September 21, 2023

Trip Down Memory Lane

It has been quite a long time since I did a plaster/drywall repair project, but last week was the first time in a long time. While floors were being wrapped up in Medford, and rain in the area prevented us from doing any exterior trim work, I realized we had roughly two days to spare in our week. Rather than sit around, I opted to bounce over to a project where my plumber had recently replaced a sewer line. In order to complete the plumbing fixes, he had to open up quite a few areas of plaster walls and ceilings, and they had to be put back together and painted. To be quite honest, I was not looking forward to it. Walking into someone else’s mess, plaster, an old home, stress, etc. That being said, I love my plumber, the customer needed help, and I had some “free” time. 

I started preparing for the project the day before by purchasing the drywall and securing the tools that I would need from our current jobsite. I packed up site protection, an air scrubber, paint supplies, spackle, and ripped down some plywood packout material for the ceiling. As soon as we got to the job, we set up floor protection, dust walls, and the air scrubber in the main work area. Next, we laid drop cloths and runners in the other areas that would require additional minor patching. That first day we were able to pack down the ceiling framing to flush out our new drywall with the existing plaster, patch the walls, apply a heavy fill coat of durabond, apply a tape coat of 20 minute hot mud, apply a topcoat of 45 minute hot mud, and finally apply one topcoat of green lid bucket spackle. The ceiling was in bad shape and required a lot of buildup to flatten it. I chose to use 20 and 45 minute hot mud to speed up the project and keep things moving along quickly.

The second day we skimmed out the patches with one final topcoat of blue lid bucket spackle, sanded all of the patched,  primed the area, installed the trim that had to be removed for the plumber, prepped everything for finish paint, and then painted every wall and ceiling that was repaired. We also patched and painted one additional ceiling in a separate second floor bathroom while we were there (it is funny how the scope is always growing). After the paintwork was completed, we broke down the site-protection, cleaned the entire job, and packed the tools into the truck. We were out of there by 3:30 pm, and I cleaned the paintbrushes when I got home. Later that evening, when I finally slowed down long enough to catch my breath, I could not believe just how much work we were able to complete in less than two whole days. We were in the zone to say the least. 

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The following day I made sure to tell Justin how well he did, and how impressed I was with all of the work that we got done so quickly. He asked why I felt we were so productive, and I told him that among other things, I had spent the beginning part of my career doing jobs very similar to this one. I knew what had to be done, I understood how to keep him busy, and I did not have to plan or account for anything down the line. We simply had to stay busy and work.

These repair jobs early on in my career were all lump sum, so the faster I completed them, the more I would make per hour. For years I worked alongside a plumber who specialized in rip-out/replacements of vinyl shower and tub surrounds. He would go into a bathroom and remove the existing drywall and surround, and replace it with a new one that was roughly the same size. I would then follow him up patching the drywall, mudding the flanges, and then painting/trimming whatever was needed. At first these projects would take me upwards of three days. I would be waiting on the spackle to dry, running out to get more material, and figuring things out off the cuff. The more repairs I did, the more proficient I became. I perfected my systems and improved my efficiency to the point that, if all went well I could get these projects done in a day.

At the time, I hated this work. It was boring and mentally unengaging. The money was good, but I looked forward to the days of landing better jobs or at least my own jobs. Looking back now, I am grateful for the opportunities that were bestowed upon me. I had steady work, I was making money, and the jobs were low-risk. I learned how to properly plan for each job, prepare for success, and execute as efficiently as possible. The stakes were low on these early projects, and this served my anxiety well. As I grew and landed more complex work, the money was better and the jobs were more rewarding, but the headaches also grew. This perspective has afforded me an opportunity to look back on this time in my career with appreciation and gratitude. It was so much fun to be learning, growing, and becoming independent, but it did not feel that way while I was in the trenches. I have often not seen the forest through the trees. 

This most recent repair job reminded me of how far I have come. While it was not the most-rewarding or challenging work, I focused on efficiencies, processes, and planning. I was intentional and deliberate with each move and every step. I was able to teach Justin valuable skills on a project with lower stakes. It was a perfect opportunity for him to learn. I was dreading this job walking into it, but left with a feeling of pride and fulfillment. I was able to help my plumber, button up a mess of a situation for a customer in need, provide work for Justin, and make money for myself. A win, win, win, win for all! I am not going to say it was better than two days off from work, but maybe a close second!

- Tyler Grace

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