Remodel with no GC

KimSigMay 5, 2013

How many of you have done your kitchen remodel without a GC? We were going to use one but to get everything done we want to that was a cost that had to go. We are gutting the kitchen, but keeping the basic footprint. New cabinets, hardwood floors, going from a old Jen air in the island to a induction cooktop and double wall ovens. The only changes are the wall ovens needing electrical outlets in the new location and running the waterline to the fridge for the ice maker. Just looking for tips from those that have run the remodel them self. We will be hiring for the floors, cabinets, etc but plan on doing the demo, cleanup and painting to save money.

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We did the whole house from a bare lot, so it can be an excellent way to save money.
Yo need to know everything about each part of job as if you had to do the work yourself. The more you know the greater your success rate and smaller number and severity of problems.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 10:14PM
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Yes it totally doable if you have some building experience.
And totally doable if you don't and have the ability to learn. Don't underestimate that learn thing.
We are currently building our house ourselves on our farm. Fourth build with no GC. It helps to know some good subs and also to know when the subs aren't so good ;0

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 10:29PM
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I agree it is doable and will save money. I think you should plan on it taking a long time, though. You need to coordinate the efforts of the subs as well as whatever you decide to DIY. You may be low on the priority list for the subs, since you won't be hiring them in the future.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 10:42PM
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Yes, it's doable, but it will take FAR longer than with a GC and you need to be up on current building codes in order to pass inspection. You can usually purchase the codes from your municipality, but you may need an interpreter if you don't have construction experience as it's the GC's responsibility to make sure that all work in the home satisfies the inspector.

When you are the GC, the buck stops with you to solve the problems. Especially when it's a order of work or scheduling problem.

What happens when your new floor makes your floor to ceiling measurement off from which you based your cabinet plan on? Now your wall oven or tall pantry cabinet won't fit the lower ceiling height without some sort of kludge. What kludge do you propose to make that work?

How will one alteration to the space affect all the other projects that come after? You've got to see and understand the big picture. How making one mistake dominoes into a lot more adjustments than just correcting one thing.

Unless your home isn't that old, you're also under estimating the trades work required for a kitchen redo. Do you have the two GFI 20 amp small appliance circuits? What about a dedicated electrical line for the MW? The refrigerator? Adding a hot water dispenser? It needs a dedicated line too. Most kitchen have inadequate lighting and that will need to be addressed as well. Recessed lights, under cabinet lights, pendant lights, other accent lighting...all needs to be addressed.

Are you putting in a deeper sink than was there? Many times, you'll need to open the wall and relocate the waste arm lower so it will drain properly. You'll for sure want to replace the old shutoff valves with new ones, preferably ball valves. Old ones tend to leak when not exercised regularly and then used.

If the walls are open, then it only makes sense to make sure your insulation meets current building code requirements. The inspector will probably want to see that too. Do you know what will satisfy that requirement in your zone?

The key to success with self GCing is a LOT of research. Not weeks of research. Months. And months. Years in some cases.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 11:19PM
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I'm acting as my own GC. I hired a cabinet maker to build my new cabinets that I designed; we will tear out the old cabinets and vinyl flooring ourselves.

I have a bids for the electrical work, and flooring; I have a plumber friend who will install the sink/disposal, and a contractor friend who will patch drywall where electrical outlets were moved, and cut and frame around the stud in the way of my range hood exhaust. I will paint the ceiling and walls before the cabinets go in.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 11:37PM
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I did a "hybrid" several years ago in TX. My "contractor" did the construction/drywall, cabinet install, and hired & coordinated the subs for the electrical and plumbing. I handled/hired and bought the counters, BS, flooring, appliances, cabinets,trim, painting, details, etc. including buying sinks, faucets, lights. It worked out well, and I had no experience other than what I learned here on GW!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 7:58AM
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There has been a lot of threads on this subject in the past and many success stories on this forum.

We acted as our own GC after no one would give us a quote after seeing the extent of the project - we moved our kitchen in our 100yo house. I think the fact that it was more of a hallway with three doorways, had three different ceiling heights and a suspicious floor hump made everyone pass on the project.

You need to do research on any remodel, whether you hire it out or not so don't let that deter you.

The biggest piece of advice is to make sure you are on site everyday. At all times if possible. If you can't be there all the time you must be on call and able to get to your house in a reasonably short period of time. If you can't be there everyday to work with your subs I would advise against acting as your own GC.

My project took 12 weeks start to finish. That included some non-kitchen work that we had done when everything was opened up and we also had a significant delay because we had to re-source our windows because the original vendor no longer made a window that would match the originals in the house.

We also used a CKD which really helped. She was very detail oriented so we had no surprises in the project.

We are thrilled with our kitchen and I doubt a GC could have made it "better". In fact, after hearing so many GC horror stories I'm glad we ended up doing it ourselves.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:55AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

There are threads here with horror stories where no GC was involved. One sub blames the other, and you are the one that takes the hit when things go wrong.

We have a GC that we have used before, and he is doing a complete home renovation for us. He re-purposed the upper cabinets and pantry in the garage and promised to save the base oak cabinets for me to use under a deck for my potting shed. They were unable to save them because they didn't have backs, so they tossed them in the dumpster. OAK!! They tossed oak!! I was mad! How did he appease me?

He got stuck with brand new plywood cabinets from another customer that didn't like the color. The customer got new cabinets in a better color and HE got stuck. So now I get these brand new cabinets that he has no room for, free!!

I said that to say this. A good GC is like an insurance policy.

We are retired and no way would we have the energy or strength to DIY. You got great advice here, and if you take it, your kitchen should turn out great!!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:19AM
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Not knowing how complicated it would be, I acted as GC on kitchen/bath remodel as well as replacement of flooring up and down stairs. It also included rebuilding the stairs in maple.
Not only did I save money, but it was satisfying. You MUST be on site every day and write specific contracts with all subs. I did a project timeline so that the staging worked and any sub causing delay was penalized. Only one problem was the tile guy converting a tub to large shower insisted on his own plumber. After two jerky plumbers, I brought in my own plumber to finish the shower installation.
I used Ikea cabinets which a handyman put together. Same handyman did all window replacements (he had been trained previously by Anderson).
For me the key was getting bids from subs who could commit to my project timeline and having the subs pass the likeability test.
I took photos every day of everything and learned much. So much that this 63 y/o would love to do some flips in retirement.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:15AM
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Thanks everyone, each response contains info that is helpful. We are not total novices, we built this home 26 years ago by hiring a company that allowed us to be our own GC. The company gave us a schedule of what happens at all stages, when to have each stage of work done, when to order items, inspections etc. Ir was their construction experience that allowed us to have a bank finance the house. They also were on site for inspections in case there was a problem, but we did hire out all aspects ourself. In hindsight I realize the whole build could have gone horribly bad, we were very young 22 and 27, but it went well and allowed us to build our house within the budget we could afford! That being said this should be simple, no sink movement, no walls changing, but with all the knowledge on this board there are ideas and thoughts that help us tremendously! Our appliences are purchased and yesterday we stripped off the 26 year old country motif wallpaper! The kitchen was "cool" many years ago lol, honey oak baby blue laminate counters and blue flooring, but I won't miss them a bit!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:25AM
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Well Kim there you go. You're not totally lacking in experience. As long as you do your research and get good recommendations for subs from people you know and have seen the work, and try to stay organized, and not end up thinking your partner in the project has three heads...
Well you'll have the GW as a safety net ;)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 12:37PM
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Okay, now I realize that you are committed to doing this, and are looking for tips. My advice would be to be refrain from too severely limiting the scope of work that you direct a sub to perform. For example, I would not just tell the electrician to move the outlet for the cooktop and ovens, but rather tell him or her that you are remodeling the kitchen, what does he or she recommend? You wish to be code-compliant, I will assume, and he or she will know what needs to be done to accomplish that.

I would also recommend speaking to the inspector for your municipality before pulling the needed permits. Try to make this person an ally and a resource, rather than casting him or her as an ogre that will try to thwart your plans. You will get a better kitchen that way, and the process will be more pleasant, to boot!

And I still recommend scheduling plenty of slop time between subs for the unexpected.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 1:45PM
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Legallin, I am interested in doing exactly what you did. We're DIYers, but need a professional to make sure the house doesn't fall down when we remove walls! Are you near Austin, by any chance? If so, I would love to know who your contractor was. My email is rmiriam @ gmail. Thanks!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 1:48PM
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That's exactly what we did: no GC, teardown to studs and used same footprint, went to an induction cooktop and double wall ovens. Took 22 days until we had a usable kitchen. I'll post pictures when the DR is done!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 2:24PM
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What GCs do is to organize different specialists to work together in a coordinated way. They also "somewhat" guarantee the quality of the work since the GC has to stand behind the sub's work. GCs also make decisions on the fly; ie move the plumbing stack from here to there, this 2x4 is in the way, move the electrical box there etc. You have to be available at all times to make quick decisions. The less you do in terms of infrastructure, the less need for decision making. (ie changing cabinets without layout change, no new electrical plumbing and replacing the appliances in newer house should require very little decision making...)

My husband was the GC and he is retired. so it worked out for us. When he worked full time, there was no way we could have done that. We both have jobs that demand our attention.

If there is no real structural work that has to be done, then the the logistics is not that difficult.

We did a very large kitchen remodel without a GC.
We had done several other house remodels AND my husband has experience doing some electrical, gas, plumbing, carpentry. Even so, he did not do ANY work. We hired everything out.

If you have a list of good subs: ie electrical, plumbing, gas etc, then it is easy to be your own GC. If you don't know who to call, you are just walking through the yellow pages (or the google these days)

Because we did multiple expensive/extensive remodels over the years, we collected GOOD subcontractors names and numbers. We also have a list of names that we would never call back. When you are hiring a GC, you are trusting the GC to use good people.

If you have at least one good source, they can refer you to other trades people that they trust and work well with. (ie ask your trusted plumber for a good electrician.) They have to work before and after each other and they want to work with other good people. They don't want to fix other people's mistakes or get delayed by others incompetence.

In our neighborhood, we have a yahoo list-serve where people ask for and get recommendations for subs. These referrals can be a extremely helpful source for your subs.

Do you have a way of getting competent able honest subs?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 5:08PM
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We DIY'd most of our kitchen, but we needed some specialists. This is the part that gets tricky.

We've used the local plumbing store in the past to come address various plumbing issues, and that is what we did for this project. Every plumber that the store has sent us has been way more than competent. Their plumbers don't belong only to the store, but they take jobs for the store. They've been very helpful on solutions to the situation at hand, do excellent work, and charge a fair price. This project needed one guy to come out for the sink/DW, etc. and another at a different time to take care of bringing gas to the new fireplace and moving the gas for the stove 6". In case anyone else lives around here, I highly recommend Hanna Plumbing in Vista, CA. We don't usually buy our plumbing there, but we love their people.

Electrician: The electrician who did a bunch of work for us is the employee of my DH's employer. DH had seen his work and work ethic over many years. The electrician did our work in his off time and should have charged us more. On the other hand, DH did all the crawling around in the not-quite-an-attic space, so that was worth something. Again, more than pleased with the work. My job was to pass screws, go to Lowe's for missing parts, and patch endless amounts of dry wall.

Flooring: Again, we went with the guy sent out by the flooring store. The store itself came highly recommended and their installer was a perfectionist. I'm sure we could have found someone to do the job for less, but quality was our first criteria. Bamboo costs an arm and a leg - there's no point in having it wrecked by someone figuring it out on my job. Again, a recommendation - Regal Flooring in Carlsbad, CA. If you want the name of the installer, I'd be happy to share.

Being your own GC will cause the job to take more time. If it's not a big deal for you, go for it. We did our kitchen in late summer/early fall, so we just moved our kitchen out to the back patio under an EZ-Up. It was good, although I was happy to get the 'fridge out of the LR eventually.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 5:48PM
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I'm not worried about our subs. This is a fairly small town, so word of mouth and reputation mean a lot. Our cabinet maker has been in business for 25 years, and I've never heard a bad thing about him. I've talked to 2 people who recently had him do work for them, and had very positive reports.

The cabinet maker recommended an electrician (though we could have gone with anyone we wanted). I checked him out too, and got good reports from two people I trust who said he did an excellent job. Just like Angie DIY suggested, I told the electrician what I wanted to do, gave him a copy of the plans, and he told me what he HAD to do in terms of giving me a code-compliant upgrade.

Our drywall guy is a friend from church - he has done small projects for us over the years, and he does excellent work.

The only person I haven't talked to is the plumber - he's a friend of DH's. Our sink isn't moving, but I'm afraid the drain pipes will have to be changed with our new, deeper sink.

Oh, flooring - I have a friend who sells windows, and sees a lot of remodels. He gave me his 2 recommendations for best flooring installers in town (both locally owned, private businesses).

I feel pretty confident about the people who will be working in my home.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 6:19PM
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