Building blues

We've all been there: The neighbor is renovating, leaving you with all the noise and collateral damage.

hammer metro 88  (photo credit: )
hammer metro 88
(photo credit: )
Many people who have renovated their homes tell horror stories about their dealings with contractors, builders and assorted workmen. A project may be started and then abandoned while the workers start other jobs concurrently, and give their attention to the householder who protests loudest and seems most threatening. Someone quiet and polite loses out in this situation. The work is carried out in fits and starts and although the builder says (in reply to your repeated calls) that he is on his way to see to things immediately, several days may pass before he turns up. Meanwhile, you don't have a bathroom. Even small jobs taking only a few hours may cost you days because when he says Sunday, he means Monday or Tuesday, and when you contact him again, it becomes definitely Wednesday, which turns out to be Thursday. Meanwhile you have cancelled and postponed activities you'd planned for the week. Also, even small jobs can have side-effects; one item gets fixed and another broken. Installing a new boiler, say, may lead to chipped floor tiles and scratches on the wall. If it is an outdoor job like putting in new guttering or cleaning a drain, flower pots are knocked over, plants are trampled and the garden spray is broken. "That's nothing. A small job. It's easily fixed," says the worker if you protest. He means it's easy for you to fix. Sometimes the work is badly done and has to be redone. On occasion it is not done according to specifications because the builder thinks his way is better. "Trust me," he says. "I know what to do." In all cases, even when the contractor is really reliable and obliging (and there are a few like that), building work involves noise, mess and a lot of inconvenience. However, if the renovations involve breaking walls and significant changes, the householder usually finds other accommodation while the work is in progress. It is true that he is spending a lot of money, but he has his dream house to look forward to. Not so the next door neighbors! They have all the inconvenience but none of the compensations. Their days are filled with banging, knocking, drilling, scraping and the rumble of cement mixers, tractors and trucks. Electrical tools buzz, whiz, hiss and drone interminably. For months on end there is no siesta time. If you do manage to nap, you will dream you are under the dentist's drill. When there is a common wall between the apartment being renovated and your own, there may be unpleasant accidents, as happened to my friend, Yael. The next door builders broke a hole in her lounge wall. They continued working so that a torrent of dust and rubble entered and descended on her furniture. "Why didn't you stop working and tell me as soon as it happened?" asked the dumbfounded Yael. "At least I could have moved things and covered them." "We didn't want to disturb you between 2 pm and 4 pm," was the reply. It's not necessarily easier if building work is carried out on a neighboring house. Heavy vehicles block the road and access to private parking places, but there is no redress for the sufferer. He is expected to be patient and shut up, even if he has an appointment and would like to leave his drive-in parking space on time. The workmen shout to one another. The contractor shouts to and at the workers. They all add to the building noise. When they have their snacks, they discard tins, food containers, scraps, wrappers and bottles wherever they happen to be; the wind later deposits a lot of litter in the adjacent yards. Besides cleaning up this trash, you, the neighbor, have to contend with layers of dust. More intransigent than dust, there may be splashes of cement or paint. It's best not to hang out laundry. Some considerate people try to minimize the inconvenience, but often the householder behaves as though he is building a house in the desert where close neighbors do not exist. In that case, prepare for damage to hedges, fences and sidewalks and a reluctance to accept responsibility and do repairs. "Don't worry. The municipality will fix it," he comments if he has broken public property. "Many branches were dying anyway," he says to justify his removing a hedge that has served you for twenty-five years. "The wire was rusty and useless in any case," he tells the neighbor on the other side. "Don't fuss," he may chide you after his swinging crane has broken branches off your shade tree. "After all, we're going to be neighbors." He often concludes with this statement. Interpreted, this means that good-neighbor relations depend on your tolerance of his disregard for anyone else's needs. At certain stages, a power-shovel comes to remove rubble and other assorted debris. Forced to maneuver in a confined space, the driver goes back and forth several times, often reversing into your garden and damaging shrubs that survived the initial onslaught. He forklifts the debris into the cart, creating clouds of dust in the process and dropping items onto the road. He may pick up some of these, but not all. It's best to clean up after him before you drive out over boards with protruding nails. Don't assume that he will clean up the assorted debris that landed on your side of the boundary. If your next-door neighbor decides to build or renovate, learn to grin-and-bear-it and/or take a sedative. If he does not subject you to the above annoyances, thank your lucky stars and greet him with flowers. You may even bake him a cake!