And now for something you'll really Like!

Though I've mentioned it before, I've never really told the entire dry wall story. It just stings so badly whenever I think about it. The walls are a constant reminder of how angry Mike and I still feel even months after. We worked so hard to demo and rebuild... it's such a dam shame that the walls look the way they do and don't reflect our high standards, care, and dedication.

One of the problems with old houses - with all old houses - the floors aren't level, the walls aren't even, and measuring is a constant battle when you're trying to remodel. After experiencing the frustration of re-measuring and wrong cutting and going back to the Depot for more wood again and again, Mike and I decided that rather than go out of our minds, it would be best to hire someone to do the drywall. Plus, time was running short on our mild time scale. It was maybe September, 2004. I was still hoping to be in the house for the annual Halloween Party, traditionally on the first weekend of November. We were tired, I was working a lot. Mike had switched jobs and now had to wake up around 4:30am. We were living at his parents' house, where a flea problem was so out of control that the cat avoided the floor for fear that fleas would jump on him. It was a very stressful time.

Our good friend James Pazakis, who had done some of the plumbing for us (before Mike had learned how to do it himself) recommended us to the dry wall guy that had worked for him before on some small projects. We took his advice and called him, and after he came and looked at the house and gave us an estimate, we hired him. (I don't blame James for what happened next - I don't think he had experience with this guy on a large project like ours.)

The terms were simple. We would pay him in thirds - one third when he bought the materials, one third when all of it was hung, and the last third when it was mudded and finished. Mike had him draw up a contract, and though I didn't look at it, I was sure it was fine and everything would be ok.

Well, he bought the drywall ok. A week after we hired him, it was sitting in our living room, so we paid him the first third and thought everything was great. This was going to be a quick and easy process. However, as the guy and his team began hanging, problems became apparant very quickly.

First, they barely had any tools. They needed to borrow our hammers, our ladders, our tape measures, Mike's toolbelt, our sharpies, our razor knives, our wood for scaffolding, and many other items. Mike and I did not mind lending these things, but it set us off right away. What professional dry wall contractor would not own these things himself? And as you can imagine, many of the above listed items ended up mysteriously disappearing. I recovered some items by rifling though their tool buckets when they weren't in the house - I wanted to steal some of their stuff, but none of it was worth stealing. That was the second thing that set us off. The few tools they did own, scrapers and the like, were all rusted and disgusting. Dry wall tools are not expensive and not difficult to maintain. What professional would not maintain his tools? And how did he manage to rust stainless steel anyway?

They got 75% of the hanging finished and asked us for the second third. Since things were going along well, we gave it to them in good faith. That was a mistake. From there out, their working visits to the house were few and spread out by weeks. If they came, they came for only an hour or two at a time - which made no sense to us since their drive to our house took a half hour each way. (Thank goodness we weren't paying for their gas.)

They complained that the house wasn't warm enough for the joint compound to set up, so we brought in two borrowed Redi-heaters for them. They complained that we needed to empty the house of the few items inside - we did. We had the pleasure of witnessing them spill over 5 gallons of water upstairs and not give a care that they did. I watched the water fall down the wall in the downstairs bedroom in horror and frantically used the sweatshirt off my back to mop it up. At this time I had my new washer and dryer still in their boxes in the kitchen - they used them like tables for their drinks and snacks. One day I discovered a full cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee sitting on its side on my washer. Thank god the lid was unopened. If it had spilt, it could have ruined the $700 machine, or at least caused some damage. What's more, I had to clean up their drinks/snacks/cigarrette butts daily. They had the nerve to even ask us to pick up a pizza for them and didn't offer us any.

Meanwhile, Mike and I were worried about their work. The walls did not look good - joints did not look good - outlet and switch boxes were cut out incorrectly - they gouged our new windows with the razor knives. Plus, they seemed to waste more dry wall than they put on the walls. A stack of odd peices grew and grew out in back of the house - some as large as a near quarter of a sheet. In addition, they threw their food and drink trash into the same pile. Mike and I were getting angry. The house was a mess - they threw joint compound around as if they were in a food fight. There were huge piles of it all over the floors - big drips on the windows - and they nearly ruined our stair treads, which we quickly moved out of the living room when we saw the plaster mess all over them. Yes, they offered to clean up the floors, but we knew that their idea of cleaning meant dumping gallons upon gallons of water all over the house - rediculous.

And still they showed up less and less. All the dry wall still wasn't hung. At this point we were into November, approaching December. My hopes for the Halloween party were long since shattered. The real kicker came around this time. They asked for the final payment. We were stunned - the work wasn't finished. For cripe's sake, everything still hadn't been hung!! Under our original agreement, we shouldn't have even paid them they second payment!

I asked Mike if I could see the contract. When I saw it, I was even more heartbroken. It wasn't a contract at all. It was mearly a letter stating "I'm Mr. So-and-so and I'm going to drywall your house." It wasn't even signed. I informed Mike it wasn't a contract. Tensions were high between us. Mike had a terrible lingering flu, the fleas were still biting, and the holidays were right around the corner. He told the dry wall guy that we wouldn't pay the full amount until the job was done, but he did offer him a partial payment. I was pissed. We were being way too nice.

Then, just as Mike got off the phone with the guy, we discovered that our garage had been broken into. The side door had been forced open with a crow bar - the marks were obvious. And it was funny because I had seen a shovel in the house earlier that evening that I could have sworn was in the garage. The dry wall guys broke into our garage. We were sure of it - possibly just for the shovel, but Mike is a mechanic with thousands of dollars worth of tools and other stealable equipment in the garage. I was glad that our two most expensive and portable possessions, the motorcycle and the ATV, had been moved to his parents' house earlier that week. As you can imagine, we were both livid.

We expected the job to be done before Thanksgiving. It wasn't. However, we were surprised to see the crew at the house the day after Thanksgiving, working away. At this point, we didn't even feel like it was our house. We hated being there with them. We hated looking at their work and finding more and more mistakes. We hated knowing that it was going to look horrible when it was painted. We hated knowing that we should have fired them - should have withheld the money - should have hidden our tools - but it was too late for all that and we were too nice to say anything.

In early December they were "done," even though the walls and the compound were very unfinished, unsanded, and certainly not done in many places. And would you believe - they asked for more money. A lot more money. Mike's mom, who gifted us the money to dry wall, handed them a check for the amount they wanted. I was furious that I hadn't been there to halt that. Of course it's easy for me to say that now - I probably would have been too nice if I had been there too.

We were left with the mess in the house and the mess outside of the house. We spend probably an extra couple hundred dollars taking all the excess drywall to the dump. We still, to this day, cannot clean the joint compound off the floors. We had to hire another couple guys to re-do the upstairs cathedral ceiling because it was so bad - and it's still not looking the way we wanted it to. Mike had to buy dry wall tools and re-compound and sand every single room in the house because they were so horribly done. The outlets and switches don't sit right in their boxes because the drywall was not cut correctly. And still on many walls I can see the tape, I can see where each sheet of drywall ends, I can see bumps and dips where the joints weren't sanded properly, and I get angry every time I do.

Mike and I decided that we should have bit the bullet and done the job ourselves. We ended up having to do plastering and sanding and cleaning anyhow. And I think we would have been so much more picky about how things were turning out. So now things like glossy paint are out. We have to buy larger than life outlet and switch plates to cover the poorly cut boxes.

The lesson here - always get a proper contract. Have all parties sign it. Make sure it outlines exact cost and time frame as well as the exact job of the contractor - ie, will hang, plaster, and sand dry wall, will order dumpster for site clean up, etc. Never be afraid to fire your contractor and never deviate from the payment plan or the contract. And always be sure to padlock your garage and change the locks on your doors if you deal with shady people.


Anonymous said...

Gosh... I'm really sorry to read about what happened to you guys. It sounds like both of you are very trusting and think that everyone else is like you. I used to be that way. If anything good cam come out of it, it is that you will probably not repeat the same mistake. While it must be difficult to see the mistakes, I hope both of you can get to the point when you laugh at this "relatively small" hiccup. That is what it is. Your home sounds lovely and you will enjoy it for many years to come. The best of luck!

kitrainia said...

Thanks! I'm not at the laughing point yet, unless I'm making fun of those guys, but I'm sure it will come. Eventually.

Patricia W said...

Wowsers!!! I just had an experience this past week with the same type thing on a smaller scale. Pissed is putting it nicely. Anonymous is right, if anything good can come out of it it is to scrutinize everything, demand references, look at past work, demand a guarantee and be very assertive.

AngelSil said...

This is too familiar. My 'contractor' is MIA today. Again. Luckily, we do have a contract but that's not making them move much faster.

kitrainia said...

You know, I'd like to know how these people stay in business! Everyone I talk to has had a contractor hell story of one kind or another. It seems like if it's not a million dollar job, they're not motivated to do it, expecially where I live.

I do some business out of my house and always make it a point to call my clients, give them updates, timeframes, and give them a part in the process - no matter what project they want me to do! People who don't respect me enough to call me, tell me when they're showing up or why they're not just offend me so much.

It's so frustrating as homeowners. I wish we could just rebel against these people, but we're at their mercy because we need their help to get a job done! After all, you can't do EVERYTHING yourself.

Z*lda said...

Wow, that's a bitter story. I'm amazed that you had so much patience, and that they got paid in the end.

Also want to mention, regarding the cat flea problem, that vets carry a new chemical called Fipronyl (sells as Frontline) that you put on the back of a cat's neck & it will soak into the skin overnight and make the cat toxic to fleas for a month. Goes for about $11 per dose around here.

kitrainia said...

Oh my god, Zelda. Those fleas. In addition to the cat at Mike's parents' house were his parents' two dogs. I was intelligent and gave the cat frontline, but Mike's brother kept insisting over and over that the dogs didn't have fleas and wouldn't take them to the vet or buy them frontline.

The problem intensified and intensified until the cat's Frontline could not even control it. You could see the fleas jumping up from the carpets. My ankles were covered in flea bites. If you dropped an article of clothing on the floor you'd have to shake the fleas off. If you bent down to pick something up, you'd have to brush them off your amrs and chest. It was horrible - a nightmare!

Mike's mother had been away taking care of Mike's grandmother for the past couple months as all this was going on. His dad was over in Iraq blowing up bombs. When Mike's mom returned, she made his brother take the dogs to the vet. Only then did the cat, the carpets, and my ankles start to recover.

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A drywall panel is made of a paper liner wrapped around an inner core made primarily from gypsum plaster, the semi-hydrous form of calcium sulphate (CaSO4.½ H2O). The raw gypsum (mined or FGD) must be calcined before use. Flash calciners typically use natural gas today. The plaster is mixed with fiber (typically paper and/or fiberglass), sportsbook, foaming agent, various additives that increase mildew and fire resistance, and water and is then formed by sandwiching a core of wet gypsum between two sheets of heavy paper or fiberglass mats. When the core sets and is dried in a large drying chamber, the sandwich becomes rigid and strong enough for use as a building material. Drying chambers typically use natural gas today. Depending on plant efficiency and energy costs, 25% to 45% of drywall cost today is related to energy, primarily natural gas. http://www.enterbet.com