Remodeling Project Part Four: The New World of Home Construction

by Bruce Johnson


As I mentioned earlier, Leigh Ann and I have been remodeling the lower level of our split-level, 1972 ranch house. Naturally, there was nothing Arts and Crafts about this house when it was constructed, but twenty years ago a previous owner did an extensive upstairs remodeling, adding a rough-hewn granite exterior with cedar trim, hardwood floors, a green tiled fireplace, and oak woodwork.


Not so with the downstairs.


But we lived with it for fifteen years, first waiting for Blake and Eric to leave for college, then trying to decide just how far to go. But it was a burst water pipe that flooded the downstairs, ruining the carpeting, insulation, and drywall, that prompted us to make the Big Decision:  gut it down to the studs and treat it like new construction:  new plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, insulation, drywall, painting, doors, windows, and flooring.


Downstairs view from the “Mud Room” during the remodel


My most previous remodeling project involved a couple of rental houses I bought and remodeled more than twenty years ago. With the exception of electrical and plumbing, I did most of the work myself. This time, however, I decided that with a book deadline and the February Arts and Crafts Conference fast approaching, I would serve as contractor, hiring everything done.


Not so easy, I soon learned.


Downstairs ceiling in the “Mudroom” during the remodel


Asheville has long been a popular vacation destination, as its moderate climate and panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains have long lured visitors to the area. More recently, however, many of these tourists have been buying property around Asheville and building houses. That coupled with a shortage of skilled labor has created a frustrating environment for anyone building or remodeling a house. Ask anyone trying to complete even a simple remodeling project and they will share with you their tales of woe:  unreturned phone calls, estimates never submitted, emails ignored, filled answering machines, vanishing crews, and unfinished rooms.


Last Friday, Leigh Ann came downstairs to find me sweeping the basement, organizing my tools, tucking in pieces of loose wall insulation, carrying out the trash, and winding up extension cords. “This is cleaner than our upstairs,” she remarked. “What’s up?”


Downstairs hallway during the remodel


“Careful,” I pleaded, spotting a bent nail at her feet. “I have a sheetrocker coming at eleven.”


“You’re interviewing him?”


“No,” I replied. “He’s interviewing me.”


Back when I was writing home improvement books, I recommended getting at least three estimates and checking the references of any sub-contractor you might be considering. Trust me, those days are gone.



Now I’m the one dropping the names of other subs who have worked for me. I make sure he sees the ice chest labeled “Water. Help Yourself.” I pour him a fresh cup of coffee, as I attempt to impress him with my appreciation for how hard his job is.


And he’s driving a new BMW, while I’m the one with the older pickup.


Until next week,


Brace yourself. This is the new world of home construction.