The Neverending Story …. of Construction

We have turned the corner on our home construction in several ways. One is that our general attitude and patience level has moved from “Isn’t this all very fun and entertaining” to “When will this be over?” Another is that we actually know it will be over soon! We finally have a mostly-complete, mostly-functional house and the list of outstanding items is pretty manageable. We reached a big milestone when our builder moved his trailer of tools and supplies to the next job site. Now if only we could get rid of the port-o-let in the front yard….

Contractors Everywhere

The biggest accomplishment of the last month was finishing a large array of tasks that were gating items for other projects that were themselves prerequisites for other items. For example, appliances couldn’t be delivered until we had countertops and functioning gas service. Sinks could not be installed in the kitchen and bathrooms until we had countertops, and the shower fixtures couldn’t be installed until the bath/shower areas were tiled. Countertops were dependent on having final cabinetry installed, so a backorder on one of our kitchen cabinets was a major logjam. Meanwhile, since we elected to do all our own interior paint we were racing to stay ahead of the various subcontractors and deliveries, making sure that we finalized paint in the areas behind the appliances before they were due for delivery. All the subcontractors also had to work around the planned concrete pour for the pad underneath the house, which required clearing out the entire work area below the house and also involved several relocations of the Airstream to different spots out of the way of the concrete trucks. In addition to the flurry of subcontractors on site, our regular crew worked steadily to finish up interior trim, complete all the decks and handrails, and build the porch ceilings.

This confusing image collage matches how scattered we felt over the last month:

 

 

Some fun facts:

  • The island in our kitchen is so large that the countertop needed to be lifted up into the house with a crane, and it exceeded the weight limit of the countertop contractor’s hydraulic lift. It is possible that the design was influenced by the fact that we spent three full years living in an RV with approximately 18 inches of counter space.
  • I guess cement trucks don’t hold as much material as I thought, because we needed not one, not two, but three cement trucks for our ground level pad.
  • It’s fortunate that the local appliance store employs plenty of brawny young people, because hauling refrigerators and other big appliances up large flights of stairs does not look easy.
  • We need to buy furniture since we kept no furniture in storage when we hit the road. But we were so thrilled when we could finally move into the house that our camp chairs and TV from the Airstream suited us just fine as a temporary measure.

 

 

It’s been interesting to see the very different work styles of the various subcontractors. Raul, the charming tile guy, had a straightforward strategy: arrive early, stay late, and complete the entire job flawlessly in three days while cheerfully humming along to mariachi music. The electricians, on the other hand, were a complete clown show. These dudes would show up randomly, work for an hour, accomplish one thing on the long list of open items, then leave without a word. Then repeat the next day, and the next day, and the next day, creeping almost imperceptibly towards completion. It was completely maddening. As a bonus, we had to make small talk with these guys every. single. day. while in my head I was screaming “Please just FINISH your job!!!”

All this reinforced my long-held view that a person can make a very good living in the construction trades merely by combining (a) average technical competence and (b) decent customer service skills. Luckily we have a great rapport with our builder and his main crew, so it was easy to feel optimistic about the final product even if there were plenty of head-scratching experiences with subcontractors along the way.

Normalcy, Ahoy!

The best news of the last month has been gaining easy access to vaccines against Covid. I was initially concerned that our small, rural community would lag in receiving vaccine doses. But I have been pleasantly surprised to find that our vaccine access has been easier than in larger cities, and in our community people can even choose between Moderna (at the health department) and J&J (at the pharmacy). Ken and I were each able to get appointments at the local health department within the first two days after we became eligible under our state guidelines, and that included automatic follow-up appointments for our second Moderna shots.

We are thrilled at the prospect of getting back to some semblance of normal life. Our first step in that direction will be making some long-overdue visits with other vaccinated family members. We’re heading to South Florida over Mother’s Day weekend to see my mother for the first time in 14 months, which will also allow us to collect our items from our small (5×5) storage unit and close out that rental account after over three years.

 

 

We have made some limited gestures toward returning to normal activities here on the island. We attended some outdoor group events associated with the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air Art Festival.  Our area does not have enough population to attract large art shows with a wide variety of artists, but in some ways it was even more fun to watch a dozen or so artists in the process of making high quality art. They happily chatted with spectators while working and shared tips on everything from brushes and media to selecting a perspective.

This spring our community has been the focus of a project by masters degree students in the FSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and as part of the end-of-semester thank you event I ate at an outdoor restaurant… just my second meal in a restaurant in over a year. Life is slowly getting back to normal and it is a relief.

10 thoughts on “The Neverending Story …. of Construction”

  1. I really don’t know what you’re talking about with regard to that kitchen counter. Isn’t 18 inches of work space MORE than enough in this day and age?? I’m sure the crane guy was like “Does it really need to be this large?” and you were like “Shut up and hoist, Frank!” We have all been scarred by this tiny living nonsense. Give me counter space and closets, dammit! Oh…and a full length mirror!

    I totally hear you on the puzzle that is getting things done on a project like this. It’s frustrating when one thing can’t happen until another gets done, and having to deal with less-than-enthusiastic contractors is a headache in and of itself. But it must be so nice to be in the home stretch… and with vaccines to boot. One day we’re all gonna wake up, look around, and ask “What the hell was THAT?”

    Reply
    • I will never get tired of having a huge countertop, and I have absolutely no regrets about stressing out the fabricator. We do need to adjust our thinking from our time in the Airstream — I’m thinking of making a map of the kitchen cabinets so I can remember where everything goes because it doesn’t all have to be stuffed into two cabinets and two drawers. 🙂

      I am pretty sure this pandemic experience is going to be a scarring one, somewhat defining a generation, even though it (thankfully) is not lasting as long as a world war or the Great Depression. There has been so much fear and grief and anxiety and just plain crankiness. I am not ashamed to admit that I was so relieved I almost cried when I got my first shot!

      Reply
      • Look at all that space… oh my. Drawers of normal depth, not having to stack literally everything, and meal prep that isn’t planned perfectly so as to avoid having to use a chair for a hot pad. Your house looks beautiful, and it is amazing that you guys were able to make this year into something so productive while some of us just sat around whining and eating PB M&Ms (ahem).
        I’m also struck by Laura’s comments about full-length mirrors- I thought I might be the only one wondering how my pants/skirt/outfits looks after 3 years.
        I cried when we got our shots, and being vaccinated has so far lived up to all expectations. Happy for you guys- cheers

        Reply
        • Congratulations on your vaccinations! I am so enjoying having normal interactions with people again and basically not living in fear. Hooray for science.

          We are thrilled with the house, which is not particularly huge (just over 1,200 sf) but feels enormous after three years in the Airstream. Actually, the Airstream never felt small when we were traveling, but it felt absolutely microscopic when we were stuck in place because of the pandemic. I drool over photos of mountains on IG and am very much looking forward to traveling again with the trailer, but for various reasons that probably won’t happen until 2022.

          Weirdly, I do not have a full length mirror in the house. But then again we moved to a place where people mostly wear flops and cutoffs and T-shirts. We love the laid back island life. 🙂

          Reply
  2. I was just thinking today when we passed by your beautiful home on our way to the beach about how miraculous it is that in the middle of a pandemic, you designed and built a house. I know it seems like it took forever from your perspective (all those months of living in your Airstream! In the midst of a Florida summer! With a failing air conditioner!). But you survived the hell of the past year, and you have something wonderful to show for your efforts.

    Speaking of effort, I still can’t believe you took on all of your indoor painting. Then again, that insured that you got it done, because painters aren’t easy to come by in these parts. I laughed at your description of the different ways that the various sub-contractors do (or don’t) show up for work. One more thing…YAY for all of us getting our vaccines! Very soon we can actually finally socialize indoors together! 🙂

    Reply
    • As you well know, the real miracle will be getting the punch list completed. 🙂 We are pretty thrilled with the (almost) final product, despite all the challenges. It is exactly what we wanted, which is a real accomplishment.

      I like painting! I like it more now that it’s 99% done, of course. I had doubts about halfway through. But like most of our construction activity, it turned out great despite frustrations along the way.

      Can’t wait to host you guys for an INDOOR social activity….

      Reply
  3. Almost there and settling into the community, too! What a relief you’ll feel when it’s all finished. Do you get frustrated like I did that everything can’t be done at the same time, and some new things start getting older more quickly than other new things? Pretty soon it will be time for a cat!

    Reply
    • We fear that things will never be “done.” Between the island-time philosophy of contractors and the fact that houses always seem to need attention, we have obviously taken on a neverending project. But I think we can live with 95% done. And we are definitely enjoying getting enmeshed in the community. We have several interesting volunteer activities that will be the subject of future posts!

      On that other question….
      Cat: no.
      Dog: maybe.

      Reply
  4. Yea!! Just in time for a/c and enjoying the island life. The place looks really nice. Hooray for a laid-back lifestyle and a much awaited return to a slightly contaminated normalcy. After your well deserved recovery and relaxation semester, we will be needing some experienced painters if you know of any. hardy har-har-har!!!

    Reply
    • Our builder has already tried to (jokingly) hire us for some paint jobs! Painters are in short supply here and it was one less group of subcontractors wandering around the house, so I’m glad we took on that project. At the same time, I am very glad we are almost done with it. As you point out, it’s time to start enjoying summer and some of that sweet, sweet AC.

      Reply

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