A blog to record my experience in getting a new garage built in Chicago by the company Garage King.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Concrete update

An update: On Wednesday, I received a call from Garage King to find out if it would be okay for the construction crew to come by the following Wednesday (May 30). That would give the slab/foundation another week to cure. They also asked about payment #2 -- had I given it to the concrete guy? No, I didn't see him when he left, and he hadn't said anything about it. I offered to drop a check in the mail, but the person I spoke with said they could send someone by to get the check, or I could pay by credit card. After a tussle with the accounting person, who somehow had first reached my wife's celphone and then seemed quick to assume some evasion was going on our part, payment info was successfully transmitted.

Evidently, for concrete to set properly, it needs to be wetted down periodically, after being poured. See these Guidelines for Curing and Sealing Concrete for a straightforward description of what is going on during the curing process, and what you can do to help it along. The concrete guy told us to water the slab, as if we were watering a lawn, the next day (after he laid the slab). Done. And I did it again on Wednesday too, since it wasn't clear to me if that was necessary or not, and I figured it couldn't hurt. I noticed on Wednesday that water was puddling in one corner, meaning that there were some low spots on the slab.

I asked the concrete guy about it when he came to remove the forms, on Friday (this would be the Friday after laying the slab on Monday). He insisted it wouldn't be a problem, or he could make a channel in the floor to ensure that it drained out to the alley. But that would mar the floor, and he didn't feel it was necessary.

And so here is a dilemma -- pouring concrete seems to be one of those things that you get one chance to do right. Or like cutting wood -- you cut it too short and you are SOL. Writing computer code is much more forgiving, although once the code starts working on large amounts of data, making corrections to the data can be very tedious and expensive if not impossible. Which is why one gets an expert, to make sure it gets done right the first time. Again, I have practically zero zilch experience with garage floors. The previous garage sat below the alley, and frequently got water in it with no easy way for it to get out, except to seep through the cracks in the floor, or evaporate. That won't be a general problem with this garage, as it sits a few more inches above the alley. But if water ever does get in the garage -- e.g. I hose down the floor for some reason, a puddle will remain in one corner, and need to be squeegeed out. So the question is -- are such indentations normal or sign of poor craftsmanship? Another indication of the information imbalance between garage buyer and garage builder.

Here is a link on raising or leveling concrete slabs.

With the garage gone, I can now see how much lower than the alley my yard sits. Chicago was once pretty much a big swamp, and sometimes, especially after a big rain, I feel like Chicago still is a big swamp. The concrete guy recommended raising the area around the garage with dirt. This would cover the exposed side of the slab. He offered to bring some dirt by on Saturday, but never showed (though it rained most of the day). Being Memorial Day weekend, maybe on Tuesday?


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A new slab

Laying the slab

The finished slab

So the old garage was removed last Thursday (May 17). The next step is getting a new garage floor -- the "slab". This work also is sub-contracted out. I was hoping to hear from the concrete folks on Friday, but no. Then awakened by a call at 6:10 am on Saturday morning (the record of the call is still on my phone) -- could they come by and do the framing for the slab? Of course, to keep the process moving along. A small crew showed up about 45 minutes later, and put in the wood frame, the mold for the new garage floor. The lead guy said he would be back on Monday to pour the concrete.

As noted earlier, I was concerned about how much concrete they were going to need to pour, in order to ensure that the garage floor, at the back, was higher that the floor at the alley. That way, any water in the garage would be sure to drain out of the garage and not pool in it. This is called the pitch of the floor. As the concrete guy explained, the floor would be 5 inches above the alley in the back, three inches above the alley in the front of the garage, and then the "apron", the trapezoidal area between the garage and the alley, would slope down the three inches to the alley.
It was very difficult -- no impossible -- to get a straight answer on if more cement was going to be needed that what I had contracted for. I thought of a phrase I had just read in Lisa Delpit's book, Other People's Children, "cultural dissonance in cross-cultural interactions." It wasn't that the concrete guy was being evasive, I think it was more a cultural form of dealing with the customer. Or a problem of my expectation for some clear answer from someone who was not in a position to give it. In the end I realized that he was the expert, and I wanted him to do the job correctly per his expertise, and I will settle the question of any overage later.

On Monday, about 10:00a, the crew showed up again, to actually lay the slab, and the bit of sidewalk we were replacing. The first step was to put down a lawyer of dirt and rocks. These were tamped down with a machine, then wire screen laid on top of that to help give strength to the concrete. Then the concrete was poured in, and smoothed down. In all, the job took about five hours I expect. The floor looks great -- again, I am very happy with the quality of the work that they did. Some minimal plant damage, but that's to be expected I think. They did a good cleanup job too.

In the pictures, you can see the level edge for the walls, with the bolts sticking up that the walls will anchor the walls. You can see the pitch of the floor in relation to this edge.

The floor needs to cure for about a week to ten days, and then the actual construction can begin.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Goodbye old garage

The teardown begins

The teardown continues

The rear wall goes

The cat is a bit bewildered -- where did it go?
Goodbye old garage.

The wreck-and-haul guys came today, and, well, wrecked and hauled. Garage King sub-contracted the work with a company called Donco Hauling. Basically one guy with a Bobcat made short work of the garage, with two trucks, one for the garage itself, and one for the broken up slab and the bit of sidewalk we are replacing as well.

Everything went very smoothly. The Bobcat operator showed up first -- very pleasant and considerate guy. We chatted for a bit, until the trucks showed up, and then he got to work with his Bobcat. What is it about seeing workers and machines tearing stuff down? And to see someone who is completely skilled and comfortable with a machine. The guy (never got his name) had to work within a fairly small space. You might be able to see in the pictures that there is a chain link fence that went right up to the garage that further constrains the space. The bobcat-guy wheeled the machine around and around within the small space -- 14 x 20 ft - lifting entire walls at a time, leaving the overhead phone and electric wires intact, the fence too, and the garden was hardly touched. I had the impression that he wore the machine, something like Sigourney Weaver / Ripley in Aliens, but much smoother.

And then it was over, the garage was gone. The cat was bewildered about the changed shape of his little world, and me a bit too. The yard feels exposed without the building there.

I am very happy with the wreck-and-haul job.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cleaning out the garage

The promised reflection will be forthcoming I promise.

Just an update:

One week after signing the contract, we got a call in the afternoon from the wreck-and-haul company asking if they could come out the next morning and take away the old garage. This was much faster than we expected. I thought we would receive the city permit for the demolition and construction first. We had been told 1-1/2 to two weeks for the permits to come, but things were moving along much faster. We hadn't finished clearing out the old stuff from the garage first, so I told them, No, they can't come tomorrow, we need to do it the following week.

The permits arrived the next day -- printouts of web pages. So much for going down to city hall to get the permits. Now I wonder how much the permits actually cost.

So now the wreckers will come tomorrow.

A word on garage rubbish:

-- old paint, garden poisons, chemicals etc., auto fluids etc. were taken to the city's hazardous materials recycling center, at 1150 N Branch St, now open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and the first Saturday of every month. (For more on recycling in Chicago, see the Chicago Recycling Coalition website; FYI, the city is finally moving away from its weak blue bag program to curbside recycle bins.)

-- odd bits of metal left in the alley, it was picked up by one of those guys that cruises the alleys looking for scrap metal within two hours

-- I called the alderman's office (Ray Suarez, 31st ward, his office has been very helpful every time I have called) about someone larger bits of lumber and drywall that I couldn't figure out what to do with -- too large for the trash bins. The city in general won't haul away construction material, but after a second call to a Streets and Sanitation guy associated with the ward. He said he would send someone by to see how much stuff I had, and if it was something the city could haul away. If not, I may need to work something out with the wreck-and-haul company.

-- lots of odds and ends into the city-supplied trash bins.

-- the usual quandary about stuff I haven't used or thought about using for seven years, but of course I might use it some day, like maybe build some kind of structure like a little greenhouse, using the old basement windows -- right -- but I couldn't bring myself to just throw them away. Ditto for some nice porch doors, and the lumber that looked like it might be usable.

Jonathan, from next door, helped out -- he is working off the cost of drum pads I fronted him for his band when they were practicing in the garage next door.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Signing the contract

This will be in two parts: the contract signing process, and then a reflection on it.

The salesman's Garage King pitch seemed thorough, and raised issues that I wouldn't have otherwise thought about -- things like thickness of the slab, tearing up the existing slab vs. putting the new one over the old one, wire mesh vs. rebar, etc. -- I will outline some of these in a future post.

However, once we got into the actual contract signing process, other things came to the fore.

First, we decided to get part of the sidewalk from the house to the garage re-done -- it was breaking up in a number of places (always amazing what little plants can do), and we hadn't shopped that around. The price the salesman gave us seemed reasonable, so that got added on to the total.

If I was to do this over, I think I would have gotten another quote on just the sidewalk, just to have a sense as to how much that kind of thing cost.

Second, when we picked siding for the garage to match what was on the house, it turned out to be one of three colors that were "extra". I have wondered if this was some sort of scam, that whatever kind we picked would have been "extra", but we could easily have backed off of that to a close color, so I don't think that was the case. However, it would have been good to know up-front that some sidings cost more than others. When the salesman first came by, I should have indicated the color we wanted (my wife wasn’t there when the salesman came by the first time, so colors were deferred to the contract-signing day).

If I was to do this over, I would have picked the colors out when the salesman was here the first time, and asked if there was any additional charge for the colors picked.

Third, while the salesman seemed to be very thorough in going through the contract, at the very end of the first part of signing the contract, after I thought we had arranged on a price, he threw in that we also had to pay sales tax. This was a bit of a shock -- a hidden price that I had not heard about until then. And I must say I thought that it was very unethical? Dishonest? Deceptive? Just plain uncool? How this extra cost got tossed it. Since sales tax in Chicago is 9%, this is not a trivial amount. And here is where the whole process started to turn sour.

Up to that point, everything had been painless, straightforward; the information we were given was helpful and plausible. The extra cost for the vinyl was a bit disconcerting, but par for the course. But not to have been told from the beginning that the prices did not include sales tax seemed just plain sneaky, and has injected an element of distrust into the whole process -- what else am I not hearing about? What other surprises await us? Call me naïve, or a fool, but up to then I saw the salesman as an ally, not a mano-a-mano who will get the best of the situation kind-of-thing. In retrospect I can be amazed at how quickly a relationship, such that it is, can turn.

I asked why there was sales tax on a garage, and the salesman backed off a bit, remembering that it only applied to materials. The back of the contract, the fine print stuff, says that 75% of the cost is (rather arbitrarily I would say) assigned to materials. So the sales tax really only needed to be applied to 75% of the total, which knocked some off of the price. I did actually check with the city of Chicago, and the state of Illinois Dept of Revenue, and they confirmed that sales tax should be collected from the vendor for purchased materials, and that that cost was basically being passed along.

I still complained about how this was being raised at the last minute, and the salesman agreed to knock $100 of extra cost of the siding. We shook on it, although even now I get this sickly feeling, like I swallowed a large rock and it is stuck in my chest, about the whole thing.

If I was to do this over, I would clarify when we got the quote whether sales tax was included or extra, and how much it would be if not included. At signing time, if any other significant charges were introduced, I think it would have been prudent to stop the signing, confirm with my wife, and if need be say we needed to think some more about this and re-schedule the contract signing. Ah hindsight!

There were several other forms to sign. Two things in retrospect have thrown up caution flags. First, there's a form to say that we will pay $60 per inch of concrete for the slab, above 8 inches, if needed. The salesman insisted that this only applied in hilly terrain, where a retaining wall might be necessary for the garage. But I am concerned now that he wasn't completely straightforward as to how much concrete we are going to need for our slab. Our garage today sits below the level of the alley, and so will collect water. The salesman insisted that they would build the floor up to above the alley, and grade the slab slightly so that water in the garage would drain to the alley (the common example is if you wanted to wash your car in the garage, you would want the water to drain out). But my concern at this point is that the eight inch foundation they would lay -- 4 inches of rock and 4 inches of concrete, may turn out not to be enough. This is a bridge still to be crossed.

If I was to do this over, I would get in writing exactly how concrete was going to be necessary to for my garage, even if that meant having the concrete subcontractor come out and tell me.

Finally, and this was just silly to agree to this, I think the final electrical work is only done after Garage King gets their final payment (payment is in thirds, 1/3 on signing, 1/3 after the concrete work is done, and 1/3 on completion of the carpentry, which as I understand it does NOT include the electrical work). So the risk here is that there is some dispute over some aspect of the work, Garage King might not send the electrician out until we pay up.

If I was to do this over, I would not deliver final payment until ALL of the work was complete. Maybe structure the payments as 1/3 signing, 1/3 concrete, 1/6 carpentry, 1/6 completion, or something like that.

These last few worries would not have even entered into my consciousness if it wasn't for the sneakiness about the sales tax. It's not that I mind paying the sales tax in general (never mind what the hopeless Cook County government does with it, or the padded payrolls in Chicago, etc.), but that it was sprung at the last minute. I would rather have no surprises. At this point, in the limbo between contract-signing and work beginning, the mind can play devilish tricks as to what is to come. But when I step back, I realize that a lot of that is due to the distrust that the sales tax ambush left. Why do salespeople do that?

We did check Garage King out with the Chicago area Better Business Bureau, they have a satisfactory record, are a member, with only 9 complaints in the last 36 months. Another Chicago-area garage builder (Danley Garage World), also rated "satisfactory", has had 52 complaints in the last 36 months.

So now we wait for Garage King to get the city permits, which I am hoping/expecting to be done in another week or so. So more then. And in the meantime, maybe some more reflection on the selling-buying process.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Some background

Our garage, from the alley

Our garage, the back, seen from the house

We have a fairly small lot in a bungalow neighborhood of Chicago (25' wide). We have a 14' x 20' garage, aka a 1-1/2 car garage. The garage was in sad shape when we bought the house eight years ago. The shingles have shrunk up, the roof leaks, nothing is quite square about the frame, much of the siding on the south side hs fallen off, the concrete floor is cracked, it sits below the alley so it tends to collect water. The garage door motor switch broke, so I have become the garage door opener. Time for a new one.



I live in Chicago, and I am getting a new garage.

The purpose of this blog is to record my experiences with the process. When going into the decision process, I couldn't find much substantive information about the companies -- consumer feedback type information -- hence this blog. Hopefully it will be helpful to others in the Chicagoland area considering getting a new garage.

I think my wife and I went into the process being reasonably alert consumers. We looked around our neighborhood to see what companies built garages recently, talked to neighbors about their garages, obtained two quotes (a third might have been better), checked the companies out on the Chicago Better Business Bureau website, looked at the company's web sites. But even doing everything a responsible consumer should do did not prepare us entirely for the whole process.

I am starting this blog a bit into the process -- we have already decided on a company -- Garage King of Glenview, Illinois, and signed the contract.

In part this blog is just reporting on the process close to its unfolding -- not exactly real time but with some delay and reflection. Even at this early stage it is part cautionary tale, lest others who follow make the same mistakes. In part this is a rumination on the process getting small scale routine construction projects done. In part it is an effort to even up the imbalance between vendor and consumer, to share the knowledge and transfer a bit of power to the purchaser, those things for which the Internet is so good. And in part it is blog-therapy, a working through of my thoughts and feelings about the whole process.

I hope its helpful...