Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to survive a kitchen remodel: Saucy style. (Hint: Thin Mints help.)

Now that this kitchen project is dead and gone, I feel like I'm earned my Girl Scout badge for remodeling.  I should probably make a badge for my sidebar now that I think about it...  I've compiled a psuedo-survival guide which may or may not be informative to others but I'm posting it because I'm a Girl Scout now and I believe in preparedness, helpfulness and delicious cookies.

Get ur control freak on!
Despite being somewhat of a control freak when it comes to things, well... in my control, I'm really a hater of micromanaging.  I think people work better without the hot stank breath of some ignorant ass down their neck.   So I tried to keep my hot stank breath to myself - after all, these dudes are the experts and I know less than zilch about wires or anvils or whatever the hell people use to build things.  But when it comes to the things I know a little sumthin sumthin about - like how things should look -  I have some apparently outrageous standards.

I wish I had somehow communicated how important these standards were to me.  Outrageous things like how much I dislike a sloppy caulk line.  Or that the undercabinet lighting should not act as wall washers and should not be installed against the back of the wall.  Or that sheetrock does indeed need to be smooth.  Like, everywhere.   

I learn from the best.  What I looked like telling them to fix my shit.
Having seen examples of my contractors' work before, I was a little surprised at their lack concern in some areas.  Some things they excelled at but some things were on par with the craftsmanship I see in a lot of new construction.  Y'all know what I'm talking about...  Especially up against the quality in my 50 year old house that may have seen better days but her baseboards are still immaculately constructed.

Sadly, I think some things maybe they just didn't know were bad.>Maybe they gave me C grade work to fit into my budget - I don't know.  I wish I had known I had a choice in quality of work: 100% effort is full price, 50% effort is probably 75% of full price.  That might be something they needed to communicate during the bidding process.  But that's okay - I'll just spend my weekend sanding the edge to this door jamb you made out of splinters and found lumber you thought I wouldn't notice. 

Maybe some homeowners don't care about details.  Awesome.  You're a dream client.  But you might want to do some soul searching to see what you really care about and what you don't care about and then tell your contractor people.  I don't even care if they are insulted or not, America must be saved from sloppy details and kitchens with shitty undercabinet lighting.

Seriously, they didn't even know it was wrong.

I'm starting to change my mind about micromanaging...

Contractually obligated to ignore this contract
I've said before I thought the bidding process was not even CLOSE to being detailed enough for me (also, see note about control freak above) but I thought we got everything ironed out by the time of the contract signing.  What I didn't plan for was the different interpretation that the contractor and I had of that contract.  I thought it was a finite document and work order changes would be discussed should a problem arise but NAY!  Apparently our contract was treated like a general guideline for the project and open to debate - like the Constitution!

When my scope of work and the contract said "install cabinets and all necessary components including but not limited to trim, hardware, etc. herein described to for the remainder of the blah blah blah" I meant all the damn cabinet parts period end of story just do whatever that shit is.  They interpreted that to mean "install all cabinets and parts until it got too confusing and they just didn't feel like doing it anymore because OMIGAWDTHISISHARD I need more money."   So I got magically billed for a whole range of surprise things right at the end.  Yippee!!! 

They did not follow the agreed upon work order changes procedure and once we signed the contract it was virtually forgotten.  Some problems that came up they just didn't charge me for (they were generous) and some things they charged me where they shouldn't have.  I like getting things free as much as the next Madame but when I don't know what I'm paying for (or not paying for) because the contractor just randomly makes decisions without consulting me, it breaks our bond of trust.  A bond of trust we made in blood in the center of the pentagram!!

There were some very heated words exchanged during our final communication - words that tainted my overall experience and opinion of them which is unfortunate - but we did finally agree on a final payment.   I don't think these guys are the type to cheat me but it's hard to tell when you don't know the full story.  I LIKE DETAILS!  I also like for someone to follow through on a gawddamn contract.

I'm not too worried though, I had the ghosts in the house put a curse on anyone that tried to cheat me and nobody's skin melted off so I think in the end it was fair. 

Perhaps in the future I'll just be a bigger bitch about proper work order changes.  That's probably less messy than cursing someone.

Permit Shmermit
Even though this goes against the "law" I still think permits are subjective.  I'm like an dangerous outlaw!  Nobody I know gets permits but the "law" says if there's more than $50 worth of work going on (at least in my area) I need a permit.  Fuck that!  If I get a new front door I have to get a permit and that is bullshit.  If someone is building an addition and pouring foundation or making structural changes then whatever - obviously you need a permit.  And I get it - I really do - that it's about safety and legal issues and blah, blah, blah don't lecture me. I just don't think I needed a permit but my asshole neighbors felt otherwise and called the inspector's office on me.

I wasn't really concerned that my contractors were not meeting code - otherwise I wouldn't have hired them - but I just didn't want the extra trouble.  The fun part was that in the end the inspector asked twice "Now, why did you pull a permit for this project?" because even the inspector DIDN'T THINK I NEEDED A PERMIT.

The extra fun part was that the electrical inspector was a complete jackhole who was apparently more interested in using my bathroom than actually inspecting the work.  He approved the plans and rough-in work on two separate occasions only to decide one day that I needed more outlets on my backsplash.  AFTER the tile had already been installed.  I shit you not.  But my guys are smart and we rigged a solution just to pass inspection that they immediately removed:

Something I didn't pay for.  Or did I???!!!
Even though this has nothing to do with my kitchen, the electrical inspector also didn't feel like my smoke detector was adequate (I'm sure he had plenty of time to look in my hallway on the way to the bathroom).  He required that I add 3 additional smoke detectors along my hallway and hardwire them in because gawddammit this guy is an asshole.  So now my hallway looks like an airport landing strip at night and I'm out $500.  But I'm sure he's totally concerned about my safety considering I have an entire wing of my house with only ONE smoke detector.  How will I manage?

Even the final inspector agreed this guy was an asshole.  Thanks a lot neighbors!  Let's look at how your project is going:

It's probably illegal to post pictures of your neighbor's house, right?!
I know people in mint green houses shouldn't throw insults but damn I wish you had to get a permit for style because that is the ugliest eye-fucking house vomit I've ever seen.  Ugly paint, stupid window on a hideous 2nd story addition, mismatched brick on a garage built less than 2 feet (!) away and they don't even use it like the redneck Tea Partiers they are.   After 6 months your work still isn't done.  Karma's a bitch, muthafuckas.

The Kitchen Remodel Diet kicks Jenny Craig's ass!
Going without a kitchen for two months really wasn't as horrendous as I thought it was going to be.  Some people have to set up actual temporary kitchens complete with running water during the remodel but I'm not that high maintenance nor do I have kids.  I used a bowl, a plate, a wine glass, a few utensils and washed all that in the bathroom sink.  It was like living in a dorm but I didn't have to shower with flip flops on. Ahhh, being a homeowner...   

Normally I only cook about twice a week and eat on leftovers for a few days so I didn't actually miss the zen art of trussing a chicken.  Martha Stewart I am not.  

My dining room/temporary kitchen. Flowers from my neighbor - how sweet!
Since the weather was warm I mostly ate salads, cheese and crackers and apples with almond butter.  I was like a forest creature.  It was kinda nice not even having to worry about defrosting chicken or whether my squash was going bad.  My grocery list consisted of spinach, fancy cheese and apples so it was easy - I would have saved money on food except for the lunching out and bushels of organic produce.  This menu makes it seem like I'm a much healthier eater than I actually am so let me assure you, when I wanted something warm I did indulge in some fast food hamburgers because YUM.  

Since I'm a Madame of the classiest order (disregard previous fast food comment) I don't like cooking in the microwave, however I tried a few frozen meals but quickly remembered they are like poisonous vomit in a plastic container.  FYI, this:

is edible but makes your house and microwave permanently stink like rotting curry eaten out of a sweaty crotch.  With tires burning somewhere...  So basically, just like India.  Good thing I was throwing the old microwave away anyway.  Gawd I want to go back to India.

But lemme tell ya - the first thing I cooked when I had a stove again was a giant pan of roasted vegetables.  I never thought I'd ever say that I was craving a giant plate of green beans but damn they were good.  I think I ate them with a hamburger because it was pretty hard to get back in the habit of defrosting chicken and wondering if my squash was bad.  

Me so drrty
What's good about a remodel (if you're lazy like me) is that you get to totally slack off on cleaning for a legitimate reason and not the normal reasons I use like no one comes to visit me because I have no friends so why should I clean the house because I'm going to die alone anyway wedged between my piles of creepy stuffed animals, video tapes and rotten food!  *sob, sob, sob*

I kid.  I don't have a VCR.

My normal reason is that there's usually there's just a Strange Addiction marathon on.  THIS time there was no point in cleaning because it was going to immediately get dirty and dusty again.  It felt like I was living at the base of a moderately angry volcano.  

Lars and the Real Girl didn't seem this creepy...
I would highly recommend putting everything that's in close proximity to the work and isn't bolted down into storage.  I didn't until the ceiling fell and it rained white dirt in my house for days.  DAYS!  So I wiped everything down, put it into boxes and covered the furniture with sheets.  I went through 3 air filters in less than a month.

What my entire house looked like for two months.
My guys kept a pretty clean jobsite (except for that black dirt that kept showing up in my shower... what WAS that, guys?)  but there was still a lot of dusty foot traffic and general grubby hands all up in my ranch and ew.  Possibly blood too.  All that was cleaned up before I got home but if CSI ever comes to my house I bet I'm fucked.  Reason #98398429384 why this blog is awesome: it's an alibi.

I could probably write a book about this whole process and what I learned but I'll stop there on my Girl Scout list today.  Did I leave anything out?  Basically, do your homework but shit's gonna get fucked up because people are stupid and you're going to look like a bitch so just deal with it and eat some Thin Mints.

On your dirty couch.

Or put curses on your contractors... whatever.


  1. I laughed 'til I cried reading this post. Thank you! As someone going through the longest renovation in history, it felt great to read about someone else who has suffered for the greater glory of properly lit cabinet interiors.

    I think your best piece of advice in the post is about making sure the contract is the most detailed piece of writing you've ever produced. Even then, it's going to be subject to "interpretation" because of course they want to get paid extra for something they've already promised to do.

    The part of the post about the electrical inspector also cracked me up. Those guys are such jerks - especially his outrageous demands re the smoke detectors. If I told you some of the seemingly endless issues we've had and are currently having with our *four* different inspectors, though, you'd at least be happy that you don't have our guys. Right now, as just one example, they seem to want us to rip out the entire A/C ducting and mechanical system in the building, despite the fact that the plans for what it would be were submitted and okayed by them a year and a half ago. I just pray the fire safety inspector signs off soon so we can schedule the final inspection.

  2. Hello there, redbrickbuilding - thanks for stopping by! Terribly saddened to hear about your renovations woes but we're all in this together!! Suffer we do...

    Yeah, I want ridonkulous amounts of details in the contract - how many coats of paint, what time of day are you painting, is there an easterly wind, etc. etc. I'm glad I'm not just being a jerk about it and other people DO require the same attention to detail.

    UGH - inspectors!! I did come away largely unscathed by my inspectors as I have heard other horror stories. Although did you say a year and a half????! SHIT! You win. I'll stop complaining about my smoke detectors...

    Keep me updated on how the status of your remodel - best of luck! ; )

  3. Pure shiny gold bricks, this post!

    Get ready for those google queries for rotten curry and sweaty crotches.

    *The neighbors house looks worse than it did when they were just halfway through the project. Never would have imagined it would get worse.

  4. A girl can only dream of queries that nice!!

    It's like these people figured out what would actually look good and then do the exact opposite on every single decision. That's okay, my side of the street is the good side anyway.

  5. I eat that Amy's Indian stuff all the time and I'm not even remodeling. Not that I smell like crotch or anything.

    I cannot believe they did not know WHERE to install undercabinet lighting. I mean, couldn't they consult with the experts at Lowe's at the very least? When I finally remodel I had best box up the kitchen knives or I am gonna cut a bitch.

    Oh, and your neighbor's house might just top my neighbor's house with approx. 25 people living in it, ripped out bus seats for porch furniture and the concrete backyard.

  6. Maybe there was some kind of chemical reaction in my ancient microwave that made the house rank... I'm sure you smell delicious.

    Uh yeah... they seriously didn't know. Not that they had never done it before and guessed, but he said he does it like that ALL THE TIME! That's the scariest part. I don't want to treat someone like they're stupid but I will never assume someone knows these basic things... violence is probably the best solution.

    Good thing I don't have to look out my window to see these idiots. I would have to move. Maybe your neighbor's house would be available?

  7. Hmmm... Just thinkin' that maybe the microwave food was having some kind of a chemical reaction to the dirt bag inspector odor. And the neighbors house, oh my, it is one of the ugliest updates I have seen in a long time. Does that teeny, tiny window belong to a bathroom? Apparently, they do not plan on entering from the front. (Now considered the alley side???)

    aka, deb

  8. I think you nailed it on the Indian food/inspector odor, deb. *shudder*

    I have no idea what's INSIDE that hideous house - my guess is shag carpeting and dead bodies. The picture is taken from the side of the property so yes there is an entrance through a tiny gate (less than 2 feet, remember?) or someone could walk around the front I guess. It's still a normal rancher on the front - they just made it a humpback now.

  9. Let me start off by saying your neighbors are fucking dick sucking anal drips! Sorry this just pissed me off, they cost you money! And for what, just to be an asshole? Fuck them, I'd be jumping someones ass.

    Electrical dude sounds like a jerk too.

    Btw got to use my stove today for the first time and i made mac and cheese. And for dinner take and bake pizza. We still dont have our countertops so thats my excuse damn it!

  10. Dick sucking anal drips is the best sentence I've heard all week! Thank you for that. I'm trying to be the bigger person and not litter when I pass there house but sometimes it's HARD!!

    Your kitchen seems like it's going fairly well - or maybe you just don't document every grotesque detail like me! I can't wait to see yours when it's finished!!

    mmhhh.... take and bake pizza.

  11. I feel just a little more wealthy having read this post!

    Ahhh, inspectors. Seriously, most of them have a hard time remembering the difference between commercial and residential. That's why they have your hallway prepared for a portal from hell to open into it. The last inspector I met had the brains of a retarded worm. I hate to use the word retarded like that and there really is no reason to insult worms in such a way. They have no voice and are generally smarter than city inspectors, even the 'special' ones.

    You need neighbors like ours. They are all rude and don't even bother to say high....and they deal drugs so they don't call anyone from the city less they draw too much attention to themselves. It's a nice part of town, if you have a .45 in your closet and only go outside between the hours of 10am and 2pm.

    I could never be a general contractor. I'm too exact for that crap. Running around breaking stuff and then charging the customer to fix it is beneath me.

    I'm a cabinet guy. If I tell you it's going to cost $1,335.26 to install your cabinets that's the exact bill you will get. Not once in 11 years did I ask one customer to pay me more. That's why I do bids, not estimates. Guessing is for pansies and 'special' city inspectors driving tax payer supplied cars.

    I'm glad it's over for you. I'm also glad it was a little rough. It makes for great blog material! ;)

  12. Sorry, I didn't mean to blog on your blog. ;)

  13. I love comments that are conversations AND hearing about other people's experiences - no worries!

    I'm glad this thing is over but it probably wasn't as rough as it may have seemed. I just like telling you about all the rough stuff! I know projects aren't an exact science but DAMN! It seemed like a lot of this stuff was so 'fly by the seat of our pants' - I don't think I could ever feel comfortable/confident in making my living like that. But maybe that's why I'm not an entrepreneur.

    There was so much about this process that was unnecessarily hard - things that are easily fixable with a little forethought from all parties.

    I think your neighbors have it right - lay low and carry a powerful weapon. ; )

    Thanks James!