Monday, February 19, 2007

Extreme Pain in the Ass, Part I

After discussing the issue with various intelligent people (including some of my readers), and researching various options thoroughly on the internet, I finally came to a decision about what to do the damaged hardwood floors I uncovered when my husband and I pulled up the dirty, worn carpet in the living room and hallway of our recently purchased home.

Carefully considering that:

1.) Rental drum sanders are heavy and difficult for a novice to operate,

2.) Being that my husband is allergic to EVERY airborne particle known to humanity, including wood dust, the main person in charge of any DIY sanding project would probably be little ol' (I swear I'm still, really) 130 (give or take) pound me,

3.) Floor finish in homes built before the 1960s, like mine, often contain toxic materials, including lead, that can be harmful to small children if inhaled in dust form,

4.) Dana from Mamalogues was going to spank me or something if I covered the hardwood with laminate,

5.) Painting a hardwood floor would just be dumb,

I decided it would be well worth the money to hire a professional to sand and refinish my hardwood floors; if the extensive animal urine stains could not be removed by sanding, I thought, I would ask the professional floor refinisher to put a dark stain on the floor that would mostly conceal them.

I didn't want to let just anyone into my home; I've heard so many stories about shady contractors that I certainly wasn't about to pick the first name I found searching for local floor refinishers on Google. Aside from the obvious worries every homeowner has about whether a hired contractor will treat the homeowner's living space with respect and provide quality work for fair prices, the fact that I have a small child in the house, and the fact that I work from home both made it especially important in my mind to find someone who would give me a realistic estimate of how long the project would take, would show up on time, and would stick to whatever schedule we worked out.

Because of my son's age, and my husband's allergy issues, it was also extremely important to me to find someone who would be meticulous about containing the dust from the sander and cleaning up properly afterward.

My husband asked his friends at work if any of them had hired a floor refinishing company in the recent past. One coworker recommended a company called Extreme Hardwoods, a small business, based St. Louis, with its office in North County, not far from my house. She said they had refinished the hardwood floor in her daughter's bedroom not long ago, and they had done an excellent job. And, apparently, she herself had been referred to Extreme Hardwoods by friends of hers who had hired them to refinish floors at their house, where they had done a great job.

So, I called the company to schedule an estimate. I gave the business owner, Jeff, the square footage and a brief description of the extent of the damage over the phone, and he told me that, assuming none of the floor boards needed replacement, we would most likely qualify for their minimum job fee, which is $500. We scheduled an estimate for later that week.

He showed up on time, and seemed knowledgeable about the wood.

But when I asked him about the possibility of using a very dark finish, expressing my worry that the stains would not come out. He insisted he'd seen much worse stains, and that he was fairly certain the majority of the stains, would sand out. He said he thought that many of the stains I thought were urine stains were merely water stains caused by frequent foot traffic from the front door and the bathroom off the hallway.

I disagreed with that assessment, explaining that when I had pulled back the carpet myself earlier in the month, the stench alone was enough to convince me that animals had been, ahem, marking that section of the floor repeatedly for a very long time.

He blew me off.

(I probably should have recognized this as a red flag. However, during my several-year career as a young blonde woman I have become quite accustomed to men who work in professions such as construction, landscaping, car repair, car sales, clothing sales, grocery sales, science, medicine, and politics responding to my concerns and opinions on anything remotely related to their chosen field of work by completely blowing them off.

If I made a regular practice of excluding hired professionals on the basis of sexism, ageism, or blonde-ism, I'd pretty much have to do everything myself.)

I repeated myself until he finally agreed that, in the event the stains did not sand out even under the force of his amazing "super-powered" sander, he would be happy to stain the floor a dark enough color that whatever remained of the stains would mostly blend right in.

I asked him about dust containment, and he assured me that they would use a high-quality dustless sander that sucked up dust as it sanded the floor, that they would hang plastic tarps across every doorway to every area of the house that was not being sanded, and that they would use a heavy-duty shop vac to thoroughly clean all of the dust off of the sanded floors.

He said he could come to do the floors the very next week if I liked, and then he left. And I thought about it over the weekend. I checked around for price estimates at a few other places. I called my stepfather, who owns a saw mill, and asked his advice. I called my sister to see whether I could scare up a place to stay for a couple of days while possibly-toxic dust swirled through my home. I considered how I might rearrange my work schedule, and whether I would be able to do some work at my sister's house.

Finally, I called Extreme Hardwoods on Monday and scheduled the floor refinishing to start on Wednesday. Jeff told me that he would send a crew out at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. I would move all of my furniture out of the way before the came, and the crew would start sanding the floors immediately. They would rough-sand a few patches in some of the worst stained areas right away to see whether the stains were coming up or not, and then they would paint three different finish swatches on the sanded spot of floor so that my husband and I could decide which finish to use. Then, we would leave. The crew would finish the sanding completely and put a coat of finish on the floor that day; then, if the finish had time to dry, they would come back in the early evening and apply one coat of polyurethane. In the morning, they would come back and apply a second coat of polyurethane. If everything went as planned, my floors would be completely finished in two days, and on the third day, after the top poly coat cured, I could move my furniture back into the room.

Jeff also said he would send someone over to my house with a contract on Tuesday, describing the work to be done, explaining liability policies, and confirming the $500 price. He said he would call me first thing in the morning on Tuesday to tell me when someone would be coming by with the paperwork.

During this scheduling call, we discussed the fact that snow was predicted in the area for Monday night and Tuesday morning. I worried that perhaps if too much ice fell, my electricity would go out, as it did in the last two major ice storms. He assured me that if the storm caused any delays on his end, he would call me as soon as possible to draw up a new schedule.

Snow came Tuesday morning, without ice, and my electricity stayed on. The roads in my neighborhood were plowed quickly. Relieved, I waited for someone from Extreme Hardwoods to call and tell me when they might be by with the contract. I imagined they would still be able to drop it by despite the storm, considering that their business address was so close to my house.

I waited for the call, and waited, and waited, until 3:00 in the afternoon, when Jeff called and said that because of the weather, no one would be able to come by with a contract on Tuesday.

In addition, he said, the weather had delayed work on another job, so the crew would no longer be able to come to my house at 8:30 as scheduled. They would now have to go back to the house they were currently working on first thing in the morning to put the final coat on the floor, and then come to my house at 10:30, but, he told me, he was certain they would still be able to finish the sanding and finishing part of the job by the end of the day; with luck, they might even still be able to apply the first polyurethane coat, as long as I did not mind them working late in my house. He would send the contract over with the crew.

I was a bit worried about not seeing the contract I was supposed to sign until the work crew was actually at my house for the job, but, I certainly understood that the weather might have caused delays. After all, my neighborhood hadn't been too badly hit by the storm, but I was sure the crew did work all over town, and they may have been working in an area where the roads were quite dangerous. I agreed to this new schedule, and rearranged the plans I'd made with my sister to meet her at her house after the crew set up. My husband arranged to work from home for the first half of day so that he could be around to look at the contract and help make a decision about the finish.

Early the next morning, we got up and moved all of our living room furniture into the dining room and our bedroom. We thoroughly swept the living room floor. Then we sat in the empty room, and waited for the crew to arrive. My husband fielded IM questions from work on his laptop. My son paced around nervously, asking whether we were moving again, but we assured him we were not. I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean the emptied shelves of my entertainment center.

At 9:30 a.m., Jeff called to say the men had been delayed by heavy traffic, and were only just now arriving at the house they had to finish up at before mine. However, he insisted they would arrive at my house by 11:30.

My husband told his supervisor he'd be later than he had expected. I tried to call my sister, but could not get in touch with her.

By 12:30, the crew was still not at my house.

I called Jeff on his business cell phone. Someone picked up the phone, and then it clicked off. I couldn't tell whether I'd just been hung up on, or the cell phone had lost the connection. Thinking that he might be driving through an area with poor reception, I decided to wait ten minutes to see whether Jeff would call me back.

He didn't.

So I called again.

This time he answered the phone, and before I could say much of anything at all, he said, "They're on your street."

"Really?" I asked. I happened at the time to be looking out of my front window. From which I can see pretty much all of my very short street. There was no one driving on the street. There were no commercial trucks or vans parked anywhere. "I can see my entire street right now," I said, "And I don't see your crew anywhere."

"Oh, well, maybe they're lost," he said.

Finally, at 1:15 p.m.-- that's one hour and forty-five minutes past 11:30, two hours and forty-five minutes past 10:30, and a full four hours and forty-five minutes past the originally scheduled time of 8:30 in the morning, a man carrying a beat-up, dusty old drum sander knocked on my door. The crew of two came in and started setting up their equipment. Slightly miffed that they were so late, but relieved they had finally shown, I asked them whether they had brought the contract Jeff had told me we needed to sign before the work began.

They had not.

I asked if someone could be sent over from the office with it.

One of the men called Jeff on his cell phone. After they talked for a while, Jeff asked to talk to me. He told me the men could go ahead and start the job without the contract. I told him I didn't want to start the job without seeing what was in the contract first. I asked if my husband could go pick up a copy of the contract, but Jeff said he had the only copy in the car with him on the road. He told me that if I let the men start working, he would come by the house as soon as he was finished with some business downtown to give us the contract.

I explained that once the men started working, we had had to leave. My husband had already spent half a day working from home and needed to go in to the office right away, and I needed to take my son to my sister's house; I couldn't have him in the house once the sanders were going full blast, because the dust would be everywhere, and anyway (given his medical condition, which I did not take the time to explain) he would be terrified by the noise. I asked if he could bring the contract by my husband's office instead. He didn't answer. Then the phone cut out. When I tried to call him back, it said the number was unavailable.

The crew and I waited for several more minutes before finally receiving a call from Jeff saying he would bring the contract to my husband's office.

It was now almost two in the afternoon. As reluctant as I was to start work without a contract in hand, we had already moved all of our furniture and made arrangements to stay at my sister's house; my husband had already spent half the day out of his office, and I had spent half the day NOT working on a major work project of my own. Not to mention the fact that I was already tired of trying to protect a wood floor missing half of its finish from a two-year-old for the past couple of weeks.

So, I let them finish setting up their equipment. I was worried about my curtains, which I had left hanging so no one would see that the house was unoccupied and under construction and decide to waltz in and take a few things, but the crew just flipped the curtains up over the curtain rod. I asked them to put down the finish swatches Jeff had described to me during the scheduling phone call.

The men looked confused. "We have to sand the entire floor before we put down any finish," they said.

"The entire reason my husband stayed home from work today was so he could read over the contract, and help pick out the finish. And now you are telling me we can't do either one of those things?"

They shook their heads. "No, ma'am, but we can't put the finish down today anyway. It's already two in the afternoon. It won't have time to dry before you come home tonight. We'll have to do it in the morning. So why don't we just put the swatches down after we finish sanding tonight, and then you can tell us in the morning which one you want?"

At this point, I was pretty much furious.

But the men who had shown up to do the work seemed nice enough. They were truly apologetic about the delays. Had it all really been a case of miscommunication between Jeff and the crew, exacerbated by the weather? I didn't know.

All I knew was that I had planned my entire week around getting this work done, and if it didn't get done that day, I might not be able to arrange for it to happen for another month.

So, I went to my sister's house. My husband went to work.

Jeff called my husband at the office and said that he couldn't bring the contract by when we'd planned because instead of coming straight up from downtown, as he'd told us he would, he had driven to O'Fallon.

He finally sent an associate by with a contract a 4:00 p.m.

When my husband called Jeff back with a question about the contract shortly after receiving it, Jeff mentioned that the crew had already finished the sanding and left our house.

Which means they were working at the house for less than two hours.

When we went by the house, I discovered that the crew hadn't even finished the edge sanding around the doorways. There was a clear demarcation between the areas of the floor that had been edge sanded, and the area of the floor that had been sanded with the drum sander, indicating that they had not done the final buffing job on the floor.

The swatches were on the floor, but none of the three colors shown there were dark enough to cover the stains. Which had not sanded out.

And there were piles of wood shavings on the floor, and there was dust EVERYWHERE. They hadn't vacuumed it all up.

And they hadn't hung plastic in the doorways.

Every piece of furniture in my dining room, and every appliance and every flat surface in my kitchen, was covered in 1/16th of an inch to 1/8th of an inch of wood and finish dust.

***Continued next post***

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