The art of inspection: monitoring your remodel

The Associated Press
Friday June 08, 2001

The contractor who Phil Smith hired for his addition last year is one of the best in Columbia, Mo. But every night after the contractor and his crew went home, Smith took out a flashlight, tape measure and the architect’s plans to inspect the work. Smith presented any questions at a twice-weekly meeting. When something looked really wrong, he called his contractor from work. And when Smith’s concerns resulted in a change from the original plans, a change order was written. The result? A job that went smoothly for homeowner and contractor. 

Questioning your contractor, as Smith did, makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. After all, the contractor is the expert. But your nonexpert status can give you the objectivity needed to catch such errors as missing switches, misplaced windows or delivery of the wrong model of an appliance. And because many projects involve several subcontractors, the framer might not have the latest window placements and the electrician might not know about the extra needed for your computer. 

That makes having an extra pair of eyes and ears not only welcome but essential for catching small problems before they get big and expensive. Although no two remodels are exactly alike, there are some specifics to consider for your next project.  

Carry a tape measure, flashlight (make sure the batteries are good) and notebook for any inspection. If you’re checking back against an architect’s plans, remember that there’s a separate plan for each of the following: foundation, framing, door and window schedule and finish schedule. You’ll often need to cross-reference the various plans to get a full picture of all the work being done. 

What to Look For 

• Foundation. Measure the distances between outside walls to be sure they conform to the foundation plan. You’ll find distances clearly marked on the plan, along with wall heights, wall thickness and slab thickness. It’s acceptable if lengths and widths vary by less than an inch. But because both walls and slabs are load-bearing, thickness for these components must be to spec. 

• Framing. Check ceiling heights carefully to be sure they’re as specified. For example, the framing crew might not have picked up that the ceiling height in the dining room is 9 feet, 6 inches instead of 8 feet. Also check the length and width of rooms. And if you’re building to accommodate a couch, bar unit or pool table, for instance, now is the time to be sure the item will fit. 

• Doors and windows. Center lines of doors and windows are also marked on the plans. Check the placement of each by measuring in from a nearby foundation corner to confirm its location. As the floor plan takes shape, note the direction of door swings – and make any changes before doors and jambs are installed. Also check that windows and doors align as planned to establish sight lines or to allow light and air to flow through the house. Doors or windows that are out of line are easy to fix at the framing stage. 

When windows arrive, check the model and type against what you specified. Manufacturers commonly ship windows with the wrong pane divisions, or light cuts. You might have ordered six-over-sixes and gotten four-over-fours. Also check doors for style and damage. If they aren’t what you expected or are dinged up, the contractor is responsible for replacing them. 

• Structural sheathing. Don’t panic if rough window openings are sheathed over; the plywood is cut away later to ensure a snug fit. But if you see drywall covering the rough opening, it’s probably a mistake. 

• Heating and plumbing. As the HVAC and plumbing contractors start work, check their plans against yours. Then ask some basic questions. For instance, in a bedroom, will a bed or bureau block heating and cooling vents? Re-position ducts if need be. And be sure water and drainpipes are roughed in at the right locations by checking against the plans. 

• Wiring. An easy way to check the electrical plan is to enter a room as if it were finished. Reach for light switches. Try to plug in a lamp. Are outlets and switches conveniently placed? Also determine whether you need three-way switches in rooms with multiple entrances and extra outlets in the kitchen, where several appliances will go. 

Then take note as workers install low-voltage wiring for cable or satellite TV, the alarm system, sound equipment and phones. Do you like the placement? Though replacing cables now isn’t expensive, rerouting them later is. Also ask workers to run extra cables you can activate later. 

• Hardwood floors. When installing this type of flooring, be sure the lumber spends at least two days out of its packaging in the house to prevent shrinkage gaps later. Also check that the planks are perpendicular to the floor joists and the installed flooring is covered with plywood or paper to protect it as other work continues. 

• Insulation. This important material is placed in the walls just before drywalling. Make sure it’s the R-value you asked for by carefully reading the insulation label and checking it against your specifications. For exterior walls, check that the insulation paper or foil is facing toward the room. Be sure spaces between studs and joists are entirely insulated, especially where joists end at exterior walls. Pay particular attention to the spaces around windows and doors; leaving even a small section uninsulated can cause drafts and heat loss. 

Some plans call for soundproofing interior rooms with insulation. If yours do, make sure the insulation goes in before drywall is installed. 

• Drywalling and paint. Be especially vigilant in these areas. Use a bright light held at an angle to pick up imperfections in the wall. If the drywall isn’t smooth enough, for example, point it out and have it redone. While painting and tiling are under way, make sure you’re available to approve colors for walls or floors. The same goes for grout. Then double-check grout after it has dried because the color tends to lighten. 

• Fixtures and fittings. If your addition includes a kitchen or bath, walk through the room and pay close attention to fixtures and faucets. Are they the right color? Do fixture finishes match? Also be sure metal finishes haven’t been scratched by plumbing tools and that everything works without leaking. 

Finally, be especially careful that custom-tile patterns match the approved layout plan, and that there are no gaps in any trim or molding joints. 

As the project moves into its final stages, don’t let your guard down. The finishing touches demand the most attention, so dig deep and muster up the last of your energy to see the job through to the very end. This due diligence will pay off.