The 3 Construction Site Red Flags You Might Overlook on Your First Reno
Plus some lingo to familiarize yourself with ahead of time.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:10 AM
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It started with a kitchen island. Designer Britney Johnson’s client wanted to add electrical outlets to the structure without just slapping a big white fourplex onto the side—a challenge for sure, but not one that was impossible to come up with a fix for. The issue was Johnson and the homeowner struggled to get the electrician on board because he preferred to put them in the obvious spot. “We had to constantly talk him into what we wanted to do,” recalls Johnson. It’s drawn-out conversations like this that ultimately inspired the designer to switch gears from managing projects to launching a new service called B Design, which is all about supporting women through, and preparing them for, the construction process. “Women have the biggest issues being heard and taken seriously in this world,” says Johnson. “When you’re more confident in what you want, you don’t really have to worry about other opinions as much.”
The just-launched course consists of five hours of one-on-one time via video chat, where Johnson will walk clients through their vision, all the material choices that’ll come up along the way, some vocab worth memorizing, and even tips for touring an in-progress site. Got your first reno or new build on the horizon? We talked to Johnson about a few of the common red flags to watch out for and some helpful terms to study up on so you can be your own boss.
Red Flag #1: “That’s not how I typically do it”
Most issues will bubble up during the part of the project where finishes and architectural details are being installed. That’s when you get questions like: Do you really want your sconces next to your vanity mirror? “All of a sudden you start second-guessing yourself about everything you’ve spent all this time planning,” says Johnson. Her advice: If someone is reluctant to try a new idea, ask them why. You’ll get the most out of the tradespeople you work with, like your plumber or tiler, when you ask the right questions to troubleshoot a solution.
If you are nervous about relaying your thoughts, have inspiration images and sketches on hand. “Nobody visualizes anything the same,” notes Johnson. Illustrating what you’re describing, be it where you want the outlets or how you want the toilet to be mounted, can be a huge help to everyone.
Red Flag #2: “You’ll like it—the last client did”
Don’t be so easily swayed by decisions strangers have made. If you wanted your house to be built exactly like your neighbors, you wouldn’t be spending the money on customizing it, notes the designer. “Also, just because no one else complained doesn’t mean they loved it,” she adds.
Red Flag #3: When someone speaks up outside their wheelhouse
If your plumber is commenting on your light fixtures, take it with a grain of salt and stick with your gut. The same goes for construction-savvy friends and family. Johnson recommends not working with people you are naturally close with for this very reason. “They think they already know you and what you want, but they make a lot of assumptions,” she says. Instead ask neighbors or other renovators who they’ve worked with, or go to a website like HomeAdvisor, which gives you quick access to a directory of vetted subcontractors, from electricians to cabinetmakers.
How to Stay on Top of Everything
Johnson is a big fan of holding a weekly meeting in which you can walk through the space with your contractor. This is the time to ask them what they’ll need from you the next week so nothing ends up falling behind schedule. Another tip: Set this conversation up for Fridays, when everyone is in a good mood and looking forward to the weekend.
“I always remind people: This is your job site; you own this,” says Johnson. “So if anybody needs to worry, it’s the people who are committed to you, because this is your house. And I think people forget that a lot.”
Some Lingo to Bookmark
Johnson defines a few not-so-obvious terms for us, but you can catch more in her course, too.
- Backfill: The replacement of excavated earth into a trench around or against a basement, crawl space, or foundation wall.
- CFA: Stands for cutting for approval. A fabric term meaning you are requesting a sample of the actual material before giving final approval.
- Field measure: Taking measurements on-site of an actual structure or condition.
- Newel post: The large post at the end of the stair railing.
- Stack: A plumbing vent pipe that penetrates the roof.
- Railroad tie: Square wood timber soaked in black tar and preservatives, usually 6-by-8 inches and 6 to 8 feet long, originally used to hold railroad tracks in place but often used for retaining walls.
- Underlayment: A ¼-inch material placed over the subfloor before the floor is installed to create a smoother, more even surface. Can also refer to the roofing layer that is water-resistant, laid under shingles or other roof material.
- Weep holes: Small holes in storm window frames that allow moisture to escape.
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