Those of you who are about to start a remodel or are in the process of one right now, stop and take a deep breath because what I’m about to say might upset you: It’s very likely that your project is going to have … delays.
It’s not unreasonable to expect your project to start and finish as promised by your building professional. It’s an unspoken rule that one job of a remodeler is to create realistic expectations for customers.
But it also goes without saying that every builder and remodeler is pretty positive that there will be delays on every project.
Everyone hopes for the best but plans for the worst, because the truth is: We’re all human. No matter how much effort you put into planning, things go wrong. Your only option is to be prepared for when they do.
The best way to do that is to understand and anticipate where delays commonly arise. Here are five of the most notorious speed bumps I’ve seen in remodeling and building projects.
1. Weather. Weather is the most unpredictable item on this list. As much as your local news station tries, no one can forecast the weather with 100 percent accuracy.
Rainy days and inclement weather affect exterior work more than anything else, obviously. So let’s say you were planning on painting siding on Tuesday, and, surprise, it rains on Tuesday. Guess what? You aren’t painting on Tuesday.
Rain also puts a stop to concrete work. Not only can you not pour concrete on a rainy day, but you can’t even pour on a day when rain is predicted. The concrete will need time to cure, and to cure, it needs to be dry. So, try as you might to work around rainy days, sometimes a holdup is unavoidable.
In spring 2015, Texas had some of the rainiest months I’ve seen in a while. At that same time, we were in the middle of a project in which we essentially ripped off the entire front of a house to extend it toward the street. For a long time, there was nothing we could do but wait it out. Typically builders will put a few “inclement weather” days in their schedule if they expect them for your area, but for unexpected weather, you just have to wait.
Weather is also very dependent on where you live, and builders and remodelers will — or should — plan for events (such as snow in Minnesota in March) that will likely happen.
2. Unforeseen lead times and back orders. Lead times on items such as tile, plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures and custom orders are the most familiar to me. If your contractor demands that you make all your selections upfront, it’s because he or she is trying to avoid a holdup.
You may be thinking, “Why do I need to select lighting fixtures now? We just started demo!” Well, think what a bummer it would be if the week before the electricians were to install lighting fixtures, you found the pendant of your dreams — and it’s back ordered for eight weeks.
The most notable lead time problem I’ve experienced was in 2015 when several West Coast cargo ports were shut down by a strike. No labor? No one loads or unloads the ships. No loading or unloading? No tile delivery. No tile delivery? Now that’s something no one could have predicted.
3. Permit delays. Most cities require projects to get permitted and inspected by the local building and development department. This process often can be frustrating.
There are a variety of reasons why the permitting process can hold up work, but I’ll stick to a few that I’ve personally had the (ahem) pleasure of working through.
Understaffing can lead to big delays. If the plans for your remodel have to be reviewed by someone, and there is only one reviewer and 30 projects up for review, things can take a while (up to a couple weeks).
Another obstacle is trying to get a permit without having all the plans and documents required by your local municipality. This just means your contractor will have to leave and try again when he or she has all the necessary material. I can’t speak to every city’s permitting office, but it’s my experience that building officials can be finicky.
Sometimes they’ll let it slide if you’re missing something small, while other times they are absolute sticklers for the rules. No matter how much experience you have with home building or permitting jobs, trying to get a permit can be a wild card.
One of my most difficult trips to my city’s permitting office was when I found out that our homeowner had not permitted a previous addition of a third floor to the home. The delay caused by having to correct the original omission of work added a significant amount of time to our schedule.
4. Subcontractor schedules. When calling around to find a general contractor, you may have been told that he or she was so busy that work couldn’t begin for at least a few months. Well, this happens with subcontractors (painters, plumbers, framers, cabinetmakers) too. Your remodeler may have created a perfect schedule, but if a trusted subcontractor can’t start as planned, then, Houston, we have a problem.
The easy solution would be to just find another subcontractor, right? Isn’t that what the internet is for? In most cases, it’s not so simple. Builders and remodelers take a lot of time to build long-term relationships with their subcontractors. They find people they trust to do work the right way and for a fair price. So, while these relationships may result in delays when the subcontractors get busy, it pays to wait.
5. Pre-existing conditions. This one is a bit less common, but it still should be mentioned. Unforeseen problems that need to be remedied before work can continue (think mold, rot, asbestos, termite damage) will add time to the schedule.
If your contractor sees signs of damage — swelling baseboards and stained Sheetrock that could hint at a water leak somewhere — he or she usually can account for the extra time that will be needed to mitigate the situation and add it into the schedule.
But it’s the invisible stuff that crops up after walls or ceilings or floors have been opened that’s the real fly in the ointment. Most people assume only older houses have this problem, and for the most part, that’s true. But not always.
Just this year I worked on a 9-year-old house with more leakage issues than an umbrella made out of mesh. We were able to predict a lot of the damage that was going to need repairing, but once we opened up a few walls, it became apparent that there was more to take care of than we ever could have foreseen.
Like I said, it’s completely normal to expect your building professional to give you an accurate schedule. But it’s also important to prepare yourself for the possibility of speed bumps in the road ahead.
Every contractor, no matter how highly skilled, can fall prey to the evils of back orders and termite damage and a difficult permitting process. It’s normal. So repeat after me: “My project will probably have delays, but everything’s going to be OK.”