One of the most exciting and traumatic times of a remodeling project is when construction finally begins, especially if you are tearing off a roof. In March, we introduced you to the design phase of the Caldwell project. Under construction for about a month now, here is an update on the progress.

“We set a date, got our permits and things started moving,” Bruce Caldwell says. Right on schedule, demolition started on April 11. “The house went down in a day and a half,” Caldwell says. “It was pretty shocking. One day, you were just moving stuff out, and the next day, there is no roof on the house.”

Although it looked like demolition took just a day and a half, the construction crew was actually prepping for demolition two or three days before that. “There is a difference between just knocking down a house and knocking it down carefully,” says the Caldwells’ contractor Matt Russell, of Russell & Company Construction.

Construction Phase

A toilet sits among the middle of what used to be the Caldwell residence

Russell says the design/build team decided that the Caldwell project would result in better construction and a better final product if they did a main floor tear down. With the finalized plans, it became clear that all that would remain of the existing house were two exterior walls. It therefore made sense to take everything down to the main floor. The basement would be untouched, so all the plumbing and electrical would be tied back into the existing piping, wiring and ducts. There was some additional prep work to make sure the downstairs bathroom would remain in working order.

The only unforeseen situation encountered was when they exposed the foundation and saw that the main floor had never been tied into the foundation wall. Russell called the structural engineer to obtain the necessary detail to make the home meet current seismic requirements. This was a minor glitch for Russell. Remodeling contractors in general get used to expecting the unexpected, especially when they work on an older home.

Once all the initial interior preparation is complete, but before the roof is actually removed, the contractor has to watch the weather. “We have to turn into weathermen,” Russell says. “We have to watch for a break in the weather, and then we work as fast and as hard as we can to get it dried in again.” Caldwell confirmed the crew worked every night until 9 p.m. until the house was framed in again.

Russell says having one of his projects open to the elements makes for a lot of sleepless nights for him. “I personally spend the night pacing the floors when we have to tarp off a house we are working on,” he says. “I would rather work late for a few days than be up worrying for weeks.”

If you remember April, you know the weather was not exactly cooperative. “It seems that as soon as we take off a roof, it starts to rain,” Russel says. That is why they have developed a tarp and anchor system to keep the house out of the elements. “It is nothing high-tech,” he says. “We have spent a lot of money on tarps.”

Thankfully, his tarp system kept the Caldwell’s house dry. “Everything in this remodel has gone great except the weather,” Caldwell says. “There was one night we had a quick-moving storm come in. We are fortunate to temporarily live across the street from our project, so I am able to check on it every day. I could see our house from the window, and one tarp was flapping like a ship sail in a hurricane. I expected it to sail away, but it didn’t. The contractor anchored it securely, and it stayed in place.”

“Those guys are pros,” Caldwell adds. Russell & Company has been in business since 2001, but Matt specialized in remodeling long before then. “Remodeling is definitely a different beast than new construction,” Russell says. “No two remodels are the same. The fun is the challenge of creating something that works better than before you started. It is like a big puzzle where you throw half of it out into the street and have to build the other pieces.”

Seeing the vision taking form is why the beginning stages of construction are so exciting. Caldwell says it has been fun to see their dream take shape. “When the first sheathing went up and there were no horizontal lines and no windows cut out, it looked like it was going to be a neighborhood Walmart,” Caldwell says. “But now the design is more apparent, and it is gaining its form. It definitely fits in with the norm of the neighborhood. We didn’t want to build a house out of character, and this isn’t.” Overall, construction at the Caldwell residence is moving along well. If everything stays on track, the Caldwells will be moving back across the street into their newly remodeled house by October. Stand by for another update in a few weeks.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group,, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.

Renovation Solutions: Renovation Solutions: Remodel project moves into construction phase