Installations in High Rise Residential Buildings

Advice on the ins and outs of installing cabinetry and millwork in the upper stories of a tall building in the city. July 13, 2010

I've never worked in a high rise residential building before, and I'm putting together a bid for a built-in office and some closet cabinets. This condo is up on the 17th floor. What concerns should I have? I figure just getting the cabinets and my tools up there is going to be a major hassle.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor H:
Don't build anything that won't fit in the service elevator.
You cannot work past certain hours.
Don't anger the doorman or maintenance guys.
Parking will be an issue.
You need an extra person to sit in your truck while you work so you won't be robbed.
Double how long you think it will take to install.

From contributor S:

What he said. Also...
Don't build anything that won't fit in the elevator.
The building is going to require a certificate of insurance.
Make sure you know when deliveries can be made so you know when you can bring your cabinets in.
You and everyone else working there will be using the one elevator at the same time.
Multiply your normal install rate by 3 and mark that number up by 20%.
Charge one day minimum for delivery.
Don't build anything that won't fit in the elevator.
Make sure you have a secure location to store your tools overnight at the jobsite. Try not to carry tools in and out every day.
Deliver and install on separate days.
Get a letter from the condo association that states the name of the owner of the condo unit and make sure the letter authorizes you to do the work you are contracted to do. Do not take the homeowner's word that it is okay. Make sure the person who you are contracting with is authorized to renovate the unit. Condos can be sublet to someone who is not authorized to renovate.
Make sure you have everything you need before you start to install.
Get a permit for the job.
Include in your contract a charge for multiple trips/delays beyond your control.
Don't build anything that won't fit in the elevator.

From contributor G:
Make sure that the condo association does not have restrictions that all work of a certain type must be performed by the association's maintenance supplier. If there is an official supplier, say a "house electrical service" that must make all electrical connections, (plumbing, HVAC, etc.) make sure you can interface, and expect to be held up (in both the time and money sense) by them.

Be prepared for charges by the janitors for hanging protective pads in the elevators... and be prepared to be held up by them.

Be prepared for an assortment of folks with their hands out for cash to open doors, let you park long enough to unload, etc. There are even commercial locations that have charges for their staff to move items from the dock to the location, which you are not allowed to do.

From contributor J:
I guess I'm not the only one who built something that didn't fit into the service elevator.

Watch out for those silent smoke alarms with a direct link to the fire department.

From contributor I:
I just hope you have young legs if there is no elevator. I also hope you have some good cash to tip the driver who has to carry the boxes and makes all those trips from truck to elevator (if you have one) to upper floor to room.

The one and only high rise I did was with a team of installers doing the upper floors, so we were not prepared with a shopping cart or similar that allowed us to make one trip up with our tools. We had no elevator, just 5 flights of stairs. Installers need about 4 trips to get all their tools needed for an install to the site. That was a lot of stairs.

So we took turns. 5 guys total, 4 would make one trip and one would guard our trucks. Trip 2, another would stay behind, trip 3 another. We all made the same amount of trips from truck, up the stairs to floor to room with arms full of tools.

The best part? There was no power, so we had to drop 200' of heavy duty power cords to the ground. That was the easy part. Winding them back up while standing up there pulling the weight of that cord while winding... Let's just say your arm was useless till the next morning. I would never take a kitchen on in a high rise again. I don't care what kind of markup I could get.

From contributor L:
Find out if you can do any cutting in the apartment. I worked on a residential job on the 11th floor once, and as the job got to the end, we were no longer allowed to use chopsaws or tablesaws in the unit. Every single cut, we had to measure, then take the elevator down to the service alley and cut there, then take the elevator back up. You can't begin to imagine how long doing anything can take until you have experienced this!

If there is an operator for the service elevator, expect him to get slower and slower as the job goes on. Expect to grease him for more reasonable service.

If you will be there for a while, debris will become a problem. There are small dumpsters made to fit on elevators (assuming you can have them on site at all).

As many have said, parking is always a headache; and definitely have a truck-sitter to keep your tools in the family. I got clipped once while unloading my truck to a second story install. While I went up, they went into my truck. I don't think I was upstairs for even five minutes between trips to unload...

Oh yeah, don't build anything that won't fit on the elevator. Actually, I recall one building super who would take oversized stuff up on the roof of the elevator (in the shaft, next to the cable, with him riding shotgun!). The elevator car was stopped so its roof was a foot or so below the door to the floor it opened on. The material got loaded on top, then the door to that floor was closed and up it went. The process was the same to unload. Don't expect this to be a common practice, and do expect to contribute to everyone's vacation fund.

From contributor B:
Ditto to what you've already been told, particularly about working hours and working space. Be sure to add time for waiting on the elevator while unloading and distributing. It will take a lot longer than you think. And you will have one guy sitting with the truck while the rest are waiting on the elevator. And don't build anything that won't fit in the elevator. (Been there, done that, and I think I'm not the first.)

From contributor Z:
Don't believe anything anyone tells you. Check everything yourself. Everything. We installed a multi-panel sliding door unit in the penthouse apartment of a building on Hollywood Blvd, right near the edge of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. The door supplier said the panels would fit in the elevator. They each weighed about 400 lbs. Of course they didn't. We had to carry them up the stairs. Took five of us. Only 20 floors or something. We were barely able to turn the corners. But none of that was the really crazy part... The new unit ran all the way across the living room wall, about 30 ft. long. The tracks were about 15 ft. long. Very early one morning, we dropped a rope over the building and...