Unwanted Discoveries: When Building Projects Encounter the Unexpected


It’s the repeating “plot twist” in almost every show you watch on HGTV. The home renovation is going along smoothly, when all of a sudden…the builders uncover an unexpected problem lurking in the attic, or the foundation, or the pipes, or a weakened support beam that could send the whole house crashing down at any moment! You watch with bated breath while the show host tells the owners their building project is going to go way behind schedule. The problem is going to take weeks to fix and add thousands to the budget. (Oh, the drama!)

If you think it’s bad in a home renovation on HGTV, consider the repercussions of uncovering some hidden problem in a major, multi-unit construction project. Multiply the stress ten-fold and you’ve got an idea.

Forgive us for chuckling; we’re not downplaying the seriousness of it. If it’s your building project and your money, an unwanted discovery can be very serious. Rather, we’re chuckling at the feigned surprise. Of course these builders know they’re going to encounter something unexpected. So do the creators of these home improvement reality shows. In the many years we’ve been in this business, we’ve uncovered these lurking problems countless times, to the point that we’re almost surprised when it doesn’t happen.

Building projects in older cities like New York or Boston are especially prone to unwanted discoveries, simply because of how many times the real estate is renovated and reused. We dig into a wall to find the 100-year-old wiring is a fire waiting to happen, an outdated pipe suddenly bursts and floods the basement. Even when clearing a lot and rebuilding from scratch, hidden dangers can be lurking under the soil—leftover relics from buildings that occupied the space centuries earlier. No wonder these projects so easily go over budget and behind schedule!

Dealing with the Unexpected

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So how do you keep these lurking dangers from derailing your project? While it’s impossible to prevent them completely, there are ways to anticipate and deal with them in a way that mitigates the delays and extra cost. Here are some ways to be prepared.

·         Schedule a thorough inspection of the build site. While you can’t uncover every possible problem, you can certainly reduce the risk by learning everything you can before construction or renovation begins. The inspectors might also be able to give you a heads-up if you’re at risk for a particular type of issue, so at least you won’t be surprised if you uncover something.

·         Be conservative with your estimated completion date. Allowing for more time than your current project needs will give you a buffer to help reduce the stress if something comes up.

·         Pad your budget as much as possible. Set aside a special fund designated for unexpected problems so if/when they arise, you have the resources to deal with them.

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Here at Wellbuilt, we maintain the mindset of “expecting the unexpected.” On our end, we do our best to give conservative projections (especially with older buildings and build sites) so when these problems arise, we can keep the drama to a minimum and keep your project on track. To learn more, give us a call at 1.917.475.1207.