Managing Construction

Paint and Paper, Fixtures and Fittings

With the finished walls, ceilings, and floors in place, the job may seem to be nearing completion. Once again, however, countless details remain. Carpenters will be applying casings around the windows and doors and doing other trim work, like finishing off the moldings at the baseboard and ceiling. Simultaneously, the cabinet guys may be installing your kitchen cabinets.

Meanwhile, the plumbers are waiting impatiently to put in the dishwasher, and the electrician and HVAC crew are elbowing each other in the basement. The floor sanding crew has just pulled into the driveway, as the painters are trying to back out.

There's a pile of boxes containing doorknobs, lock sets, and window latches that the UPS man just delivered. The alarm installer is on his way because somebody set off the alarm, and its incessant beeping has gotten the dogs next door barking their fool heads off. The fax line won't work, though, and you're on the phone with your designer, who has the bad news that the countertops aren't ready. You find yourself concerned about… well, just about everything.

Are you getting the picture? Your project may never be a madhouse like I've just described, but it might be. That doesn't mean, however, you should throw up your hands and give up. Actually, this is a time when your inspections are most important. You should be available to the workers, but not in their way. Often there are many questions that come up at the last minute, and if they know you are there to give them answers-or will be at a certain time-you're more likely to get what you want.

Among the many matters requiring your occasional attention will be the following:

Before the painters arrive, check the work done with the joint compound or plaster. Is the surface flat and uniform, or can you see the dimples around the nail or screw holes? Can you see the joints between the sheets? How about corners, and if you are not planning on any moldings at the ceiling-wall joint, how do the surfaces look there? After the painters have finished, are the painted surfaces smooth? Are there drips or missed spots? Are the paper or paneling seams straight and tight? Are the edges and corners tight to the wall? Do patterns align? Is there evidence on the sur-face of glue? Are paneling nails color-matched to the panels? Check the holes for plugs and switches: the holes should be small enough that plate and switch covers will cover them. If ceiling tiles, paneling, or wood strips have been applied, are the edges of the pieces parallel? Are they level or plumb? The longer the lines, the more obvious they will be to your and your guests' eyes if they veer up or down or to one side or the other. If there's a pattern, is it consistent?

Check electrical outlets and switches. Are they straight? Once the power is on, do they work? In particular, check three-way switches: Does each control the correct light properly? Check phone plugs, cable television, and other specialty wiring. Check any built-in units: Does the heater in the bathroom work? Any wiring trouble is less expensive and time-consuming to reroute before the final coat of paint or wallpaper goes on. Are new circuits on the electrical panel labeled?

Are the plumbing fixtures located where they are supposed to be? Do they sit securely fastened to the floor or walls? Once the water is on (it'll be one of the last things to happen, so don't be concerned if you can't check it until well into the process), do the drains work and is the hot water hot? Is the water pressure adequate?

Are the registers or radiators located where the plans called for them to be? Are thermostats located on inside walls, away from sunlight and direct drafts?

Check the moldings and other trim pieces. Is the fit tight and are the cuts even? Are there visible saw lines or hammer marks? If the wood trim is to be painted, then careless work is easily covered with wood filler and the paint that follows. However, if you are only sealing the wood, pay special attention to the care with which it was installed. Doors involve multiple installation steps: the rough framing is hidden behind the casing, complete with jambs (on the inside of the opening) and the architrave (on the wall surfaces). Then the door is hinged and hung, the door and trim primed and painted or sealed, then the lock set or latch installed. Windows are easier (usually prefab units are inserted, then trimmed off). But the inspection is the same: Check the doors and windows to be sure they open, close, latch, and swing as they should. How do they look?

Are the joints tight? Does the floor surface sit flat? Are there bumps or gaps at the walls? Are there thresholds or transition strips where one surface gives way to another? Do the doors open easily over the flooring surface, or do they rub or scratch?

The outside of the house should be in good order, too. You should see neatly painted trim and other surfaces, the paint scraped from the windowpanes, and in general get the feeling the job has been done and done well. If your contract called for landscaping, grading, or plantings, have they been completed to specification? How about walks and patios and driveways?