by Carl Hagstrom
The Value of Site Visits
Cabinet making is an exercise in precision. Tolerances are minimal, and machinery must be kept in top condition to produce quality work. But what happens to these precision products after they leave the shop? They reach environments that range from ideal to absurd. In many remodeling projects, the only spot you'll find level or plumb is in the household dictionary.
It falls on the installer to adapt these products of precision to an imperfect world. Having the right tools and proper skills is important, but these won't always fix problems caused by other trades. The installer serves a crucial role in recognizing any site conditions that could delay the installation.
I remember showing up to install a kitchen, and discovering that all the switches and outlets were positioned too low, and fell within the backsplash area of the counter top. Then there was the time the plumber showed up after the base cabinets were in place to install the toe kick heater.
Fortunately, none of these problems were my fault. But unfortunately, everyone involved lost valuable time. These experiences, along with others like them, convinced me that a pre-installation site visit was a necessity.
Time Well Spent
I install high end kitchens, and the customers not only expect a quality kitchen, but quality service as well. In a major remodeling job, customers nerves tend to be a little frayed by the time the kitchen goes in. A delay in the installation because of unforeseen site conditions may be legitimate, but it can create some unpleasant, emotional friction with the customer. A site visit is inexpensive insurance.
The contractor on the job also benefits from a site visit because it will often reveal problems that can be corrected at very little cost. While responsibility for these issues is seldom that of the cabinet shop, you can potentially gain a solid ally (and repeat customer) by diplomatically pointing out mechanical errors, or other problems, far enough in advance that the other trades can alter them at a relatively low cost. If handled correctly, this approach allows everyone look good.
The site visit is also an opportunity to address any cabinet related issues. The cabinet designer I install for makes a point to accompany me during the site visit, and we schedule this walk-through prior to the kitchen design going to production. The goal is to recognize and resolve issues that not only make the installation easier, but also to make sure the cabinet layout is correct.
The cabinet installer naturally tends to view the kitchen from a different perspective, and recognizes how the existing structure can present installation problems. These issues can be minor changes, such as increasing the width of a scribe rail to help accommodate a wall that is severely out of plumb, or modifying a trim detail to disguise a soffit that is out of level. Or, they can be large problems that were somehow overlooked, like a pantry cabinet that can't be maneuvered through a vestibule.
The Importance of a Check List
It's easy to get distracted during a site visit. Often, you're talking to the contractor and the homeowner, and at the same time, petting the dog, and ignoring the kids (or is it the other way around?). Over the years, I've developed a site visit checklist that prompts me to thoroughly review the existing conditions. A checklist gets you back on track when a distraction derails your train of thought.
Listed below are the items I include on my checklist. Some of the items apply to remodeling work only, and others serve more as reminders to broach a topic with either the home owner, or the general contractor. Diplomacy is a part of doing business, and often times a potential conflict can be resolved if one party is reminded that the cause of the current problem was discussed during the site visit.
Consider calling the customer a few days prior to the installation. This will give you an opportunity to follow up on any items that were cloudy after the walk-through, and lets them know that you're concerned about the job.
Does this method guarantee you won't have problems? Of course not. But by scheduling a site visit, and using this checklist, you'll not only recognize most potential problems, but keep small problems from getting bigger.