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TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

Renovations can be stressful--especially on relationships. The editors of This Old House want to know:

Has a renovation issue negatively impacted your relationship(s) with family, friends, neighbors, and/or contractors?


How did you overcome that hurdle to get through the job?

Tell us and your story may be featured in a future issue of This Old House.

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

I am in the process of a major renovation of a bathroom. I have pictures of before and I will take pictures after or as I go along.

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

What I can say about taking on remodel/renovations to any SANE married couple who is even remotely considering it.is..DON"T!!!:eek: If you have any shred of hope for your sanity, or your marriage to last you will hire a reputable contractor.
My husband and I have what we refer to as remodel ADD. We are like 2 small children in a candy store with no adult supervision. We will be sitting there admiring our lovely home, albeit, it's our half finished projects house, when out of the blue, one of us delinquent brainiacs will get some hair brain idea like..taking out a wall to make a room bigger, or walling in a patio to make a master bedroom, or converting the garage into a living space for the mother in law, oh, and that is whole different story worthy of divorce court at it's finest or worse!!!! That's arbitrary.:D
Now let me clarify that we have actually completed a small project or two, and no one died or divorced, but it was close.....whew!!
However,the main issue with us is that we NEVER complete a project from start to finish. We have no problem starting projects, that's the easy part, the idea, the planning, the buying of the most necessary tools (my husbands swears they are all necessary) I beg to differ, REALLY, do you REALLY need 20 different types of hammers, screw drivers, saws, etc. and don't even get me started on the power tools!!! By the way, our table saw was a "special order" and even has a plaque that has our names engraved, this is just a clever ploy on my husbands part to make me feel a "part" of his tool obsession, I'm not falling for that. NOPE. Oh, I think that's another whole story.:o
I have pictures too!!! :p and I think our neighbors are tired of looking at tyvek!!!!!

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

It may seem like a good idea to employ your clients as your contractors-kind of an I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine. Because of the pre-established relationship, there seems to be this understanding that we can't be critical of the work or the level of service. It takes forever to work your way in on their list of jobs, they prioritize visits to other sites thinking you'll understand, and they take short cuts. We have just muddled through to the end of projects, and we come out on the other end thinking maybe we won't ask them to do the next project after all.

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

In March of 2006, 3 months before my wife, Nicole and I were to be married, I learned one of the most important lessons of married life, "always check with your wife before making a LARGE purchase!" A week before purchasing the house we call home now, I was online looking for a larger house with property in Aurora, Ohio, where my wife grew up and where she wanted to move
back to. By pure luck the house across the street from where Nicole grew up was for sale, large at 3500 sqft., a lot of property at almost 15 acres, and at a REALLY good price. I called the realtor and instead of meeting me out at the house she just gave me the lock box combination saying that she had
shown the house to several people and was almost certain I wouldn't be interested either.... When I first stepped into the house I knew i would call it home. It was a log cabin that sat way off the main road, and has a large lake in the front yard. The inside wasnt as pretty a picture as the outside though.... When the bank had foreclosed on the previous owners, they
never thought to winterize the baseboard plumbing. Every piece of copper in the house split and busted, flooding the house and warping every piece of wood it came in contact with. I had to move fast as a builder was also interested in the property (to develop it), so I called the realtor back and had a deal done within a week. I thought it would be a great surprise for my
wife, but she wasn't very happy when she first walked inside and saw the kitchen floor buckled and lifted 8" off of the sub floor from the water damage, and she was even more unhappy when she walked up to the second floor and its 5 bedrooms as the previous owners had had pets and you could definately smell them! Nicole finally started to come around and started saying things like, "well if we take out this wall and add this or that." 4
months later, and all new PEX plumbing, new tile, carpet, and hardwood floors, new Kraftmaid kitchen cabinets, granite counter tops, all new electrical, low voltage, ceiling fans and lights throught out, drywall, subfloors, a new roof, a new hot water tank and a new boiler, we even added a new ventless stone fireplace in the hearth/dining room. I brag to my
friends now about the house, and all the work we did and about how doing something like this can teach you a lot of things; 1. never make this large of a purchase without first checking with your wife, and 2. this was a great way to really meet your whole "new" family as Nicoles' and my family worked for 4 months together and today are very close because of it. This spring is we tackled new windows, a dedicated home theater and a 1500sqft addition!

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

Hi! TOH Great advice on my plumbing problem, The problem was a slow drain, but was not sure if it was not some mechanical drain valve problem or perhaps a venting problem because I have very active squirrels plugging up the air vent on the roof?, TOH gave me detail instruction on what to do first to eliminate the possibilities their first thought was correct! "It turned out to be a clogged drain", Liquid Plummer gold works great! Thanks for the info! I really love watching your great show! PS. I have another problem I need to address but will wait until I have more time to submit it to your crew. I also have been in the housing business and have sold 40+ houses so far! Perhaps you would not mind advertising my new house on your show. To learn more visit my web site:


Thanks, JP

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

My wife and I recently built a new home. At the time our son was only a year old, we had sold our home, moved to another state, living in a very small apartment, 80% of our belongings were in storage and I was trying to do as much of the work myself to keep costs under control. I'd work my 10 hour day, run home grab a quick bite to eat, kiss my wife and child and head to the house for several hours each night. Then on the weekends I'd spend all day working on the house. The only time my wife and son saw me was to bring my snacks and meals. It was a very trying and difficult time in our marriage. We made it through it and I'm sure it made us much stronger but I don't think most people realize the pressure it can put on a relationship. If I had it to do all over again I would have made it a point to take breaks and spend time with my family. No relationship and family is worth the few extra dollars you end up saving. In addition, those breaks would have made me happier and much more productive.

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

Has a renovation issue negatively impacted your relationship(s) with family, friends, neighbors, and/or contractors?

During the gut renovation of our NYC/Flatiron district coop (a wonderful converted 1907 factory building) from late 2003 through the summer of 2005, we had a number of issues with our contractor including a severe language barrier (instructions were written on the walls in Polish and I considered asking our housekeeper to accompany me to find out what it all meant), slow to no progress for weeks and sometimes months at a time, their failure to follow building rules on a number of occasions and simple mistakes that came mostly from a lack of supervision, not to mention their shutting off the gas to not only our apartment, but our neighbors' on the night they were having a dinner party.


How did you overcome that hurdle to get through the job?

Among other things, I took a fair amount of vacation time in one-hour increments (courtesy of a very understanding boss who had gone through his own renovation nightmares)so I could visit the site at 4:30 p.m. nearly every day while workers were still there. (Early on, I caught them having a little vodka party in our unfinished livingroom.) For the most part, it helped ensure that mistakes were caught early and their questions were promptly answered, leaving fewer excuses for the lack of progress.

As for the neighbors, we assembled very nice cases of wine and delivered one to anyone who shared a wall or ceiling with our apartment. They seemed genuinely shocked and pleased that we thought of it and have had a really great experience living here since we moved in in 2005. As for the contractor, we were generally pleased with the result of their work - meticulous woodworking and masonry - and their aggressively low price compared with other bidders, but we would only recommend them to folks who have lots of time and don't need to live in the space during construction.

David Hyland
New York, NY

Administrator wrote:

Renovations can be stressful--especially on relationships. The editors of This Old House want to know:

Tell us and your story may be featured in a future issue of This Old House.

Re: TOH Editor - energy saving improvements

We added PV solar panels to our home in December. Our kilowatt usage has dropped from 350 kw per month to 35! We also added a retractable awning over our sunroom which keeps the house cooler and minimizes our need for air conditioning. I've also made window quilts for the windows to keep the heat and sun out which also keeps the house cooler. In addition, we are hang drying clothes more rather than using the dryer as well as washing clothes in cold water. Every little bit helps!
Karyn Barry

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

My story is really the opposite of what you asked. How a renovation project was a true gift of love at one the hardest moments in my life. I live in a charming early '20's dutch colonial on a hill with three acres. My husband and I just love this house, but he was never one to do much more than dream of fixing it up and my work keeps me busy enough to not try to do major renovations on my own. In August of 2006 I awoke on the third day of our vacation to find my husband dead on the floor. My whole life changed, as it did for our sons who were 9 and 12 at that time. Family and friends are wonderful and helped in so many ways. My brother and his wife gave us a tremendous gift. They are architects in Burlington, VT some 4 1/2 hours north of our RI home. Shortly after the funeral, my brother told me that he and his wife would be coming for the Columbus day weekend to wreck my upstairs bathroom and put in a new one. They would have 4 days. This was the second room in the house that had lousy panelling on the walls. (The first room had been completely done over by my husband for our oldest son.) They came as they promised and started to rip out the walls and counters. We decided to keep costs and workload down by leaving in the tub and finding a ready made storage cabinet. I had only bought a medicine cabinet and a rug before they arrived. My sister-in-law helped with purchasing the toilet and sink. She brought samples for flooring and explained the different products. All weekend they worked all the time, I helped a little and we even had my son's 10th birthday. Every night they lit the candles and hopped in the shower before bed. They helped get most of the demo debris out to the curbside. They ended up staying an extra day and doing a meeting by phone with a client to get more done. They had one big fight over installing the floor as this was a product unlike any they had used before. I chose paint colors by standing in front of one of my husband's paintings with the little rug and loads of colors. The most complicated part was that to better use the space we decided to move the steam radiator and needed a plumber. He came a few weeks later and my brother came back to finish everything up. So I have a new bathroom with colors my husband would have loved. The wallboard covers new insulation and I have better storage than the old. The total cost including the plumbing work was less than $2000 because all the other labor was free. When life is completely turned upside down and you need help from anyone who is willing look to see their strengths and special gifts. When you ask for something that matches their talents both the giver and recipient are blessed.

Re: TOH Editors want to know: Any renovation/relationship disasters?

Don't know if this qualifies or not. I had a contractor who, for nearly 20 years, did quite a bit of work for me. That includes removing my roof, adding a second story, kitchen remodel, and various smaller projects. We had become good friends. His work was (and is) excellent. It is as close to perfect as I have ever seen. I had a project planned that involved adding a small room to my house, a deck, and a screened in porch. He took the job. He got as far as framing the room and hanging sheetrock, and flooring the deck and screened in porch. Then he disappeared. Didn't answer my calls. Left his tools sitting, and didn't return. His tools set outside for 4 weeks before I locked them up in my shop. I did not hear from him for another 8 weeks. In that time (I am a DIY person) I finished the room, made box beams for the porch, stained and polyurethaned siding for the porch and got things prepared as far as I could go by myself. At that point I contacted my friends at the local lumber yard about someone to finish my construction. They were very helpful. In fact, unknown to me, they had already talked to another contractor to see if they would help me out. The same week they agreed to finish my project, my original contractor contacted me. He apologized for disappearing, said he wanted to finish the project, and would like to get his tools out of my shop. We had a discussion, parted friends, and are still friends.

As an aside to the story, the first contractor worked with his semi-retired carpenter father. We have been friends for years. After leaving my project, his father later began working for me on occasion, and he and I have just completed a rehab some rental property.


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