Lessons learned

After solving the problem of the septic tank placement we were then confronted by the issue of how we were going to get all of this dirt moved.

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When the excavator had originally come out, I had wanted them to bring a truck and haul the dirt to create a berm along our driveway. However, the same septic contractor had told the PM that he didn’t need to worry about it. When they came out to do our septic tank and dispersion field, they would also backfill and haul – “No big deal.” This seemed strange to me (and as I write this I can’t believe how many warning signs I missed along the way). Why would you want to move dirt twice?? But I didn’t question it at the time. Of course no prices were discussed. Stupid.

Lesson 1: Don’t ever agree to something without talking prices

Once he actually saw the pile of dirt, he clearly had no idea about the volume that we had been talking about. And so within a couple days, we received an “estimate” of $7500! Wow, they just throw around thousand dollar price tags like it’s chump change. This price just seemed completely outrageous to me. They had dug the basement for $2500, surely it should not cost that much to move the dirt a couple hundred feet. Again, my blood boiled. I was really coming to my wits end with this septic contractor. But we were in deep with him: septic tank, septic mound, well hook up, water treatment, excavation/backfill, and electrical (they have an electrician on staff as well). We went with them in order to keep everything in house. It is not easy to get trades who are willing to drive 30 minutes from the big city to work. And we also thought that keeping all of these contracts with one company would improve efficiency. But at this point, I was feeling like we were totally getting taken advantage of.

Lesson 2: trust your instincts

Although we had avoided the massive cost of the deep burial septic tank, we were now facing a $7500 bill for dirt removal (plus he had added another $3000 to the septic system for crushed rock and topsoil) and he had a +/- 10% on his bills, which did not feel very comforting given how things were going. Murray, our new Project Manager, requested a meeting of all of the trades in order to try and sort out pricing, improve coordination and communication, and to get everyone on the same page and working to the same goal: a house delivered as designed, on time and and on budget (no simple task). As the meeting developed, we quickly recognized that the septic contractor did not at all share this goal. He blatantly stated that he “would not help with the budget.” He also demanded payment of his bills within two days (we are talking about $50,000 here)! And beyond this, he was rude, belligerent, and domineering in the meeting. Speaking over our project manager and telling him that he could “learn a thing or two by spending a day with him” and that he had “5 minutes” to finish his meeting (when the meeting had just begun). It was really an amazing thing to behold. I can’t say that I have ever encountered as big an asshole as this guy. In my head, as this was all unfolding and I was getting madder and madder, I wanted to stand up and tell him he was fired. To get out. But at the same time, I thought, then what? We have to find new contractors for all of these jobs! That could delay the project by weeks! Maybe they will be the same price in the end? But I did say something, not exactly what I really wanted to say, but it was close. I essentially explained that the lack of communication to date (with him of course) had caused prices to rise and now had put us over budget. We needed communication and coordination and everyone was expected to be involved. To my surprise, he shut up, for the most part.

The meeting went on. All of the other trades were excellent. Very knowledgeable and had a wealth of great information, thoughts, and discussions. I only wished that we had done this process right off of the bat, before we started any work.

Lesson 3: Have a coordination meeting before you start your building

As we left the meeting, I was happy about the other trades but still fuming about the septic guy. I said to the PM, “I want him off of the job.” We have to get rid of him. I do not want to pay him a single cent.

Lesson 4: Being an asshole can cost you $50,000

3 thoughts on “Lessons learned

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