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Renovation Clean up; Who Should be Vacuuming?

Last week I posted a video with some stories that should have convinced everyone that not only should you NOT go on vacation during your renovation (or new build for that matter), you should be there at as much as you can but at the very least twice a day, to make sure your vision and all your plans are being executed.

Assume nothing is obvious

Bette repeated what I said last week so well:

Every single thing that you think is obvious is, of course, not obvious to anyone else.

Bette went on to say:

“Lots of lessons learned the hard way, through several renovations and one large addition. Every single thing that you think is obvious is, of course, not obvious to anyone else:

I specified the location of every outlet — but not the height.

The paint color I meticulously chose for the bathroom walls was done in semigloss, rather than the eggshell I wanted (that was redone — I hate semigloss). — but who knew to specify?

The floor tile in the bathrooms was laid 90 degrees off from the direction I wanted — and the plain, simple, subway wall tile was stacked rather than staggered (fixed, but only because I walked by after two rows and stopped the insanity).


When I decided I just could not deal with another contractor decision and allowed him to choose the marble door sills without my okay, he picked the ugliest possible ones, out of spite, I think. Still living with those. The lesson is:

Force yourself to be present for every decision, no matter how sick of it you get.”

Whose mess?

But you know the other thing that NO ONE thinks about? It’s that the site gets so dirty and filled with garbage that unless you have someone dedicated to making sure it’s cleaned up every day, trust me, NO ONE is doing it. The trades come and go, it’s not their job site so they’re not cleaning it up unless they happen to be OCD.

And your contractor is not a janitor so he’s probably not going to do it either.


I was extremely fortune during our renovation because not only was the contractor whom I hired, skilled in many areas, he was also OCD when it came to things being cleaned up and organized.  My best friend Jan Romanuk (who managed my renovation) said she had never seen a job site so clean. 

And clean vs. dirty is an interesting phenomenon isn’t it? When everything is clean and looks the way it should be, you don’t even think about it. It’s when things are filthy and gross that we raise an eyebrow and make comments.

Catch issues sooner than later

This next comment from Cheryl is so good, too:

The sooner you find a problem, the better, especially if the subcontractor hasn’t been paid yet. They are motivated to return quickly and fix the problem. 

“Maria’s advice goes double if you are building a new home. Being on-site each day to catch problems ASAP will go a long way to keep costs down and jobs on schedule. The sooner you find a problem, the better, especially if the subcontractor hasn’t been paid yet. They are motivated to return quickly and fix the problem.

Here’s some examples we ran into on our build:

– We arrived on-site to find that the subcontractor had left early and didn’t insulate the garage floor for in-floor heat (which was being installed the next day). We called the contractor, who had them return to the job site and finish the garage to keep things on schedule.

– We were told the trusses for our home didn’t have adequate space for the furnace ducts, so the HVAC guy and our contractor wanted to lower the ceiling on half of the house. (If we didn’t show up that day, that’s what they were going to do.) We met with the HVAC guy three times and finally came up with a good solution to avoid changing the height of the ceilings.

– Just before the first floor was going to be sheet rocked, I noticed the wall for a pocket door was askew. I sent pictures to the contractor. He arrived first thing the next morning with two guys to rebuild the wall.

– Set aside time each day to clean up after the subcontractors. Having brooms, a shop vac, and several garbage bins on site is a big help. (Then you won’t be wondering if they sheetrocked over that trash between the studs.)”

Even more trash

NO ONE thinks about that until they are surrounded by it. This next comment came from Instagram:

“My brother stopped by every morning before work and every afternoon after work keeping an eye on things so it went right. He’s a good guy. But the gc and the crew resented his “ interference” and my brother moved in and noticed an ant problem in the kitchen. The crew had placed full open soda cans behind the sheet rock.”

Another comment reiterated this:

“Very good advice on monitoring the trash. We went so far on a new build as regularly using a shop vacuum, especially on sawdust and drywall dust around edges of the room. What you don’t pick up can infiltrate your house over the years through airflow. Think of those dark carpet edges around a room.”

Your General Contractor is not the designer

This comment sums it up:

“Maria, I would do it all over if I could. I asked the contractor if we needed a plan, or designers, or architects. He said no. He assured me that he was the designer/architect and he was going to help. Worst thing I ever did was believe that. Mr. Nice soon turned Mr. Mean, and it all became the most chaotic and expensive nightmare. I wanted to pay him, and gift him my house, just to get out of the situation. Now, I know why people don’t renovate.”

Cancel that vacation

And given all of this, I was still surprised to read this comment (below) posted on YouTube:

“You are making me panic. We put off vacationing for over a year but there have been so many delays that now our 2 week vacation is going to be after renovations are underway for 2-3 months this September. I can’t cancel yet another vacation, but you have me so worried!”

If you think cancelling a vacation during your renovation is expensive, wait until you come back and start fixing all the problems that happened while you were gone. Or just live filled with regret that things didn’t go your way.

Paying for mistakes

One thing I noticed after living in rentals vs. my own renovated home. It’s much easier to live with bad finishes in a rental that YOU DID NOT PAY FOR OR INSTALL, over living with finishes you in fact did choose, and either you hate them now because they were trendy and that trend is over, or they were installed wrong or badly and now it’s hard to live with them.

You’ll need my renovation guide to make sure all of this doesn’t happen to you! Download it here.

PS. One more thing, the person who is saying “I don’t care about trends, I like what I like” is generally the person defending their trendy choices. And here’s the other thing, you can do whatever you want, it’s your house, but the reason I’m always pitching timeless over trendy is because when any trend gets completely overdone, you get really tired of looking at it. Why? Because it’s EVERYWHERE. So trend fatigue sets in quickly.

If you would like help making sure you’re investing in the most beautiful and timeless choices for your home, check out my eDesign packages here. 

Related Posts

Most Important Question when Planning Home Renovations

Timeless Penny Tile in My Bathroom Renovation

Timeless vs. Trendy: 5 Decorating Details You Can’t Ignore

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  • Lorri says:

    One builder in my area doing new builds doesn’t allow the future homeowners onto the building site. Instead, the future homeowners monitor progress through a portal where the project manager shows them what has been done that day. Of course they have a walk-through and create a punch list for anything wrong before closing. I guess it works for them?

    • joy says:

      There is a big difference between “future homeowners” and current home owners.

    • VK Hodgman says:

      This setup sound like it is a new neighborhood with builds going up in just a few months, so I sort of get that those builders want to just put it up according to the plan someone selected. However, changing up a few things pre-build and selecting your own finishes still qualifies someone to get their very own house, and a good builder would understand that. Selfishness is not a good quality in a contractor.

  • Kay says:

    When our house was renovated, our wonderful contractor would sometimes ask for my decision on things I hadn’t even thought about. I was amazed by the hundreds I’d decisions I had to make, and the unbelievable amount of time it took to do something as seemingly simple as deciding on the right knobs and pulls. We lived in our house the whole time—about five months. The kitchen was the hardest for obvious reasons, but also the easiest because it didn’t require a building permit and that gave me some freedom to do things the way I wanted, which was not necessarily perfectly to code. Code dictates outlets every five feet on walls, but I tucked them in where they were needed and not just sitting there on the wall, never used. The project was long and expensive, but we have now been loving the results for eleven years.

    Now for our horror story. We have a full flight of brick steps leading up to the front door. It’s sort of like a brick monument, completely unrelated to the sided house. It was not in good shape, so we decided to have a mason fit limestone slabs over the brick and to replace the ugly, institutional railing with a much nicer iron railing, done locally by a good company. The mason did an excellent job. When it was time for the new railing to be installed, someone came out to view the site. I should explain that the steps go down to a landing, then there are sort of arms that keep going at that landing level while the steps continue down between them. Naturally, the handrails continue on the arms, with the supports getting shorter so that from the top the entire handrail descends in a straight line. Before fabrication, the company had sent someone to do the measurements, so the railings were fabricated correctly.

    So when the woman came out to view the site prior to installation, I never thought to say anything about the handrails being on the arms. They were constructed that way, and how else would you install them? The crew arrived, and my husband and I went to work. When we came home at noon, we found that the railings were being installed about 14 inches inside each edge of the steps, so that they would be inside the arms of the structure. They had started at the top and, by the time we arrived, had drilled four sets of holes in our new limestone for the railing supports. You cannot imagine how peculiar it looked, with the railings so far inside the edges of the steps. No one in history has ever installed railings like that, but that’s what she ordered.

    We stopped everything, of course, and had the installation redone correctly, but now we had eight sizable holes in the limestone. I thought about it for a while and then had the mason round off the holes and plug them with a nice granite, so they would almost look decorative—a permanent reminder of near disaster.

  • Diane says:

    Of course, when you’re building a vacation home, as my friend is, you can’t be onsite. The miscommunication among architect, builder, GC & my friends has been horrible. And the men were so misogynistic toward her! She actually needed her BP med increased. And a cranky neighbor who has harassed them continually hasn’t helped!

  • Nancy Markon says:

    My parents’ new build was a nightmare, but ours was a piece of cake. Thank you, Jesus, that we had a superb general contractor who was organized, savvy, and a man of integrity. I was only 27 when I undertook a custom build using plans I’d drawn up myself. What a nightmare it could have been had J.L. Stinson, Sr. not been in our corner! I had no idea what a blessing he was to work with until I began hearing stories of new build disasters from others. My parents later used him for a renovation after they sold their new build which had problems, and working with him was a great experience for them, too.

    Issues my parents experience with their new build:

    1– The developer assigned them a subdivision lot based on the model and floor plan they had chosen. The idea was to keep two houses of the same style from being built in close proximity to one another. The developer/builder “forgot” to mention the lot was the site of a frog pond which had been drained and filled in so it was undetectable during the summer when things were dry. After closing and moving in, we found the house had been built over the natural spring which fed the former pond. Our back yard was soggy and often unusable. A sump pump was installed in the crawl space to control moisture. This was in the late 60s before mold was on anyone’s radar. Who knows what had been growing under the floors of the dining room?

    2 — During construction, the subcontractors used the roughed in first floor powder room as their bathroom. The subflooring had been repeatedly soaked to the degree that the odor never went away even after the house was finished, sprayed, scrubbed, etc. My parents had to pay for the floor and subfloor to be removed and replaced before the odor issue was solved.

    Yes, Maria, homeowners must stay on top of things. I’m looking at another new build, and also plan to have a home inspection of the new house before closing. The inspection will include energy tests to confirm the house is as efficient as planned. Don’t want gaps, leaky ducts and windows, etc. to slip by undetected.

  • Bette says:

    Thanks for featuring my “lessons learned” in this piece! I wanted to add one more hard lesson: Because I wasn’t paying 100% attention, and because my contractor was not reading my mind perfectly (!), the situation became far more stressful — and eventually even adversarial — than it ever needed to be. Do yourself a favor. Be very clear in your instructions, and then communicate them well to your team — every single day. I believe we all want the best outcome possible, and by paying attention and being present, we can keep things positive. My contractor and I did not part on good terms, and I feel it was mostly my fault for not planning to be present every single day, without fail.

  • Michelle Ann says:

    Building is a complex business, which is why it is worth getting an architect or surveyor to draw up the plans and THE SPECIFICATION! This lists all the issues that are covered above, and ensures that they are included in the cost, as well as reducing the amount of hassle and disagreement that takes place if they are not decided at at an early stage.

  • Lisa says:

    I had a neighbor doing my gravel driveway refresh / upgrade and I left the property for about 5 hours that day. I came home to my lawn destroyed and rock and concrete dumped on the property where I told him he could dump dirt. To try to do the job more quickly he had driven his bobcat everywhere and my lawn still hasn’t recovered almost two years later. There was literally no explanation for all of the places he drove it.

    Even stopping by twice a day isn’t enough. These people want to get it done as quickly as possible and if you aren’t standing right in front of them they won’t take the time to ask you a question. I had a carpenter fill my trashcan with debris so full I couldn’t even move it and unnecessarily cut up planks in my attic flooring that are ~200 years old when I was there in the house. Good luck finding anyone who actually respects your property these days. Our area is a nightmare. I end up spending several hours on repair work and clean up on almost every trades person.

    Lesson learned, do not let them pressure you to pay quickly as soon as they’ve finished the job. I’ve found so many issues after the fact that I don’t initially see when they are hovering waiting to get paid and then you have little to no recourse.

    • Maria Killam says:

      I agree 100%, my project manager and I were on the job site during my reno for most of the working hours and this is the primary reason there was no re-work and no regrets. Same is happening with my garden project. I don’t even know how things would have gone wrong because I’m always here to course correct. Thanks for your comment! Maria

  • Susan D says:

    We’ve been through new builds, basic maintenance and renovations. Being onsite is critical even with an awesome contractor who chooses great subs. Otherwise, the sub/contractor is left to make a judgement that isn’t wrong or shoddy–just not your preference! However, some things are just hard to catch, especially with a new build. You think it would obvious to sweep/vacuum the floor before installing carpet or enclosing a space. Nope! When removing carpet, we were appalled at everything we found lurking beneath, yuck!


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