Frivolous rant, but bear with me

September 6, 2006

Does anyone have any good advice on how to talk to a contractor?

We have an extremely competent, very affable guy working on our house right now. We hired him in the spring to do 2.5 projects that became four (often the way when you start getting work done – I accept that some of the delay we’re going through is because the scope of the projects is bigger). However, though he has been working in our house since May, none of the projects are finished. This is very very stressful for me.

As you may remember, I am due to deliver a baby in 5 weeks. And we have a toddler in the house. We also have family/houseguests coming to be with us beginning tomorrow roughly continuously through the birth of the baby and beyond. (When those visits were planned, of course we assumed the work would be done, since original estimates of time were two weeks per project).
About once a week I’ve been having a complete meltdown over this. We haven’t had access to our family room for three weeks – which is normal when you’re doing work to a room. But it does make it difficult to occupy the toddler and frankly I miss watching TV in the evenings. The third (and final for the year – I think we’re giving up on getting the fourth, outdoor, project done before the rainy season sets in) project will also take the living room out of commission, so we’ll be able to sit in the dining room with our houseguests, I guess.

We have asked, multiple times along the way, whether our contractor really thinks everything can get done before October 12. “Sure.” he says. Of course, in the magical world of contractors, it’s perfectly OK to lie through your teeth, and I am beyond not trusting him to be truthful, much as I find him a likeable enough guy, who clearly does very good work.

I’m a professional person, see, and it’s very hard for me to accept continued behavior on the part of an employee that does not comport with basic hard-work ethics. To wit: he took roughly three weeks ‘off’ in July in the middle of the projects, which he didn’t tell us he was planning until about a week prior to his departure. And he has announced several times this summer that he just won’t be here on a Friday or a Monday or whatever because he’s going to the beach.

One of the projects is the construction of some cabinetry in our dining room. Though they’ve been built and painted since July 5, the doors only became available early last month. My husband and I duly (and quickly) primed and painted them. They’ve been ready to install for 1.5 weeks or so. On Friday Contractor S went to fit them to their openings and discovered they needed another trim. Which means they’ll need to be touched up again (by us). Since it was a holiday weekend, we’d see him Tuesday, he said. He showed up yesterday, without the doors, and worked for about an hour and a half. I asked about the doors. “Oh, yeah. I took them to the coast with me over the weekend. Took everything I needed to get that done, and I just didn’t. I napped instead. That’s what I get for going to the beach.” My head was screaming “No, @sshole, that’s what I get for YOU going to the beach!!!”

So it’s noon on Wednesday (did I mention that school started this week, and he drives a schoolbus during the year? So we’re back to him never being here before noon? Not that he was very often before, anyway?) and he’s still not here. His M.O. is to plan to do one task per day, and if he can’t do it, he just leaves. So his work days with us have been averaging about 1-2 hours for the past couple of weeks.

Having laid the background, here’s the question: should I stop work on the third project before it begins, knowing there’s no way in hell it’s going to get done before my due date? My concerns are:

  1. I suffered from PPD last time, in part because we moved cross-country when my son was 3 weeks old (much upheaval) and I was hoping for a much more tranquil post-partum period than we had last time.

  2. the privacy factor of the first days nursing a newborn – he’s nice, but I don’t want to be flashing my boobs at him all the time

  3. the dust of construction (drywall, plaster, sawdust) can’t be good for newborn lungs, and if god forbid I end up with another c-section I’ll have to be on the same floor of the house with the construction.

As I said, about once a week I melt down over this and am convinced that we have to put a stop to the work, but then I think of how crappy the family room will look half-finished all winter and I think there’s maybe a chance he’ll buckle down and work hard and this won’t be an issue if I can just find the right way to talk to him. But every time I gear up to speak up and be firm, I fizzle. My husband is literally no help. He doesn’t understand why I am so stressed, and in fact feels attacked when I express my frustration towards the contractor. It’s dreadful.

Anyone have any advice for having a come-to-Jesus with this guy that doesn’t result in hysterics on my part? I can’t even type about it without welling up, and I dread losing my composure, but this roller-coaster isn’t good.