Pro Tips
Part 3: Diaries of a Newbie Contractor – Crossing the Finish Line
Jenni Wileman
November 4, 2020

This is a guest post that was written by an active licensed contractor. If you'd like to contribute a story to our blog, send us an email at info@buildbook.co.

Here we are rounding towards the finish line … it’s been challenging — to say the least — and a crash course in running my own remodeling business. This is the final post covering my first official job as a newbie contractor. If you missed my previous posts covering the progress, you can check each of them out here: Part 1 and Part 2.

The end is within sight

For a minute there I wondered if I was actually cut out for this. But, slowly, my confidence was restored with one small success after the next. And oh, the sweet satisfaction I felt when everything started coming together.

The lighting, hardware, stove, and bi-fold door installation were all a piece-of-cake. Painting was touched up and trim had been completed. It felt great breezing through all the punch list items.

Hardware installed


Connecting the dishwasher, sink, faucet, and disposal would have to wait until the countertops were installed, which brings me to, yet … another delay. 

And just when I was feeling good about everything. 

Because of the delay with the cabinet installation, which I covered in Part 2 of the series, I had needed to reschedule the countertop template. And, that pushed me to the bottom of the list. They had become so busy that they were now more than ten days out just to make the template and then another seven days for install. 

Originally, I was told 24-48 hours for a template and five days to install. The pressure was on, because this delayed timeline would mean that the homeowner would have to postpone listing the house.

There was part of me starting to feel deflated, but I didn’t want to get discouraged. I mean, another delay was just par for the course, right? And hey, I made it this far.

My first instinct was to find another countertop company. I called at least 10 fabricators hoping that I could remedy this before my client knew what had happened.

Unsuccessful call after unsuccessful call, I finally found one that had a cancellation. They were able to squeeze me in for the very next day. I negotiated and negotiated to try and get the same price I was quoted by the previous company. Once the price was locked down, I drove out to the showroom and chose a beautiful white quartz countertop. In the end the client actually loved that one even more than the first. 🙌

The next day, everything went as planned and the install was set for the following week. 

Another win!

Another issue, another lesson

Meanwhile, I had the electrician scheduled to help with the recirculating hood vent installation. The chimney on the hood vent had a length range of 30”- 40” depending on the height of your ceiling. When purchasing I hadn’t really understood that the length range was so limited. It was meant to accommodate either an 8’ or 9’ ceiling height. The issue for me was I had a soffit to deal with. 

And although the height of the ceiling in the entire kitchen was 8’, it was only 7’ over the stove. So I needed the chimney of the hood vent to be at least 6” shorter than it was. And, I hadn’t realized this until the electrician was on site. 

How was I going to solve this problem? I googled, I called the manufacturer, you name it.

Ultimately, the only solution I could come up with was to take the hood vent chimney to a machine shop and have it cut down. But, even that is not as simple as it seems.

I thought it seemed pretty straightforward but as you have probably come to realize, nothing on this job is straight forward.

BUT, while I was outside making calls the electrician had already moved forward with the install.

He had googled the “code” height and somehow came up with 22”, when in fact code is not less than 24”.  He thought it was a solution and that I had mis-calculated the distance.

So when I came back inside the hood vent was fully installed at only a 22” distance from the cooktop. This would not pass inspection and honestly, no one could actually cook on the stove with this hood vent so low. 

Ugh, it had to come down …

Installation #2, after fully removing the hood vent we were able to carefully cut the chimney down with a sheet metal cutting tool I picked up at Home Depot. A portion of the chimney now blocked the vent holes at the top which was essential for a recirculating hood vent. We hadn’t made this discovery until — you guessed it — it was fully installed

So now there was a new issue: where would the filtered air exit the chimney?

I again did some research and called a local appliance store that sold custom ventless range hoods and asked for their advice. They suggested running ducting from the unit and have it blow out the side of the soffit.

So here we go again, installation #3 of the same hood vent. Down it came and we placed flexible ducting at the unit top, the same you would use if the unit were ducted to capture any air that drifts upward from the vent. Then we placed an air conditioning wall-vent in the side of the soffit to allow the air to escape.

Needless to say, the problem was solved, but it took 3 attempts. The hood vent looks great and definitely adds a modern element to the kitchen. So in the end, it was all worth it. And another learning experience.

Recirculating Hood vent exhaust to outside of soffit because vents ended up partially covered

It's all downhill from ... right?

Countertop top and sink base installation were a breeze. So all that remained was for the plumber to connect the sink, faucet, disposal, and dishwasher. I thought it seemed pretty straightforward but as you have probably come to realize,  nothing on this job is straight forward.

Note to self: always measure twice.

Countertop install of 1” white quartz went smoothly


I’m sure you’re dying to know what new problem I have now. 🙄

Well, here we go. I purchased a single bowl sink at the beginning of the job with a drain that was designed to be off-center. I thought nothing of it when I purchased it, but remember the issue with the drain in the second post of this series?

For a quick refresher, I had incorrectly measured the plumbing and the drain landed right in between two cabinets without an inch to spare. Although the problem was ultimately solved, it was the beginning of a crash course in, I had a lot to learn.

So, now the drain pipe was as far to the right as it could go, which means it was going to run right into the disposal. There was little to no room for the plumbing to comfortably fit.

While this issue can be solved by a good plumber – it’s not exactly an easy fix. I was fortunate enough to have a good plumber. With some creative pipe placement, he made it work, barely – but he did it. In the future, I’ll be sure to consider where the drain will be in relation to the disposal. Oh, and I will remember to always measure twice.

And then ...

For a second there, I thought the countertops were one of the things that went right. Well, that second was short lived.

The 4” tall backsplash I ordered was 1” thick like the rest of the counters. In my mind it seemed logical that you would use the same countertop for the backsplash. But, I was wrong.

You see, the faucet couldn’t run cold water because there wasn’t enough room for the handle to toggle back far enough to turn on. It hit the backsplash and needed another half inch of space. 

Faucet hole is less than an inch from the backsplash


Ugh. I've been saying that a lot lately. Again, Ugh!

Compared to some of the other challenges I faced, this one seemed like an easy fix.

Queue me driving to the hardware store ... again.

So my solution? Buy a different style faucet. And I did find a perfect one, although it still had to be installed at a slight angle, but it wasn't noticeable at all and functioned perfectly. Problem solved.

Faucet handle toggles right to left

Crossing the finish line … truly

The final finishing touches all went perfectly. And the job wrapped up with no other issues and the homeowner was happy. Thank goodness.

It felt great to be finished and despite all the obstacles, I was proud of what a beautiful kitchen it turned out to be. 

There were moments I questioned my decision to turn my passion for renovations into a full-time gig, but in the end, I was proud of what I accomplished. I realized that problem solving was truly part of the job and everything I learned was priceless. 

Here are the end results:


Among all of the challenges along the way, I found my construction tribe. I couldn’t have ended up with a more supportive, talented, and skilled group of sub-contractors. And, in the end, this remodel was a success because of everyone involved. 

I learned so much throughout this project - and mostly by mistake. So after all the ups and downs here's my advice to you after finishing my first job as a new contractor:

If you want to start your own construction company, take the leap and go for it.

Do your research, find your construction tribe, and know it’s ok to make mistakes. 

YOU GOT THIS!

What's up next

I took all those lessons with me and grew as a business owner and a remodeler. My next job is already in the works and everything (so far ... LOL) is going smoothly. Although challenges exist, I now understand I will encounter them on every job. And I know that I am still learning, but with a more calm and clear mind.

With that, I now have a little less stress and the ability to focus on growing my business. I hope you will follow my posts as I continue sharing my experiences on everything from real life on-the-job lessons to tips on growing your business.

About the Newbie Contractor:

Jenni Wileman is a freelance writer specializing in the construction and remodeling industry. She is a licensed contractor and the owner of Designing Nashville, a remodeling company that focuses on the design and functionality of a home.

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