Remodeling: Tear it Up

Your kitchen: Get used to it.

Your kitchen: Get used to it.

Have you lived through a house renovation and lived to tell about it? Did your marriage almost fall apart after living in a ripped up house for a year or so? Have you had it up to here with construction guys showing up at your house at 7 am 5 days a week for months and months? Are your neighbors tired of the noise and the dumpster on the street?

I think of this now because both our daughters have torn up their kitchens this month. Down to the studs, and where they are moving walls, the destruction continues into the ceiling and the floor below to carry the weight safely to the new wall location. Kitchens and bathrooms are, obviously, the most expensive, disruptive and problem-fraught remodels to live through. All that wiring! All that plumbing!

Doing the dishes in the basement sink or the bathtub wears thin quickly. Having the fridge in the living room isn’t a prime decorating choice. And there’s likely no stove or oven at all—you are reduced to a toaster oven and maybe a microwave or a hotplate.

It’s like upscale camping, really. What’s to complain about? Well, nothing, if you like camping for months and months, maybe a year or so.

The other thing about remodeling is that if you have an old house, which both daughters have, and which my husband and I also have, then you and your carpenters, plumbers and electricians are going to uncover some unexpected and expensive problems.

Gosh, there’s still knob-and-tube wiring here!

Sorry ma’m, this pipe is going to have to be replaced all the way out to the sidewalk.

Yes, the earthquake safety codes have been revised and now you need steel beams and helical anchors driven down into your foundation.

The glass in these new windows will have to be tempered because it’s less than 18 inches off the floor.

You have dry rot all through this subfloor.

And so the costs mount up. My husband says you should take your estimate, and multiply it by pi.

Perhaps you think you can save money by doing some of the work yourself. Perhaps so, but if you go even the tiniest inch down that path, it’s going to take longer and be more traumatic all around. Even if you aren’t putting hand to hammer, you need to be around to answer the millions of detailed questions that the workers need immediate answers to or else they will do something that you will hate forever. It’s best if there’s a responsible adult owner around pretty much ALL the time. Architects don’t count—their drawings aren’t detailed enough and may not take the engineering realities into account. Even if the drawings are perfect two-dimensional renderings, they may not make sense in the contractor’s (and your) three-dimensional world.

My advice, after living through several remodels: First off, it’s usually worth it. The dust and the chaos will END. You will get your house back. Along the way, try to be consummately considerate and extremely nice to your workers. Bake them cookies. Provide a cooler with juices and water. Be prepared to answer all their questions about closet doors, window openings, electrical outlet placement. Smile. Help keep the job site picked up and as tidy as possible. Best yet, pay them promptly!

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