Well, we kind of "backed into" a project and, last week, I was wondering how we got there. Let's debrief together.
Our chimney and cheek walls were a mess. Someone had "tuckpointed" them with pure cement...no lime. We needed a liner for the boiler flue and cap for the chimney to prevent the brick from spalling (we were already seeing efflorescence).
Then we discovered the interior section of the chimney behind the knee wall was in dangerous shape. Lots of missing mortar meant possible carbon monoxide being leaked into that space. Oh yes, and the flue for the chimney which was going to be tough because the concrete cap on top of the WHOLE thing only has one opening.
And chippy blue paint needed to be removed from the brick and concrete steps.
We talked to two contractors who told us that our only hope was to completely rebuild the chimney above the roofline, rebuild the cheek and sidewalls, powerwash the steps and repair the chimney below the roofline. The bricks on the house would be either a) mis-matched (they don't make that size anymore), or b) very expensive to find and buy that quantity of matching vintage brick.
It was too much. We couldn't afford it.
We did find a recommendation through a local home improvement network for another contractor. We called, he visited and even demonstrated how he could carefully grind out the old material and put new mortar in. We could save the old bricks, replace the mortar and spend less money.
This is where my management skills fell apart.
Because of many distractions, I broke my #1 and #2 rules:
1) Get references and see previous work if you can.
2) Get the proposal in writing.
The work was difficult to schedule because it was weather dependent. It was just one craftsperson and his helper. They showed up one morning and started removing the concrete mortar (as best they could without hurting the face of the brick).
Up until that point we only had a verbal agreement on price and the scope of work. Plus Aaron and I had spoken with him separately. My understanding was that the price would cover the grinding out of the porch walls (cheek, columns and side), the chimney above the roofline, the removal of the concrete cap so we could put a two flue cap back on, and the repair of some mortar problems on the chimney below the roofline. We talked about getting a price on liners later.
He showed up to do the grinding, I didn't have a proposal, but he had started work and was a very enthusiastic, dependable sort. He was there when he said he would be. He took great pains to keep the site clean and neat. I went out to talk with him on a break...he went to write up the proposal but there were a lot of distractions that day and his hands were dirty. I reassured him that giving me the proposal before he left was fine.
Unfortunately, our beautiful weather turned to rain and they needed to quickly secure their work from the elements. By the time they were ready to call it a day, they had been there for almost 10 hours. He reached for his clipboard but hesitated. I sensed his fatigue and told him to bring me the proposal copy Monday.
Monday, he was prompt, this time with two helpers to make the work go a bit faster. They were grinding and blasting the paint on the front porch so I couldn't leave the house through the front door. I'd injured my back and hd another person for a different project coming through. Then they set up shop on the second floor and fixed the chimney from the inside. By the time I could get outside via the back door to the front, they'd already mortared the chimney and left for the day. But I never got to choose the mortar and the chimney cap was still there! And no proposal. And they only had one more day.
The next day, the back pain was even worse (was this possible?) and I was exhausted from lack of sleep (pain), not thinking straight, worried about work and a class I was looking forward to teaching. They'd started before I was up and had blown through mortaring the front walls and cleaning up the steps....finished and needed to move on to their next project.
The proposal, now more of a description of what was done, was exactly the agreed upon price. Now it appeared that there was a misunderstanding about what was covered in the original quote which was entirely likely.
I was a bad client. I should have insisted on a detailed proposal in writing before work even began. Luckily, their mortar match was pretty good...I would have liked a little more input there and perhaps have known more about the ratio of Portland Cement to Lime to Sand. But a language barrier made technical questions difficult.
At this point, we got lucky and the work is quite good. It only presents a problem where that blasted concrete chimney cap comes in. I don't think we can chip a hole in this current one. And removing it means removing a few rows of bricks with it. Bricks that have just been freshly mortared. In fact, I was never entirely certain that it could be removed without a complete rebuild above the chimney line...that was our hope. But we never had a written proposal to guarantee it.
So...no fireplace chimney flue for now. Still need a liner for the chimney and a raincap.
But the mortar has been repaired.
I wish I would have known about THIS site and Colorbuilder program before work began so that I could have seen my color choices for mortar. I think I would have considered choosing something different but then that would have required more grinding out and tuckpointing and....
Sigh. Oh nevermind. Learn from this. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Luckily, this was a very honest contractor and the only surprises for me were my own fault (through poor communication). It could have been much, much worse with someone who wasn't so trustworthy.