Overseeing Your Own Renovation Project Requires Patience

Having written about many a renovation project (residential and commercial) during the past six years, I thought I had a pretty good handle on how it’s done. But I’ve had a bit of an eye-opening experience the past three months as my husband and I have been finishing our basement. You may recall we live along a lake in a small town in northwest Iowa. Because the water table is high (and we received unprecedented amounts of rain in 2015), the basement flooded many times since we’ve lived here. Knowing what I know about construction, I couldn’t ignore the problem. Even more critical was the fact that my home office was set up in one room of the basement. I found myself awake on rainy nights, counting the seconds between pumps of the sump pump. If less than 20 seconds passed, I knew the basement was flooding and dreaded the morning’s cleanup.

Fast forward to March of this year when we hired a basement waterproofing company to install its patented drainage system and a new sump pump inside our basement. We monitored the system throughout the month of April, which was rainy, to ensure there were no leaks in the system. It worked like a charm! During April, we also hired our contractors to create my new home office, a guestroom and a walk-in closet within the basement. This is the third house my husband has remodeled, so he has certain contractors he likes to work with. I thought that would make things move along quickly. It didn’t.

For example, my husband’s preferred window installer, along with a manufacturer’s rep, took measurements for expanding our basement window openings. New windows arrived a couple weeks later and the installer put them in our garage, telling us he’d be back in a month—after turkey-hunting season.

Meanwhile, our general contractor took rudimentary measurements with me as I laid out where I wanted to see the new rooms in the basement. He assured me he’d be back soon to go over details. Two weeks later, my husband and I saw him in my husband’s sports bar. We asked the GC some questions about our project, specifically when he’d have time to come back and finalize measurements and discuss details. He said he was “off the clock” and doesn’t talk business during leisure time. It took another month before my husband was able to get the GC to come back. We learned in the meantime (from the local rumor mill) that our GC is developing a bid to build a house and that has put our project on the backburner.

The same sort of hurry-up-and-wait ritual has been happening with our spray foamer. (Have I mentioned patience really isn’t my forte?) I spoke with some of my high-school friends about my predicament and they all agreed that getting contractors in this area to actually start projects (and move them along in a timely manner) is a challenge. It’s quite different in a small town—there are 1,100 residents here, not counting the summer-cabin dwellers—compared to Chicago, where (if I had wanted to) I could just go to the Home Depot parking lot and find a contractor to start my project immediately.

I will say this: Although our chosen contractors are a bit slow for my taste, they are all incredibly anal—and I mean that in the best way. Their attention to detail is second to none and their craftsmanship has been outstanding. I bet I couldn’t say the same about a contractor I hired from the Home Depot parking lot. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t expect to write my next “Point of View” from my completed home office!

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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