Last year (2011), my wife and I finished a major home renovation which we started in 2010. The original scope included the kitchen, three bathrooms, the laundry room, all doors (interior & exterior), window trim, and interior painting. We later added the windows and exterior painting.
To minimize delays and problems, we spent several months planning and selecting the materials (i.e. doors, cabinets, granite, appliances, tiles, and fixtures), documenting the manufacturers, the products and preferred suppliers. We then shortlisted four general contractors from the Renomark site, conducted in-person interviews, checked references, and had each candidate submit their proposal in response to a list of questions.
The contractor selected was Ecklundson Construction (EC), owned by Rod. Shortly before the decision was made, Rod introduced us to his project manager, Rob. Although I expressed some concern to Rod about Rob’s inexperience, I was assured by Rod that he would ensure that the project was managed properly.
EC selected: plumber, supplier of plumbing fixtures, bathroom glass installer, electrician, tile supplier & installer, window supplier, framing carpenter, finishing carpenter and painter. We selected: suppliers of cabinets and granite.
The first sign that there were problems was when we were presented with EC’s project plan, which included the demolition of all three bathrooms at same time, even though EC had been advised from the very beginning that we would be living in the house during the renovations, and so needed at least one bathroom to be functioning at any given time. Rob then repeatedly blamed the project delays on us continuing to live in the house during the renovation.
In the first two weeks, it became obvious that Rob was not capable of performing many simple tasks competently, let alone manage the project, and he also repeatedly showed very bad judgment, so we asked Rod to remove him from the project. Some of the problems with Rob were: he left our new maple cabinets outside on the deck overnight, exposed to the weather, so that I had to call Rod to bring a tarpaulin to cover them. He forgot information provided on a daily basis and refused to write things down as we suggested. He overlooked several mistakes in purchasing materials (e.g. the incorrect quantity and type of doors were ordered), and he provided unacceptable directions to the sub-contractors (e.g. to leave large holes in the ceiling above the cabinets in the kitchen). He took our ladder, without our permission, to another site, and it was not returned for several weeks, and he damaged one of our new maple cabinets while moving it.
Rod did not have anyone else to replace Rob, so he himself had to try to manage the project for us, while he also managed others. As a result, Rod was most often not on-site, and so my wife and I were left to coordinate the sub-contractors, prevent problems, and monitor the quality of the work, as much as was possible given our own work responsibilities elsewhere. Consequently, the project had an extremely high number of problems, including unnecessary delays, product defects, purchasing errors, and errors in workmanship. The main cause of these was clearly the lack of site/project management. If the project had been properly managed, most of these problems could have been either avoided or mitigated.
Although EC was paid a substantial management fee, they did not have the staff to deliver these services most of the time, and consequently the management of the project was left to my wife and me. Other services which we paid for, but were only partially delivered, included the protection of the hardwood floor and the cleaning of the house at the end of each day. As the delays and problems increased, EC became increasingly absent from the site. After several weeks, EC agreed not to require any further payment of management fees, due to the large number of project problems, including significant cost overruns. At that time, EC had already been paid about 90% of the management fees due in the contract. From then onwards, we no longer saw EC at the site. Also, “construction damage” was defined as the responsibility of EC in their contract, but we were left to pay for much of it, and there was no final cleaning and on-site inspection at the end of the project, as stipulated in the contract.
The original scope of the project was estimated by EC to take six weeks, plus possibly an additional one to two weeks for the windows, but was only completed after 16 weeks. The only time and material (versus fixed-price) components of the project costs were the electrician, plumber and demolition The final costs of these, for the original project scope, were approximately 260% of what EC estimated as the maximum in his proposal. We believe that one of the contributing factors to the higher costs was the inefficiency of some of the sub-contractors, who made more visits than necessary, as they would leave after completing fewer tasks than were ready for completion. We were also invoiced for rework that some sub-contractors had to do to correct errors in their work, although we were assured by EC that this would be carefully monitored and prevented.
The last major task was the interior painting. The painter EC selected was very unprofessional, and the quality of his work was very bad. In the first few days of work, his painters badly scratched three of our new fir doors. Then, this painter repeatedly refused to comply with certain terms of his contract (e.g. the use of masking and drop sheets throughout the house). As a result of this insufficient protection, my wife and I had to repeatedly spend our evenings and weekends scraping paint splashes and spray off of the surfaces where it should not have been. He also refused to correct all of the major deficiencies in his work (e.g. patches of wall left unpainted) and, after he painted the bathrooms, the paint was peeling off of the walls, and he would not correct it, although we often asked him to. Even after we repeatedly escalated these issues to EC, the problems persisted, so we had to terminate the work being done by this painter. The painter then tried to invoice us for about twice what he had quoted. When asked about the process for addressing the dispute, EC was unwilling to use BC Arbitration (as stipulated in their contract), and so we had to hire a lawyer. That dispute was finally resolved through the Small Claims Court Mediation process. During the dispute, we had to hire another painter to complete the work and correct the deficiencies of the previous painter, at an additional and substantial cost to us.
EC’s selection of their painter occurred after they had rejected two other painters’ quotes, because EC considered the first two to be too expensive. However, it turned out that one of the painters which EC rejected was the one we later hired to correct the deficiencies in the work of EC’s painter. The prices that we were quoted by the painter we later selected were the same as those that same painter had earlier quoted to EC, and we noticed that our painter’s overall price was significantly less than EC’s painter, specifically for those items that were comparable (e.g. in the amount of preparation and quality of materials).
Other significant issues that arose during the project included:
- EC failed to reinforce the wall for the 10mm glass tub shield, as mandated by the manufacturer, until the tiles were installed on the bathroom wall, even though EC were reminded of this many times before, after which EC would sometimes promise to do it and at other times would dispute the need. EC finally agreed to do it, but had to reinforce the wall from the other side of the wall because the tiles were already installed on the bathroom wall.
- One of the electricians installed a bathroom wall heater vertically, even though the manufacturer’s warning (not to do so) was clearly printed on the installation manual. Other electricians installed the incorrect type of electrical wall sockets, even although the correct ones were clearly documented by us, and consequently they had to return to replace all of these, and then invoiced us for the additional labour. Several attempts to obtain a detailed breakdown of labour charges were not responded to. Neither of these problems was noticed by EC, until we pointed them out.
- The installer of the custom glass shower door & adjacent panels failed to caulk all areas as advised by the manufacturer, and consequently water leaked through onto the floor. The installer then insisted on us paying extra for this to be fixed.
- Although the tile supplier was very helpful in the beginning, their communication became gradually worse, until they stopped responding at all to our emails and telephone calls. At the end, they had still not provided us with all of the spare tiles that they had promised. We were also not reimbursed for the surplus tiles they returned for credit to the wholesaler. However, they did clean and freshen up the older tiles we retained, without charging us.
- After the work by the EC sub-contractors ended, we started to notice a foul smell around the kitchen sink, and so we called in our own plumber to investigate. What they discovered was that someone had apparently accidentally dislodged the drain pipe connected to the kitchen sink, and the crawl space was full of dirty water. We knew that the only people who had been down there recently were EC’s electrician and plumber. When we contacted EC and their plumber, neither of them would accept responsibility for this problem. Consequently, we were left with the cost of our plumber to reattach the drain, and had to submit a claim on our home insurance for restoration services, thereby incurring the deductible on the policy and losing our first claim “forgiveness” benefit.
- The following summer we discovered that the shower/tub water temperature controls in two of the bathrooms did not work properly. When I contacted EC about this, they referred me to their plumber, who then refused to honour the warranty. EC then referred me to the manufacturer, who found another plumber to confirm whether the issue was the product or the installation. After several telephone calls and emails with the manufacturer, retailer, new plumber and EC, it was agreed that we would not be invoiced regardless of the outcome, which was later confirmed to be faulty installation.
Of all the work done, we were truly satisfied with: the finishing carpenter who installed the doors, windows and trim; and the company that stained the doors. These we could comfortably recommend.