How to love your contractor

People remodel for many reasons. There is the lure of the new, or the lure of restoration. There is the necessity of maintenance. There is the more subjective desire to beautify your space and have it welcome you home. 

So why doesn’t everyone remodel? There are about a million reasons, of course. Remodeling takes money and time. It requires making endless small and large decisions about color and style and appliance brands. Quality versus cost. Form versus functionality. If these decisions aren’t fun for you, remodeling can really suck. But let’s say you get past all the money issues and tile choices. You know the toilet you want. You're ready to start on the kitchen or the bathroom. Well, there's still one big hurdle. Because now you're at the point where you need to hire a contractor. And the idea of a contractor is a stumbling block for many — with good reason. We've all heard far too many horror stories. But with a little prep, you can get through it. 

The reality of a contractor means having strangers in your house every day. Day after day. There will be a deadline for them to leave, but that deadline will come and go. This may be the contractor’s fault, or it may be your fault (at my house, it's usually my fault). Most likely it is just the reality of construction. Things happen. Toilet styles are discontinued. Snowstorms hit the Midwest and supplies get stuck on the other side of the Rockies. I had a showerhead shipped from England that was missing a critical part. It took a year to get the part. No joke. 

So here’s the deal. In my experience, you often have to walk through hell to get to the heaven of a new kitchen. Let me give you some tips to help you survive the joy of living with contractors. 

  • I remodeled a good portion of my downstairs all at once, so both the kitchen and the floors were ripped out at the same time. The only usable kitchen appliance was the refrigerator, which was moved to the living room. Every morning I would walk to the fridge in my bare feet for milk, and every morning I would stub my toes on a beam sitting in the middle of the (now ripped up) living room floor. After about the tenth time of this nonsense, all I could think was, when the hell will I remember that beam is there? My tip to you: always wear boots in a house under construction. 

Kitchen before, and after:


  • That same refrigerator disappeared one morning. I searched everywhere for the fridge and my milk to no avail. Turns out it was moved to the deck. Yep, it was outside. As it was winter, the fridge eventually froze shut. My advice to you: remodel in the summer. 
  • During my upstairs remodel, the contractors put a Honey Bucket at the top of my driveway. That was unattractive, but far better than having the contractors all using the single available bathroom in the house at the time. Nevertheless, the remodel took 14 months, and it was a hot August that year. The Honey Bucket could be smelled two houses away. My tip to you: for the sake of your own sanity and to maintain good relations with your neighbors, get the Honey Bucket cleaned every week rather than every two weeks.

Here is an example of what your bathroom could look like for months...and the end product is why it's worth it:


  • I have a small house. Space is at a premium. When you are remodeling, the contractors like to store machinery and equipment in random and inconvenient places like behind your car in the garage, which will keep you from getting to work in the morning. After about 3,000 fits and screaming matches with the contractors on this subject (you start to treat each other like family after a while), my advice to you: give up. Park your car somewhere else. Forget the garage. It is no longer your garage. If you can truly embrace this shift in thinking, you'll get along famously with the contractors.
  • If you have work done on the outside of your house, there will be a paragraph in your contract that says something along the lines of, “we (the contractor) are not liable for plants, shrubs, or other greenery damaged during this project.” Translation: We will kill all your plants. My tip: kill them yourself. It will be more fun/acceptable than watching them be killed by the contractors. 

I truly hope this advice helps. Here’s the bottom line: I love my contractor. I can’t imagine using anyone else. And I really hope I never hear their stories about me, though I could guess some of their complaints. The list would probably look like this:

  • Screams like a fishwife.
  • Has a freakish amount of shoes that we always have to move in and out of closets to access the crawl space.
  • Absurdly attached to the idea of having 24/7 access to her car.
  • Always wants us to hang random stuff on the walls. 
  • Thinks rust makes everything look better.
  • Has she ever heard of the color white?

We're a perfect match. I have crazy ideas, and they get them all executed. So start searching. Conduct some interviews for the search for your contractor. Maybe you'll get as lucky as I did.

Portlander Nancy Ranchel is a self-described accountant, design fan, serial re-modeler, compulsive re-user, and blog writer.

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