Small Complex Jobs - Maneuvering the Labyrinth and Taming the Dragon

Updated: Jun 26

Small jobs require superior planning and execution to avoid getting lost in the labyrinth and consumed by a dragon.
Minotaur Waiting in the Center of the Labyrinth

I went to look at a small, complex project the other day in an historic Tampa neighborhood called Hyde Park. The house stood out from all the others because of a particular style of window, something I would notice.

The windows were archetypal, a mixture of both the double hung and casement styles with a unique nine over one pattern- one large diamond surrounded by eight small triangles The bottom sash of the double hung set was a single lite with a large, single piece of glass, a nice contrast to the decorative assembly above it. The casement sash reflected the same design, only the pattern was contained within one large sash - making it a ten lite. Ingeniously simple and attractive, the nameless architect who first sketched the pattern was iconic.

Notice the piece of tape up top on the left set of windows?  That's to cover up daylight coming through.  They are sagging and crooked in the opening.  Setting these right would be a serious challenge.
Casement Windows, Iconic Design


Arming Myself With Questions

Knowing how to proceed in repairing, rebuilding and refinishing even a simple set of windows requires curious, yet serious investigation. Questions, based on previous battles both won and lost, flood my mind.

What are the site conditions? Do I really have to navigate those bushes? No shade? Please turn off the sprinkler system.

What is the paint condition? What is the sheen? Was it sprayed? Where is the water getting in? Is there any rot? Oh wow. It's soft enough to stick my pencil in it.

What kind of hardware is attached? Is the hardware original, if it’s even there at all? Are those cabinet hinges? Who does that? Oh. They have Phillips head screws. Definitely not original. That could account for the Hardiboard trim their screwed to.

Where did the original hardware go? Can such hardware be sourced? If the original hardware is gone, are these windows even original? Were they taken from another source and installed here during some sort of renovation? Maybe this set of windows here is different than that set of windows there. Ah, I know. These were salvaged when they did that renovation in the 80s. I'm glad they saved them. Still, they're installed all wrong. Why that stick covering up the joint in the middle?

Why two different profiles on two sets of windows in the same room? Does the client even realize they are different? Is that even important to the client? There's a third profile in the kitchen? Ok. Now we have a mystery. Which is the original? Can I match this profile if I need to? Which do I draw from to build a replica if I need to? Maybe these were made by an altogether different set of artisans. Wow. Lots of history here. Big story to unpack. The client stops me. "What is a sash?"

Complete with wavy glass.  BTW, who puts cheap kitchen cabinet hinges with phillips head screws on a window like this?
9 over 1 Casement Sash

What about the glass? Is it wavy? Was it scratched irreparably by unaware workers? Is it new glass? Has it been caulked in? What if I break a piece? Dang, I don't think I have a piece that big on hand. Where can I source a piece that big? That piece over there is already broken. Is flat glass ok?

What presuppostions about the work does the client dwell on? Does he even know the caliber of what he has here? He didn't even know what a sash is. Maybe hee just want a handyman to put some bubble gum on it? Maybe a little caulk? Some blue tape? Because that's not me.

Financially, what would it take to safely and comfortably take on this project? Is the price I am thinking enough to pull this off? What am I missing? What am I not thinking about? Is my price in alignment with what the client thinks its going to cost? Am I asking for enough money to execute? How do I look at this job? With all the variables it’s so hard to tell.

It’s a small job. It’s really really hard to do a small job. Small jobs are big dragons. There’s not much room for error. Any major oversights and I’m dead. Dead again. Ask me how I know. If I fail to execute, how do complete the project and maintain my integrity?


So a job is not just “a job.” Done properly, it is a finessed work of art. That word, "Properly" is so subjective and debatable. Will it be my version or the client's? When I go to the auto mechanic, I defer to his version. The plumber? Yes, we'll do it his way. But then again I trust their judgment. Does the client trust my judgement? What experience do I have that I should be trusted? Has the client seen evidence of my competence? What if I am incompetent? The client will surely find out.

A job done properly best reflects everyone’s desired vision of the outcome, protects everyone’s interests involved and adequately provides the actual solutions necessary for every party’s ultimate satisfaction. It is the best possible solution applied to the problem to be solved, across all possible scenarios.

All too often, when projects are conducted, money is the primary aim. While money is important, the primary aim should be to solve the problem. Money is the tool that provides the space to complete the project. Bid too low and you'll quickly run out of space. Bid too high and you don't get the job. To bid in such a way that you have the space to do the project is complicated. Awarded the job, it's up to you to organize your activities so as not to squander the project's resources. Organized properly, you are rewarded well. Unorganized? To go back to the client and ask for more money because you were ignorant is unethical. If the client is agreeable to paying for your education, that's one thing. But most were under the impression that you were competent and that you'd already paid for your education. It's best to absorb the hit and take your lumps. Deceiving the client into believing you are more capable than you are can really burn the both of you. If your goal is merely to get the money, you may get it at the cost of losing your current and future client.

Types of solutions people come up with

Solution 1. Ignore it and hope it goes away.

Solution 2. Put some tape on it and cover it up.

Solution 3. Screw a board over the top and cover it up.

Solution 4. Caulk it and paint it so that nobody but you and the homeowner knows there’s an underlying problem.

Solution 5. Repair it with bondo, fuse everything shut and say “That’s what people are doing with this problem now.”

Solution 6. Repair the frames, sashes and have everything function as though it were newly installed on day one. Everything functions as intended, looks as intended,