The Kitchen Renovation From Hell


Our summer hiatus is over. Summer? What summer? After a bit of a "vacation", we're back with an interesting story to tell (and wouldn't you know it — our long overdue summer weather finally arrives the day we're back at work). This article isn't about how the Vancouver Canucks blew the best chance they ever had to win the Stanley Cup in 40 years. We're talking about our kitchen renovation which was just finally (well, sort of) completed. Over the years, we've made many references to the similarities between web design and renovating a kitchen. So what more could we possibly ask for other than a real-life story in order to prove that there is a definite connection? There's a moral to this story as you'll see at the conclusion of the article.

This is the first article on our blog which is being written in the first person. Why? Aside from being a web designer and a Mac computer technician, I also happen to be a journeyman electrician and an electrical contractor. I did all of the electrical work for our kitchen renovation. It took almost 125 meters of 12/2, 14/2 and 14/3 wire to re-route and re-locate everything since an entire supporting wall had to be removed (a wall which was absolutely filled with wiring). Baseboard heaters had to be removed and re-located. Switches and plugs were re-located and new ones were added. New pot lights and track lighting had to be installed. The central vacuum system had to be re-routed. The whole kit and kaboodle.

I did a really good job. Naturally, it was all done to Canadian Electrical Code standards. But almost all of the other sub trades we hired proved to be a completely different story. We did all of our kitchen cabinets and counter tops last year. This year, an entire supporting wall had to be removed, new flooring had to be installed, the kitchen needed a paint job and there were a few other goodies required as you'll see below.

Starin' Out My Window

We did all of our homework (or so we thought). Never go with the cheapest quote. Check out the references. Meet the contractor. Hire a local company (which we did — based right here in North Vancouver). All the usual stuff you do when you're ready to fork out lots of hard-earned cash. So back on June 6th, our local construction company arrived an hour late at 9 AM (that's Vancouver time by the way — no contractor is ever on time in this city). They tore out the supporting wall in our galley-style kitchen which finally, after seven years, gave my wife and I enough room to actually walk through our kitchen without tripping over the door of an open dishwasher. The demolition went fairly well and was completed within one day. The wiring was completed over the following two days so that the construction company could come back to do the rough-in for their finishing work.

After the rough-in was done, I was sitting in our dining room that same evening looking through the "window" which allows us to see into the kitchen from our dining room (and vice-versa). I noticed that the window sill was sloping. I got my tape measure and level out and noticed that there was a difference of a half an inch between the left and right sides. That's quite a slope for a window. It was "crookeder" than a dog's leg (sorry for the poor english). The company had to come back and tear that entire portion of the wall out and completely re-do it so that the window sill was straight.

So there's contractor number one who had to make a return trip to fix a mistake which never should have happened to begin with. The most disappointing aspect of dealing with the construction company wasn't the wall which had to be torn out and re-done. It was the fact that the owner (who worked in our kitchen for about a half a day before disappearing) never bothered to return to inspect the final, completed job. He left his apprentice here to finish all the work and actually sent his wife over to pick up a cheque. Not very impressive.

The drywall had to go in next and if there was any sub trade who knew what they were doing during our renovation, the drywall company won hands down. They did a superb job. Once again, a local company which I would be very happy to recommend to anyone.

Level? What Level?

Next came the flooring. We had to do something about the 30-year old hardwood flooring which ran throughout most of the main floor of our home since there was now a huge piece missing where the supporting wall had been taken out. So we decided to go with laminate flooring from the front entry into the kitchen and all the way into the dining room and living room. We tore out all the baseboards ourselves and dId every little bit of work we could in order to save time and money, making the flooring company's job as easy as possible.

There was a little bit of a "catch" to our floor. The old hardwood flooring didn't take up the entire width of the kitchen. The flooring inside of the area where the old supporting wall once stood was done in vinyl tiling. So naturally, it sat lower than the outside area which was done in hardwood. We pointed this out the to the flooring company (a company which is based in Langley, British Columbia) three times. "Yep — no problem — we'll take care of it."

We'll take care of it alright. After the levelling compound went in and the flooring went over top, it only took two days before the laminate flooring began to crack and break in our kitchen. The flooring company had to come back and rip out the entire kitchen floor to "fix" the problem. A major inconvenience. So what did they do? They cut the cardboard off of the packaging which the floorboards were packaged in and tucked it underneath the areas of the floor which were cracking. That was their "fix". After the floor was "repaired", a few more days passed by and even more of the laminate flooring began lifting, cracking and breaking again. I can't walk across a single part of my kitchen floor right now without having it sound like I'm stepping on bubble wrap.

So now — we're awaiting a second return trip to fix this mess. Not once in all the time the flooring crew was here did I see them using a level. The new baseboards they installed aren't even worth mentioning because half of them are crooked and need to be fixed. Our flooring job was an outright disaster. There's contractor number two who had to make a return trip not just once but twice (the second return trip is still pending — see update below).

It's important to mention that the flooring company we hired had actually subcontracted our flooring work out to a couple of guys which the company had never used before. Nothing like having to do a job three times in order to get it right, eh? Especially with people you don't know from a hole in the ground.

Just one little tip here for you if you happen to come across this article looking for recommendations on laminate flooring (and not advice or tips on web design). If you're not on a tight budget, go with real hardwood flooring, not laminate flooring. I wouldn't recommend this compressed sawdust to my worst enemy. And we weren't even on a tight budget. We went with laminate flooring simply because of the durability factor. What a mistake. It's about as durable as the cardboard it's packaged in (which also now happens to be "installed" underneath our new laminate floor).

Know Thine Enemy

Time to paint the kitchen! We always admired people who dropped off those inkjet-printed flyers (advertising "great service") in our mailbox. We thought they were hard working, honest people. So we decided to give one of them a try (once again, a local outfit). An older fellow came out who seemed like he really knew what he was talking about. Unfortunately, he got the job. He may as well have pointed a rocket launcher at our walls with a payload of paint cans mounted on it. That's how bad the paint job was. A few hours after the "painter" left, we had paint dripping down our walls so badly that we had to wipe the paint off with paper towel to prevent it from dripping down onto our new floor. The next day, the paint on our feature wall started to peel. That's a pretty unique feature, don't you think?

We asked for a refund and three weeks (and twenty phone calls) later, the painter arrived on our doorstep at 6:30 PM with only half of what we originally paid him claiming that he had to "cover the cost of his materials". There's contractor number three who should have made a return trip to fix his mess (we didn't want him back so he doesn't really count — believe me, this guy would have a difficult time using crayons for the Easter Bunny coloring contest in the North Shore News).

By referral, we managed to find an excellent painter through one of our friends. This painter was kind enough to come out right away and take care of the mess which HHH (Harry Heavy Hand) Painting made. The whole painting fiasco ended up costing us one and a half times more than we had originally intended on spending but our kitchen walls and ceiling now look respectable. 'Kinda looks like a home again.

Meet Me At The Bar

Lastly, we decided to install a bar table in our kitchen, complete with two really cool, gas-powered bar stools and white LED lighting underneath. We needed a custom counter top made. On my computer, I drafted up a diagram of exactly how the counter top would look and took it down to one of the local counter top shops here on the North Shore. "Yep — it'll be ready in ten days — we'll put a rush on it for you." Two weeks after dropping my plans off, I called the company to see if it was ready yet. "What counter top? What was your name again? Can I have your phone number?" They lost the order. That was over a week ago. I called them again this morning and it's still not ready!

I'll tell you something — I'm gonna have myself one hell of a stiff drink if and when this counter top ever goes in and the bar table gets completed (since I don't drink, it'll have to be a quadruple-shot, venti latté from Starbucks).

The Moral Of The Story

Most of these tips apply to web design as much they do to kitchen renovations:

  • Make a checklist and go over it clearly with the people doing your work
  • Never hire someone who drops off an inkjet-printed flyer in your mailbox (especially a painter)
  • Do your homework and research the products and materials which are going to be used for your project (and watch that darned cardboard, will 'ya?)
  • Be very cautious with companies who don't use their own employees but instead, subcontract your work out to someone else (this applies to web design big time — in other words, make sure the people you're talking to on the phone are the ones who are actually going to do your work)
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Always go with referrals whenever possible
  • Don't hesitate to "babysit" the people doing your work — check in on them every now and again (and make sure they have a level in their toolbox)
  • Make sure that the owner of the company (or at least the person you dealt with over the phone when you agreed to proceed with the job) inspects the finished product before you pay the final bill (again, this really applies to web design work as well)
  • Last but not least, beware of painters (and web designers) with rocket launchers

What a wonderful summer it's been so far. Be sure to tune in again next week when our basement renovation begins...

[Updated 09.02.11] Two different flooring repair and installation crews were finally sent to our home on August 25th and 26th, 2011. After the second and so-called final repair and re-installation of the laminate flooring in our kitchen was "complete", there were very few floor boards in the kitchen area which weren't left in a scratched or damaged state (approximately 75% of the floor was scratched during the process — see photos below). Sections of our dining room were also scratched and three "corners" where the floor boards meet each other lengthwise were broken by the time the second crew left. The replacement boards actually have a different finish than the originals. Our new floor now looks worse than it did when this article was first posted.

Less than 48 hours later, we stepped on a completely different area of our floor near our front landing and the boards completely cracked. This was, without a doubt, the worst display of workmanship I've ever seen in the construction industry since obtaining my journeyman electrician's license in the early eighties. We have formally requested a complete refund from the company and are awaiting their response. Our bar table's all done, by the way — even though it had to come out for this last flooring repair job and then be completely re-installed again. Time for another yummy latté.

[Updated 09.12.11] Since so many of you have been following this story, here are six, full-size original photos of the condition which just one section of our floor was left in when the installers finished up their "repair" on August 26th, 2011 (these are large photos which will take extra time to download):

I'm getting awfully tempted to pour a few ounces of rum into that latté I mentioned above.

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