Murphy Brothers Blog

A blog in the life of a project…a year revisited (+ bonus ponderings on life, learning and relationships!)

One of the many reasons why I really enjoy what I do is that there is always something new to learn.   There are so many different remodeling challenges and the puzzle in solving them is something that keeps it stimulating.    Last week, I visited a garage floor that I did an addition to a year ago (part of our 1-yr Concierge Service).  This was not your typical garage.  It was a fun garage addition that converted a 2-car into a 4-car, extra-deep garage, with an epoxy floor (yes…with the non-slip color flecks ),  some cabinetry…and a heater (of course!).   It is a garage fit for a corvette (or two in this case!).

Some of the design challenges that I looked at when I designed the space where tying into the existing roof, discussing options regarding storage trusses vs. a hand-framed roof (and the implications of that decision).  We talked about items like water-resistant cabinetry on raised steel legs to blend with some existing white melamine cabinetry they already owned (a cost-effective solution).  There are outlets strategically placed for the neon signs and the workbench.  The face of the existing garage was brick with two shuttered windows.  The addition extended this brick face and added another window with shutters.  We discussed pros/cons on replacing all three windows as we evaluated their condition and the difference/match ability.  We must have spent 20 hours running to the brick yards looking for matches to the existing 1970’s Chicago Pink and then working with the mason on the best solution to weave-in.  We talked about replacing the entire concrete floor in the garage or tying into the existing one.  Each item is a decision to make in evaluation of value.

Most people think that you “just build things” and it is simple…but really if you design it right and discuss the options, then the goal is that you end up with no surprises to the budget or from expectations in quality, performance or workmanship.  It is a trusting two-way relationship that you establish over time in working with people and learning what is uniquely important to them.  We can happily install a boxed pre-finished vanity from Menards/Lowe’s or we can put in custom or semi-custom cabinetry.  No matter what the product is, the homeowner should have an understanding of what they are getting for the investment they are making.  Some people think all we do is “high end”…but the truth is that most every client we work with has a budget and nearly every project I work on is value-driven.  It is about making educated decisions along the path of design and selection….then about documentation (detailed specifications) and communication and follow-through.

A year later, it was fun to visit my clients and the garage.  It all looks great and they love showing it off.  They said people are really surprised to know it is an addition (I love that!).   It was nice to see how the epoxy floor is wearing.  There are some minor surface scratches from driving in with rocks/salt that can likely be buffed out.  I was also interested to see how a repair had faired.  After we had rolled the epoxy finish on the floor last year, we realized there was a pre-existing spot on the existing portion of the garage floor that was weeping some rust-colored water in small, yet consistent beading on the surface.  The result was a small, damp rust colored spot that was now more visually apparent on the gray epoxy floor.  We had not noticed prior to building the addition, or we could have attempted a patch on it prior to the epoxy painting.  What is causing this hydrostatic pressure from beneath the existing slab? That is really unknown.  We can only guess that water / water vapor has found a small capillary in that existing concrete slab somehow…and it is probably passing by some rebar and picking up that lovely rust shade before depositing on our nice painted flooring surface.  Our helpful supplier’s rep, has this same hydrostatic pressure spot /rust issue in his garage (and he also has the epoxy coating on his floor).  He says his garage is elevated at the highest point in the neighborhood and even during a bad period of draught, it is still wet/rust colored.

About six months ago, we thought we would give a fix a try…knowing that concrete patches have some challenges and this one has the added issue of being wet.  We core drilled out a small hole and filled it with an epoxy aggregate product that is tougher than concrete.  I suspect most builders would have not done anything…as you weigh the risks and time it takes to do things.   We discussed it with the homeowners and went for it.

Six months later…it appears that the water has found another way to bead up in this same spot.  Perhaps the epoxy did not adhere to the concrete due to the consistent dampness of the spot.  Furthermore, it appears that when we applied the epoxy coat over the top of our core drilled area, the coloration of the top clear coat was a few shades darker than the original.  Dan, our Surface Coatings Specialist and Manager of our paint department, had anticipated some color change and had advised the homeowners.  The homeowners weren’t complaining about it in any significant way, but we all clearly wished it had cured closer to the color in this beautiful garage. I am sure there is something we can figure out to try and improve it…but determining the best course of action will be important.

So, now we have a resulting small problem to determine how to fix.  The homeowners don’t expect that we will keep attempting to fix the existing concrete hydrostatic pressure problem.  Alas…we cannot help but research it further and discuss the options.  John (Murphy) has used a product for concrete patching that he thinks may adhere better to the existing (damp) concrete.  He has used the product numerous times over the past 25+ years and gone back to see how it has held up….he says the biggest disadvantage is the color of the patch (which wouldn’t be an issue here because of the painting).  It is used for road and parking lot repairs.   We will present that as an option to the homeowner and that it may / may not fix the issue (somehow, I liken this to getting the car fixed).  I did a little more research on the subject and every solution it seems is expensive and has no guarantees.   I don’t think the homeowners will find those possible solutions of good value.

Next week, the supplier’s rep will come out to assess the floor coloration issue with Dan and we will have a plan of action to pursue.  We may need to consult with the manufacturer as well.  In the meantime, I thought I might take a few minutes to share this process is like.  Building is not a perfect science.  It takes longer to fix something than it does to do it right the first time.  Each warranty issue is a learning opportunity (and a future education opportunity!).  Next time I am tying into an existing garage floor slab with new concrete and weighing out that option of replacing that existing slab with the homeowners, you will find me studying it better for existing spots where a bead of water sits.  You cannot prevent all things, but at least I can add it to my mental toolbox.   I am thankful to work with such talented and experienced craftspeople who share their knowledge.  We will come to a solution over the coming few weeks and consult with the homeowners about those pros/cons and I can keep you posted.

This garage addition was my second project for this homeowner.  Prior to them being married and in their current home, I had done a kitchen remodel for her a few years back.   There is no greater compliment than getting to do another project or being referred to someone (we really appreciate that!).  Our carpenters do awesome work and I would not work for Murphy Bros. if it weren’t true.

I know that in this economy, there are choices people make to save money.  Some companies cut corners on construction methods or materials to give the illusion of a lowball price in initial discussions.  I think in the end, most will ruin whatever decent reputation they have….as the bad experience stories travel fast.  A trusting mutual relationship is key to any project and starting with realistic budget ranges is important.  Some remodelers think it is a “strategy” and I think it is a game they play.  Who can you trust? I know the decision to choose someone must be difficult.

Another thing that is quite common is that clients sometimes want to save money by taking on larger pieces of the project themselves, which we can accommodate.   Some people think all we do is higher-end projects.  I guess the bigger projects get photographed…but I do insurance work (roofs and siding, etc.) and some smaller jobs….adding some built-ins, trimming out a room, honey-do lists.  Today I am having some gutters installed at my neighbor’s home (I also finished their basement a few years back) and next week they will get a new solid surface (Cambria) bathroom vanity top and faucet.  Another past client (from an addition we framed-up and brought to drywall in 2004) called me back recently and purchased about 2K worth of windows for us to install.  The Tax Credit they will get is a nice perk!  I don’t think he knew about that.

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