Updated: Jan 29
I wish I could say that there is an easy way to renovate, but the truth is that it is one of those things that you sometimes have to go through the wringer first, before you see the beautiful results. I liken it to child birth - there has to be some pain before the beauty.
This is especially true if you live through it - like in the same space! It can be difficult, but working with a firm like us can be the difference between pulling your hair out or surviving....and even thriving through a renovation project
This post is not really about renovations itself, (I have written a few posts about that on the blog, here's one of my favorites), but instead, I want to talk about some of the things you can do to prepare for it and make it the easiest it can be. It definitely helps to have a great team like ours in place before you begin, and together with your team, talk through every detail of what to expect.
A good designer and contractor have seen it all and can help you prepare for some worse case scenarios. They will walk you through every detail of what to expect, so you can plan properly to make the process as easy as possible. They will likely have a good team in place that understands that it is still your home and not just a job site, so protecting your home and keeping a clean job site will be an important part of the process for them.
The first step is to get your mind prepared for possibly some uproar in your life, and definitely some change in routine. You will experience a range of emotions - from being excited for demo day, to feeling frustrated and overwhelmed when the house is in disarray, but as the project develops into that dream that you envision, the excitement will come rushing back.
Before you pull out the sledge hammer and start demo, here are some key things to note and to ask yourself.
1 - What do the initial conversations look like?
This is a great time to have some honest and straight-forward conversations with your General Contractor (GC) and Designer about what to expect when it comes to the timeline, budget, how they handle unexpected issues
You want to work with a GC who will give you a comprehensive cost summary instead of just an estimate. An estimate is ok in the beginning stages, and is used to give you a reasonable range to consider. The numbers are typically not solid and will likely change. Your GC may start out with an estimate, but at some point they should give some actuals, which then becomes the budget for the project. Of course, they should advise you that there may be issues that arise that were not accounted for in the budget - like opening up walls to find that there is mold. This happens more than you realize, but a good GC will have experience with these unforeseen issues and can help you prepare for them. They should be able to provide you with a timeline and schedule so you can do your own planning
You want a GC and Designer who are not afraid to have the difficult conversations with you about potentials for cost overruns, delays and the possibility of issues occurring. I would avoid anyone who will make it sound like it will be rainbows and kittens throughout the process. It may mean that they are not being upfront, or they are not experienced enough to know that things do happen. But you also want to make sure they communicate with you quickly and clearly and have solutions for any issues that may come up
2 - When is the right time to renovate?
Make sure you are ready. That is the best advice I can give. If you have major things going on in your life, you may want to consider how a renovation project will impact those life situations. For example, are you getting ready to have a baby, or get married, or you will be traveling a lot for work? What time/season of the year will you be in the thick of the renovations? Are you trying to rush to meet a certain deadline? Will the trades be working on the weekends and holidays when you are home to keep on schedule?
These are all pretty involved life situations that will demand your time, and adding renovations into the mix might be the straw that breaks the camel's back, so I would be cautious.
Depending on where you live, the weather can be a factor with renovations, so planning accordingly is essential
And renovating to meet a tight timeline, will create stress before you even begin. I understand that this is sometimes necessary, but oftentimes people assign tight timelines for the heck of it or as a way to control the process. Remember that a lot of the work that happens with renovating is dependent on a lot of other people. Inspections, for example, are one of the things that are necessary but can create longer than expected delays
3 - Educating yourself as well
Yes, I know that's what you pay the professionals to do, but you should have at least some general knowledge of what will happen. You need to look out for your own interests, as regrettably, there are less than stellar personalities out there offering renovation services.
For example, have a basic knowledge of whether you live in a jurisdiction that requires permits for any changes you make to your home. The GC may be long gone before you realize years down the road that it will affect the value of your home
For your own sanity, do your own research on everything, from the people you will be working with, to what is required to renovate in your area, what plans you need to have etc. This is why it is a great idea to have a design firm like ours to advocate for you. We bring experience and knowledge to the table, and consider it our duty to educate you on everything. You can download our Renovation Guide HERE which covers a lot of what you need to know before embarking on a renovation
4 - What does demo look like?
Demo day is actually pretty fun and it is a day that most clients are super excited to see. It is usually after a lot of planning and preparation, but some important conversations need to take place when it comes to demo day
How much dust will be let loose in your house is a good question to ask. While you cannot control dust entirely, you can limit its reach. Things like zip walls and magnetic vent covers will be your best friend. Of course store items that cannot handle dust and cover furniture as much as possible. Consider whether you will store these items at home or offsite.
Something important to keep in mind is if any family member has asthma or other conditions that excess dust might affect. Be sure to have dust masks on hand or maybe even fans in certain spaces in your home
Discuss with your GC about site cleanup, whether it will occur daily or not. Where will all the demolished items go? Will they bring in a dumpster and how long will the dumpster be onsite? Do you need approval from your HOA for dumpsters? Is it appropriate to talk to your neighbors as well - having a dumpster on your property may be disruptive to their life as well. If there isn't a dumpster, who is responsible for hauling away trash? Is it each trade or the GC? What about recycling? Is it something that's important to you?
These little issues, if not planned for properly can cause unnecessary stress
5 - Alternate cooking and bathroom options
If you are renovating a kitchen or bathroom, your ability to use these facilities will be hampered for a while. You need a plan for that. Is there another bathroom in the home that the family will use? How will that affect your routines? For cooking, will you embrace Uber Eats more or do you plan on setting up some temporary cooking area - like a hot plate? Will you have a temporary water tap set up somewhere accessible?
It is not just cooking. Getting snacks for the kids, making coffee or tea, feeding the dogs and cats. Not to mention storing all the kitchen items and utensils.
6 - What about logistics?
This may seem like one of the things you want to keep your hands off of, but I think it is important to understand what your GC has in mind to manage this process. Without a proper plan, the delivery of materials can become a nightmare.
Keep in mind that at any given time you will have tons of strangers in your home, and it is not the best idea to have materials just sitting around unattended.
Who is responsible for ordering and picking up materials and verifying that the right materials and quantities have been ordered. Where will they be stored? Inside or a storage container onsite? Does the garage need to cleared out for that? What about materials like wood that need to be acclimated before installation. If you live in your home with children and pets, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to have boxes and boxes of materials laying around. Have a plan in place for this
7 - Bathroom facilities for the subs
Ok, this is not a fun one to have to think about, but if you are like me, I want to limit strangers using the bathroom facilities that I use, especially if you are down to less bathrooms. There needs to be a plan for where they are allowed to relieve themselves. Maybe have a porta-potty brought in, which may require approval from your HOA
8 - How will they access the home while you're not home
You also need to think through how the trades people will access your home during renovations. It is very difficult to be home at all times to wait for trades to arrive and be there when they are present.
One solution might be a lockbox on the exterior that requires a code to access a key. Another might be to set up some kind of electronic keyless system.
I would advise you to make sure your GC has a conversation with his/her subs about the proper protocol when it comes to using a lockbox to access a key to your home. Maybe he can provide you with a list of trades who will be present on days that you will be home, so you know who will be in and out.
Also, make sure they knock first. Seems like common courtesy, but remember that some subs might be more accustomed to being on unoccupied job sites. I once had a man in my upstairs hallway right as I got out of the shower. He assumed I wasn't home (even though my car was parked outside), and he did not knock before entering my home. I certainly wasn't expecting him. It was an innocent error, but I can imagine how scary that might be for a client.
9 - Locking away your jewelry and other valuables
This is another thing that might seem fairly obvious, but one of the more embarrassing or awkward conversations to have.
It does not ever mean that you think someone will steal from you, to protect yourself from it. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Lock away valuables that don't need to be sitting out. It's just common sense. I would recommend a safe or a bank deposit box
10 - What about kids and pets?
Kids will be kids, and so will your pets. They won't understand renovations and the disruption to your lives. They want to run free as they always have.
Safety should be a key concern for you and your GC. There will be loose material, dangling items, exposed wiring, materials sitting out, maybe open doorways and accesses that can become safety hazards for kids and pets. At least some safety cones might help a bit, but of course not full proof.
Have a direct discussion with your GC about how safety will be managed. Not just for you and your family but workers in your home
I hope this list wasn't too scary and overwhelming for you. I am a big believer in knowing what to expect so that I can prepare for it instead of leaving things to chance
Construction in general is one of those things that you can plan to a "t", but things will still go wrong. This is not to scare you, but to let you know that you are not alone. No need to panic or get stressed. Floors will get scratched, tiles will get cracked, walls will get dinged, glass will get cracked, parts will be missing, no matter how well you planned. The great news is that there is always a solution - everything can be fixed; sometimes even better than it was before. This is why blue painters' tape and punch-lists exist. Your GC and/or designer will do a walk-through with you post renovation to note all the punch-list items and will give you a timeframe to have them resolved.
Our team is dedicated to helping you navigate the world of renovations. From planning every detail for a beautiful, functional and comfortable home, to preparing you for the process itself.
If you've gone through a renovation in the past, share your experience with us in the comments below.
Wishing You Beauty And Inspiration!