Boots On The Reno Job

Last weekend, as I mentioned in a previous post, I organized and led a home renovation for the son of a friend of mine. The son had been severely injured, including the loss of his right leg, while serving on a tour of duty for the U.S. Army. There were 30 volunteers working this job, and I am “booted” happy to report that…

…all of them were wearing sturdy work boots, even those who were not directly involved in the actual home repairs.

We began by sending the veteran, his wife, and three children away for some R&R at the beach while we got to work. I spent about 30 minutes walking the crew through the job, explaining what we needed to do: gut the bathroom and rebuild it, and also pretty much gut the kitchen, remove the island and other barriers to mobility, and bring it up to code. A few other cosmetic repairs such as installing grab bars and hand rails also were needed in hallways and stairs.

Also — whoever invented the “sunken living room” should be shot. Navigating steps even for people with full function of their legs always presents a tripping hazard. This house’s “sunken” living room needed to be leveled out because that one step down from the hallway into the living room essentially made that room a choice not to be used. What a waste of space! It was our job to level out the floor by building up the living room to the same level as the rest of the house’s floors (hallway, dining room, kitchen on that floor.)

In about four hours, assigned teams had demolished and removed debris from the main bath and kitchen. Old appliances were carted away by a company that fixes them and puts them to use in homes built or renovated by Habitat for Humanity. We also donated old kitchen cabinets, the island, the sinks, and the bathtub as well. (For obvious reasons, they won’t take used toilets … bleccchhh.)

Throughout the day, I was surrounded by work booted men (and women) carrying out a carefully orchestrated renovation job.

Having done these intense home renovation jobs before, I know from experience that keeping volunteers from tripping over one another is most important. Everyone wants to help, but not everyone can help all at the same time and in the same places. I assigned “teams of need” for projects that I broke down into half-hour segments. While one team of four was demolishing the bath, another team of four was removing debris and hauling it to a dumpster. Repeat the same for the kitchen. Another team of four emptied the living room, tore out the carpet, and began carpentry work to build the floor up to level it.

Teams of two were removing old handrails while another team of two was installing a replacement. As yet another team of three were assigned to replacing smoke alarms and safety equipment as needed elsewhere in the house.

Finally, those not working at a certain period prepared tools, equipment, and readied supplies that would be needed for next half-hour segments. And then there was Jenny — she made sure that everyone kept hydrated and well-fed. Man, she was good. No one went hungry or thirsty during the entire event — all 40 hours of it!

The “orchestration of assignments and teams” got work done in half the time with deliberate speed, kept everyone busy and out of each other’s way.

My assigned “work station” was a clipboard where assignments, supplies lists, volunteer names & skills, etc., were cataloged. Throughout the day, I would move throughout the house and exterior, discussing what needed to be done, resolved on-the-spot problems, assign people to tasks (including trades like electrical, plumbing, carpentry, painting, etc.) and otherwise generally supervised the day’s work.

I saved myself from damaging my back by assigning others to lift heavy objects, reach into tight areas, or bend up and down a lot. Those kinds of activities always do a number on my lower back and I was not going to have a “sciatic event” if I could avoid it. (Things you have to be mindful of when you get older!)

We worked late into the night. Those volunteers remained highly energized and enthused (probably thanks to Jenny serving lots and lots of coffee!)

I stopped everyone from doing a marathon all-nighter — for their health as well as my own. We knocked off about 2300 and I went with the veteran’s father to his house to sleep for the night. We got started again on Sunday morning by 0600 once more.

Work continued all day Sunday. Bath had been entirely remodeled:Living room floor was now level with the rest of the house and recarpeted. Kitchen was also well toward completion when I had to leave at 1800. It was a two-hour drive back home, and I do not really like to drive in the dark, especially when I am tired. (No, I did not ride my Harley to this location; I drove my truck so I could carry lots of stuff and tools that I needed for the job.)

What boots did I wear? comfy Chippewa loggers. I can wear these boots all day and always be comfortable.

My friend — the vet’s father — will see to completion of the kitchen. When I left, the remaining work was installation of the dishwasher, garbage disposal, and some tiling of a backsplash. Not much.

I am pleased that everything came together very well. I spoke with my friend’s son on the phone last night, and he was ecstatic. I could hear his wife and children shouting their thanks and inviting me back next weekend for a “reno warming” party. If I can break free, then yeah — I will ride the Harley to that party. It will be fun!

Life is short: contribute your skills and organization talents to jobs that need to be done.