The Emotional Roller Coaster Ride of a Building Project

by Julie

A building or home improvement project that goes from beginning to end without a single hitch is a rarity.  In almost any project there will be periods when things move along swiftly and smoothly and times when holdups and snags upset the flow of the schedule – and disturb your peace of mind.

Stops, starts and snags are nothing for you to get concerned about.  In fact, that’s one of the advantages of working with a contractor or builder – it’s their job to smooth things over, urge along the sub-contractors, fix mistakes and generally keep the project on track.

The better you understand the overall process and what to expect during your project, the less likely you’ll be thrown into a flutter if things sometimes don’t progress as smoothly as you’d like.

Keep Your Perspective

There is a big difference between the usual hiccups that can occur in a project – a tardy supplier, say, or the wrong crown molding going up in a room – and constant, major problems that your contractor fails to address promptly and to your satisfaction.  If you experience the latter, you need to have a heart-to-heart with your builder or consider getting a new one.

Here’s a snapshot of the entire process – and the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with it:

The Start. After months of planning, the project finally gets underway.  If you’re building a new house, heavy equipment shows up and starts breaking ground; if it’s a remodel, demolition starts.  Very exciting.

Foundation. This part involves hauling loads of dirt, pouring concrete and laying steel.  Plumbing lines and electrical conduit are also being put in place.  Other than getting a feel for the size of your house and its location on the lot, foundations are a bit “whatever”.  To heighten the excitement factor, you can “make your mark” by writing your name, leaving your handprint, etc. in the wet concrete for posterity.  The concrete guys love that!

Framing. Stacks of lumber suddenly appear.  A swarm of men (maybe women) with saws and nail guns attack the pile.  The lumber is assembled into walls, ceilings, and a roof—oh my.  Once it’s finally framed up…wow, it looks like a house!  This is probably the quickest, most thrilling stage.  It is especially important to meet with your builder on-site during the initial part of this process.  Walk through the house and examine how each space is laid out.  If there is any discrepancy between the initial plans and the vision in your minds-eye, NOW is the time to say something.  Walls are much easier (and cheaper) to rearrange before the sheetrock goes up.

The Outside. Your exterior covering (bricks, siding-whatever) goes on.  The windows and exterior doors are installed.  The roof is put on.  Now, you can really see what your house looks like.  At least, from the outside.  It is also nice and dry.

The Boring Part. Not its official name, but the stage that includes the mechanical work and various inspections is, let’s face it, not wildly exciting. You might visit the house every day and still not get much of a sense of progress, even though pipes, wiring and conduit are being installed.

This phase can take a long time and might feel a little overwhelming because you don’t know much about what’s happening.  Just pay attention to the location of all those items like pipes, outlets and switches.  Try to picture the end result to make sure everything is where it should be.  Hang in there.

The Thrill of Sheetrock. Ah, sheetrock!  So mundane and yet so reassuring.  It goes up fast and voilà, you have the makings of a house. This first step of installation is called “hanging.”  From here you can really start to get a sense of what the interior of your house will look like.  The next step of sheetrock, alas, does not go so quickly and you may start to feel….

Stuck in the Mud. This step of the process, known as mudding, may seem like it takes forever, but is crucial to a beautiful interior.  Usually, three coats of mud are applied to the sheetrock, then it’s sanded, textured and primed.  Each of these steps is necessary, but the finishing time can drag on, especially in damp or cold weather.

Drywall compound (its real name) is finicky about curing conditions.  Good sheetrock finishers will wait until each coat is fully dry before proceeding to the next one.  As I mentioned, the drywall finish is critical to a good interior finish, so be patient.

The Interior Jumble. Pay attention! A lot of interior work – trim, cabinets, flooring,  bathrooms, painting, countertops – gets done during this phase.  Things will seem like they are in a bit of a jumble, but it’s a time when you need to be on the ball. The work will be done in big chunks and small pieces, and in an order that may not make sense to you.

You’ll be asked to do a lot of shopping, make a lot of choices and pay attention to details. This is NOT a good time to take a vacation (keep this in mind before the project starts).  This IS a very good time to inspect your house at least once every day.  In the whirlwind of decision making and installation, it’s easy to make mistakes.  The quicker you can spot these things, the better.

The interior work will take a long time, but it can be a very exciting part of the process. You might come by the house at the end of the day to find your kitchen is complete or your paint colors are up on the walls.  This is also the time when you will get to know some of the people working on your house: painters, carpenters, floor people, and so on.  Pay attention to them, too – they’re building your vision.

The Mechanical Trim Out. Once the interiors are almost complete, the electrician, plumber and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) trades will come back to “trim out” the house with lighting, grills and plumbing fixtures.  Things usually move along at a smart clip.

One day, you look around and realize your vision has finally been made real – and you’re so ready  to move in and get on with your life.

The 90% Blues. Ninety percent there…and time seems to slow to a crawl.  What is taking these people so long?  What are they doing?  I can’t believe we spent so much money!  Will they ever finish? Have faith.

It’s hard to be patient at the end of this long haul, but if you have established a good relationship with your builder and trades people, you can be confident that they will hang in there and see your project through.

If folks are working diligently every day, don’t press too hard – there’s more to be done than you realize.  This stage is hard on the contractor and the crew, too – they are just as ready to finish up and move on as you are.

Ups and Downs

You’ll weather the emotional ups and downs of your building project much better if you continue to do the things you enjoyed before you started the project.  Go to the movies, take walks, spend time with your family, teach your dog a new trick.  Keep on track with the rest of your life and above all else, keep your perspective!

The Punch List. When your project is somewhere beyond 95 percent complete, you’ve reached the punch list stage.  At this point, you conduct a walk-through inspection (maybe with your builder), making a list of any details that need to be corrected or completed.

Many builders shoot for a zero punch list, but it’s quite possible you’ll find things that need more work.

By now, you’re more than ready for the whole thing to be over, but be patient and be thorough.  Once again you’ll need to summon a little endurance while your builder sees to it that everything is complete and correct.

The Keys. Done. The journey is (almost) over and the place is yours.

Warranty Work. After settling in, you may find areas that still need a little work.  Contact your builder and they will have the appropriate trade contractor take care of it.  Have a clear understanding with your contractor about the length of the warranty and try to address any issues in a timely manner to avoid problems.

From experience…

I know exactly how thrilling (or trying) these stages can be, as I have lived through several projects of my own.  The tensions can be even stronger if you are actually living in the house during construction.

For my most recent home renovation, I kept the upstairs area as a refuge while work was done on the first floor.  Even then, it really didn’t help much.  By the end of the project, I couldn’t stand my crew anymore and wanted them out of the house.  Enough with the mess, the noise, the cost, the time!

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