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What's Taking So Long?

Posted at 1:51 PM, Mar 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-09 13:51:39-05

Remember the old saying “patience is a virtue?” When homeowners get started on a remodeling or home improvement project with a contractor, invariably the first question they ask is “How much will it cost?” followed closely by “how long will it take?”  

I’ve always thought that Superman would have made the very best contractor. Why? Because he has X-ray vision! He would be able to see behind the walls and under the flooring, and know what surprises were in store once the job began! Since contractors don’t have X-ray vision, it’s easy to see why delays and cost overruns can occur. 

The more extensive the project, the harder it is to foresee all the variables and difficulties that will occur during the job. And keep in mind that, the older the home, the more likely it is that something unknown will crop up.  

The easiest project to give a proper timeline for is new construction, because the contractor is starting from scratch and there are very few unforeseen elements to contend with – no prep work and no concern about protecting your existing structure or contents.  With new construction or any exterior work, the most frequent cause for delays is Mother Nature. A big storm or days of bad weather will throw your job off schedule, and create a ‘domino effect’ from all the other projects and people working on your job.  As a frame of reference, most new homes can be completed within nine to 12 months after breaking ground. However, the more custom the home and intricate the detail, the longer the completion will take.

Here is an overview of the key stages of the home improvement process, to help you understand what to expect. This process might apply for a kitchen renovation or new room addition:

Demolition: The start of the project, or the demolition, will take the least amount of time and will last anywhere between a day and a week -- depending on the size of the room. However, even though this stage takes the least amount of time, it is where most of the problems come into play and cause delays, because as the walls come down, many issues now become apparent in the foundation or mechanical aspects of the job.  

Rough Carpentry: Once demolition is complete your contractor may need to bring in rough carpenters to build walls, install new windows or replace the sub floor. Again, depending on the scale of the job, this portion of the process can take anywhere between two and three weeks. 

Specialty Services: After the rough portion is complete then the specialty contractors, like plumbers, HVAC contractors and electricians, are brought in to install new wiring, duct work, and water and waste lines. This may take up between two to six weeks depending on your particular needs.

Cabinetry/Appliances: At this point your contractor should have ordered any cabinetry and appliances that will go into the new space. The wait time varies on these items depending on availability. Stock cabinetry will only take three or four weeks to arrive from the manufacturer, while custom cabinetry could take twice as long to be delivered.

Drywall / Painting Prep: After the specialty contractors have completed their work, drywall hangers will arrive to finish the rough portion of the job. Drywall is typically a quick process and can be completed in about a week. The three steps of hanging drywall are the placement of the gypsum board, mudding and taping the seams and sanding off the excess drywall mud. A step that can be cheated -- but shouldn’t be -- is bringing in the painter to prime the bare walls before any other sub-contractor moves through the job. A good general contractor will bring the painter in to prime before the finished floor or cabinetry are installed. This way any defects in the walls will be detected and repaired prior to the finish portion of the job commencing.

Flooring: Flooring installation times can fluctuate depending on the type of finished floor being laid down. Linoleum can be completed in a day or two, while stone and ceramic floors can take up to a week, depending on the size of the floor and the availability of materials selected. Wood floors also can be completed more quickly than in the past thanks to the advent of pre-finished wood. While the square footage of the room will dictate the actual installation time, pre-finished wood floors, like linoleum, can be completed in a matter of days. And because there is no sanding or staining required, once it is installed, it is ready to be walked on.

Finish Carpentry: Cabinetry, door and trim installation is one of the longest parts of the process. A good trim carpenter will not be rushed through a job as it is their work that garners the most scrutiny. Providing there are no delays in delivery, cabinets could take several days just to install. Then factor in the intricacy of molding and the trimmer could be on the job for up to a month.

Countertops/Backsplash: After the trim carpenter wraps up, the finish line is within reach. Countertops are the next piece of the puzzle to be added and, again depending on the top ordered, it could take several weeks for a top to be built at the factory; and unfortunately countertops must be custom measured and cannot be ordered until the cabinets have been installed. However, it should not take more than two weeks to have countertops manufactured, delivered and installed.

Specialty Finish Work: Then the process starts to wrap itself up. The specialty contractors will come in to install their finish portions of the job: light and plumbing fixtures, wall plates and sinks, et al. The plumber and electrician could need up to a week each for their finish portions.

Final Punch List: Enter the appliances -- and what is called in the trenches as “punch out” -- and soon you are enjoying your new space. Punch out is the process of testing and fixing all the little things that get nicked, dinged or neglected along the way. Nothing in and of itself is terribly time consuming but the punch out could take a week or more depending on which sub-contractor needs to come back.

All in all you are looking at an average of three to six months for any remodel of substance. The best way to guarantee on-time delivery of the job is to have defined benchmarks set forth in the contract with the remodeler. The benchmarks, or payment schedule, should list at what point the contractor is entitled to a draw and how long it should take between draws. 

Keep in mind that one of the most time consuming delays is directly under your control as the homeowner! It comes from the changing the project mid-stream. Don’t be afraid of “change orders” if you really feel they will enhance your enjoyment of the space when it’s completed – but understand that changes create delays once your project has begun. Change orders are like fouls during a basketball game -- they disrupt the flow. The fewer changes you make, the greater the likelihood of an on-time delivery of your project.

I hope these timelines will give you a helpful overview when working with your remodeler. They are guidelines – your project may be longer or shorter, but it can help you to know where to ask good questions! You will know what delays are legitimate and which are caused by ineptitude. 

The final word on remodeling timetables: Be flexible - Be fair – Be reasonable when it comes to delays. Having a clear discussion upfront with your contractor, putting everything in writing and keeping change orders to a minimum, will help you get the job you want in the timetable you want. Not even Superman could do better than that