ORC Week 3: DRYWALL, and Tips for Hiring Trades

Whether you’re new around here or a long-time reader, welcome! My husband Josh and I have been renovating our 1952 home for the past 4 years, almost entirely on our own. We’re tackling the entire basement for this spring’s One Room Challenge (ORC), and it’s the final project we need to complete to call our home renovation completely finished! Over the next 8 weeks, I’ll be sharing the progress of our basement remodel on my Instagram and here on the blog as part of the ORC, a nation-wide event involving hundreds of other designers and home renovators. Be sure to check in on the ORC’s blog page to follow along with all of the other projects going on!

Get caught up: Week 1, Week 2

This week I don’t have a lot of updates to share, other than that drywall is in progress! I also want to dive into what steps we hired out in this project and why, as well as some info on how to maximize your experience when you’re hiring work out.

Last week’s goals included:

  • drywall installation: hanging, mudding, taping (hired out): IN PROGRESS
  • paint all walls and ceilings (hired out): NEXT WEEK
  • order carpet, purchase doors and trim: CARPET ORDERED
  • hang surround for bathtub & finish shower plumbing: PARTIALLY COMPLETE
  • enjoy a little time off from projects, since we’re done with the “hard stuff”!: CHECK!

If you follow me on Instagram, you might’ve seen my updates on drywall going up! Over the last week, the drywall was hung, taped, and the mudding process has been started. It will take about 3 coats of mud, and so far we’ve had two coats. As of right now, painting is scheduled for next week!

Here are some photos from the day after hanging:

And the same views of it mudded and taped (not yet sanded):

Some Mishaps

We were initially super excited and impressed by the fact that the drywall crew hung the entire basement in one day… until we saw quite a few mistakes! Between sloppy cuts, chopped up wiring, missed cutouts for vents/switches/outlets, and a scratched up fireplace surround, we were pretty disappointed. Thankfully, the project manager of the company has been attentive and quick to address the situation. A different crew is fixing their mistakes and doing all of the mudding, and there is a touch-up paint kit for our fireplace, so the painters will take care of that.

Rather than throwing a fit and firing the company, we chose to communicate our issues with the project manager and work with him to get everything solved. It would’ve taken much more time and energy to find and schedule a new company, share the project plans, and get a crew out here to do the work. Instead, the project manager was able to act quickly to put together a new crew and took responsibility for fixing the fireplace.

We (and by that I mean Josh) spent a few hours over the weekend fixing the wiring, and on Monday the new crew came out to start taping and mudding. We’ve been happy with the progress so far and we’re excited that it’s continuing to move along.

As I was thinking about what to post about this week, I realized that I had a perfect topic thrown into my hands…

How to work with a hired trade to maximize your project results and experience!

When to Hire Out

If you’re a DIYer, you might have the urge to try and do everything yourself… even things you shouldn’t necessarily be doing. We’ve learned that the hard way, and it’s a lesson we’ll take with us on every property we renovate going forward. At this point, we’ve renovated almost our entire home, interior and exterior, and we’ve hired out 7 things so far. 7 things, out of more than I can count! WHY did we hire out those 7 things? There are two main reasons…

  1. The skill level was worth the investment. There are some things we have learned are best to leave to the pros, because they simply have skills that we do not possess, and the time (and potential cost) it would take to learn and master those skills exceeds the price we’d pay to hire out. For example, we decided to hire out our gas fireplace install because we didn’t want our house to burn down or poison us with carbon monoxide, and it would take way too long to learn the code regulations and master the installation of the complex venting required. Another example of something we hired out was the replacement of our plumbing drain main line, which required ripping up concrete in the basement and completely replacing a long run of corroded drain. If we chose to DIY and didn’t do it correctly, we could’ve not only wasted our time and money on replacing it, but potentially thousands of dollars down the road if it leaked or didn’t drain properly. So ask yourself: would the cost (in money and time) to fix our own mistakes be less than the price we’d pay to hire it out?
  2. The value in saved time was worth the investment. We are not the fastest renovators, let’s face it. When you’re working on your project on the weekends, a full time job during the week, AND trying to fit in regular life activities, it’s important to know when to call in the pros when you want something done quickly. Some of these things we’ve learned from experience: we will (probably) never attempt a major drywall, plumbing, or electrical project independently ever again. Sure, we can (and did) do it- but we know that it will take us a few months, while it would take professionals a few days (or a couple weeks, at most). We’ve spent more weekends than I can count covered in drywall dust, stressing about electrical and plumbing work and inspections, and bickering over how long it was taking. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to come home from work and see a fully drywalled, taped, and mudded basement, which happened in less than a week! We don’t regret one single penny of hiring that project out. If you’re undertaking a big project, ask yourself which pieces might be worth your time to hire out… I guarantee you won’t regret it.

How to Pick a Contractor

Some of this is very basic knowledge, but it doesn’t hurt to say it. I know some of you reading might have never owned your own home or had to hire out a trade, so this is for you! If you have experience with hiring trades and have other input and/or advice, feel free to share in a comment!

  1. Start with in-person connections, and then search online. As a designer, I’ve done a bit of networking with various people in the home construction industry so I can recommend them to clients (and use them myself). However, if there’s a trade I’m not familiar with, I’ll ask family or friends for recommendations first, and then do an online search. When searching online, I literally type “(trade type) in St. Paul, MN.” I sometimes also use keywords like “reliable” or “affordable” for more personalized results. I know that there’s always Angie’s List or Home Advisor, where I can search for contractors with reviews. From personal experience as a business owner, I know that contractors pay for that form of advertising, so I do also look through a couple pages of the Google results for any direct links to company websites. Companies that show some images of their work, have a review or two, provide a list of their services, work in our area, and show that they value their customers’ experience go on my list to call. I’ll usually make 5-10 calls- sometimes they don’t answer or call me back, and sometimes they’re booked out. Out of those that I do end up speaking with, I schedule 3 estimates.
  2. Always get multiple quotes. When we’ve chosen to hire out projects, I almost always get 3 quotes. Sometimes they’ll all be within $500 of each other, which is great because I know the pricing is fair, and then I’m able to judge based on other characteristics. However, sometimes the pricing is thousands of dollars different! For example, our drain replacement quotes varied from $4K to $12K. The only thing we could determine from the $12K quote is that the company really didn’t want the job for some reason- maybe they were too busy but still wanted to give us a quote? But what if we hadn’t gotten multiple quotes- we could’ve paid more than double what the project was worth, if we didn’t take the time to get more quotes.
  3. Communicate clearly and effectively. If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s fine. “I have a leaky pipe and I need it fixed.” That’s easy enough. But you are looking to hire a company for a reason, and they should know exactly what you expect out of them. “We want our entire basement drywalled. Here is the design style I’m going for. I want this finish. Here is where I want drywall, and don’t want drywall. I’m not sure what to do here- do you have any advice? We’d like it all done within two weeks- can you make that work?” (That’s pretty much what I said to the people who came out for the drywall estimates). If you have a timeline, a specific design, a budget, or a responsiveness level in mind, let them know that up front. Hopefully, they’ll let you know if they can meet those expectations, or if you should look elsewhere.
  4. Ensure that trades are licensed and insured, when appropriate. Some trades are required to be licensed, like electricians and plumbers, for example. They are specially trained and have to pass tests to perform their job. They know the code regulations, and are responsible for the work if it does not pass inspection. This means that you probably shouldn’t hire a handyman to wire your basement for you- but you could definitely hire them to change out light fixtures. Any tradesperson who is doing work in your home should be insured; the insurance level will vary from trade to trade, but it’s important for them to have if they damage something or make a major mistake during any installation or repair.
  5. General contractors only: ask to see their work! If you’re hiring a GC for a major remodel or new build, you should definitely see examples of their work- in real life, if possible (perhaps they have a model home you could check out). Otherwise, ask to see photos from past projects. Don’t be shy about asking for a past client reference. Also, ensure that your design goals align with the abilities of the contractor. If you don’t have any design goals or have no idea how to gather your thoughts, hire a designer! Don’t let a contractor design your home for you- unless they have a designer on their team! That’s a whole different soapbox that I won’t go into right now 😉

How to Maximize Your Experience

Again, this might be common knowledge for some of you. However, I don’t think it can be emphasized enough that communication is key!!!

  1. If you have any questions about the work to be performed, don’t hesitate to ask. Whoever you hire should be happy to explain it to you. The same goes for the duration of the project- if you have any questions about the progress, quality of work, etc… ASK! (but see below for WHEN to ask)
  2. Stay out of their way! Let the tradesperson do their thing. Don’t check in every hour asking how it’s going, or why something is being done, or why isn’t something done. (I need to constantly remind myself of this when Josh is working on something, haha!) It will only slow down their work and distract them. At the end of the day, take a peek at the work, then ask any questions.
  3. If you’re not happy with something, communicate! Contractors and tradespeople want to make sure you’re happy. If you notice a mistake, say something- they will (usually) do everything they can to make it right. Don’t let it ruin the whole experience for you. Don’t be passive aggressive and go on Yelp and write a 1 star review without saying something to their face. Now, if they brush you off and don’t address the problem, that’s a different story! In that case, escalate your concerns up the line… to the project manager, the supervisor, even the owner, if that’s what it takes. If the problem is something that costs you time and money to fix, or you have to hire a different trade to fix it, ask for a discount.
  4. If you’re happy with their work, let them know… and pay your bill on time. Write a positive review, give them a tip (this is controversial, but tips are always accepted if you’re comfortable with it), share “before and after” photos with them so they can use them on their website/social media, mail or email a “thank you,” and most importantly… recommend them to others. Tradespeople and contractors are generally small businesses, and your support, prompt payment, and appreciation goes a long way. If you need to hire them for something else down the road, I can almost guarantee they’ll remember you.

Goals for this week:

  • Finish drywall mudding and taping (hired out)
  • Finish installing durock shower surround and plumbing shower
  • Tile the bathroom (?)
  • Paint walls and ceiling (hired out)
  • Maybe buy trim and doors?

I’m looking forward to sharing a fully painted basement next week with you all! Here’s to hoping we don’t hit any more speed bumps along the way!

Tips for Hiring Contractors: Sima Spaces

Author: Laura Sima

Hey there, I'm Laura- creator of Sima Spaces. I'm a home renovator, designer, and blogger based in St. Paul, MN. When I'm not designing or renovating homes, you can find me working as a pediatric ICU RN, snuggling my dog or cat, skiing in CO, or enjoying a glass of wine on our patio.

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  • I saw on your initial remodel, you were going to leave the basement ceiling exposed and open to access and spray paint the ceiling. What made you change your mind and decide to drywall it? We plan to insulate and drywall our basement and I am not sure what I want to do with the ceiling yet. So I am curious what made you decide to go with drywall on the ceiling vs tiles or leaving it open. Thank you!

    • Hi, good question! I think maybe I didn’t clarify that entirely. We were planning on keeping an open ceiling in the laundry room and utility rooms only (for access), a drop-down in the bathroom (for access again), and drywalling everything else. We couldn’t drywall the laundry room because we needed access to the multitude of plumbing valves in the laundry area. We changed our minds against spray painting it because we felt like honestly it wouldn’t turn out very nice with all of the plumbing and electrical wires running all over the place- there is just no way it would’ve looked clean. In the rest of the basement, we didn’t have any plumbing valves or anything that needed access, so we wanted to drywall it for a clean finish!