing, and the bathroom wasn't added until those amenities became widely available. The cast-iron, claw-foot tub still had lead piping, and there was no rhyme or reason to the placement of the plumbing nor the arrangement of sink, tub and toilet. To keep costs down, I did the demolition. I removed a dumpster's worth of 150-year-old plaster, lathe and layers of flooring, then I took down the interior walls and handed the space over to the general contractor. "Five weeks," he said, showing me a timeline for the project. That was in September.

I started to worry when the project manager asked if I was planning to host Thanksgiving dinner at my house. Then he asked about Christmas and New Year's. Then there was the skylight. The wrong model had been delivered, and the subs were there to install it when I noticed it wasn't right. But the subs didn't know, they just had instructions to install the skylight that was in a box on the porch. Then there was the time that I came home and found the front door unlocked and, in fact, halfway open. When I came home from both the AQUA Show and the IPSE Show, no progress had been made. One day the asbestos-remediators arrived at 6:45 a.m. and walked into the house unannounced.

The project has been a study in constrasts, though. Clearly, I'm not too pleased with the general contractor's lack of communication and oversight. But several of the subcontractors were wonderful to work with. The plumber called me whenever he was planning to be on the property. The electrician, too. They told me when they would be there, what they were planning to do, and how it would affect my living space. "You'll have light in that upstairs hallway after today." Or, "I'm going to set the sink and the tub, but you won't have water until Thursday." In many cases, it's the builder who needs to make sure the subs are representing him well. In my case, it was the other way around.

My point is that it's fairly traumatic to have major surgery done on your living space, whether it's a hot tub installation, a new in-ground pool or a bathroom remodel. But all it takes is a little communication to let your clients know what to expect, and, of course, then doing what you said you would do. I've always thought that anyone who eats in restaurants should have to do a stint as a waiter, just to see what it's like on the other end of the menu. Now I think anyone who works on occupied residences should live through a project in their own home. No matter who you are, it's always a good idea to look at things from the other guy's point of view.

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