The Devil is in the Details

After re-learning one too many "lessons learned," we almost always break out modern laser levelers and 6' Kobalt (Lowe's brand) or Stanley levels to test plumb, level and squareness of our surrounding structure. If an irregularity isn't caught early enough in the course of construction, it will haunt you throughout the project. Below are some easy tips to use during the typical residential remodel project:

Be aware of existing structural conditions and discuss these matters with your remodeler. We have developed checklists for identifying scope of work, pricing, and scheduling that helps to clarify everyone's expectations. Early planning for jacking, shoring, demo and framing needs should be clearly discussed.

***Not every house has to be, or will be, perfectly square, level, and plumb. Good carpenters can work around subtle deviations and can point out their strategy for blending in new items to existing structure. This dialogue is a healthy way to maintain an open channel of communication between the owner and the tradesmen.

The carpenter should frequently inspect for correct framing practices by breaking out the laser leveler or calibrated (even levels become out of level) levels and framing square to verify accuracy. Two types of framing squares are typically seen on a job. The are the speed square and the 24" rafter square. The speed square easily fits into the carpenter's pouch and can be used for rapid cutting, determining pitch and angles, and for "squaring up" walls and inside corners. The larger rafter square provides better accuracy in squaring up walls and even leveling floors. Carpenters use the larger square when laying out rafters and stair treads.

This is the last chance that you will have to correct a mistake without having to tear out a lot of material down the road. Carpenters will get in a hurry sometimes and an 1/8" of an inch here and there will show up when cabinets, windows and doors, and trim are installed. The goal is to remain within a small caulk bead of tolerance throughout the remodel. Masters in the trade can cut and frame to within such tight fits that they will proudly claim that there work doesn't require caulk. That is skill!

In older homes, most carpenters will find the highest point in a floor system and raise the low spots to that height. This should also be discussed with the carpenters early in the process to prevent premature subfloor installation on un-level floor joists. The way that this haunts the remodeler/owner is that once the subfloor is installed the tile setter or hardwood floor installer has to correct for the un-level floor. Tile, for instance, only needs an approximate 1/8-3/16" thick mortar bed for optimal adhesion. More is not better when a tile setter is making up for a 1/2-3/4" deviation across a bath floor. These thick cover ups do not hold up well as the new work settles in and resultant cracks typically show up some time after the project.

As a final quality control effort, we like to work with our painters during the paint prep phase by inspecting for any trim or finished surface that exceeds the thin caulk bead tolerance. Again, just as carpenters get fatigued and overlook subtle errors, some painters will overlook an excessive crack of uneven casing that will expand or contract through seasonal changes, leaving cracks in the finished surfaces.

Some useful products, or installation manuals that we use are the following:
A remodeling library

A popular industry magazine with a searchable database
All of the lasers and levels needed for remodeling.