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Building a Dream



Get a potty, a phone and fax machine too
Some power and water, an ice chest or two

Order a dumpster, the biggest one made
In no time at all it'll fill from the trades

Many homeowners underestimate the disruption to their lives that remodeling guarantees. If you're building a custom home on a new site, at least you won't have workmen trampling through your living quarters. But if you're adding a second story to your existing home or remodeling the kitchen, expect many months of inconvenience, aggravation, and dust. Depending on the extent of your remodel, you may seriously have to consider moving into a temporary residence.

When remodeling an existing house in which you’re living, you must provide at least one usable bathroom at any given time. However, if you prefer that the workers avoid using your one and only bathroom, consider renting a port-a-potty for the duration of your project. Expect to pay roughly $50 - $100/month. The more expensive ones are available with utility connections should you require temporary electrical and telephone service. Weekly cleanings keep the odor under control. For large projects, your contractor may include this as part of the bid.  Make sure you agree up front about who pays for what.


If your property is likely to be left unsecured for any length of time, install a chain-link fence around the circumference of the accessible portions of your house. Be sure to provide one or two lockable gates large enough for delivery trucks to gain access to strategic drop-off points. We had about 200 feet of 6'-high fence installed along the front and side of our corner lot. This cost about $350 for one year. While the fence didn't eliminate minor thefts, it provided a good deterrent for casual vandals passing by. Furthermore, our insurance company required the fence as part of our course of construction insurance. Whatever you do, keep things well obscured. Never leave anything out that you wouldn't want to replace should some sticky fingers walk off with it.

Electricity and Telephones

Except in major remodeling cases or new construction, you generally won't have to worry about providing temporary electrical service. Should you find it necessary, however, your contractor can arrange for a temporary service pole and drop. We paid our utility company a few hundred dollars to drop a temporary power line to a service panel on our port-a-potty. These fees vary from city to city. If we did this again, I wouldn’t have the power as part of the port-a-potty. That’s because you may have a functioning bathroom before you’re ready to turn on power to the main facility. Keeping them separate gives you the flexibility to have the port-a-potty hauled away even if you’re not ready to energize the property.

Similarly, temporary telephone services are essential unless you're willing to open up your phone to the general access of your workers. Don't underestimate how much phone bills can add up. It's not uncommon to see charges exceeding $100/month. While most of these charges are for legitimate business (calling suppliers, tradesmen, etc.), some workers may take advantage of a free phone and spend their lunch hour talking to girlfriends they met while skiing in Aspen. Be sure your contracts with all contractors spell out who's responsible for phone bills. This can come as a shocking surprise if you're not prepared to cover these costs yourself. Unless the calls are few and inconsequential, it's appropriate for your contractor to pick up the tab as part of his overhead expense. Don't let him get away with it unless you've got money to burn.

The widespread acceptance now of cellular telephones has proven to be a great convenience for the construction industry. Cellular phones make contractors more accessible to their clients, and mean that telephone service is available even without temporary connections from the phone company. For a major project, you might even find that a FAX machine is an indispensable tool. Quotes, design changes, and messages can be quickly sent, helping to compress time and improve communication more than ever. In addition, keeping Internet access nearby can also be handy. Now, many manufacturers put installation instructions, specifications, dimensions, and other information on line. This can come in particularly handy, if say, the cabinet contractor wants to know the dimensions of the kitchen sink you’re planning to purchase.


Most construction projects generate impressive mounds of trash and scrap -- especially when there's demolition of existing rooms or structures. Apart from the fast-food wrappers, cans, bottles, and cigarette butts that accrue after a day's work, construction debris spreads like the Plague if you're not careful. If you don't insist on regular clean-ups, you'll see your house and yard fill with odds and ends -- like old toilets, wallboard, electrical wiring, scraps of plywood, framing materials, sheet metal, tar paper, broken concrete, rusty nails, insulation, and just about every other imaginable object the industrialized world has created. Due to the skyrocketing costs of waste disposal, a good-sized dumpster measuring 8'x8'x17' will cost anywhere from $200 - $400 for one to two weeks. Special dumpsters are usually required for concrete, drywall, and other non-combustible materials. If you must leave the dumpster in the street, it's a good idea to keep it covered at night; otherwise you're likely to catch your neighbors filling it with old refrigerators, yard clippings, oil, and newspapers.

Probably one of the most useful tools we used was a heavy-duty Shop-Vac -- ideal for blowing away and sucking up sawdust and miscellaneous scraps.  Be sure to clean the air filter regularly as sawdust and sheetrock dust can be very fine, reducing the efficiency of the vacuum.

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