ONETIME- Saw stops here: Near disaster along the wall

Geoff Pitts of Ace Contracting

One time, we had a big job on a very fine, old house, involving a fair amount of remodeling.

On that job, an employee was left alone one morning. He had to cut a hole through the kitchen wall's plaster– I think it was old-fashioned plaster on lath, with wood strips behind it. It had to be sawed, so he used a Sawzall with a very long blade.

He measured very carefully and checked thoroughly for wiring, etc., then began sawing the plaster out, starting up near the ceiling on a ladder and moving down to the floor.

My brother, who ran the job, showed up later and saw something. He walked around to the house's other end, into the perfectly decorated, historical-looking living room. 

He looked up and saw where the Sawzall had penetrated the living room wall– not just the kitchen wall. The cut came down from the ceiling and, about an inch or two before it hit a portrait hanging on the wall in a gilt-edged frame, it pulled back into the wall, for whatever reason, continued down, and below the painting, it reemerged into the living room, sawed for another foot or so. The cut stopped about an inch or two above an antique sofa's back and its beautiful wooden frame. 

The only damage that we had to take care of was to the wall and the paint instead of having to purchase two priceless antiques.

Our employee– a very religious person– ascribed the entire incident to the guiding hand of some higher power.

I'm not sure what it was, but I'd rather be lucky than good.

Great care is essential on jobs like that: having someone working on it with the experience and foresight to consider all the possibilities. It's impossible in my experience, after thirty-some years, to completely stop accidents. That worker went to a lot of trouble, measuring carefully and considering many possibilities. But it's hard to be so good that you rule out every consideration.

We try to maintain good humor and be very willing to take care of problems when they arise. If something of great value had been damaged, we would have dealt with it.

How you deal with it at that point is the crucial thing. You can't avoid accidents, so willingly dealing with it and making your client happy is extremely important.

A great question to ask when you're checking somebody's references is "When things went wrong, how was it handled?" And if the answer is "They got angry and bitter, and we had to force them to take care of it," then that's not the person you want to deal with.