Trim-out time for electrical, heating and plumbing systems is when the house begins to look and act more finished.
Baths get sinks, faucets and toilets. Kitchens get sinks and faucets and range hoods. Heating ducts disappear with tidy grills, and everywhere extension cords recede as electrical outlets multiply. Homeowners start picking out (or at least arguing over) paint colors and collecting wallpaper books.
While trim-out is the last stage before decorating, there are some elements of a design scheme that need to be in place first: ceramic or vinyl bathroom floors, for instance.
The plumber usually wants to install toilets and vanities on top of a finished floor. That not only makes it easier to install the floor (especially if you are using some form of vinyl one-piece flooring), it also means the plumber can be sure you're not going to remove his fixtures and reinstall them incorrectly. (If you're using tile that doesn't provide a smooth surface, install the vanity first. Otherwise it could be wobbly.)
Most people install kitchen cabinets before flooring (to save material costs and ensure that the cabinets rest on a perfectly flat surface), though sinks and faucets may not be put in until the plumbing trim-out.
Some electrical trim-out work can be done even before drywall is installed, especially if you need some receptacles to plug in tools. Drywall is easier to install and finish if the wires can be pushed back into the box out of the way of finishing trowels, so only do a few this way. We usually ask the electrician to install one receptacle per floor at the rough-in stage. And definitely do not install fancy ceiling fixtures until the painting is complete and you are through generating dust.
Generally, once all the walls are smooth, all the floors are installed and all surfaces are basically ready for paint, it's time to get reacquainted with your trade subcontractors.
If they were paid promptly for the rough-in part of the job, they are no doubt eager to come back and work for you again.
Incidentally, this is a good argument for monitoring the payment process carefully, even if you have a general contractor. The subs will come back if they have a contract, but if the pay was slow the first time, they may put your job on the back burner. Persuading reluctant subs to come back and finish work can be a major delay, even a major hassle. (In most states, subcontractors can file a lien for non-payment, even if you paid the general contractor.)
Subcontractors typically arrange their schedules for two stages on each job. The first stage is the rough-in, when the pipes, wires and ducts are installed in newly framed walls. Then they go on to someone else's job, and come back to yours for the finishing touches.
If the project has been carefully planned, those two stages will be all you need. If, for some reason, you want a systems subcontractor to come back at a third stage (or a fourth or fifth), he may have trouble working you into the schedule. The smaller the task, the more trouble he may have getting back.
Tempers may flare at this point. Try to remember the subcontractor's point of view. His price for the job is based on his own estimate of how long the job will take. (An estimate you certainly asked for before you hired him.)
If he comes to install three sinks, and can only do one, he's not going to get paid, because he's not finished. So it's not worth his while to come back until all three sinks can be put in.
If all you want him to do is replace a kitchen faucet, he'll be reluctant to leave some other (perhaps better-planned and better-paying) job for a couple of hours, because it's going to cost him more than the task is worth.
Rest assured that everything called for in the contract has to be done. Common sense and patience will smooth the process.
Next: Preparing to save energy this winter.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.
If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.