Weighing the Options for a Major Rehab Project

When I embark on a home remodeling project I often think about the water industry.

Pennwell web 90 128

When I embark on a home remodeling project I often think about the water industry. Yes, I am a little strange, but I see the relationship between my need to repair or replace my personal aging infrastructure and similar challenges faced by the municipal water market.

In a recent project to upgrade an electrical system, I asked the contractor to give me alternative scenarios based on price. Basically the “cheap” price, the “do it right” price and perhaps something in the middle. Instead, he gave me a single estimate that included the newest technologies and top-self components. And the ultimate cost was more than double what I wanted to spend.

As I reviewed the estimate I had an internal debate that is probably similar to the struggles of water system managers considering an expensive project. Do I really need to spend this money now? Can I push some of this expense into the future by five or 10 years? Can I get by with more modest upgrades? Do I need this level of component quality?

This home has old two-wire, cloth-coated conduit going to the outlets. The system is working fine right now, but it’s more than 60 years old and really should be replaced. The consequences of a failure range from minor (a plug stops working) to catastrophic (the house burns down and someone dies.) It’s hard for me to judge the likelihood of failure, but as time goes by it’s safe to say the likelihood is increasing. And I don’t think I could live (literally) with the consequences of a catastrophic failure.

I initially thought I could have a contractor simply pull in new wire and replace the old, while letting everything else remain the same. Turns out the cost of labor to replace the wire is the lion’s share of the estimate. The cost of upgrading the service and replacing the receptacles and switches is minor in comparison. And if I don’t replace them now, the incremental cost of replacing them later will be higher.

I could save money by doing some of the work myself. I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty. But I am also “risk averse” there are some things best left to professionals. Doing it yourself can have its rewards but it also carries its own price in terms of time and energy. And, to be honest, the quality of the finished product can suffer.

Given the cost of this project, it makes sense to get at least one or two more estimates. Still, I want to resist the urge to shop for the lowest price. I’ve done that on a few remodeling projects over the years and have had mixed results. Given the critical nature of a home electrical system, I want to be certain the contractor I select has the experience and knowledge to do the job right.

I certainly don’t want to wake up one night in a smoke-filled house only to realize the lowest price wasn’t the best option.

Pennwell web 90 128James Laughlin, Editor

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