The Rescue Builder

When a home project goes horribly, horribly wrong and the contractor disappears, Tom Phillips steps in to straighten things out.

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Tom Phillips and contractors like him can fix the structural issues and address code violations made by builders who don’t know what they’re doing. Photograph by Tom NutterKaren Carlson and Charlene Conde have never met, but they have shared the same nightmare. Both were victims of contractors who were either unscrupulous, incompetent or both. Along with considerable emotional stress, they suffered varying degrees of financial loss before their problems were resolved. What it took was hundreds of phone calls to New Castle County’s Department of Land Use to access bond money that enabled them to hire a new contractor.

The new contractor was Tom Phillips, of Newark-based Phillips Construction, one of the dozen or so who have earned the respect and sanction of the Department of Land Use. To Carlson and Conde, Phillips was the instrument of deliverance from escalating disasters that began as well-intentioned renovations. Phillips addressed the structural problems that made their new additions either unlivable or unsafe, problems the original contractors could not—or simply would not—correct.

“Contractors who build new homes don’t make mistakes like these,” says Phillips, a residential contractor for 15 years. He specializes in renovations and additions. “In the past six years, I’ve rebuilt at least 10 additions with code violations that threatened the structural integrity. Structural mistakes are the biggest mistakes contractors make. They stem from inadequate footings or inadequate bearing points.”

In the case of the Conde home in North Wilmington, the original contractor used inadequate rafters, so the entire cathedral ceiling of the 16-by-25 foot addition sagged. The contractor also had opened up 16 feet of an outside bearing wall without supporting it with temporary walls on the first and second floors.

Work on the project stopped for months before Conde stopped listening to the contractor’s excuses. She called the county, which led to the discovery that the work had not passed inspection—an alarming fact the contractor had not shared with his clients. Subsequently, the house was declared unsafe. Conde, her husband and two children had to move out while temporary walls were installed.

“It was winter, and for months there had been only a sheet of plastic between our kitchen and the outside,” Conde says. “Even worse, rodents were entering through a hole opened in the basement.”

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