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Posted at 09:49 AM ET, 02/27/2012

My Renovation Saga: Living with dust and other things you forget about when remodeling


The old broken window is out, making way for the new one, which is about 60 percent larger. (Anne Marie Borrego)

Everything I learned about remodeling, I forgot in a year.

I’m not a rookie remodeler, and yet after this week, you’d have thought I had forgotten everything that I’ve learned about managing construction projects over the past decade.

There’s been lots of digging, cutting, sawing and wiring, all in the name of a new guest room since my last post. And while I still think the job is going smoothly, there are a few things I wish I had considered prior to all this progress. So in the name of admitting my mistakes, I’ve compiled a few pieces of advice I should remember to take myself.


Two of the remaining pot lights. I asked my contractor to remove several others. (Anne Marie Borrego)

Ask about the schedule, often.

Even though I had a general sense of what was happening when, the schedule was thrown off by unforeseen circumstances. I thought the window would go first, followed by framing, electric, insulation and drywall. However, a hold-up over a part for the window left us waiting a few days, so my contractor and his guys started with framing and electric, leaving the window for another day.

The result: I came home to find no fewer than six pot lights in the ceiling of my tiny 9.5 x 11 foot space. While I agree that all basement rooms need extra light, I’m not performing surgery and tend to favor lamps. So, after some teeth gnashing, I asked our contractor to take out some of the lights, which he did graciously. I should have walked through this with him just after demolition to avoid the mixup.

I’m not the only one to screw up this way. I’ve heard countless stories of crews installing brass knobs, pulls or handles when the homeowner wanted nickel, or placing towel bars in random spots. In the spirit of following my own advice, I’m sitting down with my contractor tomorrow to talk timing. After all, I have some furniture deliveries to schedule.

Prepare for dust.

We walked into our home Saturday, after the guys had been cutting a larger hole for the new window. My six-year-old coughed dramatically and asked, “Mommy, why is the house so thick?”

Even though they were digging outside and had sealed the area to the basement room prior to demolition, the age of the house and the sneaky nature of dust and whatever that powder is they use to mix mortar rendered their efforts useless. I found cut-outs of placemats on my dining room table and a thin film on the bananas and avocados.

But nothing could have prepared me for my laundry room (except all that experience I had clearly forgotten). A coating of dust covered my washer and dryer (bonus points for me for leaving the washer top open). My ironing pile has now become a dirty laundry pile, and even my poor iron was filthy. I’ve been spending the last 48 hours walking around with a rag, and even after I clean up dirty surface, the dust reappears.

Had I been thinking clearly, I would have put any food items in cabinets, made sure all my closet doors were closed and checked the laundry room for unfinished chores.

Be Courteous.

In my professional life, I have had my fair share of unclear and ultimately fruitless assignments, and I know too well the sting of throwing out hard work, just to start over. So while I was annoyed that our contractor had gone ahead and installed the lights without talking with me about it, I also realize that I never made any specific requests, save the location of an outlets, which he placed perfectly. The lack of planning cost him extra time, which is money. Not only did I thank him profusely. But when he came back on Saturday, we brought him and the other guys donuts.

Likewise, it’s important to be courteous to neighbors, especially when your project requires hammering, sawing and making a racket before 8:00 a.m. on a weekend (in a shared driveway nonetheless). At a minimum, it’s good to keep them informed of what’s going on. But I think a kind gesture when the work is done is always in order. Which reminds me, I need to buy my dear next-door neighbor a nice bottle of wine.

Related: Alexandria’s permitting guidance

Related: First installment of: Our basement project

Anne Marie Borrego is the media relations director for a non-profit organization and a resident of Alexandria.

Do you have a tip for working with your contractor that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments section.

Do you want to share your renovation saga? Email us at realestate@washpost.com.

By Anne Marie Borrego  |  09:49 AM ET, 02/27/2012

 
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