What am I in for during a home renovation?
November 3, 2010 5:54 PM   Subscribe

What is standard etiquette/SOP for an owner to extend a contractor during a home renovation? What can I generally expect to happen to my life? Details inside.

Adding a bathroom, bedroom and bigger dining room, all ground floor. Today the contractor stopped by with some forms, permits, plans to begin next week.

I happened to be off work today, so spoke with him some, although he could have done what he needed to do without anyone home, and didn't expect me.

I have vacation time to use with the holidays coming up, but dread using it with construction noises - more so, potentially dealing with strangers.

The main contractor is a friendly acquaintance. We have a barky inside guard type dog, so can't extend a key. There are no plans to put up a porta-potty, but I don't mind people pissing behind the shed or whatever, and there are commercial establishments with public restrooms within five minutes or less. How to communicate that? Husband plans to do some work himself, as project develops, and will be the main contact person on our side.

So. If I'm home and there is work being done - are naps just pretty much out? Do I tell them my schedule of when I will return from any errands I run? What if they have a question I can't answer - my husband is the one with the knowledge - I'd like them to wait for answers from him, and not say the wrong thing.

Mild introvert impending freak out, I guess. As we get underway, I feel like some ground rules should be set up front, but main contractor and husband, being more experienced, seem to have quite the laid back attitude.

I did search, but I may have missed something just not knowing how to phrase stuff, so links to previous welcome.
posted by rainbaby to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did I read that right and you're going to expect people to not use your bathroom? Every time my parents have had something worked on in a house, no matter how small, about the first thing they did was let the people know where the bathroom was. Maybe that makes them weird, but the people working always appreciated it.
posted by theichibun at 6:00 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not being snarky here but do you expect them to take a break while you nap? In an ideal world, would you like them to stop working while you're there? If so, according to my boyfriend (a carpenter), that's more than reasonable. He's currently doing a full renovation on an apartment and has the owner's schedule; if the owner is working from home, boyfriend doesn't work that day. It is key to keep in mind that disrupting their momentum with your schedule requests will delay the job. Additionally, you don't have to answer any of their questions. As long as they know upfront that they should direct all questions to your husband, they will.

I'm an introvert too so I absolutely sympathize with you.
posted by Siena at 6:03 PM on November 3, 2010

Oh, also, I agree with theichibun - you can't expect them to go behind the shed. Especially not if the main contractor is a friendly acquaintance. Also, isn't the work being done inside? Personally, I'd kennel (crate) the dog while they're working.
posted by Siena at 6:06 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my experience, you should be so lucky as to have these be your biggest problems. Hopefully you have a contract that was reviewed by an attorney, you have personally viewed their contractors license and insurance including negligence/liability, you have a set of building plans and they have been reviewed by someone qualified (possibly another contractor), you are having them get the building permits, you are paying as little as possible up front, you have clearly defined points in time to deliver progress payments (and not before), you will be documenting the work with photographs, you will be present for the city building inspections, and if you are not qualified to evaluate the work you will pay your own inspector to double-check it. The friendly relationship only makes this more important. These other questions you ask about the timing of the work should be discussed within that same framework of setting expectations.
posted by slidell at 6:08 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Um. I don't recommend telling the people working on your home to "piss behind the shed" or that they should leave to use a public restroom. Be gracious and let them use your bathroom. I mean seriously ... if you treat them like second class citizens and can't even extend to them the basic human courtesy of letting them use your restroom, do you think they're going to knock themselves out for you?

When we had work done a few years ago, I kept a coffee pot full, put out paper cups, told the workmen to help themselves to ice and water from the fridge, and bought a box of doughnuts a couple of times a week for them. I also got pizza for lunch once or twice, and we gave them medium tips when the work was complete. They were very appreciative of my small efforts to make their days more pleasant, and they did a terrific job on the renovations. I think they would have done a nice job anyway but this way we all felt good about it.
posted by Kangaroo at 6:10 PM on November 3, 2010 [14 favorites]

I'm fairly sure it's standard practice to allow the contractors to use your bathroom. When we had major work done on our first floor, my husband and I were home during all of it (he works from home, I was in school). I am so glad we were. We had an incredibly wonderful experience though it was stressful. It's noisy and yes, there are strangers in your house. But if you're around, you'll know what's going on. Just go into it expecting your routine to be completely upended for a while. No naps while construction is going on; it's unreasonable to ask them to stop working while you nap. Really.
posted by cooker girl at 6:11 PM on November 3, 2010

It's unreasonable for you to ask the contractors to travel somewhere else to use the toilet, and very unreasonable for you to expect them to urinate in public. They should either be able to use the one in your house, or you should hire a portable toilet. Your house is going to be a worksite; it should be safe and fully equipped as one for the workers you're hiring.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:13 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rent a port a potty (johnny quick). hide it in back if you wish (they are very light) but if you have permits for work noone can say you can't park it in your front yard. that keeps the "help" out of your bathroom. $75 a month would be a standard rate
posted by patnok at 6:18 PM on November 3, 2010

Response by poster: Legal and contracts are all good, I don't expect work to stop so I can nap, I just am trying to set my expectations and schedule. Dog cannot be crated, and because it's a large job and it is November, kenneling is not an option until walls come down/inside access to wiring and plumbing is required - later in the process. We could try to confine the dog, but she has busted baby gates and doors. It sounds like a porta-potty is a must do, but like I said, it isn't currently in the plans that I've seen. I don't mean to sound like a diva, I'm simply turning to ask me out of ignorance and anxiety to prepare for a prep-talk with my husband.
posted by rainbaby at 6:22 PM on November 3, 2010

Do I understand the problem with the toilet as being: you are not necessarily planning to be home all the time, and your dog would be dangerous if the workmen entered the house while you aren't there? In that case, I really think you do need to hire a portaloo, or have friends mind your dog on days when you will be gone for more than an hour.

I imagine that the workmen might need to enter the house for other reasons too - plugging in electric tools? Getting water? And surely all the work isn't going to be done outside if you are renovating whole rooms. You are going to have to find a way to deal with the dog for these reasons too.

If the reason you are thinking about taking vacation time during the construction work is simply so that someone is home to deal with the dog-vs-workmen problem, it would be much cheaper to pay someone to have the dog to stay during the day, or to kennel it, rather than using up vacation time.
posted by lollusc at 6:31 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, lollusc, we will generally not be home. My husband does work an early schedule, and should be able to check in with the work when he gets home, some days at least. And yes, that is the issue with the dog - possible danger/liability.

Thank you for the input so far. Ideas now - Porta-potty. Re-key the back door that will grant access to the laundry/mud room - has a sink, and a fridge, that can be used and stocked. This would also grant access to the whole house, past another internal unlocked but undoggable breakthrough door, but the dog would be behind the mud-room door and would have to be passed at that point. Unless maybe do a baby gate + closed bedroom door containing dog till crunch time, when we are either home or would kennel the dog? Reasonable? Not yet?
posted by rainbaby at 6:49 PM on November 3, 2010

I know what you mean about hating to have people in your house all day. I hate it, too, and I think most people do!

Okay, here's the basic level of consideration: Toilet facilities on-site. Say hi when they arrive, or when you see them for the first time that day. Learn the names of the guys who are there regularly. Let them work without interruption except to ask something relevant to what they're doing.

I was sick pretty much all the time during our last home-improvement project, due to first-trimester horribleness, and I definitely laid down on the couch and slept while they were working right outside the window. They probably thought I was intensely lazy, but whatever, I was growing a new person and barfing 5 times a day, I was entitled to lie down when I could. You can similarly do what you want in your own house. If they need you, they'll let you know. They woke me up a couple of times with questions about colors, etc; it was no biggie.

As a shy person, you will probably have a different problem, which is: unwillingness to speak up when something seems not-quite-acceptable to you. If something looks off-kilter, or not the right color, or not quite plumb, speak up. Immediately. It's easier to fix early on, and you have every right to demand, politely and matter-of-factly, that the work meet your expectations.
posted by palliser at 6:49 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd say the dog is a fairly significant concern here. You say you can't give the contractor a key because of the dog, but how will you keep the dog out of the work area? If the dog is really that large and destroys doors, he/she sounds like a danger to the workers. Even if the dog is perfectly harmless, people will be up on ladders, operating power tools, trying to corral sawdust and other construction materials, plastering and painting, and other hazardous activities. They absolutely cannot have a dog coming into any part of the work area while they are doing any of these things or a host of other construction activities, for their own safety if nothing else, but also because a dog mixed with construction materials equals an ungodly mess everywhere in your home (e.g. there's a pile of sawdust that will be swept up at the end of the day, but the dog runs in and tracks it all over the house). I think you need to seriously reconsider how this will all work with the dog.

Access is an important issue as well. There will be a lot of people who need to come in and out of the house, and it could well cost you a fair bit of time and money if you're not around to let them in. What if the contractor is late (note: many contractors are frequently late, it's a hazard of the business) and you have to go to work before he arrives? Or what if he needs to lock up when you're not around? For a job this big, I think your contractor really needs a key.

As others have said, the workers need a bathroom. You either need to let them use yours or rent a port-a-potty and pay for it to be serviced. Your contractor can take care of this for you.

Also, a brief note on cleanliness. Some contractors are incredible about putting down drop-clothes and other protective gear, including along the access routes inside your home to the work area, and at cleaning up at the end of the workday. Others very much are not. I'd give them a fair chance to clean up at the end of each day, but if you notice areas of concern, it's absolutely alright to discuss this with your contractor. Just ask him to make sure drop cloths or paper coverings get put where needed or that such and such gets swept at the end of the day.

Finally, food and beverages for the crew is some of the best money you can spend in terms of keeping everybody happy and getting the job done efficiently so all this mess will be out of your hair sooner rather than later. It's also just a nice thing to do.
posted by zachlipton at 6:55 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Given the scope of your job, I don't see how there won't be a whole host of people inside your house for a fairly lengthy period of time. Remember Rule #1: construction always takes longer than you or your contractor thinks it will, even when all parties involved take into account Rule #1. I think you either need a way to safely contain your dog to a separate room away from all this or for the dog to be out of the house for a considerable period of time.

With your "stay home and dogsit" plan, what happens when the job takes longer than planned and you run out of vacation time or don't want to spend any more vacation time not be on vacation? Who watches the dog if you go to run an errand or just want to leave the house for a little bit? Not trying to be rude about this, it just doesn't seem like a workable solution to me.
posted by zachlipton at 7:04 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a shy person, you will probably have a different problem, which is: unwillingness to speak up when something seems not-quite-acceptable to you. If something looks off-kilter, or not the right color, or not quite plumb, speak up. Immediately. It's easier to fix early on, and you have every right to demand, politely and matter-of-factly, that the work meet your expectations.

I strongly encourage you to set up clear lines of communication. If you see anything you are unsure about you should have a foreman or superintendent on site you can ask, and be clear with your husband what is up as well, so you don't send mixed messages. I don't recommend interrupting the individual workers unless there is no supervision on site.
posted by meinvt at 7:05 PM on November 3, 2010

I, too, am somewhat confused about how you are adding a bedroom/dining room but not giving a key to the contractors? Anyhow, my experience:
I've only had work done on the outside, and the contractors did not expect a key to the house--I guess they worked out their own break situation. But if they were actually in my house, I would absolutely expect them to use my bathroom.

I think it is unreasonable to ask them to work around your at-home times/nap schedule. They have other projects lining up and waiting in the wings, it would have to be a very casual relationship with your contractor to allow 'work whenever'.

Regarding the dog: if yours is anything like mine, 'loose inside the house' is not really an option, as much because it is stressful for the dog to have strange men on the property and loud noises as because she's loud and scary. I crate her in the living room when we have people working on the property, and if they were to be working inside our house, I would move her crate to our bedroom (or wherever no work was being done) and close that door--the dog is unhappy about strangers on our property and can't stop barking and running around, even when I am home to control things. I strongly advise crating or taking her somewhere else for the work day.
posted by lemonade at 7:22 PM on November 3, 2010

We have been under renovation, off and on, for seven years. I agree with what everyone else is saying...the workers use one of our bathrooms, but I do have them put chipboard on the floors to protect them against workboots, dropped tools, etc. I keep old towels in there for the duration and make sure that they know that using the bathtub or shower to fill buckets is not an option. (They use the laundry room sink instead.) My life has always been better when we wall off (with plywood) the area of the house being worked on. The workers are more comfortable that way (homeowners out of their hair, they can come and go as they please, no animals to be wary of, they can leave their tools on the floor at night and know it won't be dangerous to kids and animals) and I have less construction dust to deal with in the rest of the house.

I make coffee every morning and make sure the guys all know where they can grab cream and sugar if needed. Every once in awhile I'll spring for pizza or send out for sandwiches. I give them a boombox unless I need it to be quiet, and if I'm home and need to talk on the phone for work, I just let them know in advance in the morning, and remind them about 10-15 minutes before I need the boombox off. I expect there to be noise. A lot of noise. And dust. It's the by product of the work and there is little they can do about it. There are no naps without headphones. Depending upon who it is, they have some up as early as 7 am (and knocked off for the day at 3 pm), or have shown up at 10 am and knocked off for the day at 7 pm. I appreciate the fact that they are there, and they respond to politeness and respect. Having done a fair amount of this type of work myself, I know that there are moments when someone has a choice: do they rush through to finish the day? Or do they spend a few more minutes to put in that little bit of extra effort in the task at hand? When I felt good about a project, I always deferred towards putting in the extra effort. So, I try to be as reasonable as I can, knowing that they we have invited them in to do this work.
posted by jeanmari at 7:32 PM on November 3, 2010

I am another person saying "I'm confused." I think you want to make alternate arrangements for the dog in lieu of getting a port-a-potty (if I am understanding things as I think I am). Probably some sort of contractor-grade, gritty, gets-grime-off soap by the sink would be thoughtful, along with lotion and hand towels. I mean, there is just no kind way to ask people to work on your home and then not let them in it. Forget the toilet for a sec -- what if they want to borrow a kettle?

I had a lot of renovations done to my house a couple of years ago. I kept my fridge stocked with beverages and tried to have decent snacks one could quickly grab -- I went to Costco and got the little pots of Dole refrigerated sliced fruit, yogurt, individually wrapped chunks of cheese, etcetera; the carpenter was generally with us all day for the whole day so I usually invited him to sit down and have lunch with us, with advance warning of the menu (my carpenter didn't like onions, it turned out, but was otherwise unfussy).

My basement is cold and damp, so when I had somebody down there for an extended period I poked my head down and offered coffee/tea/hot chocolate, and brought it down with a little plate of cookies...

I warned them of the baby monitor and told them where in the house they should go if they needed to have a conversation that was private.

My daughter was quite young at the time and I gave lots of advance notice of when she'd be napping. Fortunately they were all Dads, these guys who fixed up my house, and they were absolutely lovely about this, and to her. But if I had wanted to nap I might've mentioned it, while mentioning that I was going to find ear plugs and did not have signifcant expectations of quiet. Certainly you could ask that a radio be turned off for the next hour and a half or whatever, though.

Anyway, these guys all did a splendid job, went above and beyond on all sorts of things, socked in crazy-reasonable bills at the end of it. They came well recommended and would have done that anyway, but, as has been mentioned already -- it certainly feels better, that I left the onions out of the carpenter's salad.

Certainly it won't hurt the quality of the work being done, but for humane reasons alone, I encourage you to treat people working on your house as, to some reasonable extent, your guests.
posted by kmennie at 7:52 PM on November 3, 2010

Renovation is a noisy dusty invasive process. I highly recommend taking your vacation time to get away somewhere, a reasonable distance away.
posted by ovvl at 8:07 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A nap? Well, you will be paying professionals to do what you want. If you ask them politely to not work while you take a nap, I'm sure that you can work out a reasonable rate.
posted by ovvl at 8:12 PM on November 3, 2010

I've got a crazy idea: talk to the guy in charge of the renovation and say, "Hey, I've got a problem dog situation and I can't crate the dog. I'm going to have to keep her locked in the house so she won't hurt you guys, but I don't know what the heck to do about the bathroom/water situation. Do you guys have any suggestions as to how to handle it?"

I mainly say this because they've probably ran into dog issues before, and might know something or have an opinion as to what they'd like to do. If it were me I'd really rather have a PortaPotty, so you should expect that, but I think giving them a heads-up about the dog anyway is a good idea.

If I were you, I'd try to spend as little time at home as possible while people are drilling and making a racket at my house. If the contractors are actually AT your house, believe me, you do not want to send them away. Remodeling takes forever and a day and you do NOT want to impede their progress so you can nap. Dear god, no.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:31 PM on November 3, 2010

Ovvl said" A nap? Well, you will be paying professionals to do what you want. If you ask them politely to not work while you take a nap, I'm sure that you can work out a reasonable rate.

It's a nightmare coordinating a whole bunch of professionals to come and do their particular bit on your particular job. You might see a procession of different trademen in and out of your home. In their world they are juggling your reno with a pile of other people's and hoping like hell they can have an afternoon off at the weekend.

Tradespeople work damned hard to coordinate all and every job that comes their way. Giving them some basic human courtesy might just be the difference when it comes to weighing up your job verses the family in the next street.
posted by chairish at 1:09 AM on November 4, 2010

Unless you live in a big house where you can effectively shut off half of it, I wouldn't even live in the house when you're having major work done. It's a totally miserable experience and the dust gets in absolutely everything including, incidentally, pets' fur.
posted by rhymer at 2:45 AM on November 4, 2010

Response by poster: The house is small, this is a straight extend existing roof line off the back. Outside work s/a framing will be done first.

Portapoty will be arranged, key given to contractor, dog confined to bedroom. We will be largely away during the day. Hospitality (warmth, food) will be extended. We will re-assess with contractor a few weeks in.

posted by rainbaby at 5:41 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd also recommend that if you can, you, husband, and dog go away for a few days when you need to. It's very stressful to have people in your space, even when they're considerate, and so getting away (even if it's just a few days) can give you that precious alone time and peace and quiet.

(actually, in a perfect world, I'd recommend that everyone go away for the entirety of all renovations, answering questions by phone, but that's not often possible).

Remember, soon you're going to have an awesome home all to yourselves, you can get through this!
posted by ldthomps at 7:19 AM on November 4, 2010

« Older Practical but wonderful gifts?   |   What is a good tape to use for masking curves when... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.