Heat, humidity and humanity combine on a recent ABC Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project.
By: Mark L. Johnson
How would you like to install 14,000 square feet of gypsum drywall and apply a palette and a half of joint compound in 4 hours?
Would you mind that it’s a 93-degree, nearly 100-percent humidity day? It should also be mentioned that the electrician is still working, the exterior sheathing isn’t on, and 150 people are parading in and out of your workspace. Still up for the task?
Welcome to "The Extreme Drywall Challenge.” America knows it as ABC’s "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a television program featuring a family in need whose lives are forever changed when the community helps build them a house in just a few days. In June, Allstate Interiors, Inc., Monroe, N.Y., handled this drywall work—in 3 hours and 45 minutes. (Allstate Interiors is a Lifetime Member of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry.)
"It was like putting the grand piano in the living room before the roof was on,” says Fred Soward, president of Allstate Interiors. "The windows weren’t even installed before we got there.”
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
This is Allstate Interiors’ second involvement with "Extreme Makeover.” The first came in 2007. While on vacation in Florida, Soward received a call from Alure Home Improvement, Plainview, N.Y. An eight-time "Extreme Makeover” participant, Alure had the general contract for a quick-build home in upstate New York.
"They were doing ‘Extreme Makeover’ and needed help. Their drywaller had stiffed them,” Soward says. "We immediately flew up from Florida. Two days later, we sent 40 people to the job site.”
Impressed with the work, Alure called Allstate Interiors in June. This time, Alure was building a home for the Lutz family of East Setauket, N.Y. The Lutz’ heartening back-story involves six siblings, each with Down syndrome, being cared for by their brother and sister.
Unable to have children, Grace and John Lutz adopted 18 kids, including several with Down syndrome. After the couple passed away, their daughter, Kathleen, came home to care for six of her siblings with Down syndrome. Then, Kathleen unexpectedly had a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with an inoperable, cancerous brain tumor. Her brother, John Jr., decided to move to the home and care for his sister and the other siblings. Kathleen went through radiation and chemotherapy treatments and is now in stable health and shares caring for the family with John.
But the Lutz family needed a new home. Their 40-year-old, ranch-style home was deteriorating.
"All Hands on Deck”
The build took place the week of June 20, 2010. Allstate Interiors’ drywall crews were on site on Thursday, June 24.
"It was one of the hottest seasons on record and one of the hottest weeks of June,” Soward says. "I had two guys pass out that day.”
Besides the extreme weather conditions, the job site was packed with trades people and volunteers. At one count as many as 1,000 were part of the operation.
"They [the show’s organizers] had a separate security patrol and a place to drop off your vehicles,” Soward says. "We took a shuttle bus to register and sign forms to appear on TV. Another bus took us to the actual site.”
Allstate Interiors brought 75 hangers and finishers to the job site. "Normally, I have 25 guys on a job, so this was like combining three jobs in one,” Soward says. "We sent over three foremen and had a call within the company for all hands on deck.”
Since it was a weekday, Allstate Interiors had to pick and pull employees from other company jobs, while still sufficiently covering that ongoing work. According to Gloria Miguez, executive vice president of Allstate Interiors, some employees came to work on the Lutz family home from as far away as Massachusetts and Virginia.
Organizing the Chaos
Martin Legenos, vice president at Allstate Interiors, ran the drywall operations, though he did not see any blueprints until he arrived on the job site.
"It was organized disorganization,”’ Legenos says. "Besides my guys, there were probably 150 people inside that house at any given time,” Legenos says. "There had to be another 75 people outside. They were putting in a pool at the same time they were siding the house.”
"You had every trade on top of each other,” Legenos continues. "When we got there, the sheathing wasn’t even finished. We started hanging board before the insulation and wiring were done. City inspectors worked in from the outside. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that.”
Crews for Allstate Interiors started work at 9:15 in the morning. The first order of business was getting board from a staging area located 100 yards from the build.
"They had so many people that you couldn’t bring in any lifts,” Soward says. "They had one loader working with the roof, and another with the windows. It was just easier for us to walk the board in and start hanging it.”
"A 12-foot sheet of gypsum board isn’t anything a volunteer can handle, so I took our men and walked them to the pile,” Legenos adds. "We looked like ants going to a picnic.”
The crew formed a line: two men per board, one pair handing board to the next, and so on. "It must have looked like one continuous sheet of drywall coming into the house,” says Legenos, whose crews loaded the house with board in 10 minutes.
Legenos used a basic formula to calculate material needs: 3.7 times the 3,800-square-foot home. "That gave us 14,000 square feet of board,” he says. "We padded with an extra 1,000 square feet.”
First Up: Bathrooms
Legenos and two other supervisors divided the project’s oversight. "We each took a section of the house to make sure the board application and taping were correct and that no shortcuts were taken,” Legenos says. "At one time, we had the whole team inside.”
Legenos decided to do the bathrooms first, since the electricians still had plenty of work remaining to run the ceiling wiring and install the lighting fixtures.
"Typically, you do your ceilings first and then you butt your wallboard up to it. We had to do something different because the electrical wasn’t in,” Legenos says. "We had to get going, so we added spacers to the tops of the perimeter walls. We pushed our board right up to the spacers and later pulled them out when they finished the electric and we could put in the ceilings.”
By starting with the bathrooms and hanging the walls before the ceilings, Allstate was able to start taping joints quickly. The tile setters got faster access to the bathrooms, and the electricians had time to finish their work.
"Our first piece of ‘rock’ was up around 10:30 that morning,” Legenos says. "By their time frame we were supposed to be out by 1 in the afternoon. We ended up leaving at 3 because the other trades were behind. I also had to stop my crew for 45 minutes at noon to let other trades work. We had run out of places to throw up our board.”
Allstate Interiors’ crews worked at breakneck speed. Clocking them from 10:30 to 3 p.m., and removing the imposed 45-minute break at noon meant crews hung and taped 14,000 square feet of drywall in 3 hours and 45 minutes.
"The humidity was probably 100 percent, but I didn’t see one guy lose his cool,” says Legenos, not just of his crew, but also of the other trades. "We all worked like family.”
Materials, Tools, Safety
"There were soffits everywhere,” Soward adds. "There was a two-story, 12-foot by 10-foot skylight in a sunroom with gypsum board and cornerbead all the way around it. Every window return had bead.”
The home’s central sunroom, or atrium design, was added to appeal to the Lutz children’s love for New York City. Here, the architect created an airy, two-story interior with inside walls finished to resemble the brownstone row houses typical of the New York City streetscape. Allstate Interiors had to install large sections of drywall in this area of the home.
"We had to ‘rock’ and finish the atrium before they set the glass up above,” Legenos says. "We had to skim coat walls approximately 20 feet tall by 30 feet long, as well as end walls 20 feet tall and 12 feet long.”
Crews used both quick-setting and all-purpose mud varieties. Upon taping the joints with a 15-minute lightweight setting-type joint compound, finishers followed with a second coat using a 25-minute setting-type mud. The final coat on the joints was a mixture of both all-purpose and 45-minute setting-type material.
Crews used automatic tapers to speed up the taping of joints. To accelerate drying time, given the humidity, Legenos circulated air using four, 4-foot fans.
Legenos and the other supervisors kept a strict eye on potential safety hazards. From time to time, they called on local community volunteers to come into the house and care for spot cleanups.
"If it seemed like the place had become chaos, and that somebody might get hurt, I’d call for a stop,” Legenos says. "I’d send volunteers, maybe 10 to 12 people, to pick up debris. Fifteen minutes later, we’d be back at it.”
"A big thing was the [electrical] cords,” Legenos says. "I had a couple of our guys just running around and moving cords from one side of the house to the other, so everyone could work without tripping.”
"Makes Your Heart Feel Good”
How did Allstate Interiors’ work on the Lutz family home come out?
"Community-minded organizations like Allstate Interiors Inc. are the precious commodity that made a project like this possible,” wrote Sal Ferro, president and CEO of Alure Home Improvement, in a post-project letter of thanks to Soward.
"Our entire team was extremely happy,” Soward says. "Others knew that we were key to getting this project done on time. If we hadn’t supplied our manpower and resources to that job, especially on one of the hottest days of the year, they may still be there scratching their heads on how to get the drywall work done.”
Judging from the Oct. 3 airing of "Extreme Makeover,” the individual members of the Lutz family were thrilled to tears with their new home and its amenities.
"Seeing what we accomplished for these kids who have come through such tragedy makes your heart feel good,” Soward says.
Mark L. Johnson is an industry writer and strategic marketing consultant.