We covered the ins and outs of the Honeymoon Phase of construction. Next up: the Midlife Crisis. It often comes with questions like, “What am I doing? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life?”
Likewise, the second phase of a home remodel, the Midproject Crisis, is paired with similar questions: What’s my contractor doing? Are we still moving forward as planned? Was this really all worth it?
Fear not: Your contractor is working hard, your project is moving forward and, yes, your decision to renovate your home is, and will be, worth it.
Typically, once demolition and framing is finished and before sheetrock is put up, mechanicals or mechanical rough-in will begin. Mechanicals refer to the guts of the house: electrical; plumbing; and heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC). Like our own guts, most of the work done during mechanicals occurs behind the scenes.
So what is going on behind the scenes? Let’s break it down by type of work.
The groundwork for all new light fixtures, outlets, switches and appliances will be done during this phase. New wiring will be run in the walls and ceilings, electrical boxes will be installed for future fixtures, and electrical panels may be upgraded so they can handle heavier loads. At this point, electricians are making sure that everything that will need power will have access to it and meet your municipality’s building code.
As with electrical, plumbing rough-in ensures that all plumbing fixtures, appliances and other water features will be supplied with water, gas or both. So pipes may be moved or installed in new places, shower pans are installed and inspected, and gas lines may be moved, extended or even put in.
Unlike electrical and plumbing, HVAC is the only mechanical where nearly all the work is completed during the rough-in stage. Pathways for new vents are determined and vents are installed, air conditioning units may be replaced, and air return vents are located in appropriate positions.
All this sounds exciting, right? No doubt, it is. But the progress isn’t very visual. Since everything occurs behind walls, under foundation or in attics, the big “wow” just isn’t there like it is when everything is torn apart.
It’s around this time that I’ve often seen homeowners concerned about progress. Yes, plumbers are there, but where are the new sinks? Why isn’t there a single light fixture installed yet? Is the HVAC guy even working, or is he just taking a nap in the attic?
The other contributing factor to the crisis is the fact that any speed bumps that crop up during this phase take a bit more time to resolve. Overall, the placement of existing framing is the biggest obstacle in mechanical rough-ins.
If your plans specify that there is going to be a can light in Location A, but Location A has a structural beam directly above it — no can do. Or say your architect has designated a toilet to be mounted on the wall instead of on the ground, but existing wall framing prevents this from being a viable option. Back to the drawing board. Or maybe your HVAC contractor needs to be able to provide ductwork to a new vent hood location in your kitchen, but there is no open attic space to place the ducts. Time to think through the alternatives.
Another obstacle, which is less common but should still be noted, is the condition of existing mechanicals. Any wiring, plumbing or venting that is found to be damaged, dangerous or just not up to par with your municipality’s building code will likely need to be remedied.
And don’t even get me started on inspections. If your job is permitted, inspections for mechanicals will occur during this stage. City building inspectors are well known for being thorough. If you don’t have everything just right, they will not hesitate to make your contractor fix the issue before any work can continue.
And finally, don’t forget to communicate with your remodeler. If you don’t understand something about mechanical rough-in, ask. If you’re concerned about the placement of pipes or wiring, say something. If you want an update on project status, request one.
I know it may be tempting to ask for advice from your neighbors who remodeled their house last year or your friend whose cousin’s husband is an architect, but in the end, the person with the most knowledge about your project is your building professional. See if you can get on your contractor’s schedule for a recurring weekly meeting. It will help make the Midproject Crisis less of a crisis.