Thursday, June 2, 2016

The End Is Near!

The end of the my house renovations is near, I mean.  The actual end of the world may also be near based on Trump possibly being our next President but that's a whole different topic.  During the last couple of months I got new kitchen cabinets and counters; gutted the master bath replacing an oversize tub with a walk-in shower as well as a complete renovation of the guest bath.

Based on my experience over the last couple of months, I have some suggestions if you're thinking about renovating multiple rooms in your house.

First, get the names of a good realtor and moving company.  Seriously, avoid the mess and inconvenience and just buy a new house. There were moments I really considered just packing my clothes and leaving.  That was when they were using the jackhammer in my bathroom.

Last night I greeted a guest at the front door by explaining "I don't usually keep shower doors and a bathroom vanity in my living room but they're being installed tomorrow and we ran out of room in the garage."

Do you like what I've done with my living room?  This is after they installed the new shower doors and vanity, before they had time to clean up the trash.
If your masochistic streak is wide enough that you decide not to move, the most important decision you can make is selecting the right contractor.  I recommend using your best friend's son.  That way, if things go south she can always threaten to cut him out of her will.    Luckily, my guy happens to be very good at what he does, in addition to being my best friend's son.  As far as I know, he's still in the will.

The choice of contractors is key.  I recommend you not only interview the contractor but also his employees.   These guys will be spending more time with you than your family.   Sure, I wanted reliable, competent staff doing the job but would young, good-looking guys be too much to ask for?  

Next, be thoughtful when deciding which room to do first.  We started with the kitchen and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the demo and install of the new cabinets went.  If we had started with jack hammering up two feet of concrete in my bathroom first I might have thrown in the bath towel in week one.

Another critical step as you prepare to start your remodel is to visit your physician.  Actually, you may want to visit several in adjoining communities since it is unlikely your family doctor will be willing to subscribe all the drugs you'll need to take to get you through the millions of decisions you'll be making.  And, if you personal morals allow, you might want to consider selling any extra drugs to help you fund the budget overruns that are unavoidable.  I chose not to go the drug route but am questioning that decision.

Back to the decisions.  I'm a well-educated woman with a lot of life experience.  I thought I had this.  Apparently not.  I did make all the decisions, though, and so far am very happy with the results.  And the first person who comments on the fact that my toilet paper holder is actually a towel holder will be asked to leave. 

Honestly the two photos below show a "brushed nickel towel ring" and a "brushed nickel toilet paper holder".  The styles are different but can you tell which one is the "towel ring"?

This is falsely advertised as a "towel ring".  I have a towel ring.  It is round, like, you know, a ring.
This is the toilet paper holder.  I am using a towel ring because the style matches my other stuff.

Next, I suggest you buy a dictionary.  Better yet, have a dictionary app installed on your phone.  You'll need it when your contractor or the less-than-helpful Home Depot associate asks about your preference in astragals.  Or which kind of base shoe you'd like.  I discovered that instead of standing there feeling like an idiot until they explained it to me in terms a five year old could understand I just stared them straight in the eye and said "Isn't it obvious?"  Generally that got me off the hook as they showed me the most common option.  Luckily my contractor is a bright guy and realized pretty quickly that I'm an idiot so he quit asking.

Ok, seriously, this post feels like it's dragging on as long as my remodel did.  Let's get down to the serious recommendations.

1.  Your contractor needs to be someone with a strong track record, reasonable prices and a staff big enough that if one flakes out there's someone else who can step in.  I've got a great guy and he's got a good team but this isn't my first rodeo.  Guys who book too much business may not think it's a big deal that you don't have a kitchen sink for an extra week or two but you will.
2.  Get it in writing.  Make sure you clarify exactly what you will be buying and what they will supply.  In detail.  Cost overruns happen.  In my case because I kept seeing things I wanted to upgrade or add.  Even if you love surprises, when you have them in a remodel it's not usually a good thing.
3.  Look at photos.  Thousands of photos. is a great site for that.  Then, visit as many showrooms as you can.  Stroll around, see what catches your eye.  Then go home.  A week or two later, go back and see if the same color schemes, styles, etc. are still the ones that grab you.  This is a major investment and no time to rush into a decision.
4.  Work with your contractor to create a project plan that includes stuff like possible delays in item delivery.  For example, your contractor can't control the company that fabricates the granite for counter tops and those guys seem to be very busy.  Can you create a work-around if that happens?    One of the biggest surprises for me was how many items had to be special ordered.  And I swear Home Depot used the pony express for the three week trip my shower doors took from Seattle to Orlando.
5.  Prepare for no kitchen.  I stocked up on paper plates, plastic utensils and recipes for stuff I could grill.  I also prepared a lot of casseroles, soups and stews and stocked the freezer.  You don't need to do that if, like me, you have a neighbor who insists on bringing you homemade Indian food every single day your kitchen is out of order.  She also offered coffee every morning but I kindly let her off the hook for that.  Really - can you imagine a neighbor who feeds you for a month, won't take money and got a little offended when I gave her a gift?  I did set up a mini-kitchen on a table with a cutting board, knife, etc.  It worked fine but I can't tell you how many times I walked over to the hole that was once a sink to wash my hands.  I'm a slow learner.
6.  Prepare for dust.  Lots and lots and lots of dust.  Tiny little particles that get into everything.  I've read online where contractors have posted that you shouldn't have any dust, no clean up at all.  Bull pucky.  I don't care how careful the workers are.  How much they seal off the room.  How much they clean as they go.  Drywall and cement dust are still covering everything in my house.  Here are my suggestions for avoiding that:
   A.  Wrap/box stuff.  The walk-in closet next to my bathroom was covered in dust.  In retrospect, I should have packed up all my seasonal clothes, luggage, etc. and moved it away from ground zero.  Same for knick knacks.  My house is filled with treasures (or crap, depending upon your perspective) from my travels around the world.  Now, I get to enjoy my travel memories as I carefully dust all the stuff.  It would have been easier to box it up.
   B.  Use tarps and plastic.  My guys did a great job of putting down tarps to protect carpet and hardwood along with plastic to cover furnishings.  They still got dusty but it wasn't so bad.
   C.  Change the filter in your furnace/air con unit.  I changed mine weekly and every week it was clogged with dust.  If possible, schedule the work for a time when you don't need either heat or air con.
7.  Be prepared.  If you agree to a 4 week time frame, mentally assume it will be six weeks.  When you get done at 5 weeks it will be sweet. 
8.  Have a sense of humor.  If you (or the contractor) freak out over every possible thing that goes wrong you are in for a bad experience.  For me, if I focus on the negative, that's what I'll think of in the finished room.  Instead, look for the humor when things go wrong.  Like today.  They were installing the bathroom vanity in the guestroom.  The faucet I ordered requires 2 holes.  The vanity has one.  I had an extra faucet that came with the master bath vanity that I didn't use.  It required 3 holes.  We went out and bought another faucet.  I'm planning to sell faucets to support my retirement.

Ok, this has been a lot of talk.  Next post - photos!

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