Sunday, January 12, 2014

Planning with the plumber and contractor

The plumber came to visit to see the room and possibility to get water up and waste down the house. He established that following the existing furnace chimney would be possible and gave some ideas for the bathroom itself, but deferred to a contractor friend of his for the more construction-intensive framing and carpentry.
I later got a quote from the plumber that was quite close to what I had expected. One of the other nice things about this was that he is focussed on selling his skills and service and not marking up fixtures, so he just passes on his discount at Keller to me.

I contacted the contractor that he suggested and he came out for a visit too. He pointed out that due to the extra weight of a large tub full of water (as opposed to a shower which may not have needed this) he would need to upgrade the floor to avoid stressing the dining room downstairs as well as upgrade the ceiling in the basement since some of the weight of the bathroom is in the middle of a rafter as opposed to the foundation itself. We also discussed numerous details such as making room for a door and also some recessed cabinetry in the corridor. I had not expected some of these, since I had been so focussed on how to get the plumbing but I'd rather feel secure that the dining room ceiling isn't going to develop sags or cracks.

Over the months, we have worked extensively with the plumber and contractor and have come to finalised decisions about exactly how things are going to be laid out and constructed. The culmination of this has been to sign contracts with both of them. There has been a lot of back and forth on this and multiple visits by both of them.

Along the way there have been a few price shocks:

  • The way the contractor works is to add a markup on top of all labour and materials of 17.5% before the tax is added subsequently. That can add up to a lot. One of the ways that I avoided this was to charge all the fixtures and plumbing work directly through the plumber and manage him myself. The downside of this has been coordinating independently with the plumber to make sure everything lines up (which has been non-trivial but quite manageable) but I still think the savings is worth it.
  • The window expansion we planned has been far more costly than expected. In the contract, the contractor included a number of 'allowances' which are estimates of material cost. The window allowance was far less than what it turned out to cost. Ultimately, we chose a mid-range window (vinyl double casement) because the next level up was aluminium double casement and cost twice as much, just to get a slightly smaller sash and jamb. I just couldn't justify it.
  • We didn't end up having an allowance at all for the granite tub deck and vanity countertop and that has turned out to be far more expensive than I expected. However, we've chosen one that is still really nice looking and on the lower end of the price range.
  • We still need to select a glass shower door. The bathtub will be right in front of the window so we want to be able to see through it and not obscure it with a shower curtain. I worry some that this will be expensive though the allowance for it is quite high already.
There are a few things that we are not choosing at all. The contractor is selecting these completely based on our general preference. That is to say, there is not much in the way of meaningful choice here. The door to the bathroom will be replaced with a bigger one since the current one is really very short and narrow. The skylight is also a fixed item per our sizing request. We chose floor heating both because it's an efficient and space-saving way to heat the room and because it's nice :) There is a thermostat that controls this on a timer. I was hoping to put a Nest in there but it turns out that the floor heating isn't something that can use arbitrary thermostats for some reason.

One of the things we struggled with when planning was bathroom usage. The workers are here for two months and there will be between one and five people in the house while we're not at home. Initially we didn't even think about this but then the contractor pointed out that there would be increased usage of the bathroom and that the workers are not clean while working. We went back and forth on whether to get a porta potty in the driveway or not. Ultimately we decided not to, to save some money as well as not subject them to the cold and indignity when there is a perfectly functional bathroom. We'll have to clean it far more frequently probably, but we'll see how this goes. We can always add it later, or just for the times when there are going to be a lot of people working in the house.