Monday, July 22, 2019

Our Builder and Why We Didn't Like Them

Once upon a time, back in the 1990’s, we built a house in Missouri. We had things go wrong and had problems with our builder. We loved the house, but the process itself, not so much.

When we started thinking about moving to Minnesota the idea of building a house again came up. We thought we had learned so much last time, we knew how to avoid the mistakes that were made.

Once we found our lot we had to find a builder. We interviewed a lot of different people. There were a couple of problems. First of all, building in Minnesota is EXPENSIVE, way more expensive than we expected. Secondly Lee wanted to do a lot of the work himself and a lot of builders didn’t want anything to do with that. 

One of the contractors we thought of using were the company that did Sarah and Erik’s master bath and bedroom reno. They had done very nice finish work, AND they had seen Lee’s work, so they were willing to work with him. But they were really expensive. 

We hemmed and hawed about using A Squared, but finally decided they would be worth it. Attention to detail, quality work. Or so we thought.

Lets just say things went wrong. Now nobody builds a house without having things go wrong, but we had A LOT of things go haywire. and it wasn’t just that we had problems. Nope, for the most part they eventually made things right, as much as they could. But  they never apologized, never admitted they had screwed up. It was always someone else’s fault, there was always a new excuse. That got pretty old after awhile.

Here is a list of the most grievous errors that were made:

  1. The slab was not square. This was just stupid. The concrete subs didn’t use metal forms, they used wood forms and the lines and angles shifted. They had to fix this.
  2. The slab insulation wasn’t done properly. Metal flashing was used to protect the rigid foam insulation that goes around the outside of the slab and holds it in place. That’s okay, but ours sticks out beyond the edge of the foundation and it should not.
  3. The trusses in the great room were modified by the truss company without checking back with A2 or the engineers.  They made them 1 foot higher than the design.  That cascaded into other modifications to the rest of the house to tie into the great room properly.  They also had errors on the trusses over the garage including some that were an incorrect slope. The framers had to scab on lumber to correct the slope. Eventually it was fixed, but what they did actually changed the look of the front of the house. We’re the only ones that will ever know, but. What’s even worse, when they discovered the mistake the builder told the framers to NOT TELL LEE. This infuriates me every time I think about it. WE ARE THE OWNERS. My husband is one smart cookie AND an engineer. He had already noticed that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t the sort of thing you could hide from him.
  4. The framers framed the entry closet and pantry wrong initially. Thank God Lee found this one before the drywall went up because if it hadn’t been corrected the credenza would not have fit.
  5. The insulation company missed spots. They were supposed to use foam insulation everywhere except for the flat part of the great room roof, but they used blown insulation in the sloped part of the great room roof as well. Their carelessness caused two problems. First, we had a massive ice dam during the winter. We had to argue with the builder about going into the attic space and finding the problem and fixing it. At first the builder actually sent Lee pictures of old houses with ice dams and told him it was a cold winter and not to worry! Uh no, that didn’t cut it. Secondly, they should have done a blower test after the insulation was in and before the drywall was put up, but they didn’t. It would have saved them a lot of grief when it came time to pass the blower test. 
  6. The drywall subs made a huge mess, of course. That’s to be expected, but they did a CRUMMY job of cleaning it up, damaged the windows as they put it up, got drywall dust into the window mechanisms. This makes me sad every time I think about it. I love our windows; they are one of my favorite parts of the house, and to see them be less than they should be is just not right. 
  7. God knows what the HVAC guys were doing, but their initial installation in the mechanical room was a huge mess. This really irked Lee. They eventually fixed it, but they kept having to punch holes in the wall to do so, again, and again, and again.

So I have some advice for any contractors or would be contractors reading this. First of all, you need to supervise the work being done in your name. That doesn’t mean showing up, telling the subs what to do and leaving for the day. That means checking their work every step of the way. If you have to leave you need to come back that day and see how things are going. You are the one that is responsible. It’s your company and your work. If a sub makes a mistake it’s on your head.

Secondly, if a mistake is made own up! It’s so much better when you admit to a mistake than if you try to hide it. Building a house is a complex business and mistakes are going to happen. Admit it, make it right, and move on.

Third, please oh please, keep your construction site clean and tidy. Pick up your trash and scraps every day. Don’t let gravel and rock and miscellaneous building materials lie scattered all over the lot. Please.

Finally, is your supervisor in charge of the building site, or not? How much responsibility does he truly have? Is he authorized to make decisions on his own, or does he need to check with you before making a decision? This needs to be clearly spelled out. While Andrew, the owner of A Squared, was on vacation, we realized we had a problem with the slope of the land next to the house on the east side. The in-ground guttering system has a 5 foot wide and 2 feet deep perimeter around the house. The land next to the house falls away steeply on the east side and the guttering system needed to be supported. Lee and the supervisor decided that a retaining wall on that side would be the best way to accomplish that. But when Andrew came back he didn’t like that decision and he would NOT let it rest. For the rest of the build he would always manage to bring it up and complain about the money that it cost him. We tried over and over to tell him that Nick, the supervisor, had given his okay, but that was never enough. 

We think A Squared misrepresented themselves. We think they haven’t built nearly as many houses as they said they had, never a house as complex as ours, and never a slab on grade house. It just was very disappointing. I don’t like bad-mouthing anyone, but in this case I feel an obligation to be honest about our experience with them. They did a great job on Sarah and Erik’s renovation, but our experience was quite different. I would not recommend them if you’re looking for someone to build you a custom home in Minneapolis.

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