If you (try to) build it, they might come

By Marla Boone

Contributing columnist

Like many other stupid people, I thought now would be a good time to start a construction project. This is, of course, a trick statement. There is no good time to start a construction project. And now is a particularly awful time to do so. Because of COVID, there is not only a shortage of masks and gloves, there is also a shortage of trees and trucks and screws. Compounding those shortages are the wherewithal to, in order, cut them down, bring them someplace a carpenter can get his hands on them, and fasten them together (the wood, not the hands). As though this isn’t bad enough, there is also apparently a shortage of concrete, concrete pourers, and garage doors. If you are thinking of beginning any sort of construction short of assembling a doll house out of popsicle sticks, go lie down until the urge passes. You’ll thank me for it later.

Unfortunately, when the impulse to enlarge my outbuilding struck, there was no public service announcement like you see above warning me off. I’m not sure it would have done any good but when a person is in the throes of construction hell (abbreviated CH from here on out), it’s nice to have something or someone to blame in hindsight.

My particular project entailed removing a load-bearing wall and moving it out 15 feet. If you choose to ignore my first warning about engaging in construction, I beseech you to take the following advice very very seriously: under no circumstance remove a load-bearing wall. If you ignore this sound recommendation, you will become acquainted with people you had no idea even existed and by that I mean structural engineers. These folks are really smart and love a challenging problem. The last thing you want to be when you are in CH is a challenging problem. My engineer was wonderful and prompt and amazingly reasonably priced, but his directions dictated having a steel beam created that is, by the looks of it, twice as sturdy as the rest of the building ever was.

The other thing that will happen if you, like me, go where no sane man has gone before, is that you will learn volumes about how things are done in the world of throwing down some concrete and nailing some boards together. Ha ha. This is just a little journalistic humor. Concrete is not thrown down. It is very carefully ordered and mixed and placed in a hole with greater specificity than the building of the space shuttle. And, for the love of Bob Vila, do not even think that the guy who does the footer work is the same guy who does the flat work. No, no, no. This is a mistake of the rank amateur (like me). The construction business has more specialists than the medicine business, only construction causes more pain and the insurance paperwork is worse.

Before the first shovel full of dirt is turned, though, you need permission. Permission comes from several venues. You need a building permit and a zoning permit. Unless you are building something on the scale of a dog house, you will need a variance. All these regulations stem from very good reasons and prevent bad neighbors (like me) from turning nice neighborhoods (like mine) into a mess. We in Miami County have some super people working in the Department of Development. They patiently answered every question and did exactly what they said they’d do when they said they’d do it.

This was not, unfortunately, the experience with our poor concrete guy. Concrete is the new Tickle Me Elmo. Everybody wants concrete, preferably now. Concrete contractors are swamped and, to their credit, trying hard to please all their customers who, as we have noted, want concrete now.

The footer guy came out, surveyed the project, and said he’d be back in six days to start. He said he would take care of calling the delightfully and aptly named OUPS. OUPS is the Ohio Utilities Protection Service. They are the “call before you dig” people who map out underground wires and conduits and other vital things that suffer badly at the hands of backhoes.

Six days passed, lots of heavy equipment appeared in my back yard and my general contractor asked the million dollar question: Did you remember to call OUPS? You know the deer in the headlight look? That was the precise look on the face of the footer guy. The OUPS call was a big OOPS. All the heavy equipment packed up and left. This is wrenching because once heavy equipment leaves you have no idea if it’s ever coming back. In this case, it took four full weeks to get re-scheduled. Four weeks during which I was told the concrete would show up “tomorrow.” I am not a patient person by nature, and 30 “tomorrows” stretched what little patience I have to its squeakiest, tiniest, ficklest thread.

Next time: My kingdom for a hoist.