Talkin’ ‘Bout My Renovations: Part II

Reno Collage 4

Scene: A darkened bedroom.  A man and a woman lay beneath the sheets, lightly snoring.  The clock on the bedside table reads 3:58 am.  At 3:59 the alarm begins blaring.

Me: (sitting bolt upright) Sweetie.  Sweetie?  SWEETIE!!!

Him: (throwing off the covers and tumbling halfway out of bed) GAAAAAHHHH!  WHU–HUNGH–WHAAAAA?

Me: (standing up, taking off my jammies and pulling on my clothes) It’s 4 am.  We have to go downstairs.

Him: (confused, holding a pair of pants by the leg as if he’s never seen such a thing before) Downstairs?

Me: (through gritted teeth after standing on an exposed nailing strip) Yes, downstairs.  In the elevator.  To the change rooms.  So we can use the bathrooms.  Because we currently don’t have a bathroom. (muttering under breath) And with the way the renos are going, I’m not sure if we’ll ever have another one again.

Him: Yeah, but why 4 am?

Me: Because our neighbours are disgusting bloody savages who can’t stop banging in the sauna, so the change rooms are closed between midnight and four.  You know, this is why we can’t have nice things.  Also why we’ve been running down the hall at 4 am, trying not to piss ourselves before we even make it to the elevator.  Speaking of, how are you doing with those pants?

Him: (has fallen back asleep on the bed with the pants over his face)

Me: Right you are.

Aaaannnnnnddddddd…SCENE!  Then just lather, rinse and repeat for about two more solid months.

132

Right, so I’m not going to mince words.  On the subject of the home renovations we carried out this spring, they sucked.  Despite doing what we thought was appropriate due diligence on the contractors, materials and overall scope of the job, we ran into problem after problem, issue after issue, obstacle after obstacle.  The entire process could best be termed an ordeal.

Our general contractor was in over his head, and we were far too accommodating of this.  Nice, friendly dude, really seemed to know what he was doing when he came to spec the job, got on well with my mother, a woman with a lot of experience in home renos who was acting as our “sanity contractor” – seemingly all good things.

General contractors can be skilled in specific trades, but the main job of a general is to co-ordinate a project.  That means arranging for sub-trades, pricing, sourcing and picking up materials, and just generally putting out any small fires as they flare up.

And our general did all that – with the exception of the materials-sourcing, nearly all of which was done by my mom – but in odd fits and starts that wildly threw off the too-optimistic one-week timeline for the project (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)  Construction in our building can begin at 8 am, but he’d show up at 9:30, 10 and announce that he still had to go pick up an item clear across the city.  Then he’d disappear for the next five hours, leaving some combination of me and my mom to “supervise” the workers.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to pop by for just half an hour of work every few days.  All while I had to sit there and play baby-sitter to our unit and our building.  I can’t tell you how much time I spent this spring just sitting around staring at shit videos on YouTube, simply trying to keep myself awake and coherent enough to answer any questions the trades might have, or to guide a worker around our rather labyrinthine building.  Our contractor just didn’t seem to have a very good handle on the job, and so it dragged.

025

On the subject of the trades, we were mostly happy with the people the contractor brought in.  The one glaring exception was the tile guy, who was the replacement for another tile guy, who was on site maybe 15 minutes before he was sub-subbing the job out to yet more tile guys.  And those tile guys?  Barely restrained animals.  Slammed doors, threw their tools at the ground, BLARED their nu-metal, swore constantly, yelled, pissed off my neighbours and, unfortunately, scared the living crap out of me in my own home.  I was upset – and then ANGRY – to find myself, on the day they descended on our apartment, kind of cowering in a corner of the livingroom, phone at immediate hand, sizing up the heft and weaponability of the small wooden box beside me that contained our cat’s ashes.  They also directly went against our requested design plans, and tiled me into the apartment (and Mr. Finger Candy out of the apartment) for six hours.  I snapped this photo the day they were here; just looking at it gives me a mild panic attack.

005

I addressed my concerns with our general that evening, and he didn’t know his tile guy had subbed the work out to these tile guys; did not even seem to know who they were, disconcertingly enough (only if you look at it from the perspective of the safety of my person, family and home.)  He apologized profusely and said they would not be returning to complete the job.

So guess who showed up the very next day?  Let’s just say it was an awkward handful of hours.

Nice guy or no, our contractor’s laissez-faire attitude towards just about everything caused a lot of problems and delays.  There was simply too much competing work being proposed for too small a space, in too little time.  And with virtually no oversight happening, it took next to no time for things to just spiral – pun intended – down the drain.  You know, if we had a drain.  Anywhere.

005

That’s how we wound up using a public bathroom five to 10 times a day – just not between the hours of midnight and four because, you know, banging neighbours – for two months.  That’s how we wound up attending a friend’s wedding in the only clean formal clothes we could dig out of the random pile of de-closeted vestments heaped on our second bed (themselves buried under tote bags of shoes and boots, the glass shelf from the bathroom and two or three ceramic tile samples.)  That’s how we wound up nearly breaking every single one of our toes and all four of our ankles after returning home from that same wedding, quite inebriated, to a floor full of ceramic tile clips that we were positively forbidden to stand on (really, really super difficult when it is your only path to and from your bedroom, and also when you’ve been drinking things called Fishbowls.  The joke at the wedding that night was “Woah, woah, woah, slow down!  You two are drinking like you’ve got access to a bathroom!”)

005

By the time it became clear to our contractor how very far things had devolved – things we had been pointing out to him, to little note – the damage was done.  Our home was no longer our home, just a bombed-out work site that we (fitfully) slept in.  By that point we had been living with bare floors for months, floors piled high with weighted underlay, and partially completed floors laden with clips.  All of our possessions were in boxes, stacked high on any elevated surface we could find, as well as both balconies.  Our livingroom was a mini warehouse of construction materials, plumbing components and every single door we owned, unhinged and leaning against any available surface.  Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust, dirt and construction debris.  We did not have a functioning kitchen for over a month, and our appliances had all been pushed out into the diningroom.  Our bathroom was still MIA.

008.JPG

It’s also why we were deeply, unpleasantly unhappy, bickering and sniping at each other every single day.  It’s why we were stressed and short-fused and prone to snapping.  It’s why I woke up every morning for two months with a knot of dread in my stomach – what stupidity was going to greet me this particular day?  Everything was just a perpetual, torn-up mess.  Without a kitchen, we ate terribly – a lot of takeout, too much pizza, and whatever cold things we could grab from the fridge in the diningroom.  And without a bathroom, we were loathe to drink too much, so I’m sure we were both wildly dehydrated.  And while we were very fortunate to have bathroom facilities on site that we could access for most of the hours of the day, our 3:59 am wake-up calls were doing nothing for our general dispositions or biological systems (you will never be so hellishly aware of how crucial all of that is to your very functioning than when you’ve been denied access to a bathroom.  Turns out the earth does not revolve around the sun, it revolves around a bathroom.)  We were also carrying out a terrific amount of after-hours cleanup, because none of the trades, save the plumbers, had any respect for our home.  Add some nosy, justifiably ticked-off neighbours to the mix, a dash of enforced boredom (I’m one of those people who can’t work/create/entertain myself very well when there are strangers about; I sat in my livingroom for weeks just listening to music on my phone) and a joint sleep deficit that probably numbered in the hundreds, and you’ve got a recipe for great unhappiness.  We weren’t the most pleasant people to be around.

086

Then one late spring day it just ended.  I don’t even think I was here for the final day of work; pretty sure I subbed that out to my sanity contractor while I popped out for coffee.  By that point, I simply didn’t think my brain could handle one more SPECK of stupidity, of which there had been so very, very much.  And frankly, I just didn’t want to see our contractor – I don’t think he was aiming for anything malicious here, but he didn’t have a clue, and we paid dearly for it.  I’m sure he was grateful I wasn’t here.

Then our part of the piece began – the cleaning and the painting (why do we have so much wainscotting?!) and the putting back of possessions.  All of which took forever, but not as long as the actual renos, hey-oh!  Okay, so this was the bad, boring part – the WHY? portion of a film trilogy – but there’s a satisfying ending to this three-part tale, and that’s a lovely, updated apartment with an actual functioning bathroom!  So please join me next time for the big reveal, including a little Cribs-style video I shot of the (nearly) finished product.

Carpet Diem

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Renovations: Part I

To paraphrase one Walter Elias Disney – smart man, done some things, you might be familiar with his work – it all started with a crowbar.

010

Okay, to back up a bit, it actually all started with this crowbar last year when I began ripping up the engineered hardwood in our apartment in anticipation of springtime renovations to our home.  We were looking at the total replacement of our bathroom, as well as some small work in the kitchen, a whole mess of painting, and entirely new tile and carpet throughout.  It was going to be a lot of messy work, and like a couple of loons, we were also going to try to live in our apartment while it was being renovated.

003

So naturally the very best time to begin tearing up the floor, splinter by agonizing splinter, was eight months out from the start of the work, just to make the intervening time as uncomfortable, awkward and dangerous as humanly possible.  That our lower limbs did not succumb to gangrenous affront is something of a miracle to me, after half a year of wandering around on bare concrete floors with partially exposed, toe-puncturing nailing strips lying in wait.

Reno Collage 2

A month out from the planned start of work I began filling out the approvals paperwork required by our condo board.  Roughly a month later I had the paperwork finished, after jumping through hoop, after hoop, after hoop stipulated by the board.  Some of the hoops were understandable and reasonable – of course we can’t use gravity-assisted toilets in a stack condo, we’d be pissing on our neighbours’ heads.  It has to be a wall-mount unit, duh.  Other hoops were less reasonable – thinking here, of course, of the hideously expensive, ungodly HEAVY and completely unwieldy underlay we had to purchase, the installation of which, in retrospect, is what set the entire job back by about three weeks.

In response to a letter of complaint I sent to our property management firm, the property manager disagreed with my pissed-off assessment that the condo board appears to be made up of a bunch of weekend DIY-ers who have no business approving decisions related to major infrastructure.  She has absolutely no evidence to back up her assertion, but I certainly do – the board-mandated underlay, for instance.  Also the toilet that was board-mandated and approved – I even included printed schematics in my submission! – except when we went to install it, it didn’t fit.  I don’t know how I managed to hold it together, but there’s a boardroom in my building that’s lucky it didn’t have a wall-mounted, low flush porcelain crapper thrown through its window.

Toilet Collage

But to use the underlay as an example, had any one of my neighbours on the board actually taken a good look at the product in question – 10 to 12 millimeter-thick, National Research Council-rated padding to lay under hard flooring types such as ceramic – they would have noted that it was 1) total overkill (are we soundproofing our home or a concert venue?) and 2) a completely inappropriate stipulation given its cost, availability, and general immovability.  Two young, fit guys STRUGGLED to heave those gigantic rolls up to our apartment, and it took another young, fit guy two full, very sweaty days – plus setting time! – to actually install the underlay.  To say nothing of the many, many framing and trim workarounds we had to employ after the fact to accommodate a floor pad that was now more than half an inch higher.

004

And while things are beginning to change, the age mix in our building still skews pretty heavily toward folks born in the 1930s and 40s – people in their retirement years on fixed incomes.  I can’t imagine they’d be super pleased to bear the various costs – to their wallets, homes and bodies – of this product that they are being forced to use by a board that has not done its due diligence.  I’ll amend my earlier critique to now call them a bunch of rubber stamp-happy, weekend DIY-ers who have no business approving decisions related to major infrastructure.

And I suspect I am not alone in this assessment, because once the work actually began in earnest, it became quite clear that we were some of the only people adhering to the rules and regulations set forth by the condo board.  Rules and regs regarding the booking of the service elevator, rules and regs regarding the kind of materials we could use in our renos, rules and regs regarding the disposal of construction materials, and rules and regs regarding the behaviour of contractors in and around the building.  Again, some of these stipulations are valid – I’ve got no problem keeping a watchful eye on strangers in the building, even if I invited them in; that’s just good safety policy.  But most of the stipulations were cumbersome and pedantic, like the board was given a 100-point checklist titled Little Ways To Really Piss Off Your Condo Owners, For Fun and Profit!  As such, I think a lot of my fellow residents said, “Oh, sod THIS” and went their own way, without board approval or, more importantly, board oversight.  Because you don’t have to jump through their hoops if they don’t know what you’re doing.

Which led to all manner of sneaky subterfuge happening in the building, and I’m not just talking about the couple I found banging down in the women’s sauna one evening.  Or the naked ladies boogeying to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in the women’s change room.  Or the guy trying to stuff two thoroughly dead and dried-out Christmas trees down the garbage chute one pre-dawn May morning.  It’s amazing what people try to get away with when they think no one’s looking.  My neighbours are animals.

Change Room of Fear

But animals who apparently know well enough to keep The Condo Man out of their business, which includes co-ed naked sauna-ing, Dirty Dancing and inappropriate disposal methods, yes, but also includes more serious infractions like carrying out their renovations however and with whatever they see fit, without making submission to the board for approval.  Which is a super big piss-off when you’re actually playing by the rules and paying dearly for it.  That ridiculously expensive and cumbersome underlay, for instance?  The guys who installed our carpet and through whom we sourced the underlay – they’re probably the biggest, oldest flooring concern in the city – confirmed that we are some of the only people they have sold it to in our building, where the construction is never-ending and this material has been mandated into use by the board.  And yet we are the ONLY people I saw schlepping this stuff around.  If it’s a required material, why do we seem to be the only residents actually using it?

At the end of it all, I’m glad we stayed on the side of right, even if it cost us time, money and precious, precious sanity.  Plus I now get to be a righteous ass – WE DID THINGS THE CORRECT WAY, SO GTFO.  But there were many, many times when I questioned why we were adhering to the process so strictly, and seeing no immediate benefit in return.

007

But really, this entire process was an ordeal, and that was all before ground had even been broken, so to speak (don’t joke; a giant hole in our floor was pretty much the only problem we didn’t have!)  In the next installment of this three-part series, we get down to work on transforming our home and losing our minds.  I hope you’ll come back and join me as I wade a little deeper into this journey – somebody needs to throw me a life preserver when the memories get to be too much. 😉

Insanity Sandra and the Case of Too Many Renovations

Reno Collage

Right, so jumping straight into it, my life, as of late, has been a seemingly endless cycle of renovation-induced insanity.  We are installing new ceramic tile and carpeting throughout, and to cut down on the labour costs, I have undertaken the monumental task of ripping up all of our existing hardwood floors and ceramic tile myself.  It has been a dirty and difficult job, made all the worse by the fact that we are also having our bathroom redone, so, you know, no plumbing.  Compounding all of the above, I’ve also been dealing with tradespeople who can’t respect an appointment, tradespeople who won’t return my calls, period, and a very involved condo board.

So I’ve been busy doing non-nail art things, as the state of those poor nails is, well, abysmal.  But I suppose that’s what’s happens when you spend three days yanking splintered boards of wood off the ground with a two-foot-long crowbar.

010

And so that is where I have been, once again with my apologies for flaking off on you kind readers and interested onlookers.  Years ago I stopped reading a blog by a woman I otherwise really liked and admired because she began every post with an apology for who-knows-what, usually a nominal absence of just one or two days.  It grew so irksome, I stopped following her blog altogether.  Now I find myself in that same position, and I’m apologizing for that, too!  Good lord, the only way I could get more Canadian right now is if I had a beaver tucked up under one arm (heh.)  Please don’t leave me, who will I talk to about Disney and twenty one pilots?

But I swear I’ve been up to more than just manning the phones, brute-forcing out an entire apartment’s worth of flooring and apologizing for things.  I’ve been reading A LOT (I’m nearly up to eight books for the year!) and planning all sorts of manicures for my Literary Inspiration series.

I’ve been trying to mind my diet and exercise and failing badly.  I don’t operate very well under stress, and food is a comfort when everything else is a half-finished mess.  I wish – oh, how I wish – I could get that drive back that I once had not so very long ago to do better, be better, but potato chips are so very tempting and my willpower has been non-existent.  Why can’t I get together?

I’ve been watching a lot of new (or new-to-me) movies and television shows.  This is remarkable only in that I’m a real “Well, why not Beetlejuice for the 137th time?” kind of person, but I’ve found all sorts of new favourites, including Crazy Rich Asians (oh my word, THAT WEDDING) and a super cute show on Netflix called Derry Girls about a group of teenagers living in Northern Ireland in the early ’90s.

Maybe it’s the chaos of the renovations.  Maybe it’s my lingering sadness at losing our beloved cat late last year.  Or maybe it’s just the way one inevitably feels when the six-month-long winter of our discontent is finally drawing to a close and you just don’t know what to do with yourself when you’re not living in a snow globe.  But I feel curiously flat and affectless, and I’d like it to stop.

Anyhow, please do bask in the half-finished state of our apartment and marvel, ye gods!, at the bare expanses of floor, for I am the Renovation Queen!  Hold the (Bathroom) Door, Plumbing is Coming, etc. 😉