It’s not too often that I give in to the idea of paying someone to do a household repair or minor construction project especially when I have the ability and time to do it myself. I’m kind of picky and very detailed oriented … so having someone come in and mess around with my house kind of drives me insane. This past fall, my wife and I decided to add a stone patio to the back of our house. The lawn area just outside of the backdoor to our house was dead and we wanted a place to sit down and relax during the upcoming blistering and humid Texas summer nights. It was one of those ideas that had been floating around for a year or so and we finally decided to go through with it. I realized (with some convincing from my wife) that I really didn’t have the time to work on this myself, so we decided to hire someone to do it. I sat down, drew up a couple of ideas, and within a few weeks we had enough information to send out to some contractors to bid. After meeting with each contractor – and anxiously clicking on their return e-mails – I finally got a good feeling for what the total cost would be and then haphazardly selected a contractor. (insert impending doom piano music here)
I’m recounting this tale not in an effort to defame the contractor or relieve my frustration … rather, the experience is so comical at this point that I thought you would get a kick out of it and learn a thing or two from my mistakes.
Day 1 was off to roaring start. I get home at 5:30 on a Friday, the backyard is all torn up, and there are 5 guys pushing dirt and leveling out the formwork. The concrete truck had to turn around and come back after the formwork was finished, but other than that we were doing fine.
As well as everything was going, I noticed that there was a bit of a communication gap between the contractor and his crew.
I specifically remember asking him during the concrete pour…”So, do you speak Spanish?”
The contractor – “No, you really don’t need to … I mean, most of these guys speak English.”
I vividly remember asking one of the guys a question and him looking at the another guy with a “are you going to field this one ‘cause I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about” kind of look on his face.
I guess when the contractor said “most of these guys” he really meant “one of these guys” and by “speak English” he meant “can get a general idea of what we need him to do if we speak a little louder, slower, and use a lot of hand motions”.
The contractor also failed to mention that one of the best methods of communication was to have the guys spend hours removing work they screwed up so they could see exactly what they did wrong… a learning experience of sorts. When I say that they had to remove and redo some of the work, I am specifically referring to the concrete sidewalk/patio that were both poured wrong, the retaining wall that didn’t appear structurally sound enough to retain the advances of a slight breeze, the poorly executed jig-sawesque flagstone pieces, and the completely wrong color and shape of the cap stones.
But I digress.
Running bond? – no. Vertical mortar joints? – no (who needs those?). Grout filled? – no. Rebar? – I wasn’t even going to go there.
Another interesting quote from our contractor was “these guys know how to do everything.” Thinking on it now, I know I should have fired them when the foreman started to debate me about the thickness of a 2×4. I designed the gaps in the sidewalk to be 3″ wide so they could just nail (2) 2×4’s together to get the 3”. This was met with some resistance as, according to him, they were actually 2” wide and that would result in a 4” gap. Looking back, I guess I should have been happy to know that they actually picked up that there where gaps at all.
I also learned that you need to pay attention to formwork and just not expect that everyone cares about it as much as you do. If there is an angle in the formwork, have them cut the wood to that angle … don’t let them get away with rolling up a piece of a cement bag to fill in the gap.
I guess I’m being a little harsh, I mean, I can’t put all of the blame on the crew. They didn’t really know what I wanted (even though I had a 3-d rendering and very explicit plans). It is (after all) the contractor’s responsibility to manage his guys. I guess the thing that made me the most upset was having to check everything they did, call the contractor to make sure they did the work right, and constantly come home and check on the progress since I had no confidence that the work was going to get done the way I was expecting.
3 weeks later, we are almost done with our “3 day project”.
To get ready for our Easter party I spent 12 hours on Saturday grading and laying sod in the backyard while the 4 crew members kind of watched and kind of worked on the sprinkler system. The perfect ending to an already frustrating project.
Here are a few images of our “almost” complete patio.
We still have a long way to go … get new patio furniture, remove that doo-doo brown 1980’s awning and get our herb garden going. In the meantime, this will be a great place for us to sit back, have a glass of wine, and reminisce about the time we hired that awesome contractor.