Project Spotlight: Bending the Rules
Randall Hall Design/Build & Remodeling never does insurance repair... well almost never.
|Because the floor had to be pulled up to repair extensive water damage, the Wooldridges seized the opportunity to remodel their master bath. Hall produced a room with glitz and glamor—jumbo, slate tiles on floor and wall; a custom-designed neo-angle shower; and a classy, footed tub with luxury fittings. Michelle Harless purchased for her family was teeming with Aspergillus mold. Thomas, her 7-year-old son with cystic fibrosis, was hospitalized with life-threatening breathing problems as a result. Kowalski Construction made the home safe again. For more on Aspergillus, search HousingZone.com, keyword "mold."
Randall Hall, CR, CGR, has something to say up front. "We don’t do insurance repair." Now, about that $142,174 insurance repair job Hall completed last spring....
Here’s the story. Hall’s Dallas company, Randall Hall Design/Build & Remodeling, doesn’t deal with insurance companies. Most want the "cheapest" repair job they can find, he says, and bargain basement is not what Hall’s clients want. On the other hand, "We always try to help clients and do what they need," says Hall.
Gene and Sharon Wooldridge needed help with their water-damaged house. Gene, whose previous house Hall built years ago, wanted nobody but Randall Hall to do the repairs. The insurance company, Fireman’s Fund, said fine. Before he could say, "I’ll come take a look," Randall Hall had himself an insurance repair job.
Seems that one morning Gene Wooldridge pulled some infrequently worn cowboy boots out of a closet bin in the 25-year-old, one-story house and found mildew on the soles. He wiped it off, donned the boots, and dropped them back into the bin that evening. A few months later they were coated with mildew again, and a musty odor oozed from a trap door to the crawlspace. Meanwhile Wooldridge, who’s allergic to dust and mold, was feeling a little sick.
He hired a home inspector to check things out, and he found serious water damage under the floor. Several years earlier a bidet had been installed but not connected properly to the plumbing system. A chronic leak ensued and, with mortar clogging the brick vents, the water could not escape from the crawlspace. The subfloor, joists and girders were filled with wood rot, mold and mildew.
Wooldridge called Fireman’s. The company quickly did its own information gathering, then told Wooldridge to launch the repairs. From the start, Wooldridge was in the driver’s seat. He selected a structural engineer to assess the damage and plan the repair. He brought in a biologist to do a toxicity test on the mold. (Findings: "Nothing deadly; just more of what Dallas has everywhere," says Wooldridge.)
He also opted to use two separate companies for damage control and reconstruction. For each, he had a list of one. Demolition and drying would be handled by Wooldridge’s friend Doug Harrison, who runs Response Restoration Services, a flood-, fire- and smoke-restoration firm. Randall Hall would put the house back together. Either company could have done the whole job, says Hall, but Wooldridge preferred to assign the work to the two companies, one an expert in water damage and the other a proven talent in high-quality home construction.
"I would have had to hire an insurance repair contractor [for the drying process anyway]," says Hall. "As long as we are clear on roles [working in tandem with other contractors is usually not a problem]." Though neither company had a working relationship with Fireman’s, the insurance agent was unconcerned. "He said it’s up to me to choose who works on my house," says Wooldridge.
Response Restoration spent about two weeks drying the damaged area underneath the bathroom/bedroom wing. Randall Hall’s team began work in July 1999. Project supervisor David Dunn chose an experienced framing trade contractor that the company had used for several years on room additions. Although the work was painstaking—removing the subfloor; jacking up the structure; replacing the girders, joists, support beams, wall plates and floor; and putting the house back down plumb and level—it was not highly specialized, Dunn says.
Nor, however, was it as limited as anyone expected. "The further we went along, the more damage we discovered," says Dunn. The jacking was done in three sections of the house, starting with the bathroom area, moving to the central living space, and ending with the den and office wing. After demolishing the flooring in each place, Dunn was able to shine a flashlight into the previously inaccessible crawlspace and find more damage. Several more leaks were found under the kitchen. Over the years, trapped moisture from all the leaks had pervaded most of the under-floor support system. Dunn says he set out to replace 20 or 30 percent of the girders, joists, rim joists, subfloor and floor, and ended up replacing about 95 percent. With each new discovery, Wooldridge notified the insurance company—"We didn’t deal [directly] with the insurance company at all," says Hall—and Dunn scheduled Response Restoration to come back for more drying. Before closing up the rebuilt structure, Dunn called Response Restoration to fog the house with disinfectant.
From the start, Wooldridge requested upgrades—Wolmanized wood instead of No. 2 pine supports; twice as many crawlspace vents, plus a humidistat and air-circulation system under the house; 5-inch walnut planks for the new kitchen floor instead of the narrower old ones; rearranged, refinished kitchen cabinets; high-end appliances; insulated windows throughout the house; custom replacement skylights with UV protection to avoid the same bleaching that the old walnut floors had suffered; and a redesigned master bathroom.
Originally slated to take three months, the ever-expanding project took almost nine. One of the biggest challenges for Hall was the bath remodel. The odd-shaped, 15215-foot room had a tub/shower. The Wooldridges wanted a separate tub and shower, but were not willing to steal space from the adjacent master closet. "We went through five plans before we found what they wanted," says Hall. The remodel involved removal of two partition walls, placement of twin vanities at right angles and construction of a neo-angle shower on site. The bathroom won a Chrysalis Award for design last year.
With its warm, humid climate, moisture problems in structures are ubiquitous in Dallas. The structural engineer on the Wooldridge job has referred Hall to several such jobs around town. "I have another one right now," says Hall. "The joists are rotted off the ends on two sides of the house. I’d do the whole thing on this one." For now, though, the job is on hold. "The insurance company is trying to say it’s not their problem," says Hall. "I’m letting the homeowner handle it. We’ll do the work, but I don’t deal with insurance companies."
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