Testing a Relationship

2012 February 2012 Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the February 2012 Edition

(Or, Surviving A Home Renovation)

Just a simple renovation, that’s all it was! It shouldn’t be too messy or disruptive. Admittedly, we’d heard stories of traumatized people dealing with renovations; having limited timelines and an inability to communicate well in Español. But our project was pretty basic. We’ve enjoyed the convenience of having Mexican staff who have been enormously patient and helpful over the past few years as we settled in to our second home.

We are creatures of habit and have little tolerance for disruption in our nest. But we were simply replacing shower wall tiles and changing sliding aluminum shower doors for glass blocks. I actually have friends who relish renovating homes, knocking out walls and ripping up floors, so I looked forward to the results and didn’t worry about the process.
How naive can a grown woman be?

Right, so the bathrooms were located away from the centre of the house and the kitchen. We probably wouldn’t need to cover everything. At home in Canada, drywall dust and wood fibres tend to float in the air and migrate everywhere so rooms are sealed off with plastic sheets and tape. Surely here, the density of the ceramic tiles and concrete walls would confine most of the mess to those specific areas.

Besides, we didn’t have plastic sheeting and the like. So we simply made ready by removing mats, towels, and all the miscellaneous accessories that might be in the way.

The project completion time was estimated for one week. Keeping to the deadline was very important for us since we had company coming to stay the following week. On Monday morning, I opened our door to let the fresh air circulate and there sat four men waiting for us. I’m not sure why they didn’t ring the doorbell but suspect they were erring on the side of politeness rather than waking us if we were still sleeping.

The crew were equipped with crowbars, power tools and buckets. On the ground floor I could see boxes of tiles and bags of grout complete with big plastic mixing pails. There was obviously no pre-mixed product for these men. And so began the pounding, banging, hacking and scooping as they literally demolished the old tiles and grout.

As the debris accumulated, a very small withered man who must have been at least 85 years old, began his never ending task of loading up the rubble and walking up and down two flights of stairs and out to the back road with each and every bucket load.

Surely he wasn’t going to do this all day long!! But he did, for several days as long as there was something to take away. His strength certainly demonstrated that this fragile looking man had endurance and would be a fierce competitor in an arm wrestling contest.

Soon, migrating tracks of red clay dust and debris collected through the living areas and past the kitchen. I hadn’t thought about the required access path for removal and retrieval of materials nor the dust laden boots and clothing that the men were wearing. The face masks became an important clue. Then I began to notice a silt-like dust collecting on counter tops and surfaces. Off went my internal alarm system as I realized that my inexperienced assumptions were dead wrong. I didn’t mention yet that my husband is a techie ‘geek’. We live in Manzanillo complete with two laptops; a large flat screen television; 3 phones (one for local Canadian calling, a local Manzanillo line and a building intercom phone); 3 wireless handsets and chargers; headsets, modems, printers and other things that blink and beep. Suddenly I knew we had to scramble and without the needed foresight for a do-it-yourself home renovation, we had no old sheets or rolls of plastic that you could typically find in your garage. What garage?

Out came every spare bed sheet and towel we could muster. Having louvered closet doors and cupboards we needed to tape sheets over the doors and basically drape everything we could with covers. There was going to be a hell of a lot of laundry when the week was over. And of course, the next four days would be complete and utter chaos and disruption in our little condo as we could do practically nothing with everything covered and nowhere to go.

Has anyone realized what creatures of habit we become over our lifetimes? I myself am the product of an obsessive, compulsive housekeeping mother, who too late in my life (and hers) told me “dear don’t waste precious time cleaning house. Life is too short”.

Too late Mom, I was already brainwashed.

With forty years of practise I’ve managed to rehabilitate myself to a ‘neatnick’.Thankfully, I can distract myself and get lost in good books for endless hours. My techie guy, on the other hand, was going to go though some serious withdrawal as his world of electronic activity with the tools of his trade for an entire lifetime ground to a halt on a forced hiatus. I kept a close eye on him expecting facial

‘tics’ and arm spasms at any moment. With all due respect ‘we’ both became pretty grumpy as we looked for ways to occupy time and took to eating out in the evenings and going for very long walks (probably a good thing) with no television to watch. We faired quite well away from home but upon return were like a couple of snapping turtles. It was necessary to remind ourselves that this situation was temporary and would be over soon. We uncovered our bed at night and crawled in exhausted

The project was completed on time in spite of some hiccups. We didn’t have enough glass blocks to finish the second bathroom and our pattern selection was back-ordered (of course). So we chose another design for the second room and work resumed. When all was finished the dust covers came off. Now, for the folks who may be considering a renovation, and also have the quite common rough Spanish style concrete walls, you’d best think about hiring a cleaning crew. The red clay and concrete dust sticks to the uneven dimples in the walls right up to the ceilings. Thankfully our cleaning staff had seen this many times and came in with long handled mops to wipe down these surfaces and scrub down the two bathrooms. What a luxury to have the help. If you take care of your own cleaning in your home, my suggestion would be to seal off the work area with plastic curtains and/or whatever you can get your hands on.

Without being patronizing, I have to say that we were very impressed with the work ethic of these men. They were all about getting the job done. They showed up on time working steadily until after 6pm with a hard-earned lunch/siesta in the afternoon. Every day the Mexican contractor showed up to examine the work and ensure we liked what was happening. That gave us a chance to make a few alternative suggestions and we are happy with the results.

Now that some time has passed, we know that we would probably do it again. With the following exceptions:

Before the project begins we will ask the contractor to ensure appropriate draping to contain as much of the mess as possible. There will always be a mess but minimizing it would be very helpful. It might cost a bit more but will save time and effort later.

If it’s a small place like ours, try and arrange to stay somewhere else until it’s over. Many people want to be around to see what is evolving, so checking in regularly is necessary to make changes and ensure communications have been interpreted properly. Find a place nearby.

In our building, we are fortunate to have experienced and well trusted staff. This is evidenced by the fact that our Mexican neighbors have done many renovations and expansions to their condos over the years and it is always done off-season while they are away in Guadalajara. They come back when it’s all over, and no problems have been reported. You may want to consider the same option if you can.

If a planned renovation is more complex, it has been suggested that a local architect be involved to provide detailed drawings and which layout proper dimensions, wiring and plumbing. It will eliminate ‘interpretation’ and possible mistakes.

We are planning the addition of another room in our condo at some point in the future. We definitely do not want to be here while it happens. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just show up and have it all done? Wish us luck!


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