September 1, 2009

Labor of Love

A Pirate’s Life for Me

I am not one of those girls who goes all ga-ga for electronics, but pulling the electrical nightmare wiring out of the entire house was one of the happiest times in the whole project. At that moment we knew the only way the house could ever go up in flames would be because of the punk kids who lived behind us.

At some point we prayed that very thing would happen; alas it never did.

That first winter we had saved up enough money for Matt to quit his mortgage job and go work on the house full time. He was going to complete the demolition of plaster and the subsequent clean up, frame out the concrete block room and a couple other places while our electrician ran all the wire into the brand new, super shiny, battleship grey, 200 amp circuit box.

Perhaps I should back up to explain how it is we arrived at winter as some of you might be scratching your heads in wonder for the “couple of months” we had promised ourselves as a completion date.

Since we purchased the house just before our wedding we wanted to get through that insanity first. There went ten weeks right down the drain. Of course another week for honeymoon and another for catching up with work once we were back and, well, you probably get the idea. Our couple of months was over before it even started.

During the winter, while Matt was working in sub zero temperatures with little to no block from the elements, he tracked down a couple reasonable priced electricians who could come in to complete the work; he chatted with all of them and made a decision to hire Jerry.

There are times when a spouse is supposed to bite their tongue and allow their other half of the equation make their own choices, regardless of the outcome.

This was definitely not one of those times.

Matt was all kinds of excited that Jerry would be able to finish the entire project from running the wire, attaching outlets, baseboard heaters, smokes and pulling it all back into the box in just a few weeks.

Again I will pause because I think it is important for everyone reading to run right out and pick up a copy of The Money Pit, watch it and pay special attention to the standard line that flies out of the mouth of the General Contractor who handles their project. I will wait.

Contractors in Massachusetts are required to become licensed and many of them must complete ungodly numbers of hours of training before the licensing can occur. In some instances certain classes are even required. I am convinced that the “How to tell the client two weeks no matter what” class is the first they are all sent to. It is an ongoing educational endeavor they all must refresh each year to stay quick on their feet when asked how long a project will take.

Matt gave Jerry a key and entrusted him to get in there and get the job done with little to no supervision because after all, he was a professional and Matt may or may not be able to be there every day. Silly, silly Matt. Jerry started the work sometime in early part of the Spring of 2003. A few weeks in we headed on out one weekend to check out the progress.

I was still going with that original few week estimate. Silly, silly me.

Our electrician had drilled a bunch of chase holes in the studs, haphazardly hung switches and outlets from the boxes with just one screw and hundreds of feet of wire were coiled up all over the three floors of the house but not attached to anything. He had assured Matt he would be done by the time we showed up that weekend. The two of us just looked at each other and Matt dialed the phone to find out where he was at.

While this was going on, our apartment, which was one floor of a two family house, had gone under agreement and we were being forced to find an alternate place to live. A family relation allowed us to move into their basement area for a short time.

On top of all of that the city had failed to turn off the water so although we had shut things off on our end, there was a trickle from the street. As one of the coldest winters on record the plumbing slowly filled, so did the water heater and furnace.

All of the above burst. Luckily we had been given the Home Improvement 1-2-3 book from Home Depot for our wedding (yes we registered at Home Depot) and Matt read the plumbing section like a bible. The inspector told him there were professionals who didn’t do such quality work and he should consider getting licensed.

About a week later, Jerry arrived back on the jobsite and Matt did a double take. He was wearing a gauze patch over one eye. Turns out although he was cutting for a ceiling fan box above his head, straight into horsehair plaster, he saw no reason to wear safety glasses. The plaster had gotten in there and he wound up in the hospital.

This is the second class contractors are forced to attend, the “How to come up with the most outrageous excuses on the fly so as not to simply admit to the client that you ran out of money and needed to front load at a different job for a few weeks”. If he was telling the truth I certainly felt bad for him but his overall wishy-washy work ethic told me otherwise. I had never seen any contractor go so far as to don a costume to drive the point home however, so I had to give him a solid A for effort there.

Jerry worked for approximately one more week, which brings us up to about mid May, and then he simply vanished. Matt blew up his phone leaving countless messages. We threatened not paying his final installment, we threatened going to the licensing board. Nothing worked, he had just disappeared. We were ready to get going with reconstruction so we called in a new electrician.

He sadly told us that because the permit was in Jerry’s name he would be unable to do anything.

I went looking for sharp, pointy things to stick in my ears while Matt utilized the tools of the mortgage trade and tracked down Jerry’s address and home number. We contemplated going by, ringing his bell, snatching him and tossing him in our car to take him back to the job, but figured that might be a little harsh so we went with a call instead.

He answered.

“Surprise Jerry, its Matt. Miss us? I expect you to be here tomorrow, finished by Friday or your license is going to be yanked so fast your head will spin.”


Elizabeth Bradley said...

Remodeling=Blood, sweat, tears, and watching the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$go bye bye. But, in the end, it's almost always worth the trouble and expense.

Bridgete said...

My father and grandfather have both had similar trouble with contractors and subcontractors. The only person I know who bought a "fixer-upper" for himself who didn't have trouble (or, at least, nothing big that I heard about) is my best friend's dad...but he's an architect, maybe he knows the right people.

Suldog said...

Good (if sad for you) tale. You have to finish it ASAP, of course. I'm worried about Jerry :-)

Bree said...

I just learned more about wiring and renovation than I ever learned from Bob Villa!

Almost Precious said...

Ah, and so the plot thickens. Is there a body in chapter 3 ? Perhaps Jerry's corpse? Killed with a lead pipe in the conservatory by Miss Scarlet...or Matt and Jenn ? hee, hee, wouldn't blame ya !
There is no way on God's green Earth that I'd even begin to attempt to renovate a hundred year old house, let alone one built in 1850. But I do applaud you, you are certainly more adventuresome, far braver and gung ho than I could ever begin to be. :)

Rosebud Collection said...

Oh my, this is getting to be a nightmare. What I always find amazing, is how do people keep a business with the way they work???

Chris Stone said...

Well. at least you hadn't paid him.

a back fence neighbor of mine has a beautiful house. the previous owner was a little old lady that had lived there forever. so the house was a little run down, but not totally neglected. looked like, with a reasonable amount of work it would fix up nice. probably an 1880's house, though it could be older. more boxey than the victorians.

the 26 yr old that bought the place, got rehab money put into the mortgage, then turned around and gave it to a contractor. the contractor messed around a bit then disappeared. for the past 5 years, there have been uncovered old wood on the outside of the house. there's no money left to fix up the contractor's mess.

*le sigh*

Theresa said...

Another great installment of the Labor of Love. I heading over right now to read the next one.

Jenn said...

@ Elizabeth it was worth it just for the stories alone :-) Blood, sweat and a whole lot of tears indeed!

@ Bridgete for the most part those in the biz tend to know who to hire for stuff. Would have used my dad's guys but it was so far away no one would go out there, now I know why lol

@ Jim I'm pretty sure Jerry got his sea legs after this project and set sail!

@ Bree happy to help!

@ Anna lmao! Matt got a good laugh out of your comment too. Miraculously no one was mamed or killed during this, just bloodied & bruised.

@ Rose we thought the same thing, how could he have had the great rep he did when he was so slow? The work was good but that only counts for just so much.

@ Chris omg now that is a nightmare! How awful for them. I am sure the karma train will come to run that contractor over one of these days!

@ Theresa so glad you're enjoying these! Now that the project is so far behind us I'm even enjoying going back to read / edit everything & write more on it.