Thursday, June 9, 2011

Construction Time Explained

Well, the contractor showed up today. Only 2 months late!

It’s a darn good thing that I have lived around construction workers for most of my life. I understand what they really mean when they say, “I’ll be there at 8 o’clock Monday morning.” What I don’t understand is why they say it in the first place.

I think that, for the most part, they have good intentions. They really mean to be there at 8 a.m. on Monday and they believe that they really will be there at 8 a.m. on Monday. They want to get the job done, because that’s what it takes to get paid. They have already taken the time to price out the materials and factor in the time. They know what they have to do and what they need to do it. It’s not – quite – rocket science to do an estimate and provide a quote, though to the uninitiated it can appear so. And they want to please; they often depend on word of mouth promotion.

I have a theory about the frequent discrepancy between a contractor’s Monday 8 a.m. and everybody else’s. Contractor time is very different from everybody else’s time. Their calendars and their clocks do not run like normal calendars and clocks. Monday at 8 a.m. to a contractor could be Wednesday at 2 p.m. (when that hair appointment is scheduled) to the customer. Or it could be Friday at 9 a.m. (dentist). Or it could be two months down the road right after the next contractor has been contacted to replace him. Like in my case. My new fear is not not having a contractor, but having too many contractors.

Ultimately it isn’t even my problem. Well, it is, but I’m not the one paying the bill. Nor am I the one waiting for the rest of my funds for the sale of my house to be released by the lawyer.

3-ply 2x10 beam and support post under exterior kitchen/dining room wall. 

So far the contractor has provided three reasons why he didn’t show up sooner: 1) he lost my cell number; 2) he left messages on my old number (not realizing that it wasn’t my number anymore) and I didn’t get back to him; and 3) he had a big job at Huckleberry Mine. He seems to favour the Huckleberry Mine reason over the others. I’m guessing that it sounds less lame and more prestigious than the first two. I don’t really care. As I said, I’m not paying for it and I’m not waiting on any funds. It’s not like the house was going to fall down around me if the work didn’t get done immediately.

The important part is: he’s there now. And if the other guy does show up, well, I’ll just have to break his heart. I’m not all that concerned. He didn’t give a specific time and date, so it’s very likely that there is no day and hour in his space/time continuum that will ever coincide with a day and hour in mine.

The reality of the phenomenon has nothing to do with the space/time continuum. I just think that’s a clever out for construction workers. And I like saying space/time continuum. It sounds cool. The truth is that it is the nature of the construction business – and many construction workers – to be… unpredictable. First, there is no guarantee that the lumber yard will even have all of the material needed for any specific job at any specific time. There could easily have been a huge run on 2 X 4’s on the previous Saturday, for instance, and the next shipment isn’t due until Tuesday. Chances are that the lumber yard isn’t open before 8 anyway. Although, when the contractor said Monday at 8 a.m., he could very well have meant that that’s when he would be down at the lumber yard, banging at the gates, assuming that the customer understands that those darn 2 X 4’s don’t magically appear on site.

Downstairs bathroom shower stall waiting for shower stall stuff to be put up and sealed

Second, the construction business dictates the common necessity to take on more than the contractor can actually ever even hope to manage efficiently. Jobs get cancelled; particularly renovation jobs due to regular stress-induced fights between spouses who have hired a contractor over details like gold-plated faucets vs. functioning doors. It’s always good to have a back-up contract in the offing.

Third, the construction business is intrinsically bound to the feast or famine (boom or bust) principle. Particularly in the north here, people tend not to do a lot in the winter months. Then, come spring, everyone and his dog wants something done and contractors suddenly find themselves in high demand. After months of being idle and watching the coffers dwindle, they feel like supermen and think that they can accomplish Extreme Home-Makeover-like feats single-handedly.

Fourth, simple jobs are never as simple as they seem. Murphy ’s Law has a distinct and indisputable passion for construction work. Contractor’s get lulled into the belief that they can wrap up a job by Monday morning at 8 a.m. only to discover that the quicky installation of a window in an existing wall really means re-building the whole wall due to dry rot or black mould from a long-ago, forgotten or undetected plumbing leak, or the rewiring of an entire house because the owner insists that the window must be in the same spot as the electrical panel and doesn’t understand that electrical panels, once placed, do not easily give up their spots. If you ever wondered why contractors charge so much, you should spend some time with some of their customers. These guys put up with a lot!

Equipment breakdowns are yet another hazard on the road to Monday morning at 8 o’clock. There’s nothing worse than a drill calving or a skill saw dying or a hammer… Oh, getting left on top of a wall at the last job and dry-walled in like a heretic in medieval times. These things can be traumatizing to contractors, who have been known to become emotionally attached to their tools.

Hole in wall behind shower.  There was a leak and the only way to fix it was to create another make-work project.

This afternoon I did what most construction customers do when there are contractors working unsupervised in their homes and invented an excuse to dash home from work for a few minutes. Not checking up, mind you, just forgot my lunch. The work was progressing quite well. The crew of two was by no means slacking off while the boss was off doing who knows what besides working on place. I’m not crazy about having anybody in my house while I’m not home and I have to admit that there was some measure of trepidation about leaving three strange men, men who listen to country music, alone with power tools in my basement. My inner suspicious victim half expected to find them sitting in my living room drinking beer and watching porn on my laptop. I hadn’t gone so far as to strategically place a hair on the edge of my panty drawer, but I was relieved to see that they were working diligently at their assigned tasks. It was a good thing that I did “forget my lunch,” though. They were one sheet short of the wall board stuff for the down stairs shower and so I was able to solve that problem for them by ever-so-congenially assuring them that if they couldn’t find a match I would not freak out about it. “Get something as close as you can and use that on the ceiling.” I’m such a good construction customer.

Tomorrow will be round two where they will complete the shower, patch the drywall behind the shower, replace the inner workings of the downstairs toilet, install a new bathroom fan upstairs, repair the drain in the ensuite sink, vent the bathroom and kitchen fans to the exterior and install two roof turbines so that I don’t have to replace the shingles in three years (they should last another 10 to 12, giving me time to save up!). Whether or not they will complete all that in one day is yet to be determined. I may be having my Saturday morning coffee with them. By then we could be the very best of friends, or that space/time continuum thing may rear its ugly head and they may not be back for days. It’s a construction business toss-up.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you have a camera - good going, nice to see what you're talking about!! LOL!! And how nice to have it all getting done - at last!


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