Friday, July 18, 2014

You get what you pay for…and 8 other truisms from our remodeling project

I feel like I could do a whole series on the experience of remodeling our bathroom,  but in an attempt to keep this post from diverging too far off topic, I will keep it to one long post.  

About a year & a half ago we started the mental part of remodeling our bathrooms.  I looked at photos and my husband and I sketched stuff out.  Our experience with remodeling prior to this was fairly hands on.  My dad and brother are super handy so growing up there was always something under construction. Before I was married, I lived with my brother in an 1912 (that is old for AZ) house that my dad was renovating in his spare time.  We pulled up the hardwood floors ourselves and stripped them down to re-lay.  I helped knock out the walls, stepped on a rusty nail, got Gig Gulps & burgers for everyone.  I am super handy.  By which I mean I know just enough to get by, and I know when I need to ask my husband or father to step in.  I have no problem encouraging THEM to help me out.  I am a really handy 'support' person.

When it came time to remodel our first bathroom, the idea of hiring someone never even came up.  All we were doing was painting and re-tiling the shower.  My husband learn to lay tile - he is an engineer and they can do everything.  I painted the bathroom a beautiful blue (oops!)  and then promptly re-painted it a dark brown. It turned out beautifully - 9 months later.   

This time, with 4 kids running around, we opted to hire a professional to take care of the job.  

We didn't change the footprint of the space, but we did shorten and widen the shower, add a shower head, and build in a linen cabinet.  It wasn't a complicated project, but it turned out to be a lot more complicated than we expected.  I know everything always takes longer than you think it will.  I knew that before we started.  But I wasn't expecting a 2 week project to drag on for 2 months. 

There are a couple of lessons I learned that I thought others may benefit, and after the little adventure I need to vent just a bit.  So here is what I have to share...

1)  A family of 6 really can survive just fine with one bathroom.  I had all sorts of upper-middle class concerns about what life would be like with 4 little ones (one potty training) trying to share one bathroom.  Really, that is a first world problem.  It is not that tough. 

2)  No matter how far ahead of time you decide on something you really don't make a decision until the work in question is ready to be done.  Sometimes we would decide on one thing (paint color, tile, finish) and then not remember what we decided.  Or we would decide and tell the contractor only to have him ask us in a panic "what tile did you want" the day it was supposed to be installed.  I realized that most people must not decide and keep their minds made.   We don't change our minds.  We take a year to decide on something, but we don't change it once we decide. This lead to problems however, because our contractor was not a guy with an attention to details. For instance, we had given him the tile make/model/place to buy when we first hired him, but he waited until the day the tiling was to being to say "so what kind of tile do you want?".  I told him more generically what kind of tile I wanted thinking he would look at our old information.  Nope. He choose the cheapest tile (which didn't have any trim pieces - see number 6).  I had thought he would have ordered it at the start of the project but I guess he was worried we would change our minds.  

3)  There are times that miscommunication can occur.   I am giving our contractor the benefit of the doubt here.  But really, who would think it was a good idea to put the electrical outlets on the SIDE of the antique vanity?

Literally, he screwed them into to side of the vanity.  There are all sorts of things wrong with this starting with the safety issues and ending with the appearance.  I just don't get it.  

Moving on to my issues and not the contractor...I will get back to him later but poor guys needs a break.   

4)  I have FAR too many clothes and the ratio of Mama clothes to Papa clothes is very lopsided.  

His clothes.

Her clothes.

I think I see a few of his shirts on the end of the rack… but these are 99% mine.  And I did really just fine living off of the clothes and shoes that were on the small hanging rack.  Why do I have all those clothes laid on the bed? I didn't need them for a month… That said, now that I have them back I am treating them like dear old friends.  The good Catholic in me says I really should donate more of them but the materialist in me just can't part yet.  

5) One bathroom is just fine, but NOT having hot water is NOT fine.  I can deal with no hot water while camping… but not at home. This is America.  I am not in a third world country. We were without hot water for over a month.  What made it so hard is that this was during our lice-capades and a stomach virus.  The only place we were able to get warm was at the kitchen sink and that was only when the bathroom sink was turned on.  Washing all the oils and treatments out of our hair without the warm water was really rough.  Add in the additional problems with the kids getting a tummy virus and needing to take (cold) baths (at 1am and again at 3am) and it was not something I would want to repeat. Thankfully the illness passed faster than the lice.  We also were grateful to have a house sitter who did complain while we went away for a week on our adventure vacation, leaving her with the contractors, the mess, and the cold showers.

6)  You get what you pay for.  Choosing a contractor was PAINFUL.  We started getting bids about 20 months ago.  I really wanted to go with a family friend at Remodel Tempe.  I got a few other bids to be on the safe side, and one came in dramatically lower.  How could we justify paying 30% more just to work with someone I like, know, and trust.  Besides what if something went wrong and we had a falling out over a toilet?  

Well… we should have hired him.   First of all, it didn't end up being THAT much cheeper because the cheeper guy didn't include things like door knobs and shower heads in his quote.  Plus, we had already purchased most of the big things by the time we hired him.  If we had hired my friend, the work would have been done in 1/4 the time, our stress levels would have been dramatically lower, and the quality would not have suffered.  

What do I mean about quality you ask.  Some people are just pickier than other, right?    

After two weeks the grout in the shower started cracking.  Remember me saying there weren't any trim pieces because he choose cheeper tile?  Well the contractor just used more grout instead of tile designed for the corner. 

I wanted it to look like it was done by a professional… so I hired a professional… and this is what we ended up with. Three feet of cracked grout.  

And that is not all.   We had to go through and generate a full typed page of all the little things that he wasn't planning of fixing (like baseboards that weren't attached) as well as the big things like the cracked grout.  It took 2+ days of full work for him to fix the things that were done poorly. 

We don't have baseboards here, so he was just going to do a really big grout fill rather than put in 1/2 size tiles. 

And there is more

All they had to do was cut the hole smaller than the light fixture… but they didn't.  The actual electrical box is showing.  They just painted over it.  When I asked them to fix it he said he wasn't sure how. I told him to figure it out because it wasn't good enough. 

This is a pocket door.  A brand new pocket door.  They used a nail that was too long and it scratches the door every time it is used.

Hum.  All sorts of things wrong with this. 


And apparently door frames are a trouble area for the contractor. 

Problem is, they didn't take off the existing door frames.  

Short cuts don't always work in construction projects.  

Every new door frame or piece of trim that they installed had rough corners, nail holes that need to be filled and sanded.

Enough picking at the work.  I could go on but I won't.  For any friends reading this, the only thing you are allowed to say when you see the bathroom yourself is "Oh it is beautiful" and other such positive comments! 

On to the next lesson…

7) Remodeling can bring you together or drive you apart.  I was gung-ho about the remodel before we started - when we were in the idea phase.  That phase had my husband stressed out because of cost.  Once the project got started and he committed however,  he got excited ("Wow this is going to look great!") and I just wanted it over with ("If they can ever finish").  Now I am irritated with the quality and he is happy with the price paid.  All in all we are both glad it is now done which leads me to No. 8.

8) It is worth it.  Having a new bathroom is still worth all the headache, cold showers, and frustrations.  The finished product is beautiful and I love my new bathroom.  I do get irritated when I look too closely at the tile work and I am going to have to fix the paint at the corners and edges myself, but it is so much nicer than before!  The transformation was amazing. 

9) Lastly I leave you with some advice - when you get recommendations, comparing projects CAN be comparing apples and oranges.  We actually went to see a friend's completed project before hiring their same contractor.  She did not have many of the same quality issues, so we assumed we would have the same quality of work in our project.  She also had an architect and a designer she hired separate from the contractor and they both ran interference for her and recognized issues before they got bad.  I highly recommend using a designer to help.  Most reputable contractors use them and it is wonderful to have someone on your side to help communicate with the contractor. 

But here is the big thing.  

Because our job was smaller than hers, the contractor did most of the work himself.  You can't be an expert at everything, yet he and one other guy did the painting, the tiling, the flooring, plumbing, the installation of doors and window etc.  He hired a stucco and a drywall texture person, but did everything else himself to make more on the project and to meet our budget.  The three areas where we have real issues still - the tile, the paint, and trim work, are areas where you need a craftsman to do the work, not a 'jack of all trades'.   

So when you compare the quality of work from a completed project, you need to find out if your contractor will be using the same craftsman for your job.   Does he use the same guys each job, is he going to hire someone cheeper to fit your budget, or is he just going to try to do it himself.  

Any of you have any other advice or comments on your remodeling experiences please leave a comment and share.  Our readers and I will appreciated it.  Hope this was helpful!

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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