Qualifications

Recently, we hired a contractor to do some soundproofing in our house. Normally, I would do this type of work myself since I have the tools and abilities required, but because the job required significant rearranging of the house to make room to do the work and I had lots of work to do already, we wanted the work done quickly (we learned, when we had our first child, that renovations don’t go quickly when kids are around). We requested a few quotes and hired a company that seemed qualified and capable to do the work and promised to have it done in three days.

Forty-five minutes before work was scheduled to start, I received an e-mail from the contractor asking if they could instead start the next day. After confirming that the job would still be completed for the weekend, I approved the change of schedule. Day One went well. Materials arrived, the subcontractor arrived and went to work. At the end of the day, he told me that we were on schedule to finish on time. Day Two was another productive day. At noon on Day Three, when I checked with him that we’d be ready to paint by end of day today, he advised me that not only would it not be done that day, but he wouldn’t be able to come back for three days due to the long weekend. Thanks for the advance notice. I told him to not bother coming back and I finished the work myself that weekend.

While chatting with a friend, I came to the realization that the work had been done incorrectly and would have to be redone. I confirmed this by looking at progress photos – the resilient channel had been installed upside-down. After too many phone calls and e-mails, the contractor agreed to redo the job. To ensure that the work was done properly, the project manager elected to be on site to oversee his crew (five guys this time). I appreciated this move, but still, I made sure to check in with them frequently, ask questions, provide direction, and ensure that the job was being done properly, all while doing my own work and watching my two boys.

I made sure that all the wall cavities were insulated properly. I made sure that the resilient channel was installed correctly. I made sure that the proper screws were used to fasten the first and second layers of drywall to the resilient channel, and that all seams were taped and mudded. I made sure that the drywall was finished nicely for the painter. (While the drywallers were packing their truck and I was looking at the work with the project manager, he turned to me and said, “I shouldn’t have to babysit”.)

The painter came and did his work. Then all that was left was to cut and install the baseboard and mount the electrical sockets and faceplates. I watched two workers measure and mark the moulding for cutting, carry it outside to their mitre saw, then back inside. Back and forth, back and forth. I saw the air compressor and air nailer come inside and heard them nailing on the moulding. Once done, they left, but came back a few minutes later. It seems that they were asked to install all the electrical outlets and faceplates in the room to finish the job. Curiously, I watched them installing the faceplates. It was clear to me that they were having difficulties – they didn’t seem to have the right parts or sufficient knowledge, and it was clear they didn’t have the right tools (one of them was using a snap-off box cutter to turn in the screws). I told them not to worry about the faceplates and that they could leave; I’d finish the work myself.

After they left, I inspected their work. The baseboard was not installed at a consistent height. Perhaps worse, where the new moulding met the existing moulding in an inside corner they used a simple butt joint. That may be fine for plain baseboard, but this moulding had an ogee profile at the top. Sloppy, lazy work.

When I went to install the electrical outlet that they had been struggling with, it became clear why. The outlet was not in front of the drywall, but behind it and below the electrical box in such a way that it could not be pulled out without enlarging the hole in the drywall. And the hole was 1/2″ too far to the right, so even once the outlet was removed, it couldn’t be attached to the box and the void wouldn’t be covered by the faceplate. The drywallers were obviously not considering the installation of the electrical outlets when they boarded the wall.

So, what makes somebody qualified to do a task? At the most basic level, a drywaller needs to be able to cut, handle, fasten drywall, apply mud and sand. A trim carpenter needs to cut parts to fit and secure them. The workers certainly succeeded here. But where they failed was in their attention to detail and caring. Somebody paying attention does not install product upside down. Somebody paying attention does not bury an electrical outlet behind drywall, and somebody caring does not accept a cutout in the wrong place. Somebody caring does not use butt joints for profiled mouldings, nor do they use a knife as a screwdriver.

Some big companies get it, and some don’t. Every action made by an employee is a reflection of their company. A certain level of guidance and support is necessary to ensure that they do good work. Small businesses usually understand this, as their leadership team is typically directly involved in daily front-end operations. Sole proprietors live by this. I am my company. I am my reputation. I feel the weight of every decision, every action, every inaction. Small businesses care. They have to in order to survive. Next time I need to hire a contractor, I’ll be looking for a business that is not only “qualified”, but cares.

14 thoughts on “Qualifications

  1. That is all to familiar and oh so painful. I had those issues years ago, and found a better way to hire people. First ask a person behind the counter for “who would you hire.” Often times they have several names and they don’t want blowback so that can be a good source. Another way is to ask about the last job, and call the owners about how it went. Finally, if you have friends or neighbors network with them.

    What product did you choose for soundproofing?

    A tip… always tape your outlet up with blue tape first. What you got was very standard and acceptable in the trade. Use an oscillating multi tool to clean up the box opening. Nylon plates are really nice… they don’t break.
    Best to you.

    1. Hi Morgan,

      Good suggestions for finding the right person for the job.

      We use Roxul Safe and Sound, Bailey RC Plus Resilient Channel, regular 5/8” drywall, CertainTeed Green Glue, and finally CertainTeed SilentFX 5/8” soundboard.

      Do you mean to say that it is acceptable to cut an outlet hole in drywall in the wrong place and leave it for the next trade to fix?

      Chris

      1. Chris it is the guy who does the mud work to fix an oversized hole. They Gc or Owner need to verify. If it is not correct you have to call for them to fix it. Doing things over seems to be the standard. Why good supers catch all the details before they turn to sh..t and take weeks longer. I spent 30:years doing exactly that…haha

        1. So, Morgan, is a homeowner who doesn’t know right from wrong at the mercy of the GC? I didn’t know enough about soundproofing to think about upside-down resilient channel, and the subcontractor denied fault.

          1. You really did hire the wrong people…
            The GC if you had one would be responsible for the workmanship, but not the design or the effectiveness of your work. The sub who did the work is following the GC orders, or yours, if that is the case.
            Wished you had asked me, sound proofing is a nightmare. Vibration isolation from the source is the key. So if it is a wall from the neighbor and it is wood construction it all works like a drum. The best material is cement block and impossible to retro fit. Old house with lath and plaster were much better than new sheet rock system. Insulation that works best is blown in cellulose or better yet. Expanding foam shot in with large gun and equipment. Most of the high end houses use that for interior walls. Sorry for you trouble… sucks.

  2. Sorry to hear your challenges. Sadly, where I live in California, it is more common than not to find individuals who really can’t do a proper job. I don’t understand why this is the case.

      1. When I lived in WA state, I had a good friend who left the corporate world. He did excellent wood/construction work. I would use him because I knew it would be done right. If I had something really important that I didn’t or couldn’t do myself, I’d pay the extra cost to have him come the 1,000 miles down to me to do it.

        Where I live now, I’ve had to rely on recommendations from others. Even that can be hit or miss. My father in law has built three or four homes himself and has some folks who have done excellent work so I will use them when I can.

        It is very hard.

  3. Sorry to hear about the trouble with the contractors, and unfortunately i can confirm that its a problem that isnt confined to North America, I’m in Scotland, and we have all the same problems you, and others, have experienced.
    My experience is that you need to go off recommendations from others, and that once you know of a good tradesperson, stick to them and give them repeat business.
    From what we see part of the problem is lack of training, lack of supervision and a drive to get everything done as quickly as possible and move on.
    the only way to combat it is to learn as much as you can about what they are doing and either stand over them, or get their foreman/project manager to do exactly the same.
    Hope it all works out !!!

  4. Chris, this is almost a comedy of errors if it wasn’t so costly. My son is making a lot of money based on contractors like the ones you used. He’s in the renovation business and the stories he tells me of the things he finds are heartbreaking! And so many homeowners tell him that they were ok with it even though they knew they’d need repairs down the road. We both just shake our heads. He could start his own Homes on Homes show, I think. So my solution in the future would be to call my son. He cares!

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