In this part of the story the addition really begins to show its form. We have completed the major framing tasks and begin the exterior trim and window installation.
The false dormer cheek frame goes up
The first of the white boards go up
This kind of joinery is unnecessary, but the client and I agreed it was nice to match the house.
The last wall before it is framed in. Snow on the roof. Big Mike in the darkness of the aperture.
I set my ladders in the street and parked my truck in the lane. This kind of brutal traffic control will only fly in rural areas. In other zones, it would get you arrested for being a nuisance. I developed relationships with the commuters who passed. Some stopped to chat, others just gave me the finger. I did my best to take it all in stride.
An architect probably would have drawn a fluffy white cloud at the intersection of these two roofs. I climbed up on a ladder with a straight piece of lumber in my hands and with a straight edge on the roof plane, I "found" where the roofs would meet and "decided" on the shape of the soffit return. I was perplexed at first, hampered by prejudice that the soffit should be square. It seemed too wide and ungraceful. Then, upon briefly losing my balance, I leaned into the building and pressed my fly rafter against the framing at the angle you see in the picture. The physical move was purely an instinctual life saving technique. The acceptance that providence had shown me the best look for the build came in a warm wave of relief, not only was I uninjured, I had solved a problem.
I was pretty satisfied with how the box was beginning to look. It's amazing what a little false dormer cheek can do.
We had poured our new footing right up against the original granite. The client was insistent on our work playing along with the historical nature of the building, even though this was far from an historical restoration. It was a renovation which gave strong deference to describing the character of it's centuries old story. Scribing the mud-sill over the granite was the work of Tim. He is a talented guy. Tim showed up on the project toward the end of the roof trim.
This whole project was beginning to reveal itself as a sculpture. As we moved from PVC trim one day to digging out and repairing a weed filled foundation/retaining wall the next. This corner was prone to moisture retention. The top being essentially filled with dirt and brush, meant that it was certainly wet enough to sustain life, however unhealthy that would be for the structure. We pulled countless roots and sifted rocks from the dirt. Our finish solution was to create a pitched runoff plane to direct the flow of water to the street/gutter. The wall itself being a dry stacked foundation, we did not disturb the look of the face.
This is Tim. He is so handsome, I cannot show his face for fear that it will crash my web-site. And he may have been moon-lighting while working with me. If you know Tim, tell him he's famous.
A large section of old wall in the foreground, and the man who put it there standing by the dumpster, in the center of the frame we see our first wall, in LVL orange. Our wall is balloon framed and close to 20' tall. We used balloon framing (wall studs full length from first floor bottom plate to second floor top plate) because we had to. There was no way to take down one wall at a time and do platform framing. In the background behind the top of the wall we can see the structural ridge beam
We started framing the roof and second floor before tackling the gable wall. In this photo you can see the contrast between the original peak height and the new ridge. We decided that the second floor ought to have some head room(originally I couldn't stand up straight even in the center of the room).
In this photo the second wall is up, and the third wall is down(on the ground). Our second floor system is mounted to the sides of the wall studs. It's getting colder out.
That's not a dimensional rift in the sky, it's just a finger in frame. Now we have a rather tall looking box with an awkward looking top. Get ready, we are about to spend two weeks alone trimming the roof in the winter.
"Big Mike" joined the crew to finish the demo/framing phase of the work. He and James were the muscle which dragged large dismantled sections of wall to the save pile. This is the work of tractors, and they did it not only without complaining, but with enthusiasm. Some things you just can't teach. James shot himself in the hand with a nail gun towards the end of the framing. Mike stayed on to finish the frame with me. Mike didn't like ladders(at least the tops of ladders), so I let him go when I started the roof trim. I worked alone for nearly a month after Mike left.
Who came next to my aid? Well, perhaps somebody you know...
Above is a pic of a house I spent a lot of time in. The original build was circa 1760. We could tell from inspecting the framing. Originally it was much smaller. To the left you can see two small additions which step their way up into the main house. The "shed" (all the way to the left) was demolished outright, as it choked the driveway and was an architectural canker sore. The house is set back from the road to which it is addressed. In fact it was quite nicely set back upon a little hill about 100 feet from the road, that is until Ocean Rd was constructed in the 20th century. I don't have that date, but, what's a hundred years among friends? Ocean Rd was built within a yard of the original house. The middle section in this photograph was the kitchen, which was built when modern kitchens were invented probably and clearly after the road was built, as it is parallel to it and at an obtuse angle to the main house on a granite block and rubble footing. The client wished to preserve this footprint, at a 2' setback from the road. The only way to do this without convening a town meeting was to enact a ground up replacement of the structure one wall at a time.
Here's a shot from the back after the shed was ripped down and thrown in a dumpster, by hand I might add. (There are lots of things I would do differently now)
The first floor floor joists were both underbuilt and failing due to moisture and rot. They came out so quickly I don't even have pictures of them, HAH! After we gutted the addition, we had to excavate the floor underneath to make room for our shoring base. We did this with shovels and buckets. The addition was much too small to fit even a small excavator inside.
The building would be suspended in place over our heads on a temporary footing...
...and held rigid with vertical shoring and diagonal cross-bracing. It was probably sturdier now than it had been in at least half a century. We excavated the rest of the rubble from under the wall sills, and they dropped into the dirt and disintegrated. No matter, our intention was to completely replace the addition, one wall at a time. In retrospect, I might have pushed harder for a town meeting. It would have been so much easier to just knock it down. I believe my client gathered some satisfaction from subverting the process, and believed himself to be saving money and time. I might have an argument against that, having lived through it.
This was our improved footing on which we would be placing all of our bets
Floor box in, with a plywood subfloor perimeter, which we would have to cut back a little bit to install the radiant heat. This project was designed entirely off the cuff. I think I was commissioned to do the drawings right about the time we set the original structure back on its new footing.
Hydronic radiant heat installed to buffer the conditioned space from the crawlspace.
Then we dismantled the roof and threw it in a dumpster.
Room with a view
If I told you the whole story now, I'd have to skip over a lot of fun details. Up till this point in the story, There were about three people involved. The owner, who was self-described as "a former long-standing member of the conservative party in good standing until [he] had a motorcycle accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury henceforth [he] felt and acted as a liberal." He would tell you the same thing, I swear. A bright man, with energy and exuberance in the range of a thousand-fold of men half his age. Then there was my trusty bucket and sawzall wielding man at arms, James, who bled at every stretch of the road. James was a young man, which was helpful in itself, and he had a strong urge to be helpful and to learn the trade. I was roughly 35 years old, coming down off a ten year bender, and I had so much to learn. I can't wait to tell you more...
Here is some more pertinent content. I plan to make this available for download. If you would like to suggest any edits, I'm all ears. Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
-Let’s go over our schedule together. Our time is valuable so let’s make the most of it-
1. Project Scope- Renovations and remodeling have an image of chaos attached to them. I don’t believe that has as much to do with the nature of the work as you’ve been led to believe. Let’s try and organize this process, for both our sakes. A.Identifying changes - With renovation and remodeling, the idea is to make a change. What do you want to do? The answer is often general, and usually accompanied by its own set of questions. Most people don’t know what goes into the scope of their project and don’t know what their options are B.Purpose of changes - So we try to narrow it down by asking what the purpose of the changes should be. Is the end goal to have a robust rental property that gets turned over every five years? To have a showpiece for your personal style? Is this the home you intend to spend the next 20 years in? How do these changes reflect your personal principles? No judgement, we just need to know in order to accurately reflect your vision in our plans.
2. Site Analysis- The purpose of site analysis is to inform the us of the lay of the land so to speak. Some of these might be in excess of the demands of our project and we wouldn’t go through any unnecessary work, time is valuable after all. Some of these might be taken for granted by the homeowner, for instance: home ownership. It is our responsibility to be certain we contract with the actual owner of the property. We will do a quick survey ourselves upon seeing the property. Let’s scan down the list together and see what comes up as pertinent to our individual project.
A. Title and Encumbrances- This is a detail which we can’t afford to take for granted. We always make certain the client owns the property. You never know, and we must check.
B.Historic, HOA, Restrictions, Covenants- Sometimes we would imagine ourselves as islands, and while that may work in some municipal divisions, an equal number of clients live within limits set by organizations which may impede the free flow of changes. It is our duty to assess this risk to your investment before we make any changes. Not every job will require extensive investigation in this department.
C.Boundaries, Easements, Setbacks- Where ownership meets use. When adding to the footprint of a structure, or otherwise changing significantly the coverage of a lot, or shape of a building, these are some of the first questions we look to answer.
D.Existing structures and layout- Every job requires this assessment in some form or another. If we don’t know what we are changing, we can’t know how we are changing. If we are finishing a space inside an existing structure, we need an accurate drawing of the space. If we are altering the building envelope and structure, we need an accurate depiction of the starting point.
E.Watershed, Flooding, and Erosion- Are we disturbing soil? Are we changing the permeability of the lot? Are the changes going to require extra drainage work to avoid damage to property, yours and your abutters?
F.Ground Stability, Benchmark, Contours- Again, this section deals primarily with changes which alter the footprint, additions, decks, added foundation work; or landscape and driveway work. Occasionally, when this step was skipped by a previous contractor, we get to remediate the damage caused by a lack of assessment during the planning phase. In laymen’s terms: if the ground moves, your house will too.
G. Roadway, Staging, Ingress/Egress- Logistics for delivering goods, tools and services to the site. This can be easy, or it can add days to a project. We would rather know beforehand.
-Of course with some projects the site analysis will have to be more detailed than just an initial impression, and paying attention to these details from the start never hurt.-
3.Stakeholder Expectations- Owners, mortgage holders, and any party with an interest in the property should be clear on the expectations they have moving forward with any project. We will work to ensure that the process is treated with as much care as the product. It is critical to the design to know what these expectations are.
4. Responsibility of Design- The design of a project goes deeper than mere visual representation of the outcome. It may be more work than you have imagined, even for something small, like a deck, or a bathroom. How can we get an accurate estimate without a design which encompasses the aforementioned attributes, and looks forward to the implementation of the process, lumber takeoff, specifications of products, procurement times, and task durations? We cannot. The best we can do before design is a very impressive looking ballpark estimate. This is different from a preliminary estimate which is derived from the bid package. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
5. Preliminary Budget- This is how we know if we are ready to move forward into designing our project. If we are in the same wheelhouse budget-wise, and are ready to make that leap, we can begin on the design of the project. In this atmosphere of swindlers and con-men, home -owners have taken to holding their cards close as a form of defense. I’ve got to tell you though, those confidence artists don’t need to ask your budget. They will find out one way or another what they can get from you. A good contractor will work a project into a reasonable budget. A good contractor will want to know up front what he is expected to work with and whether or not working together will be a good fit for the company. It protects everyone we work with from our being distracted by price checkers, allowing us to focus on clients who are committed to working together. If we are seeking figures to base our budget off of, some quick phone calls to both contractors, realtors, and property managers can help us decide what is a reasonable expectation. The tone of these people on the phone can also go a long way in deciding who we want to call for any services in the future.
In This Meeting- So far, we have touched upon the basic points which should be covered in our initial meeting together. We’ve established our desired changes. We’ve identified some early speed bumps in the process. We’ve come to terms with a budget. Most importantly, we’ve taken a look into the process and seen how much work it is just to arrive at a ballpark estimate. Using this protocol for feasibility we should be able to save as much time as possible. Lucky for us, we have plenty left to discuss in the f o l l o w i n g meetings. We hope you’ve enjoyed sitting down with us, and look forward to presenting you with a ballpark estimation of what our project could cost. Please see the next two pages in preparation for our follow up meeting and do your best to answer the questions asked. Thank you for your time!
1. What is your concept? Do you have pictures or renderings?
2. Do you have a designer/architect? Who? Have the drawings and specifications been approved by the building inspector?
3. Who are the stakeholders? This includes yourself, other owners, lien holders, and lending institutions.
4. Have you contacted the appropriate governing agencies? Are you under special jurisdiction such as an HOA or HDC?
5. Do you have a defined preliminary budget? What is your budget?
6. Who is managing your project? The implicit footwork in any buildingor renovation project should include: contract documents, bid package, lien waivers, insurance certificates, submittals, tests, inspections, occupancy and completion certificates, and photo documentation to make certain that the interests of all stakeholders are protected. A well documented renovation/remodel can go a long way to convince a buyer that we aren’t just house flipping.
Well, it has to happen every now and again. I write a blog post regarding some of the things we are experiencing here at the construction company. Over the last couple weeks this has been a topic we have been going over at the office. It is such an important part of what we do. And as we grow in business, learning how to better serve the client has to be the goal. This is what I've come up with. I would really like to know your thoughts in response.
So, you’ve met with some contractors and identified your desired changes and the purpose of your changes. You received three estimates. Are they equal in scope? How will you know if they have all proposed the same process? For instance, if you’ve asked for changes to be made to a bathroom, has each contractor evaluated the roadway for placement of a dumpster? Has each agreed to set and keep a schedule for the job? Has each evaluated the risks of hiring sub-contractors outside of his own company? Has each agreed to design the project?
The process of building or renovating is often oversimplified for the sake of selling a client quickly on the effortlessness of the building process. What you are essentially depending on a contractor to furnish, whether implicit or explicit, is some form of management. There are several steps laid out between estimate and the start construction date.
An estimate or ‘Free Estimate’, as they are often sold, is a guess. No matter how much experience a builder has, when you ask for an estimate, you are getting a guess. Some builders like to guess low in order to hook more clients, some like to guess high in order to make a bigger margin on the work they do win, and some are adept at guessing that middle number. An estimate should not be how you choose your builder. That would be like choosing your accountant based on having them guess how many jelly beans are in a jar.
Often when we think of design, we think of floor plans and elevation drawings, sketches and renderings of what we want to see. Like an iceberg though, there is far more below the surface, and, like an iceberg, most of us don’t want to see it. True some people are willing to rely on reputation, however: Town permits, Contracts, Lien waivers, Insurance, Scheduling, Sub-contractor bids, MEP schematics(Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing), Product Specifications, and Engineering(to name just a few) are not things you want to guess at.
I believe there are more good contractors estimating high than there are good contractors who either estimate low or middle. Why? Because if I value my work, I want to ensure that I can afford to complete the work to my standards and I want to be paid for the bulk of the work(the iceberg). That doesn’t mean we can’t work together if you need to meet a budget. Having a budget makes proper management of your project more important.
It can be scary to begin a project. The appeal of reducing the uncertainty of the cost by getting quotes and choosing based on the numbers is at best a comforting illusion. I suggest that working with a contractor should be a conversation. Work with someone you feel is honest with you about the cost and mark-up. Work with someone who isn’t trying to sell you a price. Work with someone who is willing to adjust the books when an estimated cost drops way below the initial evaluation. And definitely work with someone who protects the value of your investment in the work by ensuring that it adds value to both your property and quality of life and doesn’t take any risks by omitting important steps in planning.
I suggest picking the builder who offers the best design for your whole project, and who doesn’t try and comfort you by telling you how simple and easy it will be to do. An estimate should appear to be thoughtfully written and provide some level of detail, though it shouldn’t be taken as a quote. As a homeowner, you’d be selling yourself short. If you are working on an estimate as a quote basis and your contractor hasn’t asked you for a change order (more money), then he probably estimated high and you could be overpaying.
I am happy to provide free estimates on most jobs. What makes me happier is taking the time to carefully craft a design for a project, by which a clearer understanding of the cost can be attained. My estimates are high, because I believe in my work and I don’t believe in hooking people with a price that is too low to provide quality of service. That’s not fair to the client, and it doesn’t properly manage their expectations. I also don’t believe in aiming for a middle number, as that doesn’t leave much room for error. Spending too much time on estimating can be a huge drain on the business and distract us from the people who have committed to working with us.
Depending on the size of your project, we may charge a design fee. If you move forward with a design agreement, you can expect a bid package which will lead to an accurate contract price based on cost and mark-up. This will lead to a construction agreement contract which can often be lower than the initial estimate, and will always have your best interests protected.
Let me know what your experience has been in the comments down below!
When I was young, I could tell if we were in a fancy restaurant by whether or not there was a sprig of curly parsley on the plate. I thought it was stupid of course. Why put something on the plate if you were not expected to eat it. It's a plate, this is a restaurant, for eating, right? I didn't like the word garnish, on principle. I tried eating the parsley, with mixed results. Sometimes it tasted good, sometimes terrible. My mom pointed out that as a garnish, it wasn't meant to be eaten, and therefore might not be washed as well. This comment ended my inquisition into the delicacy.
This Christmas I bought a cook-book for Lailielle. I imagine it sounds like a terrible present to give to a girlfriend. It would be selfish if not for the caveat accompanying. "This is for you, but if you leave it here, I'll use it to cook for you when you visit." She accepted the gift gracefully and promised to leave out my addendum when describing her gift to coworkers and friends. We can't have anyone thinking I'm nice after all.
I have been going through a lot of parsley since then. At least a bunch every week. The book often calls for a 'handful' of herbs and suggests flat parsley more often than anything else. I am in the early process of taking instruction from a cook-book and Laili has had to remind me more than once that when the author suggests a 'handful' she might not be imagining the pair of 10 inch mitts I'm packing. "This tastes green" is often a compliment I have received upon presenting her with a new dish.
When we go out to restaurants I notice how hard a lot of places try to stand out. I like truffle oil just fine, but putting it on the menu doesn't mean much anymore now that everyone's doing it. There seems to be an endless supply of obscure sauces and ingredients to play out. I think if I had a restaurant and I wanted it to stand out in the minds of patrons, I would eschew all the hype and just stick a piece of curly parsley on the plate. I'd wash it well of course so people could legitimately argue that it wasn't just a garnish.
Yesterday I received a check in the mail from my mortgage escrow for $51.58. I’ve been kind of staring at it, intermittently. It wasn’t something I expected from life, a mortgage that is. My empathy for the average homeowner didn’t take long to blossom once I became one. The privateer morality I developed in my early adulthood got scraped off with my ego like the roof of a speeding van under a country underpass. I own a construction company. I am a talented builder in my own right, a trait which may sometimes be an impediment to business itself. Even I feel a daunting pressure at the demands of home improvement. Sometimes it feels like home improvment.
Perhaps if my ignorance were more thorough I might fall into the trap of ripping my house apart with good intentions and high hopes, thinking all the while, “I got this.” I’d have to be intentionally blind to do such a thing. Like duct taping a pillow to my face kind of blind.
I grew up in construction sites. First with my mom, who in 1984 paid a jolly and mercenary band of delinquents to put a basement under her house. During the early phases of that project we slept in a 10’ travel trailer in the moonlit driveway. We read books, played cards, and participated in the equally imaginative game of watching broadcast television on a five inch black and white portable television. The picture was about as clear as one of those Magic Eye 3D posters, but easily contained more artistic value. We bathed in the yard in an exiled claw foot bathtub filled by garden hose and warmed with boiled water from an enamel lobster pot. All while a season passed with the modest wooden home atop steel picking and RR cribbing. A pumpkin patch grew and fruited beneath it in my old sandbox where we had carved jack o’lanterns in 1983.
The crew lasted long enough to get the foundation poured and the house back in place. After her patience broke and she told the lovable misfits not to come back, she finished the project herself with perhaps intermittent assistance from wayfarers and family friends. She did not like to ask for help. I give her major kudos. When she was done, our house was an aesthetically forward minor miracle, a completed home renovation. It must have been completed by 1986. Memory as it is, I only know for certain that my life during those months never lacked adventure.
In 1993 I moved in with my dad. He grew up in a 3 sided chicken coop in the back yard of a one room house in Pacific Washington. He ran away from home at 14 and joined the military 3 years later. Despite his endearing faults, his overall optimistic condition and his longevity are to be considered miraculous. When I moved in I thought I was desperate for answers, and I thought, 'this man has them.' Like many 15 year old children I longed for answers I didn't have the bandwidth to comprehend.
Roughly six months after moving into his 900 square foot ranch with three men, my adult sister and her ten year old son(George), we all felt overdue for an expansion. I know that in some parts of the world this sounds like a luxury. In the microcosm of Portsmouth, NH it was becoming unusual for each member of a household to not have their own room.
That summer, 1994 my father hired a general contractor who agreed to hire my father to work on his own house with him. Control issues clearly. Together, my father and this contractor and his father made my summer into a working holiday. I resented it of course. I felt that my labor was commandeered through martial law and surely there had to be some law against it. We ripped the roof off the house and put a second floor on.
After the major work was done and we had a finished shell, the contractor moved on, and so did my dad it seemed. I went back to high school for the year. The kitchen and bathroom remained skeletal. No trim on the bathroom door, you could see right in through the crack. just a plank subfloor in the kitchen, with the marks of teenage frustration in the form of patched stomp holes everywhere. No doors on the bedrooms, because of course, who needs privacy. Wires hanging from the ceiling or poking up through the floor. The stair railings were 2x4 safety rails, and more than one of us, while charging up the stairs, fell backwards, soundly rejected by plywood scaffolding on planks laying across the open stairwell.
I had once again adapted to a less than complete living space. It took over a decade to finish. My brother-in-law made the cabinets in his garage wood shop and they eventually found their way into our home. The renovations took some thirteen years to complete. I believe that only happened because dad sold the house. In fact, I began my own business before my father finished his house. I never worked on that house as a paid contractor though, and I was really in no position to help otherwise at the time.
So, I know about the foibles of taking on large projects with my willpower as the sole driving force, and how it can diminish the living space over time to a situation which is far less comfortable than simply having an out of date kitchen or bathroom. My kitchens are both furnished with mid-century built in place cabinets which will never break nor will they function with the smoothness of those fragile soft close drawers and doors of the modern budget cabinet shop. My countertops are likely chip board covered in laminate and they will never be beautiful. The tub in my bathroom was installed by a novice who didn't put a bag of mortar under the center, so it flexes when I stand in it every day. My steam heat system is a ragged dog bonfire struggling to heat the outdoors because there is little to no insulation in my 150 year old walls. I am not complaining. I love it. It's a form of insanity, this illusion of power that home ownership creates. Really it's an act of love.
When I bought my house I promised myself that I wouldn't start any big projects on my own time, and so far I've made good on that. Not that I don't want to make changes. I think about design changes every day. I think about demolishing it and building a modern three story. It's fun to think about. For now, that's enough, after all, I'm so busy running a construction company that I don't have time to work on my own house. Knowing and remembering that is crucial to enjoying it. Being happy with it the way it is becomes easier knowing that until I can afford to change things, I stand a better chance of making them worse by ripping it apart and becoming overwhelmed. One day, when I have it in my budget, I'll be able to hire my own company to make improvements, and they will be managed well and completed on time. Until then I'll live with the imperfections as is.
Plans, Scope, Budget.
We are often called to give free estimates. We do it happily. There are some things that every client can do to ensure they get prices on the work they want done. We encourage every new prospective client to gather as much information as possible before we begin.
To properly price a job, we need plans that accurately depict existing conditions and proposed outcomes. Plans should be roughly to scale and show as much detail as possible. Without plans, you will get the roughest of rough estimates. I often draft plans myself for committed clients. I can not draw them for everybody I meet, as they cost the company in overhead, and many potential clients are just kicking tires. You greatly increase your chances of being taken seriously by either having them ready, or requesting the service be done for a nominal fee. There is absolutely nothing wrong with kicking tires, and I can usually do that over the phone with a couple photographs and a few measurements from the homeowner. When you are ready to hire, you move up in the queue automatically to the top when you provide or request plans.
With or without specification, a simple list of expected changes and outcomes is without a doubt considered a mark of high etiquette among contractors. When the client presents with a typed scope of work, personally I feel like the client sees the value in my time, and has begun returning the favor immediately. Having a scope to convert into line items can help the client choose what they can afford, and the contractor can guide them to the best order for those improvements. I imagine that most clients don't give themselves enough credit for being able to help with the process of home improvement. They don't know how things work and are afraid to make statements and expose themselves to ridicule. I'll admit, sometimes it goes the other way, and I just wish a client would do more listening, however, OFTEN it is imperative to encourage the client to speak as much as possible and to write thoughts down ahead of our meeting. It will improve my chances of remembering what their needs are. I promise, I have never laughed at anyone for doing this.
I don't need a budget for every job, just most of them. If a client can not provide a plan or scope, the least they can do is provide a budget for us to work with. I feel some potential clients like to keep their budget secret, unwilling to 'tip their hand' so to speak. This approach of shielding oneself from the unscrupulous is a tack which has some appeal, but when it is unpacked, does not lead to satisfactory relationships in most cases. Let's serve to elucidate the process between professionals. Information will set us all free from the bonds of secrecy. If a client wants to know what the cost process is and how we arrive at an invoice, we are happy to discuss expenses and mark up. Knowing a budget beforehand can determine whether we shall intend to open a wall or not. The difference between getting the price you want and having your hat blown off is often just a conversation.
Of course, we aren't all reasonable, honest, open people, but, I like to think that most of us are. I certainly wish to appeal to that demographic. I hope that if a client has a question about something, they feel comfortable asking me or one of my associates without hesitation. The client can expect an answer, or a guarantee to find one within a reasonable amount of time. IOW: It never hurts to ask.
I think many people are on guard around contractors. That's a regrettable situation. More than just in the aspect of cost, we find that our clients often enjoy talking about the process of home improvement. Many of them get a kick out of the being involved in the process. We hope to empower our clients with a clear explanation of the decision making process. We are your guides.
I hear a lot of first time clients say, "You probably can't give me an estimate because you never know what you're gonna find in there.." and they pause, expecting me to nod my head or say "shucks, you're right.." I don't agree though. It is true that we encounter the unexpected sometimes. A properly prepared proposal and client coaching can make everyone feel oriented and prepared to dance with those uncertainties. An experienced eye in the walk-through and estimating process can point ahead to possible flares in the road, and can suggest alternate routes. I think that the uncertainty of renovation is grossly overstated, often by contractors who are unwilling to spend a little time laying out the options before they sink the ears of a hammer in to your wall.
I've talked an awful lot about business today. I guess I just felt prompted to go over some basics with the reader. Whether you are in New England or New Guinea, these statements apply. If you have relationships with professionals, treating each other with this kind of mutual respect is universal etiquette. Hope everyone has had and continues to have a safe and enjoyable wind up of the Western calendar year.
My mom taught me to read when I was 5. "And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry St" was probably my first. Followed closely by another favorite, "Green Eggs and Ham". How much of my character development solidified from these early lessons? Do I still "Wish that I had Duck Feet"? That may be a defining trait of my psyche.
My mom also illustrated children's books. This was her career after art school. My early childhood was replete with literature. This developed in me through occasional reluctance an appetite for written stories. I sometimes think I don't spend enough time reading, or that I spend too much time watching programs or seeking fulfilment on social media. The truth is, I am a reader, and at times though it has felt like work to read a book, I hunger for it.
As I grew a peculiar thing happened to me. My reading comprehension outpaced my emotional maturity. It stayed like that for half of my adult life. I suppose, that's not at all uncommon in these United States. We push hard for education. We idolize the intellectualization of all pursuits.
I spent some years in the backlash of this, reading Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, William S. Burroughs, and their ilk. I struggled to understand my feelings intellectually by reading writers who had lived out fantasies of resistance to logic. Action to remedy included what amounted to self-flagellate regression from acceptance. Adoption of an existential absurdist outlook was a band-aid.
Eventually I turned and faced it.
My choice of reading material reflects the change from self-centered paranoia to 'much bigger things.'
I've read a few by Thomas Pynchon, which account for some of the most beautiful grammar I have ever imagined. One thing Pynchon is to me that shines through in his characterization and storytelling, his stories are bigger than his personality. All of the psychological static and unrest of authors I read in my early twenties was absent in his work. One of the wonderful things about reading Pynchon is that I get no clear picture of Pynchon by reading his work.
I could talk books with you all day.
What are some of your favorite stories? Leave a comment down below.
As we move inexorably toward the beginning of the new western calendar year, I begin to look forward, just a little, to the end of this one.
It's New England. It's winter. For those who don't know our winters are a bit like a yearly intermittent disaster area. We get this precipitation, often in the form of snow. It's not lake effect snow, but it can be pretty severe. Then we have 30 or 40 degree days and people get those roof top swimming pools leaking down through the ceilings and windows, etc. It's a pattern, the freeze and thaw cycle. This year we had some substantial coastal flooding in some areas already. Many friends have been displaced.
The other day I trailered an empty dump rig over to a client's home for a job. I backed the trailer in the driveway. When I parked, I opened the door and found myself about six inches from a two foot thick layer of snow on the side of the driveway. I decided to walk along the running board and climb the side of the bed. From there, I jumped down the tailgate and disconnected the hitch. To get back inside the cab I walked around the front of the truck. I grabbed the edge of the hood and toed in close to the tire. My goal was to hang on the the truck to stay upright while side-stepping in the thin strip of plowed driveway between my truck and the yard. I got as far as the tow mirror and had to pause. Could I reach the ladder rack from where I stood? I decided that I could reach it if I was quick enough. I would let go of the hood, swivel my shoulders around the tow mirror and grab the ladder rack.
I was not quick enough. It was a silly idea.
I read an excerpted passage from "The Aleph" by Borges when I was just a kid. It was a scene where the protagonist slips on a staircase and plummets headlong into a dark basement. When he landed at the bottom he struck his head. As he lay on the floor and developed a concussion, he stared at one of the steps, part way up the staircase. A bright spot like a spark appeared before him. As he continued to stare at it he realized it was a singularity which contained every known point in space and time of his life. of every life. It was a silly story for a ten year old to read.
I remember throwing myself in snowbanks as a kid. I was failing at trying to fly. It didn't feel like a failure. It felt like I was ever closer to achieving flight with every impact, ever closer to succeeding in an imaginary goal. As I sat in the snowbank on Monday afternoon and briefly contemplated where had I miscalculated, it felt like, once again, I had almost flown. I got up and spanked myself repeatedly to clear the back of my pants. The snow was sticky and wet. I could feel it already beginning to soak my britches. Once again my brain had briefly occupied more than one place and time.