Mon. May 27th, 2024

Our existing garage has been in bad shape for many years now. Wood rot and a collapsing roof has made the garage completely unusable. And with some property line issues and needing to go through the City’s permit process, we procrastinated doing anything about it for many years.

But after a few broken windshields – first from falling walnuts and then vandalism – we wanted to get the garage done so we could stop parking on the street. We hired an architect and went through a few months of design options before landing on a final design.

With the garage design and a backyard design locked down, we planned to do the work in summer 2023. Luckily, our new neighbours were also redoing their garage so we talked to their contractor and coordinated for the garages to be built at the same time. The garage work represents the second phase of our backyard work this summer. But because of a lot of contractor drama (read below), our phase order didn’t go as planned.

Phase 1: North Fence and Gate
Phase 2: Garage
Phase 3: South Fence
Phase 4: Garage Canopy and Deck
Phase 5: Pavers
Phase 6: Floating Deck

Here’s a reminder of how our garage and area around it has looked over the last 8 years.

The garage work was slightly delayed (as is typical with these things) but we finally got started at the end of May.

Demolition

The first step was to demolish the existing garage. At the end of May, our contractor brought in an excavator and bulldozer and took the garage down in about an hour. The garage itself came down really easily, but it then took a while to clean everything up and get it all cleared out.

In the middle of our demo, our contractor realized that the neighbour’s garage wall, which we were planning on sharing, wasn’t structurally sound enough to hold up their garage roof, let alone ours, so it also had to come down.

Excavation

After the garage was cleared out, it was time to excavate for the new garage footings. The digger went to work and dug a deep trench in minutes.

While we had the digger around, I also had them remove a few large tree stumps from the backyard so that I could eventually put in new soil for plants and not have the drama of working around tree stumps, or trying to remove them myself.

New Footings and Slab

About two weeks after the trenches were dug, our contractor built some forms for the deepest footings of the garage. A few days later, the concrete truck came and we had concrete footings in the ground.

After the first footings were poured, this is where things went a sideways. Our contractor, who was also still busy finishing the house next door, was basically MIA for a month of so. Every week we’d get new promises of all the work that would happen that week, but it never did. Communication was bad, he stopped showing up next door, and I was convinced he had taken our money and ran.

It wasn’t until the beginning of July that we had any additional work done. They spent a morning putting in the new foundation forms just to have them sit for another 2 weeks before they came back and tinkered with them to get them ready for concrete. We were now at the end of June – almost a month after the initial demolition happened – and all we had were some initial footings and some plywood in the ground.

They finally scheduled the concrete truck to come back in the middle of July. Of course when they went to pour the concrete, one of the forms broke. It’s not surprising, given they had sat for over 2 weeks in the rain and were exposed to the elements. You can’t tell from this picture, but they also poured the foundation walls at different heights (the shorter one being much higher than the longer one) so I was really curious how that was going to play out. I was told it was totally fine.

Because the form broke, the concrete truck had to come back the next day to finish the job.

Meanwhile, while still parking on the street, our van got hit by a moving truck. So that’s another thing we’ll need to deal with now.

The next step was another set of footings, which were promised to us right away. And, like all the times before, nothing came of those promises.

We had planned a trip to Montreal at the end of July – something that wasn’t going to be an issue because we were told our garage would be finished well before our trip. But, here we were. Garageless and essentially backyardless. Not to mention very very very frustrated. I was very clear with the contractor not to do any work while we were away because I wanted to be present when they were working. I had lost all confidence in their ability to complete the work properly, so I wanted to be there for the next steps.

In the meantime, I convinced the contractor to remove landscaping from his scope, which he agreed to with the promise of returning around $4k in deposits. I was able to hire a landscaping company to complete some other work that would allow me to proceed to the next phases at least.

When we got back, the crew was finally done the house next door but still nowhere in sight. I brought in our usual contractor to have him look at the work that had been done (to make sure it wasn’t a complete waste) and see if he could complete the job. In the meantime, our neighbour was quite forceful with the garage contractor that the work had to be done so he came back to work on the next footings. We also had a very frank conversation with him, telling him that any more lies or BS or delays would mean that we were done and would move forward with someone else.

Once they finished the footings, they were supposed to dig a trench so we could finish the electrical before the concrete was poured. And once again, they were nowhere in sight. They finally showed up after our neighbour clearly complained to them but only to dig their side. And, in the process, made the soil on our side fall away, undoing hours of work I had completed on our side. Luckily I caught them before they did too much damage, but I now have to redo all of the edging along my fence and I lost several (expensive) river rocks in the process. I am so tired of taking one step forward and 10 steps back.

Once the latest round of drama got sorted (meaning I fixed it), they dug the trench on our side and we put in the final stretch of conduit, into the concrete form (so the electrical would come up into the wall).

Alex then put in his electrical conduit, which also had to be inspected. Once the inspection was done, we were able to fill in the ground again.

With the electrical done on both garages, we thought they were ready to pour concrete into the forms but we still needed another inspection. The inspector came and (understandably) had some issues with the fact that some of our footing would not be supporting the garage.

Here’s the issue:

Our neighbour’s engineer came the next day to look at the footings and came to the same conclusion that we had – those forms weren’t in the right place to hold the weight of the garage walls. He proposed a sort of weird solution – dig wider but only 2.5 feet and put in concrete pad insulation boards, plus some curved rebar. I’m a little concerned about the solution but the engineer seemed pretty confident.

With the footings now complete (we’re in the second week of September now – 4 months after we started this whole thing), the final step was to prepare the forms for the concrete pad. The contractor originally wanted to frame first and do the pad after, but it never made sense to me. Plus, given how terrible it had all gone, I wanted to be done one full step so we would have the option to bring in another contractor to do the framing and roof.

Another couple of weeks and several threats later, the contractor finally showed up to do the grading for the concrete pad and put down the gravel. And, as usual, he didn’t finish the job and took off without telling me. Apparently they couldn’t get another bin delivery and so the digging crew just left. I don’t buy any of that story. I think he only paid for half a day of work and so when they were done, they were done.

The next day he had a bin delivered and a crew of guys with shovels to get rid of all the soil. I still can’t understand how that’s better for him than having the digger take an extra hour to just finish it all. They only worked a half day so not much was done and they ran out of bin space at some point. Finally on the third day, a new bin arrived and they cleared all of the soil from the backyard and even finished the concrete foundation walls (which I didn’t expect would happen)!

On the fourth day (Friday), nothing happened. The excuse this time was because the bin was full so they couldn’t do anything. So of course I called the bin place (since the number was readily available on the side of the bin) and it turns out that there was no bin because they didn’t call for one in advance.

I spent Friday coordinating with José to get him in as soon as possible to take over. He was ready to come, but had to find a concrete truck and schedule us in when the concrete was available.

On Saturday morning the original crew showed up but only to take some equipment from the property and then head off to another job. Alex and I called to ask why they weren’t working on our job and were rudely told that they were busy. Luckily I had confirmed that a bin was on its way so he angrily agreed to send people in the afternoon. They showed up and removed the dirt until the new bin was full. There was still a bunch of dirt on our neighbour’s property, but at least the concrete pad area was cleared so José could start the following week. I also asked them to remove the forms, which they said they would, but didn’t.

Alex and I tried to get a hold with the contractor a few times on Sunday and Monday to let him know that he was finished with us, but of course he wasn’t answering his phone. My plan was then to tell him Monday when he showed up on site, but he never did. Given that he had promised me a concrete pad on Monday, I was feeling really good about our decision to get rid of him once and for all.

Concrete Pad

On Monday José showed up with his crew and prepared the ground for the concrete. He finished putting down all the gravel, dug out the end of the garage where the concrete would meet the laneway, and made sure the forms were square. It wasn’t easy to square everything off because the foundation walls weren’t straight or square to each other.

As José and team were setting up, we had a bylaw enforcement officer show up and he was quite angry. He started coming at me, saying that he’s had to talk to me several times about complaints. I quickly realized that he was mistaking me for our neighbour and told him that we had never met before. He then calmed down considerably as I explained that I’ve been caught in the drama next door and it’s been one thing after another – now having to deal with angry neighbours because everyone is fed up with next door. He gave me a warning and was very sympathetic, but also told me that if he had to come back that I would get a ticket. This news increased my stress level quite a bit, as I was desperate to just get everything done and not have to deal with any of it anymore.

On Tuesday morning, the concrete finally arrived and the team started pouring the concrete into the form. Unfortunately we ran out of concrete so we had to send away for another truck. Turns out the concrete is basically free but you pay for the delivery – so the extra little bit of concrete was almost as much as the first round. Luckily this bought some time and the crew was able to dig out the neighbour’s area and pour the concrete pad extension they needed. We requested slightly more concrete and got both concrete pads done in a day! This was already waaaaay more progress than we’d ever seen with the previous contractor (who at this point had been fired by our neighbours too).

José and team worked until 7pm getting all the concrete smooth on both properties. It looked great!

New Structure

Even before we fired our neighbour’s contractor, we had been talking to our old contractor to do the framing. Given the quality of the work we were seeing from the original contractor, I really didn’t want him touching the structure and new that our contractor would do a much better job.

We sent him the plans and they got to work making a lumber order for the garage. In the middle of all this, our neighbours also fired their contractor so we would build the garages together.

Once the lumber was ready, 3 framers showed up and quickly got things moving.

By the end of the first day, we had two walls and drywall installed between the two garages.

By the end of the second day, we had a roof and a good portion of the front and back walls framed.

Unfortunately our framer then went on vacation for two weeks and the rest of the crew had to continue working on their main project, so the garage sat untouched for almost 3 weeks. Once the framer was back from vacation, a full crew came to our house and got the rest of the structure done.

With the framing done, we had our final framing inspection and passed!

Roof and Cladding

Once the framing was done, our garage door could finally be installed. We used the door manually for a few days until Alex had time to install the side opener. It was great to have privacy and security again!

Since our neighbour was also getting a roof installed, we had the same company do both. They put the roof on in a couple of hours and would then come back once the siding was done to finish everything. The same day, our framer also installed our door and window on the laneway side.

After the door and window were installed, we decided to continue with the canopy installation, even though it’s not on the permit. I’m hoping that the inspector doesn’t care. Originally we were going to build it after the permit was closed, but we’re out of time.

I originally wanted to install the cladding myself – or at least the majority of it – but with our schedule so far behind and winter weather fast approaching, I decided to throw more money at this problem and get it done professionally.

For the laneway and side of the garage, we chose a standing seam metal cladding at the installer’s suggestion. It looked fantastic!

With the standing seam siding done, the installers moved onto the Maibec siding. Since I had it sitting out for months, I took some time to clean every board.

Installation took them 2 days total for the Maibec, as it was slightly more complicated than the standing seam.

We also opted to do a metal piece on the canopy since the roofer installed the drip edge (despite telling him not to). It saved me some time and looked great, so it all worked out.

We had our final inspection with the City at the end of November and everything went well. It was such a relief to finally be done this project. There is, however, an ongoing investigation against our original contractor. I ended up finding several other victims, where the contractor took large deposits and either left jobs largely incomplete or didn’t start work at all. Apparently he also owes quite a bit of money to his workers as well. The good news is that our loss was relatively small compared to others, so at least we weren’t worse off than we are.

Total Cost

Excavation/Footings$10,000*
Concrete Pad$4,000
Framing$11,000
Garage Door (including installation)$2,500
Door and Window (on backyard side)$5,000
Siding (supply + install)$7,700
Roof$3,400
Design (including permit)$5,500
Engineering$700
Canopy Soffit$1,300
Total$51,100
* The $10,000 for excavation and footings was what we paid the original contractor but only represents about $2,000-3,000 of work.
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