The project is finally done and we are slowly moving in, but while that happens and I prepare some pictures to illustrate the final result, here are some thoughts on things that I would have done differently, had I known.
- I thought that we did quite a bit of planning before starting the project but there were several things that came up over the course of it that we had not thought of or that we were choosing in parallel. While that worked out, it certainly induced some stress especially in the beginning when we began without a clear set of choices. I would definitely have chosen to delay the project in order to have the time to make material selections and design choices, though having a deadline certainly helped. This also includes spending time earlier to sketch everything. Some things would be difficult to do so before since the rough construction dictated some things, but you have to set aside time to do so during the course of the project (I was initially not prepared for this time commitment).
For tile, it's important to figure this out early on. While it's difficult to be exact about it, I think we waited a bit too long to make decisions on tile selection as well as layout (brick pattern vs running bond, how tall the tiled section is, where accent stripes go, etc).
- We only ended up with one bid for the job, from the plumber and the contractor. While I did do some comparison shopping for the fixtures, I should have done the same for the workmen. I don't know if I would have been able to be more selective or notice red flags without having gone through an experience like this, but it would at least have given me peace of mind. A couple of things that I fell prey to were that the plumber had this unusual arrangement of having me buy the fixtures at his discounted cost (this really was the cheapest I could find anywhere); and that the contractor had made several visits in order to prepare the bid, and I had spent so much time talking to him about it and getting clarification and ideas from him. I also felt quite good about the contractor at the time. Regarding the plumber, he turned out to be quite unreliable, though I don't know if that was completely obvious at the time. As far as the contractor goes, I would have felt bad to busy more people with the same task (including my own time), but for such a large, time-consuming and expensive job, I think it's only fair and necessary.
I now have some electrical work that needs to be done and for that I will definitely be getting multiple bids.
- (Over)communication is so extremely important, I definitely did not realise this at the beginning. I assumed to some degree that the contractor would have some input on design matters and material selection and that his default selections would be reasonable. Though that was the case in some instances, I spent far more time hand-holding his work than I expected to, becoming a general contractor of sorts as well which seemed quite wasteful. Early on, I began to specify things, but as time went on, the specifications became more and more specific and detailed out of necessity for him to do the right thing. For example, I spent a day at home while he was tiling the walls just so that he could ask me my preference on a particular choice at any time and I'm glad I did. I'm fearful of what might have resulted had I not done so. An example of this is the floor tile which I did specify quite exactly and he did it differently anyway. Not much to be done here, other than spending more time at home to supervise.
I also asked him numerous times to overcommunicate to me what his plans were and to ask me questions at any point. He did become better at it over time. It may have been annoying for him, but I think it's only fair, given that I funded about a quarter of his annual revenue.
- There were a few instances early on where we did not see the materials before ordering and simply relied on the contractor to make intelligent choices. I think that's a reasonable approach, but I would never do that again given the pain that I then went through, for example with the first window. Some items are difficult to see (again, you have to dedicate the time to go to showrooms at potentially inconvenient times), but you just have to do it. I got to a point where I would not authorise the purchase of any visible item without having seen it first (e.g. the shower glass -- and even then we ended up returning the countertop glass despite having seen it, the grout colours, the drawer pulls, etc).
- There's much potential for property damage over a long period of time. If I were to do this again, I would take pictures of everything, not just of the work site. There were a couple of things that got damaged outside of the worksite (the dining room ceiling and a tree) and fortunately the contractor did fix them, but had he not, it would have been my word against his. Coming back to communication, for some odd reason, the contractor tended not to let me know when things got damaged, as if I wouldn't notice. I eventually did get him to immediately report any issues as soon as they happened though, but I wouldn't have expected to have to ask him to do so even once.
- Things got quite dirty, especially during the initial demolition phase where every single horizontal surface in just about every room in the house (even ones that were quite distant from the worksite) ended up with a fine layer of black dust. It's fair to assume that everything is going to get dirty. They did put up some masking on the first day, but I would definitely make it clear that more masking is better, for example using zipwalls. Any area that is accessible without canvas or plastic sheeting is going to get dirty, so I would try to compartmentalise where the dust and dirtiness can travel.
- One particular thing that turned out to be shockingly expensive was the accent tile. This was the stripes of multiple small tiles. We only used this for a few places and a total of approximately 7 metres or so and it turned out to be about $700. Had we calculated that correctly, I would never have spent so much on it, instead going with either no accent or using the glass tiles that are on the front of the tub deck. Individually, it did not seem expensive and it seemed like we would not need a lot, but this one was deceptive.