When it comes to righteous indignation, who gets to complain the loudest: the homeowner remodeling a bathroom voluntarily, or the one whose space is torn apart by a cracked sewer stack?
Does partial reimbursement from homeowners insurance partially negate one's right to gripe about the disruption?
And what about factoring in degree of difficulty for the homeowner living without a kitchen, or bathing in the laundry tub, or doing it all while coping with kids?
Maybe you're like Philadelphia yoga instructor Janet Lorenz, who bought an unfinished rehab project. Or like me, the one with the sewer-stack issues. However your castle became crummy, the resulting problem is a fine coat of stubborn dust.
Sheetrock and sanding generate dust so ethereal it seems to creep inside your CD cases and toothpaste tubes. You can smell it in the air.
It seeps into the kitchen cabinets and onto the cereal bowls so that every meal is like an unfortunate picnic at the beach. The first bite is so-so, but with each succeeding taste you feel the grit on your gums.
Though you made modest attempts at cleanliness all along, wiping countertops nightly, your bed linens feel like flypaper in a sandstorm.
The real task of cleanup can begin only when, you should pardon the expression, the dust settles. Then you call in the cleaning professionals.
Seeking estimates, I called Denise Baron, who runs a housecleaning service called Too Little Time, and Carol Jean Seelaus, who teaches and writes full time about cleaning and clutter under the company name Somebody's Gotta Do It.
"Mold comes off with elbow grease," Baron said. "But getting rid of dust is time-consuming and labor-intensive. People are easily alarmed at the cost of post-construction cleaning."
Somebody's Gotta Do It and Too Little Time charge comparable fees: $25 and $30 an hour, respectively, including supplies. The size of the home and the amount of work involved dictate the total cost.
At slightly less than 2,000 square feet, my three-story, two-bedroom rowhouse required two visits for cleanup. Cost: $850.
To lessen the cleanup, cover up first, Baron and Seelaus agreed. In other words, whether the in-house construction begins purposefully or accidentally, it pays to pack, store or cover as many of your belongings as possible.
Roll up rugs and blinds; cover paintings, prints and posters with old clean sheets. Put away photos. Tape over vents. And if your contractor doesn't cover the floors, do it yourself.
Whatever isn't discussed in advance between you and your contractor has to be talked about during the process. Sometimes it isn't easy, said Lorenz, who lived in her House of Dust and Grime for 10 months.
"I sort of knew what I was getting into," she said. "When I moved in, there was plank flooring, plaster on 80 percent of the walls, the kitchen was incomplete, light bulbs dangled from most of the ceilings."
Still, she said, she was unprepared for the additional troubles the workers would cause.
Her floor guy, who said he had 20 years' experience, started sanding one day without rolling or covering up the blinds in that particular room. Nor did he cover the walls there that had just been painted. And he started the work without giving Lorenz a chance to do it.
Her tile man, who was putting granite in the bathroom, laid it in a bed of sand and apparently failed to cover a marble slab he had just installed. As a result, Lorenz said, he proceeded to rub sand across the marble, scratching it.
When she tried talking to him about it, Lorenz said, "he kept talking at my forehead instead of looking into my eyes."
Lorenz said she spent so much money rehabbing her three-story, 2,000-square-foot rowhouse that she couldn't afford a cleaning company. Instead, she spent 10 days on her hands and knees scrubbing it herself.
But we've come to tidy up after contractors, not to bad-mouth them. Once they're gone, always start by cleaning from top to bottom, Baron said.
In my house, that meant wiping the ceiling fans and walls on the third floor, changing the filters in the air-conditioning units, and wiping every pair of shoes in my walk-in closet and every book on each shelf.
Depending on the location and the intensity and accumulation of dust, a house has to be damp-wiped, vacuumed and wiped again. And in many places, even a damp cloth won't do. Some dust just has to be lifted, not rubbed in, because it contains tiny particles that will scratch surfaces. There, nothing but a vacuum will do.
In my kitchen, for example, every cabinet was emptied and scrubbed, each can and bottle wiped down -- and then the whole place was rearranged in a way that made sense. The fridge is white again inside and out. My mustards stand together once more, and the inside ridges of their lids sparkle. Expired items exist no more.
The stove smells fresh. And it turns out I don't need a new floor after all.
Throughout, the baseboards were scrubbed, electric cords and outlets dusted, staircase crevices made spotless. And I learned a valuable lesson.
"Never, ever assume the contractor is going to protect your belongings from his/her onslaught," said Seelaus. "Look at the rooms adjoining the area where he will be working and imagine what they'd look like if a huge dust storm hit. Plan accordingly."
Considerate contractors will put drop cloths on the floors of the rooms where they are working, Seelaus said, but probably not in the rooms they'll walk through. And their drop cloths may arrive full of dust and debris from the last job.
A little joint compound, a little Sheetrock and some plaster dust tracked across your floor by someone's shoes will scratch the surface.
"When deciding on a contractor, explain that you're going to live in the place" while he is working there, Seelaus said. "If he doesn't seem too interested in what you're saying, expect to have to hire me to clean up after him."