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Here is the latest installment of Janice Bell’s now famous Tales from the Renovation Track – the series of articles One Woman’s Experiences of Being a Renovator. Now the understanding of why customers should never be their own general contractors.
Part 13 - Why Customers Should Never Be Their Own General Contractors
If you are considering a sizable reno to your existing home or office sometime in the future, I would advise you right now that you should not attempt to be your own general contractor. Why, you may ask? Because there is so much more you should know about renovations and construction than meets the eye. I can tell you first hand, that it is imperative that you do not attempt this if you have little or no construction experience. And, it is particularly true if you have to be at a full time job during said renovations and can only be on the site part of the time.2010 © Janice Bell
Your first mistake is not being accessible on site at all times. You might think that because you are available via your cell phone that this is a bit trifling, but a cell phone is simply not good enough. There are always a multitude of decisions to be made on a daily basis as problems may arise at any time, and you can be sure that they will. If you are not familiar with building jargon, you will certainly not understand verbally what the problems are to begin with. You need to be present to make those on-the-fly decisions or you will run the risk of delaying the trades and costing yourself more money and time delays. Sometimes though, the decisions are purely whatever option the customer prefers.
The second mistake, and this is a huge one, is timely coordination between the trades. I will give you an example of a customer/general contractor that I had experience with this year. The flooring guys were ordered in before the drywall on the walls was up. Here was this brand new beautiful oak hardwood floor, but Oh! I can't describe what a pain it was to ensure that the floor did not get marked up while I was drywalling, painting and placing baseboards. This whole process slowed me down considerably and also became a safety hazard as the floor was protected with sheets of 1/8 inch masonite whose edges provided ample opportunity for tripping. And if you get any drywall dust in between the cracks of any type of flooring, it becomes a major job to vacuum it out of there. And yes, you can put plastic down, but then it becomes slippery to walk on, and as a result becomes a safety hazard.
Ill timed coordination is costly too! The same customer ordered me to tear down the ceiling whereupon, once the joists were exposed, it became apparent that squirrels had eaten clean through the bridging between the joists. I was then told to replace all of the bridging. At the same time the in-floor heating contractors came in as a surprise to me and tore out all the bridging I had just put in! After they left, I had to reinstall it, thus costing this customer more in time and money.
A third mistake is trying to hurry things along a little too much. The same customer had ordered another tradesperson in to jack up the floor of the house. Now, this was a considerable amount, perhaps 2 inches or so. Normally, this is usually done no more than 1/8 inch per day at the fastest rate, but this customer was in such a big hurry that he ordered the fellow to jack it up all at once. Now, this request cracked all the lathe and plaster on the walls above the portion being jacked to the point where some of the lathe itself broke in two. After fixing this, I was told that I was too slow because the customer had gone on a website and found out that most drywall was done in three coats. I had to explain that this was not new drywall, but old plaster of which the lathe had to be repaired first and required more than three coats in some areas.
Trying to help doesn't make things easier either. The same customer, again, came in late one night and decided he was going to get the job done faster by sanding the dried mud of new drywall. I had put the third coat on already, and it just needed feathering at the edges. Not knowing there is a slight bow out over drywall joints, the customer proceeded to sand it flat, and re-exposed the paper tape which I then had to put two more coats on to fix. Again, more work, more time and more money.
Finally, naive customers are not aware of all the little details that go into finishing a job. The most common mistakes they make are not allowing enough offset from a sink backsplash to the faucets, so that your hands cannot get around them. Another common mistake is placing electrical boxes too close to doorways and then choosing wide casement which then has to have an ugly cutout to fit around them.
And one final thing to remember is that if you are the general contractor and something major goes wrong, you do not have the liability insurance to cover the repairs.
It pays to have a good general contractor!
Tales from the Renovation Track: One Woman’s Experiences of Being a Renovator
Part 1: All in All
Part 2: Weld on Fire
Part 3: They Were Nailed
Part 4: It Pays to Be Honest
Part 5: Rural Renos
Part 6: Messy Is Costly
Part 7: Door Hell
Part 8: Just Where Do I Stop?
Part 9: Dressing for the Trades
Part 10: Very Painterly
Part 11a: Tricks of the Trade: Recaulking bathtubs / Placing peel and stick tiles
Part 11b: Tricks of the Trade: Wheelbarrows / Cutting a plastic pipe
Part 11c: Tricks of the Trade: Drywall mud / Admixtures
Part 12: When Common Sense Should Prevail
Part 13: Why Customers Should Never Be Their Own General Contractors