Readers: I’m recovering from a remodel, and I’ve been told that talking about it will make the recovery easier. This is the second time my wife and I have made major, debris-raising changes to our home. The first was a whole-house remodel that included a new addition. This time we got a basement-to-attic energy retrofit in our Washington, D.C., home. I’m quite happy with the results, but I can see why the trauma of remodeling has shaken many others. So I’ve come up with seven rules for you to share with neophyte homeowners.
Rule No. 1: Remember, homeowner, that for the length of the remodel, it’s not your house anymore. You need to trust the people you’ve hired to do the remodel or else buy a big case of ulcer medicine.
Rule No. 2: There is no such thing as a dust-free remodeling project.
Rule No. 3: Try to talk your significant other—the one who frets most about neatness, odors, and general cleanliness—into leaving town before the work starts.
Rule No. 4: Far more things in your house can get broken than you could ever imagine.
Rule No. 5: Short of having exit doors on every wall and every floor, odds are good that workers will traipse through—and generate dirt in—parts of the house that are nowhere near the work zones.
Rule No. 6: Sometime during the remodel, expect that the new crew will reveal to you something done badly by the last people who worked on the house.
Rule No. 7: It always looks irredeemably disastrous before the cleanup begins.
You’d think that spending years as the editor-in-chief of REMODELING, plus that previous experience with a renovation, would have prepared me sufficiently for the arrival of Attilio Manziano-Verrilli, our project manager from Home Energy Medics, and his platoons of subcontractors. My wife and I spent the prior weekend moving precious objects and trying to anticipate which parts of the house would get whacked and chipped by workers as they hauled equipment up our narrow stairs. I thought we’d done well until I saw a sub unknowingly jostle a $300 pendant light with a 12-foot stud.
Fortuitously, the first week of work—the part in which our bedroom furniture was tightly wrapped in plastic so crewmembers could cut holes in the ceiling to stuff in insulation—took place at a time when my wife had chosen to leave town. Taking pictures helped keep her apprised of what was going on while keeping her, the family neatnik, from seeing and touching all the dust. She also avoided boiling over, like I did, when I learned that somebody previously had failed to connect two upstairs bathroom fans to a roof vent. It’s no joy to realize we’ve had hot, moist air being pushed by the bath fans into the attic every day, perhaps for years.
Let me stress here that I’m happy with how the remodel turned out. Home Energy Medics did a great job analyzing what was needed, suggesting a course of action, and adjusting plans when we had questions about products and processes. Attilio was organized, knowledgeable, and charming. The crewmembers wore booties and laid down plastic everywhere. And yet ...
The experience confirmed for me that remodeling is a sort of voluntary home invasion, one that—no matter how nice you are—is sure to traumatize homeowners. As I walk through my house now, unable to spot the places where the remodelers did their magic, I marvel at how tough your job is. And how so many of you do it so well.