Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 22, 2015

    Many contractors I've met love nothing better than a chance to belittle or "diss" another contractor. I don't enjoy this poor-mouthing. I've had potential customers who want me to do the same thing--to tell them what a terrible job their last contractor did. I have a difficult time doing this because it's easy for me to put myself in another contractor's shoes. I usually won't say a word. And I take on few jobs that follow another contractor. I figure that if the customer chose the cheapest price, they got what they paid for. A recent meeting with a potential customer in Prattville, however, left me feeling a little different.
    Mr. Moye had a bathroom that had been remodeled by another contractor, and he wanted me to give him a price to fix or repair certain items. They were all spelled out, and all of them--I had to agree--needed to be fixed. Many were small items, such as repairing one tile in the middle of the dressing area with a jutting edge that stuck up and tripped the customer. Another was repairing a loose electrical outlet. And one was simply filling in some missing grout. I have to admit that these same problems have occurred on jobs we've done, with one difference--we repaired all of them.
    The largest complaint Mr. Moye had was that something was wrong with his shower, which was supposed to be curbless, so the customer could get in and out without tripping. Instead of making it lower than the surrounding floor in the dressing area, the contractor had built the shower floor, including the drain, higher than the dressing area floor. There's nothing wrong with building the floor of a shower up, as long as water doesn't pour out onto the dressing area floor. This one did.

       Here's a photo of the shower when we first saw it. The swell, rising up into the shower, is difficult to see in this picture--I should have taken one from floor level--but it's there. It begins where the small tiles start on the right side of the mat.

    I asked the owner why the contractor hadn't tried to repair--at the very least--the small items that needed repairing. Every job has a "punch list," items that the workers overlook. As a contractor, you simply fix them. The owner said he had no idea why the man hadn't tried to repair them. On further examination I figured out what I call "the reason." The man who remodeled the bathroom wasn't a remodeler--he was a home builder. I'm here to tell y'all--a home builder and a remodeler are two entirely different species of animals. I don't mean to put home builders down--they are hard-working and upstanding. Many are more money-savvy than most remodelers are, but they don't understand one thing: subbing out remodeling work isn't the same as subbing out home-building work. A subcontractor's main purpose in life is speed, not quality. He wants to get on the job, finish it as fast as he can, and move on to the next one. Worrying about the tradesmen who follow him, or the homeowner's complaints, aren't nearly as important as speed. And that was this builder's failing--he'd subbed everything out to tradesmen who had little contact with each other, and who couldn't gripe about the way the job was being done ahead of them. They had to take what was there, do their own part as fast as possible, and move on. If you are the tile man, for instance, complaining about the plumbing won't make you any money. If you have to stop and wait on the plumber to return, you'll lose money. The only way to get paid is to do your job--fast--and get out of Dodge. You have no incentive to put the personal time and commitment into the job that should be there. Most remodelers, on the other hand, know better. The supervisor I put on a job is usually the framing carpenter, insulation installer, sheetrocker, sheetrock finisher, window installer, tile man, trim carpenter, and painter. In other words--he follows himself. He knows that if our subs--usually plumbers or electricians, and sometimes glass installers or heat and air people--mess up, he has to repair the mess. My supervisor becomes one with the job.

For instance, here's two photos from the job under discussion. Do you see the glass on top of the knee-wall?

The glass is all wrong--it's an eighth-inch thick, standard glass, and the end isn't polished. Three-eighths is the thinnest glass that should be used for frameless glass. But the worst thing is, the glass should have been tempered. This was not. If the homeowner had broken it, he'd have been cut.

 Below is another photo of the shower, and on first sight, it doesn't look that bad. But as you study it, the defects jump out. For instance--the seat--which was too high for the customer's wife, is located behind the knee wall, cramping the shower area. I asked why the customer had requested it to be placed almost under the shower. The customer said he didn't know why it was there. No one had asked him where to put the seat. Once we began tearing the shower apart, we found out it was built to hide a mass of plumbing lines, which we had to cut and re-route properly. The cavity was filled with bricks, which had been thrown in and had crimped several of the copper lines. The seat also leaked and was filled with mold.

Another view of the shower when I first saw it. My first reaction was, "not so bad." Until I looked closely.

It's no joke that by the time we remodelers finish a good-sized job, it often seems as if we live with our customers. Part of this is because it usually takes longer than a customer thinks it should for us to finish a job, but part of it is also because we come to empathize with our customers--we take our work personally. For instance, if a customer is unhappy with my supervisor--I'm unhappy with my supervisor. I can't help but think, "What message is my supervisor sending when he doesn't do a first-class job for a man or woman to whom I promised a first-class job?"
    Anyway,let me cut to the chase--we got the job to repair the mistakes made by the home builder, and it's a good thing the owner did something--the shower leaked in three different places--bad leaks, too. Two of the leaks were at the seat, and the other one was right in the middle of the shower floor. The shower pan was installed in two pieces and wasn't seamed together.

The shower pans meet, but aren't properly joined.

Another view of the shower pan. I'm not sure why it's a different color, because it's the same pan. I think the fault is in Kirk's SmartPhone camera.

 It's not best to seam a pan at all, but when you do, it needs to be done properly. This one didn't look as if anyone had even tried to seam it. My guess is that the plumber put in the pan, and when the tile man arrived, it wasn't his job to seam the pan--his job was to lay tile as fast as he could and move on. He did. There was heavy-duty mold under the shower pan when we got to it. And look at a photo of the wall below.

The black stuff is mold on the sheetrock under the tile.
 Here are some more pictures of the job as it progressed. The first contractor glued the tile to water-resistant sheetrock, which used to be the way it was done. Nowadays, we prefer to use waterproofed tile backer board.
    The supervisor on this job was Kirk. Assisting him were Steve, Josh, and Mechelle. They did a wonderful job.

Here they are--Mechelle, Kirk, Steve, and Josh. Mechelle thought I should point out that she and Kirk are married--that our employees aren't quite as "friendly" with each other as it looks.

Installing the waterproofed backer board

 To the left is a shot of the shower before we set the tile. The red stuff is our shower pan--a liquid product we trowel on, called RedGard. It's not only a great waterproofer, it's also meant to expand and contract to accommodate any cracks that might later appear in the concrete bed underneath it. Notice the area it covers--not just the floor, as most shower pans do, but the walls, the knee-walls, and past the drain into the dressing area. You can also see where we have moved the drain from the center of the shower to the entrance. There's a reason for this.

One of the main reasons our customer wanted a new shower was so he could get in and out of it without tripping, and without having to lift his feet to step over a curb. We used to build these curbless types of showers with a gentle swell at the entrance, instead of a curb, but water could still run over the swell and onto the dressing area floor, meaning we had to waterproof the entire area. There was little else we could do. Nowadays we have trench drains, known in polite society as linear drains. I prefer trench drain--it's down-and-dirty-sounding, like the plumbing it's meant to accommodate. I have, however, been teased in recent years for using the word commode, instead of the more Anglo-Saxon sounding toilet. Maybe I'll begin using linear drain one day, too.

The body of the trench drain goes in.

    Here are some more photos of the job as it progressed. We felt--and the owner agreed--the earlier shower was too dark, so we advised a lighter tile on the walls and on the dressing area floor. The owner said he didn't even get to choose the type or color tile that the other contractor used. We think the owner and his wife made good choices on the tile colors.

Kirk installing the dressing area tile.

Josh, leaning in to hand Kirk a tile.

                            The shower is taking shape.
One piece of the new 3/8" tempered glass is installed.

There isn't a piece of glass, you may notice, on the right-side knee-wall. Here is where the adage, "Measure twice, cut once," would have worked. Someone (Kirk) didn't measure correctly (Kirk). I will not (Kirk) tell who (Kirk) it is. We had to reorder the right-side glass. I have the old piece in my garage. It's for sale. Cheap. C'mon, Kirk--make me an offer.
    All in all, even though we had to correct another contractor's mistakes, we enjoyed working on Mr. and Mrs. Moye's job. We even replaced the shower valve and trim, installed a towel bar, re-worked the existing granite, and added granite on top of the knee walls--all at no extra cost. To be honest, Kirk insisted on it, even though I wasn't in agreement. He felt the job would not be up to our standards if we didn't do these extras. See what I mean about empathizing with the customer? Kirk felt as if he was the customer. And that's what I look for in a supervisor.

   To finish up, here are some last photos of the job. What do you think?

Here are two photos of the trench/linear drain. Isn't that a nice solution to the curb-less shower?
The problem with linear drains is the expense.
This is the least expensive one made, and it's $199.00, plus tax.

And that is it. We had fun and created a leak-free, beautiful bathroom. And a big "Thank you" goes out to Mr. and Mrs. Moye for letting us come into their home during Thanksgiving, make a mess, and transform their bathroom into a work of art.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, you installed a trench drain (now I have a name for it) in my house in Montgomery. It worked very satisfactorily. Once in a while it needed to be cleaned out, though. No biggie.