Home Improvement

Ryan and Leslie discuss the planning and execution of home improvement projects from the simple projects like new decks to complicated kitchen or bath redos.

Audio Only Version

EP-44 Home ImprovmentLife Admin
00:00 / 49:49

Show Notes & Helpful Links

Set the table: Home Improvement is more involved than maintenance, although it is often prompted by maintenance. (And sometimes prompted on a whim. [bathtub story]) It is the addition or updating of your home. Can be as minor as putting in an unattached deck or as major as taking a kitchen or bath to the studs and redoing.


Before the project

  • Plan, plan, plan

  • Test your plans. Think a kind of domestic scientific method. You want a deck. So move some old or second hand outdoor furniture to the space and see how you’d use it. 

  • Ask for recommendations for a contractor or trade that you need. Interview at least 3. Get quotes from them. See how they handle the quote process. [fencing story]

  • Do preliminary research on permitting in your area. Ask your candidates about it. Time, required documents, and money. 

  • Read over quote and timeline carefully. 

  • Even for the good quotes, mentally prepare for 50% more time and money. The smaller the project, the less this is true. But for large projects, for example kitchen and bath redos or room additions, overruns on time and money happen. Permitting holdups, trade overlaps, unforced errors [Sleeping in Seattle story]

  • Put design on paper, even if not required, and choose as many “finishes” as you can before starting. 2 36” ranges will have different specs for the gas line, which gets installed long before the range. The more you choose, the more mistakes you can make only on paper. 

  • Make sure the contract has a plan for project draws. [home improvement loans, self funding, triggers and method for payment, final payment timing and conditions]


During the project  

  • Be around. Check in daily

  • if you’ve hired somebody, let them do their job. For instance, you might be able to get your chosen plumbing fixtures cheaper on some web clearance but they don’t come with the flange you need. You, a lawyer, don’t notice because you are a lawyer who rarely deals with plumbing fixture sets. The plumber would notice the flange was the wrong size or missing, and regardless if they did or not, it not arriving would be on them for the time delay or cost overrun. 

  • Generally expect cleanup each day/ after each trade. Daily isn’t such an issue if you aren’t living in the space. Big issue, and time and cost driver, if you do live in the space. 

  • Follow the fund plan. If deviating from the fund plan, say not paying an installment due to excessive delay, follow the procedures for withholding an installment. When in doubt, have it in writing. Don’t make contract changes over a phone call. If you do, follow up with an email that starts something like “Further to our phone call discussion about delaying payment of next installment due to delay of the tile work after your subcontractor cancelling…”

  • Changes will arise. Try not to make unnecessary changes because the surprise ones will be enough. (Turns out that wall you were going to knock out between the kitchen and living room has a support pillar in it. Can’t knock the whole wall down. Can move the support within this 6 foot range, or can edit the design to keep the pillar in a more attractive way.) 


After the project

  • inspect and follow though on the punch list. Explain punch list. 

  • Pay attention to explanations about how the systems work together. For example, sprinkler systems. What are the zones. Label them on the box. Same for electrical boards.

  • Report problems sooner rather than later. 

  • Keep your paperwork for a few years. See episode on filing. 

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