Extreme home makeover, Part III: Falling victim to project creep

This is the third 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.

The situation is deteriorating fast. A large part of the problem is our fault, we're falling victim to an all-too-common disorder in the industry called project creep.

It works like this: If we are going to put in a new hallway floor, why not rip up the carpet upstairs and do all the floors there, too? And if we are going to do the upstairs, then it only make sense to do the downstairs as well. Since we got such a good deal on the granite, why don't we put new counter tops in the kitchen? For that matter, why not get new appliances? After all, the plumber and electrician are already here. They can get things hooked up. Don't you think the whole thing will look lousy if we don't re-tile the kitchen back splash? Why not, it already has a hole in it from the plumber. And so on...

So much for the budget. The new counter tops for the kitchen will cost $1250 and the backsplash tile, $475; the under-the-counter lighting (to shine on the new tile), $732; a "D" shaped kitchen sink comes to $780; the super-quiet Bosch dishwasher will total about $1200 and the Jennaire refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom costs just under $2000. To refinish the wood floors downstairs will cost another $850. It is starting to feel like a runaway train.

Tom's Take: The three most expensive words in home improvement are "might as well." Aside from the expense, project creep has it's advantages. For most folks, getting a project started takes a lot of energy and a long time. Once that train starts moving, you don't want to waste all the centrifugal force. Don't feel alone though, project creep happens to the experts, too.

The chaos has now reached a fever pitch. My husband has spent two weekends pulling up carpet. We took apart the bed and moved all the clothes from our closets to the dining room table downstairs. We dismantled my office and covered the computer equipment in plastic so American Wood Floors could attempt to refinish the old wood floors that had been covered by carpeting for 25 years. They have assured me that they can restore my maple floors, but I have my doubts.

We are also running into trouble with the original plans for the bathroom. The electrician has informed me that there is a problem with the recessed lighting. Since the boxes get very hot, we could not use them with insulation. He told me to get track lighting -- I hate track lighting.

Tom's Take: The more I read about your contractors, the more frustrated I become. There are recessed lights that can be used against insulation -- and they should know this. They are called "IC" fixtures, which stands for "Insulation Contact." I'd be getting a lot tougher with the contractors. Their "surprises" should not mean more expense and aggravation for you. I'd also suggest you keep a daily log of the activities and who said what to whom. This could become invaluable if a dispute develops later, especially at the billing stage.

The plumber came upstairs to triumphantly inform me that he was done with the piping in the basement and the water was turned back on. "You can now flush your toilet!," he said. I promptly did so only to hear, "Wait, it just flushed into the basement." Sigh. It looks like we need a new toilet downstairs as well.

Tom's Take: No you don't. Toilets never wear out and their valves are easily replaceable.Don't let the incompetent plumber, who obviously forgot to hook up the drain, sell you something you don't need.

My husband Charlie came home shortly afterward looking homeless. He had forgotten to shave this morning and could only find wrinkled clothes on the dining room table to wear. Adding injury to insult, he bashed his knee into a table corner on his way out the door this morning and arrived at work with blood dripping down his leg. My house and marriage are deteriorating and the pile of debris in the 30-yard long dumpster is just getting bigger.

Tom's Take: It is always darkest before the dawn.

Eventually progress will be made, but roadblocks will remain. Read about what happened in our next installment.

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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