SMOOTHING THE ROCKY ROAD TO BUILDING OR REMODELING
Peter C. Hotton, The Boston Sunday Globe, July 14, 1996
There’s hardly anyone around who doesn’t have a wild tale to tell about his new addition or her new house, and the traumatic experiences with contractors, architects, engineers and city officials.
The wildest of the tales seems to be about contractors and subcontractors who don’t show up when promised, or leave the project half-finished, or charge too much, or do a lousy job.
While most contractors should not be smeared with these brushes, no one seems to be able to do something about these snafus, or at least how to avoid them in the first place.
Until now, when Richard Connolly came riding in on his white horse and wrote a book called "How to Avoid Building or Remodeling Hell," (The Consumer’s Guide).
Connolly is a former contractor and now runs Cornerstone Consulting Inc. in Weymouth, a firm that finds contractors for homeowners planning to build an addition or remodel, and helps troubleshoot the problems inherent with such projects, sort of smoothing the sometimes rocky road of construction.
The book is not about construction of an addition or a remodeling project, but focuses exclusively on the pre-construction phase of a building or remodeling project.
Connolly calls on his experience as a contractor, consultant and, some years ago, builder of his own house.
An asset to the book, self-published by Connolly and finding its way into bookstores, is its organization, nicely done from beginning, long before any actual work starts.
There is a summary at the end of each chapter, a sort of digest that makes it easy to follow the key advice.
This sounds pretty dull, but it’s not because Connolly sprinkles his narrative with anecdotes of his experiences and those of others who have gone through the ringer in construction or remodeling.
The author starts out, logically, with a chapter entitled “Getting Started”: "You can begin by thinking of your project as having two distinct parts, the pre-construction phase and the actual construction itself."
A family meeting around the kitchen table is a good place to start, talking about everyone’s needs and dreams. A few sketches on graph paper on the project and remodeling will help, too. Keep track of these discussions, ideas and sketches, Connolly advises.
The kitchen table discussion is a form of communication, decision-making and compromise.
Chapter 2 suggests contacting your town building department and other municipal departments to determine just what you can and cannot do.
"How Much Can I Afford?" is the next chapter, which lists various people and fees that have to be paid for the project: all labor and materials, bank fees, assessments, closing costs, debris removal, building permits, cleaning up, temporary housing, storage and professional services. It’s certainly more than just paying a contractor when the work is done.
Other chapters cover legal considerations, insurance issues, structural engineering, hazardous materials, overpricing and working with utilities.
And all that is before the first spade of earth is turned.
Phase 2 covers material research (what to buy and its quality): kitchen appliances, plumbing and electrical fixtures, building materials, masonry and ceramic tile, cabinets and vanities.
Connolly describes these items in detail, offering ideas of the various types of materials available. But you make the choices.
Phase 3 covers hiring decisions (who, what and why): civil engineering, blueprints, landscape design, bidding, and the contractor.
The first half of the book is informative, sort of a crash course preparing you to go out into the real world of construction and remodeling.
The second half is where the work really begins: It’s a series of appendixes, actually questionnaires, that you are expected to complete. They seem intimidating at first; dozens of questions that you may not even know the answers to, but on closer inspection the answers will prevent a lot of headaches and "hell" before the work starts.
The purpose of the questionnaires is to provide as much information as possible for those involved in the project: utility company, engineers, design professionals, specification writer and contractors.
For example, "In what zoning district is my house located: on or near coastal zone, on or near flood plain, on or near inland body of water, abuts conservation land, on or near geological fault, on or near historical district? What special requirements does that zone have?"
The appendixes are grouped in the same manner as the chapters, so it is an easy matter of referring to the chapters to help answer the questions. Other answers can be obtained from the municipal building departments involved.
There are no easy answers, but they will help smooth the entire process from concept to completion.
Connolly’s son Mark designed and illustrated the book.
Connolly said the book is sold in many bookstores in Greater Boston.