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Q: I was just driving down a very busy - but residential - road near my office here in New Jersey, and I saw a pick-up truck parked halfway on the curb and halfway blocking traffic. Turns out it was carrying some pretty fragile-looking stonework - specifically a white marble tub surround. I was thinking that among all of the challenges for countertop installers, I never thought about having to deal with automobile traffic. I wanted to stick around and watch how they handled it, but honestly, there was nowhere that I could stop.
It would be great to hear about some of the various jobsite challenges you guys have encountered and how you were able to overcome them.
Dan Riccolo, Morris Granite, Morris, IL: The most difficult installation sites for us are high-rise units in downtown Chicago. Sometimes they require three different elevator banks to reach the 85th floor, with an extra security checkpoint at the last group. There is security going into the building as well.
Also, there is no cutting in the building, so we make sure the piece will fit before we make the 18-minute (on a good trip) journey up to the unit. We do everything that we can to try and avoid an unnecessary trip (up to an hour round trip). We also face limited parking and a scheduled elevator time (miss your time and you are out of luck), and one employee stays with the truck all the time.
David Lovelock, Sherer Studio, Inc., High Springs, FL: For us, other than pieces being quite large going through tight hallways, the bigger issue is ground condition. Specifically, when we are dealing with new construction in our area, we often have yards that have not been graded in about four months, and they are full of tire ruts. Then if it happens to rain, this whole area turns to mud. Our solution has been to purchase OSB board the night before install, and to bring enough with us to create a boardwalk from the street to the house. It can get pricey at times, but it is certainly cheaper than an injured employee or a broken piece of stone from tripping or falling. Plus, many times, this is the only way we can use a cart. The ground is generally either too rutted, or it is comprised of sugar sand, and the carts all sink in sugar sand.
Ken Lago, Granite Countertop Experts LLC, Hampton, VA: For me, every jobsite has some level of difficulty. The key is to know these potential issues ahead of time, so the install team knows what to expect, and they are instructed how to handle the problems when they get to the site. It is also essential to always have the install truck loaded with every problem solving tool one can think of.
Dustin Braudway, Bluewater Surfaces, Wilmington, NC: Living in a southern coastal community, our most difficult jobs tend to be our beach houses. These are often built up on heavy timbers, which start at the first floor around 12 to 14 feet off the ground. Almost all of the staircases are switchbacks, and they are narrow. The kitchens always tend to be on the second or third floor so they can have a view of the ocean or sound. What we run into is that everyone wants the largest pieces and full slab islands or two full slab islands. Using any material, you have to stop and take material handling into account when estimating and templating these types of jobs. Customers tend to be very adamant about not wanting seams as well as wanting those large pieces. More often than not, we find ourselves renting large-construction forklifts (Lull, Gradall, etc.) to boom the material up to the second, third or fourth floors. Sometimes, the railings have to come down to make it work, but the client knows and pays for this. A rule of thumb for my company is as follows:
1. Check out the residence and location prior to estimate (if a beach home).
2. Review materials and educate the customer on the materials prior to estimate after viewing the home.
3. Educate the customer on the weight of the material, entry points and if there will be an upcharge for large pieces.
More often than not, difficult jobsites can be worked out with a proper plan of attack before the installers even set foot on the job - as long as you take the time to review the logistics and educate the client on the safest way to achieve their wants.