No matter who you hire as your general contractor, the success of your house renovation project depends on your input and expectations. While your contractor and architect may possess the technical skills and expertise to deliver a quality renovation, the more you can bring to the table, the more the finished product will reflect your specific needs and desires.
Plus, every project can, and likely will, take unexpected turns. By taking into consideration the following points, you can steel yourself agains the surprises, and get prepared for success!
- The devil is in the details
Try to visualize doing a walk-through of the improvements, including any actions you'd take in that area. For example, if the handle for the oven door interferes with a nearby cabinet door, it'll render that space virtually unusable. Remember that an empty space always seems roomier than when it's filled with furniture. It's much easier to fix problems on paper than after they've been created in the real world, so look out for these issues, even before a designer starts work.
- Code Considerations
Are your plans building-code friendly? Even if you're okay with a 24" doorway into your office, the inspector may not. Will your Victorian home's aging septic system deal with the addition of a new luxury master bath? The 1960's wiring in your ranch may not hold up to the demands of modern entertainment systems and appliances, so plan on setting aside at least a part of your budget for upgrades—or plan to be flexible in your requirements.
- Seasonal Considerations
Plan to have the renovations done during the right part of the year. Roofers are busiest in summer, but installing a new roof during the rest of the year may leave you without sufficient protection against rain and storms. If your location has periods of decent weather in the spring or fall, schedule it for that time.
Pro Tip: take a good look at when the busiest times are, for the contractors you'll be hiring, and avoid their busiest season in order to get the best possible prices.
- Take a Vacation
House renovations are noisy, dusty and life-disrupting. If you're really bothered by noise, try to be away during the worst of the construction. Remember that to add new plumbing for your master bathroom, you might need to have the lines temporarily shut-off. While new electrical service in the kitchen may mean having a cooler handy to move sensitive items from your refrigerator, or renting a generator to run necessary appliances for a few days. A good contractor will be indispensable in helping you deal with these logistics, but when it comes to your personal comfort, you'll benefit from taking charge—and taking a vacation.
- The best laid plans...
Things don't always go according to plan, and being flexible helps get the process done. The manufacturer ships the wrong cabinets. The painter thought you said Cabernet Sunrise instead of Cabernet Sunset. By staying flexible with your schedule and choices, you're more likely to come out of the experience with your budget and schedule at least somewhat intact.
- Reno for Resale Value
If you're using your renovation to increase your home's value, renovate for the next owner. Don't choose overly-trendy tile, trim and fixtures, because they quickly date your home. Look at home magazines at the library from five and ten years ago compared to today's issue, and see what they have in common to identify the timeless features. Put your personality out there in easily-replaced decorative items like throws and vases.
- Buffer Your Schedule
House renovations often take longer than expected. Plan on starting sooner than you would otherwise start by several weeks, or up to a month or two if you really need it done by a particular time, such as a wedding, graduation or retirement party. Try working in stages if you need a break in the chaos to restore your sanity during the process.
- Decisions, Decisions
One of your primary responsibilities before and during the project is to make decisions. It's best to make up your mind before you have painting done, flooring laid or cabinets installed. Nothing will ratchet up your expenses and budget faster than changing your mind after something is installed or ordered. If you're not sure, ask a trusted friend with a good feel for decorating. Don't be afraid to discuss any hesitations you have with your designer, architect or contractor—anything to avoid changing your mind mid-project.
- Beauty's Not Only Skin Deep
Expect to fix some of the hidden underbelly of your house, while adding new finishes. If you're doing house renovations, it's likely because the original isn't brand new. Sometimes that means replacing "what's underneath", for example: wood sub-flooring in the bathroom where water leaked through a bad patch of vinyl, or adding sister joists to a too-springy floor, or other repairs to the existing structure so that the end result is sound. These issues can be difficult, if not impossible to spot before you tear up the existing finishes, so expect the unexpected.
- Think Traffic Patterns
In high-traffic areas and places where moisture can be a problem, stick with flooring that will take the abuse and retain good traction even when damp. Stone, tile and maple hardwood provide excellent resistance to wear in high-traffic areas. If you want wood floors in the bathroom, make sure they're rated for the damp environment.
- Did We Mention: Take a Vacation?
Have a backup plan for when you can't use the essentials. If your plumbing or electrical systems need extensive work, ask the contractor about the best way to streamline the project schedule for the least down time. Plan to take a few days away from home during the worst of the issues. Studies have shown that home renovations are one of the most stressful life events, so getting away, even for a few days, is only going to help your state of mind and the project as a whole.
- Buffer Your Budget
Some items will probably not work out perfectly, which means they'll run over in cost. Every renovation has a horror story where sticker shock took someone by surprise. Add a good cushion to your budget so you don't end up short.
- Avoid Regret
Have you thought through how comfortable the space will be? Whether it's upgrading your heating system to handle the new square footage, adding awnings to those western windows with the breathtaking views or adding radiant floors in your new master bath, it's always much easier to do before the tile is put down. There's a saying in home renos: "You only regret the parts you didn't do."
- The Right Contractor For You
The right contractor can be hard to find. Get referrals, check testimonials, call contractor references, check the Better Business Bureau and make sure your contractor has been in the area, and in business, for at least a few years. You don't want a new contractor to cut their teeth and make their mistakes on your project, so stick with someone who has a reputation for excellence. Our Contractor Checklist can help you ask all the right questions before committing to a contractor.