We had a break in the current bathroom renovation schedule, which was a combination of needing some dry time for some items as well as waiting on material delivery, so we banged out a quick hardwood floor installation. The work involved wasn't anything too extravagant, although installing a hardwood floor and having it transition seamlessly, or relatively seamlessly, into an existing hardwood floor, always brings its fair share of challenges.
On this particular job we had to get the new flooring lined up with existing flooring in the kitchen, stay square to the room with each new row of new flooring, and then shoe horn the last piece in where we had to butt up to the existing hardwood in the entry hallway. Depending on how well the existing hardwood was installed, and how square the structure is, sometimes that last piece requires some very creative uses of the table saw and/or a big hammer; luckily for us, this was not the case on this install. With a little encouragement, the last piece fell into place and fit like a glove.
Plumbing rough-in was completed, including a rainfall shower head. Tile was delivered. Shower pan was prep'd for the final layer of concrete. After a little drywall work early Monday morning, this place is going to start looking very different, very quickly.
What a week...the bathroom we've been tearing apart - an addition that is not original to the house - was built ROCK SOLID. And even though the bathroom is in fact an addition, the original house dates to 1893, so the term "addition" shouldn't be synonymous with "recent". This bathroom was nothing but plaster and concrete; the floor was 5" thick concrete in most places, all the drains were cast iron or lead, the bathtub was cast iron, and the tile on the walls sat on top of plaster panels, all of which is old-school construction.
Once demo was mostly complete, we discovered - not surprisingly - that the bathroom was really out of square, and that none of the floor joists or wall studs were in the same plane; when everything was going to be covered by plaster, there was no real need to make sure everything was level, plumb, flush, etc., as those things could be achieved through the floating of the plaster top coats. Unfortunately, modern construction dictates that for the best results, joists and studs need to be in the same plane, level, plumb and square, as drywall and wood subfloors will conform to whatever shape the lumber beneath them is in.
As such, that's about where we are in the construction: reworking the joists and studs to get everything right, adding insulation to the floor (the addition is on top of a crawl space and the floor wasn't insulated, aside from the 5" of concrete), putting down a suitable subfloor, and getting the shower pan started. Additionally, the tub and toilet drains have been switched over to PVC, and the electrician has come in and added several can lights in the ceiling and receptacles in the wall.
We started the week with a job that included a handful of different projects, one of which was a backsplash. The trend in new construction over the past 10 years or so has been to build houses, condos, etc., without a backsplash, I assume because there are so many options available that by leaving the backsplash wall(s) bare, the homeowner has the option to - sometime down the road - really add a personal touch to their kitchen.
The backsplash we put together this week was fairly straightforward, although the clients picked out some pencil trim to provide a bit of a border for the field tile, rather than having tiles simply dead end. Otherwise, the backsplash consists of 2x4 tile in a running bond pattern, and provides the client with a far more durable and cleanable surface than the painted drywall they'd had up to this point.
With Mother's Day coming up, and with the volume of work we have on the books, this weekend I had to spend some time in the shop finishing up a project I've been working on for ol' mom. I figured it was time to put one of the two dozen salvaged windows I have to good use, and I wanted to see how difficult it was to mount a picture - or in this case, 1 picture spit into 6 pieces - to the glass and have it look decent without costing a fortune. For anybody unfamiliar with the image I used, it's a picture of the Comet, a wooden roller coaster that was part of the Forest Park Highlands, an amusement park that sat across what is now U.S. Route 40 from Forest Park. Mom grew up around there, and went to the Highlands a time or two (before it burned to the ground in 1963).
In short...the whole project is relatively simple...but as is the case with most things in life, the attention to detail, and the effort required to get the details right, is what makes or breaks the thing. I had to scrape all the glazing off the backside of the window, which was actually tougher than I thought it would be; that stuff usually just falls out, but the glazing on this window was in really good shape. The glass had to be cleaned about 17 times to get decades of crap off of it. The window had to be sanded down to smooth all the rough edges and peeling paint. And, the window had to be clear-coated to keep what's left of the paint in place.
The biggest issue was finding a good image, as something being displayed at approximately 30" x 30" needs to be super high quality. I was allowed to use this particular picture by the MO History Museum, and this is about as big as it could be blown up without getting too grainy. Another challenge was digitally cutting the image into 6 pieces, and omitting the area covered by the interior window trim. With the photo editing done, I had the images printed at FedEx on halfway decent paper, took them home, cut them to fit, and put them in place. They're held in place with cardboard, also cut to fit each individual pane of glass, and held in place with glazing points.
I think the whole project probably cost me about $25...and now that I know how easy, if not really labor intensive, of process it is...I might do a few more.
I got a phone call last week from a guy we'd done some work for recently, who had a friend who's contractor walked off the job - a kitchen remodel - before completing the project. Long story short, we were recommended to the friend, and after visiting the job site and meeting with the guy, I decided that we'd take the work and finish the job.
This gem pictured to the left, that's the condition I found the kitchen in. Looks like it's close to being finished, right?
Looks can be deceiving.
This thing was a mess. There are two certainties when it comes to a situation where a contractor has bailed on a job before it's completed: 1, the work that was done is going to look like it was done by a blindfolded animal (a guy whose level of integrity allows him to accept payment for work and then disappear before completing it is the same type of guy who performs work without using things like levels, tape measures, a plan, common sense, skill, etc.) and 2, the work that's left to be done, it's not going to be the easy chunk of work; it's going to be all the challenging stuff.
The pictures below are just SOME of the examples of BS work the previous contractor did, work that we either had to completely redo, or creatively work around:
The worst part about taking on a job like this is that there's always a new - and not cool - surprise around every corner. Without knowing the guy's original plan of attack, or his logic behind why he did things the way that he did, it's very challenging to try to pick up where he left off. Likewise, there were a number of jobs left to be finished, including drywall work, tile setting, tile grouting, painting, window trim, etc., each one taking just about as much time to perform the work as it did to get out and set up the appropriate tools, which unfortunately makes for a very inefficient and frustrating way of going about the work.
Ultimately, we got things (mostly) wrapped up, and with some strategic tile placement and meticulous grouting, we were able to minimize the obviousness of the previous contractor's mistakes. There are still a few details left to take care of, like adding the switch/receptacle cover plates and installing a couple cable supported shelves on the wall with the stove, but for the most part, the kitchen is at least functional and the homeowner can sleep at night knowing the job has finally been, and will be, in good hands.
The moral of the story is this: when you're hiring somebody to work on your house, do everything possible to make sure they're legit, 1, and 2, know what they're doing. Make the contractor work up a contract, and make sure the payment terms are such that the contractor won't see a ton of money until the job is completed to your satisfaction. Ask for references, and/or verified examples of work. Make sure they get the appropriate permits, if applicable. Ask if they have insurance, or any licenses (most municipalities "require" a contractor's license, which admittedly isn't much more than a money grab by said municipalities). Even if you do all this, there's still no guarantee that a crappy contractor won't disappear halfway through project, but you can definitely do some things to swing the odds in your favor, and not have to live through the nightmare this client recently had to.