Tuesday, June 28, 2011
When we bought our house three years ago, while still living in Boston, we pushed ahead quickly to get work done and in our hurry we cut corners and took advice from contractors without doing our own research all the time. We got recommendations on contractors, but rarely got multiple quotes for projects. We also generally left contractors to work on their own, assuming this was their business and they knew more than we did. Nine times out of ten, we received good recommendations and good advice, and have managed to skate through relatively unscathed. We ended up with a really great and efficient HVAC unit, and blowing in extra insulation into our attic has saved us a ton of money in heating bills, for example. However, we cut some corners on repairing our foundation, and it has just come time to pay the piper.
Luckily, the foundation work we did was really an inexpensive stop gap measure and relatively easily fixed. We had taken the advice of a contractor to put up a couple of cross joists in our crawlspace supported by a few metal screw jacks to help support our floor. Recently though, after a New Year's Eve Dance Party, we noticed our living room floor was beginning to feel more like a trampoline than a floor. When I went into the crawlspace to check it out I noticed our insulation was beginning to fall down, and a couple screw jacks had begun to slip and slide under the weight, especially since we hadn't poured new concrete footers for the screw jacks to sit on.
We called Sara Lachenman at Four Over One Design to ask for subcontractor recommendations (Sara does great design work, and is well versed in historic preservation work). We were determined to get multiple quotes, and to put the contractors through their paces. We wanted to ensure the contractors were good communicators, prompt, and dependable. We called both of Sarah's recommendations, one of which was Rob Damman.
Robb returned our first phone call the same day, and scheduled a site visit and quote for the following week. Robb was the first contractor to come give a quote, and after assessing our foundation and our concerns (Jessie and I didn't want a dance party to end in our crawlspace) he laid out a thorough response to the problem. He even emailed me a detailed quote for labor and materials by the end of the day. Robb was clear I should email him if I had any questions.
The second contractor came out the next day and he also assessed the problem and asked questions, and he suggested a much simpler approach. Now this second contractor is very good, and well respected, so I was a bit taken aback at the disparity in their suggestions. I asked him why he wouldn't do x,y, and z which Robb had suggested, and he responded that it wasn't necessary and probably overkill. I thanked the second contractor and let him know Jessie and I would make a decision in a week. He also sent me his quote by the end of the day. (Big thanks again to Sara, these are both great recommendations). His quote was much less work, and therefore much less money.
Since I knew I was out of my depth on deciding between these two projects, I called a general contractor friend, Miles Honeycutt who was just finishing up our friends' home, the Petty Home, for his advice. I proceeded to completely misrepresent the work Robb had planned to do and Miles thought there was a number of problems with it. I decided to call Robb though, and ask him to respond to Mile's criticisms, as well as why the second contractor's plan was so different from his. Robb's response is the reason we picked him, and why we're so vocally recommending him.
Robb very gently let me know I had misunderstood his plans, and was able to re-explain the work in different language without coming across as condescending. He was also completely unoffended I had questioned his plan, and when I asked if he thought his plan was overkill, he told me the second contractor's plan was perfectly adequate, "but when I heard 'dance party, I figured you wanted something more." He also never criticized anyone else's ideas and made sure I knew I could call again with more questions if I had them. We called Robb the next day to let him know he had the job.
For the next week Robb showed up every morning when he said he would, he answered any questions we had and made sure we understood everything he was doing without giving us too much information. He kept the job site incredibly clean, and his work is meticulous. He also did two things which in my opinion went over and beyond my expectations for a contractor. First, he recommended some excellent preventative measures (vapor barrier, and new insulation) which in retrospect our first contractor should have installed. Second, he recommended one change to the work plan which went above housing code requirements, and he managed to keep the additional materials cost very low, and managed to get the extra work done without charging more for labor. Robb went above and beyond the work in our agreement just because that's the kind of guy he is.
During the course of our work with Robb, we also found out our next door neighbor had used Robb to install some windows and she couldn't speak highly enough about his attention his craftsmanship, as well as his ability to communicate. And it turns out he is an actual artist too, both of his blogs are below. You can look forward to seeing a couple more posts about Robb here as we plan to hire him and his carpentry skill for two more projects which will hopefully include custom made desks, and re-used lath board for a dining room table.
We hope you hire Robb for your next project!
919 621 5481
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Since I've known Jessie, she and I have been searching for her perfect bicycle. Her bicycle would the ideal marriage of style and utility, but unfortunately the beauty was always more important than the utility to Jessie.
Way back in 2006, Jessie had a beautiful old green Raleigh 3-speed cruiser. The size was right, the brakes worked (mostly) and the three speed hub worked like it was supposed to. Jessie loved this bike so much that she used it as a prop for elaborate photo shoots to hone her craft. This beautiful bike was not long for the mean streets of Boston though, and the cable lock was the only thing left in front of her apartment one morning.
After the green Raleigh, Jessie had a succession of old Schwinn, Raleigh, and Columbia cruisers. The first replacement was a blue Schwinn cruiser. This bike had a three speed hub, but only one speed worked reliably. I replaced the brake pads and cables, but rebuilding a three speed hub was outside of my skillset. This bike ended up sitting in Central Square (Cambridge) until we decided to move down to Durham and had to sell it.
The next bike Jessie bought was a bright red Columbia three speed cruiser with a great basket. This bike suffered from another broken hub, and wheels so warped that the brakes were ineffectual and the wheels made an ungodly noise when they rubbed up against the fenders. This bike sat locked together with the blue Schwinn.
Jessie was determined to have a bike in Cambridge, though, and so bought a third bike she had managed to find for cheap on Craigslist. This was a maroon ten-speed with wheels in pretty good condition, a basket, and fenders! It wasn't nearly as beautiful as Jessie's old Raleigh, but after a few hours of replacing brakes, cables, and tuning the gears it was a passable bike for local errands, and it was built like a tank. One morning we woke to find some hooligans had knocked over all the bikes on the street the previous night, and Jessie's bike had sustained a pretty vicious attack to push it to the ground. But in spite of the dings and bruises, everything was in working order. This Schwinn was the only bike of Jessie's to make the journey south with us.
Once we got to Durham, though, the bike sat unused. It was heavy and not designed for climbing Durham's hills. This bike was soon sold to a neighbor, only to be replaced by beautiful matching his-and-hers Columbia 3 speed cruisers. Jessie had grand visions of the two of us cycling to the farmer's market and around town with all of Durham whispering about what a stylish couple we were. These bikes were beautiful, but again only two speeds worked on each hub and it made the hills more difficult than they had to be.
About two years ago, Jessie decided she was finally willing to spend the money on a new bicycle, and with a little encouragement from me she started down the rabbit hole of bike blogs. She looked at Globe Cycles, and Treks, Electras, Publics, and Linuses. I pushed for Linus cycles because the reviews I read said they were the best value and I thought they got the design just right. Jessie was partial to Public cycles, though. Public also gets the design mostly right, but they charge a pretty significant premium for the design.
The past two months reached a climax of discussions and turmoil about color, fenders, 3 speed vs. 8 speed, style vs. utility, etc. etc. The decision finally came down to two basic styles of Linus bikes but the only stores to sell Linus were in Richmond, so naturally Jessie got to be on a first name basis with Chip from Pibby's Cycles. Chip is awesome. He took a ton of time answering all of Jessie's questions, including difficult technical questions about swapping out hubs and gear ratios for hill climbing, and important questions about just how beautiful the sky blue Linus Mixte is. For the record, "it's the most beautiful color I've ever seen," according to Chip.
Naturally, however, Jessie could only make these decisions in person, so this past Friday we headed up to Richmond to check out the Dutchi, and the Mixte.
The black Dutchi was at Carytown Bikes in Richmond, and is the type of simple and beautiful bike we saw all over Copenhagen this past summer, but the bike's relaxed geometry make it ideal for flatter terrain. After a week of reading the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, Jessie wanted this bike but I pushed to go see the blue Mixte at Pibby's.
As soon as we walked in the door Jessie let out a sound similar to a squeal of delight after seeing the powder blue mixte in the afternoon light. Chip was in the shop, and was just as friendly in person as he was on the phone. Chip adjusted the bike for Jessie's test ride, and advised her on a hilly route that she could put the three speed hub to the test. While Jessie was riding, Chip and I geeked out about ways to swap out chain rings to give Jessie an easier time on the hills, but before we were done talking Jessie was back from her ride and had no problems with the hills. She's much fitter than she gives herself credit for.
We chatted with Chip a bit longer, but Jessie still wasn't sure what she wanted so we went across the street for a cup of iced coffee and a chance to look at the photos of the bikes and to chat about the pros and cons. And just like how we came to the decision to move in together, after 5 minutes of discussion, we had decided the mixte was more practical for the hills and it was also the bike that really grabbed Jessie. We finally found the ideal marriage of beauty and utility!
I'm looking forward to Saturday morning bike rides to the farmer's market, and other adventures we're sure to have with each other and other two-wheeled friends (I'm looking at you, Craig & Nellie).
Save for our bathrooms, kitchen, and some finished carpentry work, our house is basically finished. Our bathroom and kitchen are serviceable until such a time we can afford to do the level of work we want. In the mean time though, we hope to use this blog to occasionally document our lives and adventures in Durty Durham. We hope to help keep Durham Disreputable.*
We hope you enjoy what follows.
*Apparently Jim Kellough can be credited with creating the "keep Durham Disreputable" tag and bumper stickers.