No One Else Will Care About Your Home as Much as You

A wise man (my brother) once said something along the lines of the following, “no one else will care about your home as much as you.” I can’t remember the conversation surrounding that nugget of truth, but the statement stuck with me.

It is understandable. When you hire someone they are paid by the job. To maximize the profit margin or at least make ends meet they need to go as fast as possible and move on to the next job. It’s not about the contractor you hire going home to their own comfortable house at night while you are living in the middle of a remodel–you would be in the same situation while you are doing the project on your own–perhaps without hot water or, even worse, no running water. It is more of a matter of they do not have to live with the consequences of any shortcut, compromise or straight out shoddy work now and/or later!

When I had my first house re-roofed, I remember my husband up on top of the house when the roofers were installing the whirlybirds. He insisted on leveling them so I wouldn’t end up with problems like my neighbors where the whirlybirds only turn when the wind is a gale.* The lead roofer only wanted to put a single nail in it to hold it and move on to installing the next square of shingles. The lack of caring or wanting to do a quality job still stuns me to this day. Why would someone want to do a half ass job when just taking a few more brief moments to pull out a level and install more than one nail would ensure the ability to cool the attic more than 0 minutes after you leave a job site?!?!?

Installing whirlybirds so they are level as opposed to seeing the top from this vantage point on the ground, as originally "planned".

Installing whirlybirds so they are level as opposed to seeing the top from this vantage point on the ground, as originally “planned”.

Part of the issue is I would rather not have a confrontation with a professional who does things a certain way. I am not a licensed contractor, but I know how to do a lot of research and apply logic to most situations. As an engineer who also happens to love Tetris, I delight in figuring out how things work together, making a better functioning floorplan, and ensuring my remodels are done right the first time so that I’m not coming back later to fix something. I LOVE creating beautiful functional spaces. By doing the work myself not only do I have pride of ownership, but also only myself to blame when something goes wrong. Or blame myself if the job took longer than expected because I decided to stop for a beer.

I’d like to think the quality of my work is also on par or better than people who are choosing to do quantity over quality. I totally understand this is what contractors do to earn a living everyday and they are much faster. However, it does not always translate into the best quality (as I briefly mentioned above with my first roofing experience along with the latest one discussed in this post).

It’s not to say that all contractors do not show pride and do the job right the first time. Many do and they are probably underpaid.**

At the same time, when I’m rearranging 18” by 18” tiles out on my front driveway to make sure the pattern of veins in the travertine matches up in the most interesting pattern they can make, I’m spending hours and hours making the project more artistic as opposed to grabbing the next tile and installing it.

The various lines in the travertine lovingly flipped and matched to perfection so the final result installed is more eye catching. The red lines highlight the different travertine tiles flowing into each other.

The various lines in the travertine lovingly flipped and matched to perfection so the final result installed is more eye catching. The red lines highlight the different travertine tiles flowing into each other.

I’m not fully faulting contractors who do this because this is how they eat and put a roof over their family’s heads every night. All too often customers are not willing to pay more for the extra time needed for aesthetics. However, I will fault them if it is not explained upfront as a possible additional cost and the customer has a choice to add or decline the option.

Part of the problem above is the constant problem we all have in our work, home and extracurricular activites with others: clear communication and both parties agreeing on what is said. Or is it that a contractor has to make a compromise to keep the project on budget and schedule? If you are doing a project DIY style you own the project and you do not have to compromise with yourself.

When I helped a friend install her backsplash I was insistent on the tile going up to a certain point higher than she planned.

Detailed tile work of the backsplash behind the stovetop.

Detailed tile work of the backsplash behind the stovetop.

Those two little areas on either side of the vent hood–the ones you can’t see–took an entire day.

Care about your home by not making compromises and putting your heart, soul, time and talent into the job.

Care about your home by not making compromises and putting your heart, soul, time and talent into the job.

Those are the most intricate tiles I have ever attempted: 90 degree corners, curves and polished bullnose edges all on what once was one 2” X 4” tile.

Picture of the curved, 90 degree corners, and polished edge tile.

Is it sad that the breaking point, where these intricate pieces are located, is not easily viewable straight on? Sure. But do I think it would be odd to have it just below or above the bottom edge of the vent hood when a foot or so above that looks better? Yes. So I’m happy and satisfied even if no one else ever gives it a second glance. That’s the point.

It turned out perfect!

My friend and her husband agree. Every time I go over there I think how much happier I am looking at what I still feel are the correct breakpoints. I will admit to a little bit of admiration of a job well done, if I say so myself. But there is relief, too. There was no compromise. Instead of debating about an extra two square feet of tile–the same amount of time as an easily installed wall of 10 feet and doubling the labor cost of that single wall (a 50% increase of the entire job)–we just did it!

Once you do the work yourself you are also more likely to maintain the work you do. Every single time I shower I use the squeegee to wipe off every last drop of water off the walls, glass and fixtures. Not gonna lie–I admire the handiwork and take notice of the pattern of the travertine across the wall. While others might see it as a chore, after you put in that much time and effort there is no way you are going to see it in the same light. I’m not sure if I would feel the same way if I spent $25,000 on a remodel versus just the materials, attention to design and time I personally invested in the project. I’d still agonize over the finishes and design, but I’m not sure I would feel the same about the final product and have the same burning desire to maintain it as religiously as I do. I doubt the next homeowner (or if you have a tenant) will care as much as you because they did not do the work themselves.

I advocate doing it yourself so that you have the exact look you want, less stress because there is no misunderstanding or lack of communication with yourself, and more money in your pocket. I’m not just talking about the obvious savings you get from doing the work yourself. There are other little savings that all add up. For instance, how many materials are needed, including overage, when you are ordering materials for your next project?

Many times I have read articles on the percentage of overage “they” say you should buy when you’re ordering your materials. It seems often times I hear numbers between 10 and 20%. Those numbers seem so huge. When you’re doing the work yourself you can sit there and take the extra time to calculate how to best use each piece of tile, baseboard, or lumber so that you’re using as much of each piece as possible. Contractors who are paid by the job are in a rush to get it done as fast as possible. They really do not have the capacity to sit there and create an Excel spreadsheet to minimize the waste.

This is especially true when labor cost is more than the materials. In the new 2010’s tract home neighborhood going up next to my 80’s tract home neighborhood, I can walk by any given day and find new work electrical boxes, coils of PEX, baseboard, and one time 3 entire sheets of some kind of foam backed foil in the dumpsters. The day after they install drywall there are drywall screws littered throughout the house. If I had a magnet I could probably fill up a 5-pound box. The amount of waste is appalling. When I minimize the amount of waste in any of my projects not only does it help me save more money for the next project but I’m also not filling up our landfills!

Boxes and magazines of unused nails along with one semi decent blade (the other really is trash).

Boxes and magazines of unused nails along with one semi decent blade (the other really is trash).

Full lengths of unused weep screed in a dumpster.

Full lengths of unused weep screed in a dumpster.

While that last point is a little outside of the “no one cares as much as you” regarding your home specifically, it’s certainly still speaks to caring. Not only do I care about my house, my finances, my health, and my lifestyle by choosing DIY, I also care about how it impacts other people. I’m not just talking about the next homeowners or my neighbor, but also the bigger picture of how every remodel/new build could make better use of building materials and minimize waste on top of improving your own life. It would be great if you can find a few nuggets of information here on this blog and benefit from applying them to your remodel/fix/maintenance.

All these points remind me of the story about the carpenter who worked for a rich man. He had built houses all over for the gentleman before telling him he was going to retire. The gentleman begging him to build one last house. One last house with all the latest technology, style and whatever else the carpenter felt was important. The carpenter begrudgingly agreed, having worked for this employer for so long. The gentleman allowed him free reign giving him any and all materials he chose. The carpenter made shortcuts and compromises he normally would not. At the end of the job when he handed the keys to his now previous employer, the gentleman handed the keys back to the carpenter. The house was his parting gift to his carpenter.

While this blog is mostly about your home physically, it is also about the attitude you bring into your home and life.

How do you feel about the work you do?

 

There certainly are good reasons for hiring out jobs such as a lack of time, distance, and work/vacation schedules. There is also some level of necessary hand/eye coordination and attention to detail required for certain jobs. Some jobs are Mike Rowe worthy–just downright dirty, stinky and disgusting and you just don’t want to do it. That’s totally acceptable, but this is a one sided argument on this post.

*Although it is an older roof so maybe the bearings on the neighbors’ homes are just too cooked in the Arizona heat? Ours will get there. I still have my doubts on it actually being level…

**It certainly seems my husband is hitting this mark with the work he is doing in the Hurricane Harvey area. I think I’d like to be one of these contractors in my next career because at that point we will have enough F-you money to be picky about when, where and who I work for.

***I believe it was a carpenter. If anyone else has come across the story, I’d love to link to it. But for now I think the paraphrase is good enough to convey the message.

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2 Responses

    • Margaret says:

      That’s it! Wow, it has been a while! I think I’ll still leave the paraphrase since it is easier to continue to read an article rather than click through. Thanks for the links!

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