Part 2: Diaries of a Newbie Contractor – The Worst Mistake Yet
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Part 2: Diaries of a Newbie Contractor – The Worst Mistake Yet

Jenni Wileman
October 2, 2020
November 5, 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 [email protected].

Alright, so let's backtrack a little ... I'm now two weeks into my first job as a new contractor. And in that short time, I've already had plenty of lessons learned. If you missed part 1 of this saga, you can find that here.  

Ok, let's dig in.

Week three here we come – delays, delays, delays

The kitchen cabinets arrived the previous night. I signed the delivery slip and sent everyone home. I slept well that night knowing things were moving along and everything seemed to be coming together. We were ready for installation! 🙌

The next day I arrived early to the job site so I could get my bearings straight. I looked over my kitchen floor plan and sketch layout. I started checking off the size of each cabinet to make sure we had everything we needed. 

I loosely laid out the cabinets, opening each box as I went. Box after box, the cabinets had some kind of damage. The first one had been so jostled during shipping that the shelves were firmly lodged in crooked. On another one, the manufacturer had driven a screw so far into the wood that it split. And, to add insult to injury, whoever made that error tried to cover it up by painting over the crack instead of simply fixing it correctly. 


The screw was driven so far in that it split the wood.
Split wood from the front that was painted over.
Shelves lodged in so tight it created scratches to release them.

So here we are… with one cabinet that needs to be replaced, two that need minor repairs, and a very unrealistic timeline. 

It’s a good thing I slept well the night before. 😂

I couldn’t afford to pay my guys for another day of watching paint dry ... and since only one of the upper cabinets was unusable I decided they should get started. I went over the floor plans and sketches with them thoroughly and they got started.

Meanwhile, I drove over to my supplier to straighten out the issues with the cabinets. 

It turned out that the damaged cabinet would take more than a week to get replaced – a luxury I didn’t have. So I ultimately decided to just repair the cabinet myself so I could stay on schedule.

When I returned back to the job site the upper cabinets had been installed – which, I must say, was pretty impressive since I was only gone 2 hours. But, within a split second I noticed a problem – the cabinets were not installed in the right spots

The cabinet they were supposed to install over the sink was 24” high and, was in fact, the cabinet that was still in my truck. But, somehow a 30” x 30” ended up in its place. And when I asked why? I was told, “it says it right here on the plans.” They were correct, It did say 30”, but it was 30” wide … not high. Not to mention, I had asked them to start on the opposite side so that it would be one of the last cabinets to be installed (since it needed to be repaired).

Nearly all the upper cabinets had to come down to get them all in the right locations. As each cabinet was removed I was even more horrified. I discovered that not only did the wrong cabinets go up but they had already screwed them together through each side — leaving holes through three of the cabinets. 

And guess what? The holes were visible, right at eye level.

The end of the day was here and turned out to be another day of paid laborers with zero progress made. In fact, that day was actually a step backward. I needed a minute to take a breath and regroup. 

Another day and more crucial mistakes...

I started the next day by rescheduling the countertop templates and floor installation, yet again ... now I was behind schedule by more than two weeks and the tight budget wasn't helping any.

After the previous day, I really wanted things to go smoother, so I convinced myself that nothing else could go wrong. And, it seemed like smooth sailing as the day progressed. All the upper cabinets went up without a hitch. The visible holes on the cabinets were definitely still a problem that I would need to deal with, but at least the upper cabinets were now fully installed and everything looked great.

Then it happened … The worst mistake yet. 

As we set the lower cabinets in place I realized that I measured the plumbing in between the pipes and drain — not at the drain. I looked back at the plans that I signed off on and sure enough, I didn’t catch it. 

What’s the saying – “Measure twice and cut once”? Well, I was going to learn this lesson the hard way.

Two of the cabinets came together right at the drain. Not an inch to spare. They can’t go there. PERIOD. So what were my options?

  1. Move the drain with a slab foundation. Although doable, this would be a huge expense and delay.
  2. Reorder new lowers on that entire side, which will take over a week to get them delivered. So option two – more delays …
  3. Cry … oh wait, there’s no crying in construction. I guess the only real option is to solve the problem.

Yet again, I decided to sleep on it and sent the guys home for the day. I think they’re getting used to it. I stayed late on the job site to brainstorm and called several contractors I knew to ask for advice. Then I went home.

It’s not over till it’s over – my cabinet epiphanies

Another day had passed and my cabinets still weren’t completely installed. I met my plumber on-site to discuss the options and he suggested that we could rearrange the cabinets and swap them around to try and rework the lowers. I had thought about this and while shifting things around …

I had an epiphany. 

I initially designed enough room for a 36” refrigerator. So I had a 36” wide cabinet over the space and a 3” translation piece on the right. The original fridge was 33” and we had exactly 36” all in. I realized the difficulties we had moving the old one out and knew a full 36” fridge wouldn’t even fit through the doors. So, there it was …

The solution!

Shift everything 3” to the right. I called the cabinet manufacturer and ordered two 3” transition pieces for the left side and shifted everything down. Yes, you heard that right – for a third time we moved all of the upper cabinets so they lined up with the lowers.

It worked! Just barely, but it worked. 

Plumbing solution was to shift the cabinets over. The drain made it inside the base cabinet about 2”.

I was on a roll that day because I had another realization. 

Epiphany #2: I could order skins to cover the holes instead of attempting to cover them up with wood filler or caulk.

So I had all three pieces sent express from the manufacturer. And everything continued to move forward while these were in route.

What a week … standing there looking at the cabinets installed and knowing I had viable solutions for all the issues. It was a good day in the end.

Upper and lower cabinets installed. Ha ha, you can even see the 2 screw holes on the side of one cabinet.

Cabinets are finally done - what’s next?

We were delayed by a couple of weeks overall, but honestly, it seemed as though things were finally starting to come together. The rest of the week, the drywall and painting was completed and I was starting to feel confident that I had this project under control. Phew.

The sub-contractors seemed understanding and able to accommodate the shift in schedule. The floors were set to go in the following week and the countertops were getting measured. There is still a ton to get done though:

  • Finishing the electrical and hood vent
  • Microwave and trim kit installation
  • Install dishwasher
  • Sink, faucet, drain, and disposal installation
  • Countertops
  • Dining room lighting
  • Kick boards and trim
  • Hardware installation
  • Finishing touches

So many lessons and so much was gained from this experience so far. I am glad I can share the ups and downs of my journey and hope that you will stick around to learn how it all comes together. Cross your fingers. 🤞🏻

Part 3: Crossing the finish line

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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