Extreme home makeover, Part II: Demolition ensues

This is the second part of a five-part series about how the writer and her husband, Charlie, tackled a major overhaul of their home and the pitfalls they faced along the way. To read the first installment click here.

Now it was onto the next step: Demolition. The destruction was scheduled to begin right after the holidays.

Tom's take: Good idea to hold off on demolition until after the holidays. I can't tell you how many panicked calls I've received on my radio show from folks that absolutely had to get a major project done before an event (a holiday, wedding, anniversary party, sweet-sixteen, whatever). It never makes sense to put that kind of pressure on yourself -- or your contractor. Build a fudge factor into the schedule and the stress factor goes way down.

We went out of town for the holidays and left a key for the workmen to start. We returned to a yard piled high with old cabinets, fixtures, insulation, and a hot water tank. The house looked like a war zone. The old bathroom was gutted and the floors gone. Though the workmen had put plastic up and blocked the doors, there was a coating of dust in every room. I didn't know at the time that the dust would become a way a life for the next three months.

Tom's Take: Welcome to your worst nightmare. Homeowners disdain the disruption that comes along with a major home improvement. Contractors, however, love the demolition part of their job. There's no better stress reliever than pulverizing a plaster wall with a sledgehammer.

While I thought I was prepared for a circus, it quickly turned into bedlam. The backdoor would slam promptly at 7:00 a.m. each morning with a parade of workmen: laborers, plumbers, electricians, and inspectors. I work at home and was interrupted every few minutes with questions: "How high do you want the medicine cabinet?" "Where do you want the light switches?" "What switches do you want ganged together?" "Can we move the toilet three inches to the right?"

While Rick coordinated the contractors, I still had to make the final decisions. I don't know how you do a project like this if you aren't available. There were decisions on a daily basis that needed to be made to keep things on track. In the meantime, the tiler quit, and the plumber decided to open up a porn shop in Tennessee (I'm not kidding). Rick lined up replacements quickly, but it meant reviewing the plans all over again with new people.

Tom's Take: This is the reason "general contractor" is a job description. Good GC's will manage this process -- the planning, the cleanup and communication -- for you. If you don't have one, you became the general contractor.

The demolition began to extend further into the house. The plumber informed me that the pipes needed to be replaced to the source, which would require punching holes in the walls of the kitchen and downstairs bathroom. I was assured that they would be repaired. That was at about the same time that one of the workmen slipped and his foot went through the upstairs floor, leaving him hanging out the kitchen ceiling. Again, I was assured it would be repaired.

Tom's Take: Your plumbers should have at least warned you that additional pipe replacement might be necessary. Pros that do this every day know exactly what to expect, and certainly have seen the same situations enough to warn you that additional expenses might be necessary.

I continue to delude myself into believing that I have things under control. Every night, I vacuum and clean a small livable area in the family room. Little did I realize what chaos was to come.

Soon, we will be plagued by "project creep." Read the next installment to find out how we fared.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.

Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and co-author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. He delivers home improvement tips each week as host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program.

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