Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My First Notes from Home Remodel 101

I've been in this "class" for about two weeks now. Here's a peek at some of what I've learned so far:

1. Once you start this process, once the first nail is driven in or the wiring pulled through, your life is not the same. And your time is sure as hell not your own.

2. When the crew goes home for the day, you can check and double-check the carpet for stray screws, pieces of plastic, or whatever. Then you can vacuum. You will still step on something in the middle of the night. Flashback to the days when you stepped on some of your kid's Lego pieces. Not fun.

3. Pacific Standard Time (PST) is not the same as Worker Standard Time. And when someone says, "Let's talk. I'm on my way," it's good to try to nail down that statement in miles, minutes, or hours. It means the difference between twiddling one's thumbs and getting things done in the meantime.

4. The work being done to the house is on a bigger scale than anything before. My parents did a little redecorating in 1974--painting, installing wall-to-wall carpeting and drapes in the living and dining rooms--following my grandmother's death. That was all. The same makeover happened in 1994, following the Northridge earthquake. Structurally, though, the house has been untouched over the decades. Feeling like a bit of a pioneer, I cast a very wide net to gather information and resources. The first big mistake I made was starting out with a interior design department at a big-box store and an independent general contracting firm simultaneously. There were a lot of gaps in who-would-do-what communication. About a week ago, to cut down on the craziness, I committed to one contractor to do it all. A hard lesson learned.

4. Don't get tripped up by "niceness." If you don't understand Construction-ish, ask for a translation. If it's not clear, ask again. And don't worry about "being a pain," or feel upset if a worker gets defensive. They deal with lots of folks like you who are putting a lot on the line--their money and their homes, for starters--and these workers have to also answer to their bosses, time frames, budgets, etc. I try to use a healthy dose of empathy to keep the professional relationship healthy. Still, homeowners have a right to get things straight in our minds, if only to lessen the rising feelings of panic, especially those that show up in any bizarre dreams or insomnia.

5. If something doesn't look right, ask, by whatever means necessary. Late yesterday afternoon I happened to turn on a hall light, and was shocked to see moisture, dripping, and water-blistering from the ceiling and down along one wall. My thoughts and words were something along the lines of,"WTF? When did THIS happen, and why didn't anyone say anything to me?" Long story short, my mom's caregiver thought I was aware of this, and my contractor hastily explained that it was a water pan in the attic that overflowed...blah, blah, blah...

6. Breathe! I've simply got to practice what I've preached for years to my clients. By the time I got on the phone with my contractor (see above) I was so livid, that I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really listen to what his explanation was (Mom's caregiver said he had "screamed" at the workers in the attic). I'm sure we'll mend fences, but for now I just need to cool off.

7. More on #6 above, I think I could learn a lot from Tiggy. When gearing up for these efforts, I was concerned that Tiggy--used to her peace and quiet--would maybe bolt out one of the doors or hole up traumatically under some furniture. Well, my baby has surprised me! At the beginning of each day, Tiggy selects a vantage point, out of the way of foot traffic, and enjoys the show. Then, when the crew departs for the day, she has lots to smell, such as foot tracks and equipment stacked along the walls. Lessons here: acceptance, calm, differentiating between what can be controlled and what cannot at any given time. I've decided on a morning slow pace routine: coffee, reading of the day's Daily Word message, allowing some cuddle time with Tiggy, and making an inventory of feasible to-do's. How successful am I at taming my frustrations? Let's just say it's a process.

9. I have to remember that something as complex and multi-systemic as a home remodel is not going to get done in a matter of days, or even weeks. This is not dress-making; this is bringing a 91-year-old structure up to current building standards. I'm not a patient woman; I owned that fact a long time ago. So, I just have to keep my expectations for completion realistic.

10. I'd been waiting for "a good time" to regrade the house, but such a time really will never come. There are always issues with work, family, one's own hesitations. When I find myself questioning, "What have I gotten myself into?", I try to remind myself of how this difficult phase will make a positive difference in the other aspects of my life. So, I just press on...