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Kitchen Renovation Meltdowns


Bond Girl
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I did not think renovating my 42 square foot space was easy, but nothing in the world could have prepared me for whole renovation process. My super told me demolition takes two days at most, and my cabinet contractor told me the same for the installation, so figure in a day for painting. I figure, I'll be living out of my bed room for a week at most. That's not so bad for a high end Gourmet kitchen right? Wrong.

What I didn't figure was that to get the new kitchen installed, I need to get a new electric line and move a few pipes. Well that meant hiring an electrician and a plumber before anything can be installed. It also meant dealing with shady contractors who quadruple the asking price once the work has started, workers who did not respect your furniture (I went ballistic when I saw a dirty trash can piled haphazardly on my $9,000 Italian sofa), big gaping holes in the wall that make you think of Manhattan critters like mice and rats, and an overwhelming amount of dust that seemed to regenerate itself everyday, even though I tried to sweep and vaccumm when I came home from work.

By the third week of living out of my 100 square foot bedroom, I did everything I thought I would never do. I yelled at my dog, fired two separate contractors, had several screaming teary meltdowns, and even toying with the idea of moving into a $600 a night hotel room until the whole thing is done.

This is week four and my cabinets are at least assembled, but my kitchen is still a heap of plaster and wires. Is this normal?

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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New irritation: appliances that are supposed to get delivered, but did not show up. The sales person forgot to log it in. Another day in rubbles and dust. This is somewhat like workers who only show up when they feel like it.

Edited by Bond Girl (log)

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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It's not normal. Four weeks is incredibly fast for the work you're describing, especially for a small renovation job in Manhattan. Six to eight months would be normal.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Three weeks and I have already turned into bridezilla (without the wedding), despite all best efforts of Yoga instructors and thoughts of peace and tranquility. Six to eight month? I'd probably check myself into a mental hospital, or the local county jail or both.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Most people who have lived through kitchen renovations have experienced this, and the only way to survive it is to adjust your expectations way down and do whatever you have to do to stay calm. The anger, the frustration, the rage . . . they only harm you, and accomplish nothing or are net counterproductive to the venture. Get drugs, see a therapist, whatever you have to do -- we've all been there and this is how it goes.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I live in a small city where things tend to happen faster and cost less but it ALWAYS takes longer and costs more than expected, quoted or is reasonable. 20% upwards price slide is normal and the work usually takes 2X as long as expected. And we have it good.

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We just survived a whole house renovation project (including kitchen) and I would say this quote is spot on. The kitchen still isn't completely finished after a year.

I live in a small city where things tend to happen faster and cost less but it ALWAYS takes longer and costs more than expected, quoted or is reasonable.  20% upwards price slide is normal and the work usually takes 2X as long as expected.  And we have it good.

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Do you want to hear my sob story?

I began my renovation over a year ago and from the beginning things began to go horribly wrong. I won't go into the problems with the cabinets as my biggest problem was with the countertops. I insisted on concrete having been convinced that historical problems with the material had been solved. But from the first day I had the classic edge chipping issues.

After much angst about this I held off putting the backsplash. After some months I decided I did not want to sue the concrete counter top company but I also knew there was no way I could live with the countertop anymore. It was coming out!

I am now in the process of remodeling most of the kitchen AGAIN ... that includes the electrical work which became completely non-functional recently.

I have learned some big lessons about remodeling as I also had problems in flooring installation and many, many problems with contracting crews and laborers. I almost feel like writing a book about how to avoid the pitfalls of remodeling. It has been a very painful experience for me.

As for living through a remodel, it can be daunting. I went through a rough spot where all of the sinks in the kitchen and baths had been removed and the only running water in the house was in the bath tub. It was like going on a camping trip without leaving the house!!!

Believe me, I feel for you. But you'll no doubt be hearing more from me as Remodel Part II is about to begin ...

SLG

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Do tell us more!

Terila, after hearing your story, I am getting down on my hands and knees to thank the great kitchen god.

I bought one of those obscenely highend Italian cabinet that require a special contractor to install it. Thankfully, the guy that does the installation is terrific and a pillar of calmness. But, the architect was relatively inexperienced and did not know that the fridge require three inches of space between the cabinets or it would overheat, and she measured my ceiling wrong, which meant that the custom made cabinets did not fit. Of course the whole thing was shipped from Italy, as if I want a new piece, it's another 12 weeks of waiting.

My worst experience so far had to do with the demolition guys and painters. The job kept on going up in cost and all of them had this greasy-ness about them that makes you want to triple check what they tell you.

Don't get me started on the appliance sales people.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Interesting, I was just looking over one of your previous posts and I suspect we have a lot in common although I am older than you. I am an institutional equities trader and have been in trading for over 30 years. Are you in finance?

Your kitchen remodel sounds fabulous. The frustrations you are going through are normal. Just count yourself lucky if you don't have lingering problems. Once it's over, you'll breathe a sign of relief!

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Hopefully everyone won't hate me after this post, but I've actually had good remodeling experiences (and we've done major, down to studs remodels). I guess it's possible we've been lucky, but one thing we've always done, which I always wonder if everyone who has these horror stories has done, is interview these guys to death and call all of their references. I've haven't hired a single plumber, electrician, carpenter, tile layer, whatever, that hasn't been HIGHLY recommended, and I still ask for and call their references. And I grill their references, too-do they keep the worksite clean (real pros will seal the worksite with plastic and keep your house very clean)? Did they finish on time and on budget? Were they nice to your dog? etc. We have an old house and know that there will always be something that will complicate things, so we also always grill these guys on what they think they might find that could slow things down, ask how much extra they think that would cost, etc.

The easiest remodel we ever did was when we hired a design/build firm. They do everything in house, from the architectural plans to the kitchen design to subcontracting the plumbing, electrical, etc, and they do it for a set amount, which is written into a contract. They can't go over budget except in the case of a very few well specified exceptions (in our case, they did not go over. Even though they didn't realize they couldn't buy narrow cedar siding commercially and they had to spend a week in our backyard making each piece of siding, they couldn't charge an extra penny). They are not the cheapest option but there was almost no stress with this type of company.

I figure, I'll be living out of my bed room for a week at most. That's not so bad for a high end Gourmet kitchen right? Wrong.
What I didn't figure was that to get the new kitchen installed, I need to get a new electric line and move a few pipes.

Maybe this was just a case of poor planning? I don't think there's ever, in the history of remodeling, been a kitchen that was remodeled in a week. And how could you not know you needed new electric and plumbing? Whenever you buy new appliances this is something you check on first.

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As my DH husband says, pay attention to the first three letters of the word "contractor." We have had a few miserable experiences dealing with contractors (the 9-week Corian countertop ordeal comes to mind), which is why we learned to do much of the work ourselves. I also have stayed home with the contractors that we do hire, bake them cookies and buy them pizza and beer (beer AFTER the end of the workday) and it is surprising how much more pleasant, compliant and even productive they become. I ask them questions (but try not to interrupt them much), act interested and joke around with them. I find it makes the whole process better. They actually put off going to other jobs b/c it's so much more pleasant to work for me.

However, they learn do not try to cut corners or underestimate my knowledge. They will cry, even if they are 6' tall, burly men. :laugh:

I am taken aback that anyone even told you a week to do a remodel. That's unheard of, even just for paint and stock cabinets. Hope you weather the rest of the storm!

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As a forst generation chinese american, I am somewhat spoiled by the chinatown work crew that blows into your home, do what they need to do, get paid and leave. When I had my floors done the whole thing was a day. My friend's kitchen was done in two weeks. Not the best job, but ain't the worst either. The thing is most of these guys are illegal and will only work during weekends and few of them are licensed. You pay them cash and no questions asked.

Those are the good old days.

These days, the condo requries insurance proof, deposits, you can only work certain hours, licenses, sku numbers etc. The Chinatown crew is out.

I would have thought anticipated my kitchen to take longer if I were living in a huge space and has a gigantic suburban size kitchen. I have 42 square feet. That is the size of a shoe closet elsewhere in the country, How long can it take?

I don't understand why workers only show up on certain days and do an hour of work then leave. Nor do I understand why prices quadruple.

I am relatively happy with my installation guy right now and he has been on-target with his 2 day estimate. It's the this is suppose to happen but did not happen that is creating all the delays.

Somehow I think Kiliki's experience only happen on rare instances. The one guy that came with rave reviews from all his clients is the greasiest and slimiest of all. His price was five times everyone else's and he refused to sign a contract.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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It could be precisely that you are only doing 42 square feet (although I guess that isn't as rare in your neck of the woods as it is in mine)--it's such a tiny job that contractors are more than willing to drop it after an hour to go to a more lucrative place.

You definitely need to interview all your contractors AND check references, but you also need to listen to your gut. Not all contractors are shady or greasy or unreliable--in fact, many of them are hard-working, conscientious craftsmen (and women) who truly *want* to do a good job for the money. If you run across one who just doesn't feel right to you (e.g. refuses to sign a contract or spend the time to explain to you what the project will entail), look for another.

Unfortunately, it sounds like you're already well into this project and all of our well-meaning advice will only work for future projects (assuming there will be future projects given the terrible experience you've had so far). I am really sorry to hear that it's been so painful and hope that at least it's over soon for you.

Demolition on my kitchen project (floor-to-ceiling, baby) starts in two weeks--I'm sure I'll have stories to share by then.

Feast then thy heart, for what the heart has had, the hand of no heir shall ever hold.
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Kitchen renovation part 2. Architect is an idiot. There are lots of panels and units that came wwith the kitchen that did not work. Wondering if I am actually paying for the excess. Never buy a kitchen from a friend. You can't get mad at them afterward.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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The timeline of a kitchen renovation isn't much affected by the size of the kitchen. You have to do all the same things with 50, 100 or 400 square feet. Yes, the actual sheetrocking or whatever takes slightly longer to do for 400 square feet than it does for 50, but once the sheetrocking crew is in there it's the difference between a day and two days -- an insignificant difference. You still need plumbing, electrical and all the same appliances. You get a bigger refrigerator in a bigger kitchen, but so what? It doesn't take any longer to install, and even if you get two refrigerators that's only an extra hour.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The timeline of a kitchen renovation isn't much affected by the size of the kitchen. You have to do all the same things with 50, 100 or 400 square feet. Yes, the actual sheetrocking or whatever takes slightly longer to do for 400 square feet than it does for 50, but once the sheetrocking crew is in there it's the difference between a day and two days -- an insignificant difference. You still need plumbing, electrical and all the same appliances. You get a bigger refrigerator in a bigger kitchen, but so what? It doesn't take any longer to install, and even if you get two refrigerators that's only an extra hour.

But the Contractor's profit is probably going to be much higher - around here they charge anywhere from 12%-25% of the construction cost as a fee on top of paying themselves hourly wages and charging for every nail and parking ticket. Okay, not all Contractors do that...some of my best friends....

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However, they learn do not try to cut corners or underestimate my knowledge. They will cry, even if they are 6' tall, burly men.  :laugh:

That's a story I want to hear!

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Oh, I'm not sure if being on this thread is good for me. We are a week away from demolition and I've already cried once--and I'm generally not the crying type. The people on my favorite home bulletin board have been grand, but the horror stories make me cringe. I'm trying to do a lot of yoga and meditation to prepare me for the ordeal ahead, but I anticipate more crying fits down the road. I've done all my research, so at least I'm semi-prepared, but I know there will be unexpected bumps.

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The joy of appliance related matters. Here are some advices for those shopping for their appliances. The big fancy showroom you see is just as inefficient and flakey as the little mom and pop shops or on-line services. I bought my relatively high end appliances from one of those places in Gramercy park with the big fancy display, fast talking sales person, and five diget refrigeration units, undoubtedly built for palatio homes. The sales person promised that I can get my appliances right away, on-time etc etc. Afterall, they are not sales person, they are "kitchen professionals".

My appliances not only did not get delivered on time, they forgot half of my order. This meant further delays. When I call up to complain, I get a reply that goes something like "Chill lady, nothing in life is guaranteed"

Hell, I might as well go with a cheaper on-line outfit.

Hest, Yoga is a good idea. I've practiced my "Oms" a lot, went to a lot of session that sings the virtues of "patience" and learn to breathe when confronted with the urges to kill someone.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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I built a couple of homes as the general contractor on one, a pole house on Maui, and hired a general contractor for a 5,000 sf Casa in Cali. My secret to success is the "Three T's". Tanqueray, Tylenol and Tagamet. :biggrin:

"I drink to make other people interesting".

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Contractors, ugh! In my neck of the woods they say they'll be at your house at a certain day/time, they fail to show, you call their cell phone and there's always some excuse. And they're ALL like that.

Does anyone remember the Dilbert cartoon where Dogbert is reading a book, "List of Contractor Excuses" and he's on #459, "my girlfriend blew up my truck". How true!

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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Even though I've "acted" as my own general contractor I've had both good and bad experience w/contractors and subs. I have to politely disagree that "they're all like that". Sure, you get the cement finisher who has to go pick up some material and hours later comes back coked up, but that happens everywhere, just look at The Life. Word of mouth from others has helped separate the good from the bad and is probably your best source of referrals.

"I drink to make other people interesting".

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The joy of appliance related matters.  Here are some advices for those shopping for their appliances.  The big fancy showroom you see is just as inefficient and flakey as the little mom and pop shops or on-line services.

Totally true. You can't tell who the experts are until you talk to them, and even then you can be disappointed. It really does pay, though, so find a vendor you "click" with. A remodel is such a huge process that I was happy to find someone who could truly guide me, even if I knew I would end up paying a premium. Of course, some of my favorite exchanges and least disappointing experiences were with online vendors, so I ended up buying from a combo of different places.

With appliances, though, I was least impressed with my local vendors. I did a huge amount of research, and it was disconcerting to walk into a local appliance store and find I knew waaaay more about my chosen appliances than the sellers. I was especially annoyed that my stove manufacturer is one of those old-fashioned firms that's totally paranoid about Internet sales so I was forced to buy locally. I wouldn't have minded if I could get service and expertise from my local distributor that was equal to an online distributor, but that was completely not the case.

Now, I do believe in buying locally as much as possible, but when I can get much better responsiveness AND much better guidance--not to mention better prices--from someone more far-flung I don't see why it's a virtue to reward the mediocre with my business just because they're close.

Edited by Hest88 (log)
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