Requiem for my renovation innocence

By Mir
July 18, 2008

The day before yesterday, we had our contractor come back over here so that we could have a little chat about the state of our brand-new maple floor.

Otto and I have become effortlessly adept at playing Good Cop, Bad Cop together. Although, more accurately, I suppose in our case it’s more like Nice Guy, Crazy Melodramatic Woman.

(It’s a real stretch for me, of course, but I didn’t get that degree in theater for nothing!)

Mind you, I’m calm, I’m cordial, I don’t raise my voice, I don’t make accusations. I just say things like, “You’ve done a lot of work for us and you’ve always been extremely conscientious. And I have to tell you, we got back and we walked in here to look at the floor and I cried.” It helps if you visualize your objective, evoke a powerful sense memory, and—oh, fine, you got me. I’m lying. It mostly just helps if it’s TRUE. (It was.)

The contractor listened and nodded and offered various bits of information. Like that quite a lot of the wood was warped or damaged.

“Oh! Well, then, should we call the warehouse and complain? Was it defective? Was this worse than other wood you’ve worked with?” I am nothing if not ready to throw the blame to someone else, you see. It’s one of my finer qualities.

“Well, no,” he said, “I don’t think it was, really, I’m just telling you….”

Right. He is just telling me it’s the wood’s fault, UNLESS I want to call the place I bought it from and complain, in which case, WHOOPS, probably not the wood’s fault! I mean, it was, but it wasn’t!

I half-expected him to suggest that I look into his eyes and FEEL VERY SLEEPY.

4-inch wide boards are harder to work with than the thinner ones, he said. When there’s some warping it’s harder to beat them back into shape, especially with a wood as hard as maple. And, well, it was very difficult to get the wood tight to the wall, there, see where he’d pushed as hard as he could, but there were still gaps (and now a few dings in the baseboard for his trouble)? Well, that’s just how it goes sometimes….

Basically, it was clear to me that he knew the installation wasn’t up to snuff. He was sorry about that—genuinely sorry—and willing to try to fix it. And in the face of that, all fantasies I had about demanding a whole new floor or a reduction in price sort of evaporated. I don’t know WHY the job wasn’t done right, and I do think some of it boils down to sloppiness, but he said he’d do whatever needed to happen to make it right, and as he has a circular saw but no wand, that had to be good enough.

Otto left on his trip and yesterday the contractor came back to fix the floor.

First there was the matter of two boards that had been badly scratched by someone dragging a tool across them. I know the floor is going to get scratched, I do. But I WOULD LIKE TO BE THE ONE TO SCRATCH IT. So those boards were drilled out and new ones put down. Fine. Next came the board in the middle of the dining room that had a long edge which appeared to have been nibbled on by squirrels. (“Oh, that’s not good. How did we not notice that?”) He set to work drilling that one out, and when I heard swearing I came back to find that in removing the defective board, a neighboring one had split, as well. Those were replaced.

In trying to get the boards close to the wall a bit tighter, he tried some strategically placed nails to firm everything up… and the final nail split the board, which then had to be replaced.

There was missing trim to be cut and existing trim that was crooked that needed to be redone. A whole can of foam went into the space around the new door (which has been leaking hot, moist air onto MY PRESHUS VENETIAN PLASTER and causing me apoplexy). Half a tube of wood putty went into too many cracks to count, all of which are still glaringly obvious to me, but maybe over time (and under furniture) it’ll all blend in, eventually.

I hopped on a conference call in the afternoon while he was still working, and when my callers asked how I was I couldn’t resist mentioning that I was just FINE AND DANDY except for the part where my brand new floor was STILL being fixed, HAHA, SO FUNNY, EXCUSE THE NOISE, and P.S. please kill me now.

All in all, he was here about seven hours. At the end, he billed me the original estimate for installation; part of me thought that was too much, and the rest of me told that part of me to stop being such a cranky bitch, because the poor guy had just worked FOR FREE for an entire day. I wrote him his check and thanked him. He left, and I walked out of my office and into the family room.

Where I immediately got a huge splinter stuck in my heel. Of course.

Otto called to check in, late last night, and I reported on the day’s activities.

“You know,” he said, “I was at [colleague’s name]’s house for dinner, tonight, and he has wood floors. I couldn’t stop staring at them. And do you know what I saw, when I looked really close?”

“Gaps?” I said, figuring that small pink eels would make for a better story, but were less likely.

“Yeah,” he said. “Lots of little gaps. I mean, I never would’ve noticed. You never WOULD notice, normally, but I just keep staring at it all night. I don’t think he saw me doing it, but I was concentrating on it so hard that I nearly walked into a wall on my way out.”

“Smooth, honey.”

So, you know, it’s all fine. It’s lovely. And on the bright side, I never want to change anything in this house ever again. I find myself strangely attached to the worn blue vinyl and battered cabinets in the kitchen! The windows that barely open! The gouged walls! Those ridiculous popcorn ceilings!

They’re all PERFECT just the way they are, AMEN.


  1. Leandra

    It’s a proven fact, you know, that more than one home improvement project in a year causes insanity. They did studies and everything.

    Oh, and my mom has some of that putty in her floors and after a while you really don’t notice it anymore. Pinky swear!

  2. Daisy

    Ouch! I wish you much luck and rest. You’ll enjoy the floors – eventually. Take your time before taking on any more projects. Seriously. :)
    My wood floors have light scratches – from pet rabbits. They run across the room, then they can’t stop, and they slide. It’s quite entertaining, really.

  3. Damsel

    I just LOVE to read your posts. Have I told you that? Thanks for making me laugh this morning. :-)

  4. Jenny

    Yikes — I’m exhausted just reading about it. I hope the placement of furniture and rugs and whatnot helps and that all future scratches and dents are the making of the WouldaShoulda family and friends.

    I nearly had a conniption fit when I caught our upstairs hall in the right light and actually saw what our dog’s claws had wrought, but then I reminded myself that was one of the reasons we got “tavern grade” wood — we actually liked the look of all the imperfections and variations. (And besides, I like saying “tavern grade” — and now I am off to swill a tankard of ale and gnaw on a turkey leg.)

  5. Kimmie

    Makes me want to go out and buy new floors.


  6. Kristi

    Big, deep breaths.

  7. jen

    This is why I believe I will get wood laminate. You know, pretend wood. ;) I have it in some rooms in the basement and I think they make that stuff out of kryptonite.

  8. RuthWells

    I keep forgetting you have a theatre degree!

  9. Amanda

    We have maple floors too. 5″ planks. Ours were so delayed in getting in that the contractor finished literally the DAY before I had the moving van scheduled. When I showed up after they had finished all the work, I SAW GAPS EVERYWHERE.

    And I promptly freaked out, called the owner of the company and he was at my house filling gaps at midnight on a Saturday. I was SUCH a bitch about it too!

    These floors cost us almost as much as our down payment for the house! They HAD TO BE DONE RIGHT.

    PS – E-mail me if you ever decide to scrape the popcorn ceiling! Been there, done that too.

  10. The Other Lori

    Remodeling is like childbirth. If time didn’t erase the horrible memories, we would all have one child…and vinyl floors.

  11. Burgh Baby

    I must have repressed the memory, but you have somehow managed to dredge it back up . . .

    When we had wood floors put in at the house we currently reside in (PLEASE NOT FOR MUCH LONGER PLEASE PLEASE), the guys were remarkably efficient, professional, and just plain GOOD. The floors turned out gorgeous and I was only able to find a few small errors, which I was willing to live with because hey, nobody is perfect (except me–I am absolutely perfect in every way and I can’t stop laughing at how I actually managed to type that sentence with a straight face!).


    All was fine and dandy until the weather finally warmed up enough to need the air conditioner (the floor was installed in early Spring). For some reason, the level of our house with the wood floors was approximately 839.87901 degrees warmer than the rest of the house. I couldn’t figure it out. And then I noticed. The efficient and professional flooring goofuses has installed wood floor RIGHT OVER TOP THE HEATING/COOLING VENTS ON THE FLOOR.

    Grrr . . .

  12. Beth

    @Burgh Baby: it’s easy to install a great floor when you don’t cut around the vents on the floor. That way it’s all straight, intact boards. I’m very proud of you for not killing anyone!

    @Mir: hugs! It’s so worth it when it’s done, but home improvement sucks.

  13. In it for real

    Here’s an idea, now that you mention the windows and all. If I had it to do over, I would have asked for a reference (or several) of actual people in their own homes who would be willing to show me how well their windows worked, not just how nice the demo model performs, doncha’ know. I cannot actually say that the new windows are not an improvement over the old 1914 models that they replaced, but really, how well they open and close is a moot point given that the screens “fit” so loosely that there is not an insect in the tri-county area that cannot and does not venture in to explore my home, crawling over my body in the dead of night because somehow that must enhance their experience. Not mine. And yes, the floor experience here was also painful, although I went with the laminate for lack of finances, so at least my expectations were not quite so high. And I left the linoleum with it’s accompanying layer of insulating (?) newspapers under the new floor, so the next generation who gets the urge to improve, can have the joy of knowing how well read the family has always been. (Turns out, according to the floor, that there is a new suspect in the Lindy baby kidnapping case.) All this to say, yes, many of us feel your pain. It matches our own a little too closely.

  14. Randi

    And this is why I’m never, ever, EVER hiring a contractor. Oh – wait – I overpaid my stepfather for a wall he took out…crap. At least the guy admitted he screwed up!

  15. Susan

    I suddenly don’t feel so bad that my do-it-himself husband has been working the remodel of our dining room for nearly three months. I would hate to be paying someone for all the screw ups.

  16. Marissa

    OHMIGOD!! I am now terrified to re-do the hideous gray vinyl floor in my bathroom–they painted the tub and walls gray to match. So effective for making the approximately 6ft x 3ft room seem even smaller. When we moved in I painted the walls and ceiling white but I hate hate hate the floor.

    I feel better now that I shared that with all of you.

    As I’m studying for the NY Bar exam, your little experience would make a great contracts problem.

  17. E

    You know, my wood floors have some gaps too. And scratches. Much to my disappointment. (When we built the house and were doing our final walk-through before closing, I noticed several scratches. The builder came back with putty which looked great at first but has now, 2 years later, WORN AWAY.) I think, however, that I have to lower my expectations on things such as this because in my mind things look PERFECT and the reality never, ever matches. What a bummer.

  18. E

    Oh, and also, my husband’s stock reply anytime I furrow my brow and tell him I’d like to make a change in the house is, “I love it just the way it is!”

  19. LiteralDan

    It sounds sometimes like settling, but really, the key to happiness is just finding a way to be happy with things the way they are. It’s not always hard once you get in the habit.

    At times when it gets too hard, though, it may mean you’re dealing with one of the few things that does need to change. Floors probably don’t fall under this category, though I totally understand your minor meltdown. If that contractor comes back for more after this job is done, you’ll know he’s a keeper.

  20. Sharon

    Once again, I feel your pain and admire your ability to keep a sense of humor about the things that life throws at you. My husband and I contracted last summer to have a wall of bookcases built. I checked the guy’s references and saw his work before we signed the contract. He was in demand, so the work didn’t start until November. And it was a nightmare from the beginning, as in we reached the point where we were ready to scrap the whole project. Two friends told me, separately, that we owed it to ourselves to get the job we paid for and we owed him the chance to make it right. When the work was finished in January, it wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. Someone told me recently that we should aim for “close enough to good enough.”

  21. Kira

    You DO love your popcorn ceilings, TRUST ME. It’s not the removal of the popcorn that’s the problem (messy! wet! I din’t mean that to sound dirty!), it’s getting the new texture on the nude surface left behind.
    Your floors are BEAUTIFUL. I know I haven’t actually seen them, but I can FEEL it.

  22. Nancy

    “Close enough for government work” is what we always say around here. Of course when you are talking about your goverment contract – Whoops!

  23. Rick Bucich

    As a husband who tries to be an active do-it-yourselfer, your story reminds me of why I relinquish certain tasks to the professionals. Often I find it easier to be the mediator than the finger pointee. Bravo to Otto for the brilliant deflection.

  24. the planet of janet

    we are currently putting in bamboo flooring.

    except my very talented husband is doing it himself.

    except my very talented husband has been doing it himself for about 6 months.

    except my very talented husband stopped doing the floor to build a DESK instead of finishing the floor.

    except he only works on the desk on weekends.

    fortunately, he’s cute. otherwise i’d have to kill him.

  25. All Adither

    I can’t help noticing that you’re not posting about BlogHer. It’s refreshing.

  26. Chuck

    I do think that, when having major work done, you have to be there checking up on the contractor, at least every day or two. When my last house was being built I found a feature missing that I had paid for…had I not been visiting fairly often, I might not have caught it in time. Of course, it’s a pain to have the contractors around doing a big job when you’re trying to LIVE there, but I think they do better work if they feel like the owner is keeping a close eye on them.

  27. Astrogirl426

    The next time you wake up in the middle of the night to go pee, or get a drink of water, listen closely. That sound you hear is the sound of Otto, sobbing quietly into his pillow.


    I hear you on the “wanting to scratch your own floors” thing. However, you DO realize that you will not be the one doing the scratching, right? That’s the kids’ job. And I’m sure they will take their responsibility very, very seriously :).

  28. Jeanmarie

    At least you HAD a contractor to yell at! After my hubb installed wood floors ion my daughters room ALL WRONG – AND LEFT PIECES OUT, I couldn’t criticize, yell, or complain for fear of damaging his precious ego and living with the fallout of said bruised ego for months :-)

  29. The Other Leanne

    Better to have gaps than to have the boards buckle like mine have.
    The installer put a deep scratch in too.
    On the third day I accidentally screwed a piece of assemble-it-yourself-furniture INTO THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR.
    Then I bought a big rug to cover the hole.
    A friend of mine asked, “Why is it that when people get wood floors they immediately cover it with a rug?”
    That’s why.
    Truth is, my philosophy now is to ruin new things right away so you don’t have to worry about them anymore. It’s better than hearing my mother’s voice in my head whining “why can’t I ever have anything NICE!?”

  30. Sophia (Adventures of Brown)

    Man – you’re brave. I don’t think I could have held my composure as well as you did!
    Hope this is the end of all house fix-up disasters for you!! Good luck!

  31. Deborah P

    Before I moved into my house, as part of a remodel, I had wood flooring put down in the entry, hall and living room. Then proceeded to have a meltdown because the boards were cut so jagged around the stone hearth. My contractor assured me it wouldn’t be noticeable after the boards were stained (and later asked me, very nicely, to tell HIM my concerns rather than the subcontractors; he really was a sweetheart). Know when I thought of it again? After I’d been in the house for months – he was right, it’s not noticeable unless you are looking for it. You may always see the gaps, but no one else will, I’m sure.

  32. Brigitte

    Wow, in our naive, young innocence back when, I guess we got lucky with our wood floor installation. Sure, there’s one or two minor flaws, but I don’t think there are more than one or two teensy gaps. Maybe it helped that our baseboard was just cheap, natural-color trim – he removed it to do the floors, then replaced it with new trim. Ow, stop hitting me!

  33. Catherine

    After our installers did the floor I walked around with painter’s tape placing pieces everywhere I saw a nail, a gap or sand marks. My floor was covered with blue tape. The contractor came in and said, “well what do you expect?” Something about it’s dry in Colorado, wood is a natural product, installers are human, but yes he could putty those nail heads. Honestly, I don’t notice all those things very often. What I do notice is the giant scratches from us putting our fridge back. Sadly, that was all us.

  34. jennielynn

    I love that Otto nearly walked into a wall, investigating his colleague’s floors and trying to make you feel better. What a guy!

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