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Seven Important Stages of a Home Renovation

For most of us, our homes are not only the biggest investment we will make, but it is also our pride and joy, a place that we make our own. Whether it is a new home or an older home that you buy, eventually it will need some repairing, renewing or redecorating, which will lead you down the same bumpy road that most of us try to avoid as long as possible... the road to home renovations.

There are many factors to be considered when planning a home renovation with a contractor. Proper preparation, organization and management are all key to its success.

Following these seven important stages should keep the stress level to a minimum.

1. Planning and preparation. Decide how long you plan to stay in your house. Changes to your home for resale purposes will obviously be different than doing changes for yourself to enjoy if you are planning on living in the house for many years to come. Make a decision whether you will be doing any part of the renovation yourself or hiring a contractor to do it all for you.

Determine what finances you have available before you begin. This will establish the type and the extent of the renovation you can afford, such as refacing kitchen cabinets vs. replacing them. This is the first step to searching for the right contractor and receiving quotes. Three quotes from different contractors will give you an idea of the costs you are looking at. Once you have decided on the right contractor for you, make sure you ask for references and, if possible, go and see the quality of the work that was done. There is nothing more valuable than seeing work that was done previously and ‘word of mouth’ recommendation.

The time of year you plan to do the renovation is important in many ways. It may affect the price and availability. A contractor may be willing to negotiate a lower price during a less busy time vs. their peak times
of business, and may be able to start right away.

However, you’ll want to avoid starting a major renovation before holiday time or special occasions if you plan to entertain. Unforeseen problems could cause delays and the renovations may not be completed on time. It’s wise to factor in extra time to avoid disappointment or schedule the renovations to be done at a different time of the year.

Just like in a move, there will be packing involved. A roundup of boxes and containers is inevitable. You would be surprised at how many things come out of 15-year-old kitchen cabinets! This is a perfect opportunity for a cleanout, so group your items into four categories: Keep; Give away; Garage sale; and Garbage.

2. Deciding on color schemes and style. There are so many styles and colors to choose from for every room in the house that it may be overwhelming at first. The easiest place to start is to browse through magazines, visit showrooms or the home of someone who has had a similar renovation done. In a kitchen renovation, the color and type of flooring you choose is important as it is one of the largest surfaces in the room. Warmed or cushioned flooring make standing more comfortable but ceramic tile is more durable and resistant to water and stains. The backsplash is the most significant part of a kitchen wall; however, the most outstanding feature of the kitchen should be the cabinetry. They establish how the room looks and works. The countertop should complement the cabinetry, but should not be the primary focus.

Many stores and contractors will supply samples of flooring, backsplash tiles, countertops, even cabinet doors to allow you to try different combinations until you see what you like. A handy tip when coordinating paint colors is to buy some pieces of white bristol board and a few small sample cans of desired colors from the paint store. Paint each bristol board a different color and tape them on the wall or ceiling to be painted. This will offer a larger view of how the colors will look and allows you the freedom to move them to other walls in the room where the lighting may be different. Eliminate the colors that don’t work and you will be left with the one that does work.

3. Working with the contractor. Establishing a good rapport with your contractor early on is of utmost importance. After all, they are the experts. Good communication during the planning process will set the stage for a successful renovation.
Before anything takes place, it is important to have the contractor come to your home to take the measurements instead of taking them yourself. Measurements in kitchen renovations, for example, are tricky and must be exact. The cabinetry must fit together precisely into corners, below ceilings, above flooring and countertops, and around appliances and windows.

Some contractors use software programs to provide computerized layouts and blueprints providing the homeowner with a more visual picture of the end result of the renovation. This is a wonderful tool as it allows the homeowner and contractor to discuss and make appropriate adjustments and changes before the work even begins.

New flooring will require moving furniture and boxes in and out of the rooms. Most contractors will charge extra for this service, so if you can do it yourself, you can save some money. Day one of a kitchen renovation will consist of removing and disposing old cabinets and countertops; therefore, all cabinets must be empty before they begin or they will have to return another day. A disposal bin will take up half of the driveway for weeks; therefore, if parking is limited or illegal on the street outside of the home, you may need to make arrangements in advance for homeowner’s vehicles and the contractor’s vehicles.

To keep the dust confined, make sure the contractors install plastic sheeting to cover doorways and entrances to other rooms, and to block the heating and air ducts in floors, walls and ceilings.

Finally, deposits will be required before, during and after the work is done, not just after everything is completed.

4. Surviving the demolition weeks. Of course the ideal situation would be if you could move out while all your renovations are being done. However, most of us don’t have the luxury of living somewhere else for weeks (or months) and then moving back after everything is done. Therefore, we must endure the mess, dust, chaos and disruption of our lives during this period.

Here are some tips for surviving the demolition weeks:

• For kitchen renovations, set up a mock kitchen somewhere else in your house, garage or backyard. Use small electrical appliances such as electric frying pans and hotplates, or larger appliances which are mobile such as a microwave and a barbecue for cooking. Having to go out to restaurants and buying fast food for weeks can get quite costly. If you only have one refrigerator, put it on wheels and plug it in close to the temporary kitchen.

• For staircase renovations, have the contractor work on alternate steps when staining, sanding or painting. That way, you can still use the staircase by stepping on the steps, which are not done yet.

• Any family members who have asthma should not be in the house during peak times of the renovation when the air becomes thick with dust.

• Pets are particularly at risk of becoming stressed due to loud noises of machinery and demolition, breathing dust, and general changes in feeding and sleeping areas. Try to keep their routines the same as much as possible. Be aware that doors may be left open by the contractors since they are often working in garages and outside and pets may wander outside without anyone knowing.

• No matter what season you are having the renovations done, open the windows as much as possible to get fresh air into the house.

5. Unexpected delays and problems. Delays and problems are a way of life in business, and home renovations are no exception. Machinery can break down at any time and cause delays in cutting, sanding, nailing. Make sure you hire a reputable contractor who has access to backup equipment. Some contractors work alone… find out if they have anyone to replace them if they get injured or sick.

Many contractors work with affiliated companies and contractors which they will refer you to, such as flooring, kitchen and bath, appliance, and granite companies. All try to work together; however, there could be unexpected delays with any one of these causing a rippling effect to other areas of the project.

6. When it all comes together. There will be certain stages when you will be excited to see some results. Make sure each stage of the renovation is on track with the original plans. If there is any deviance or something has been forgotten, tell them right away. Waiting until the end of the renovation to discuss these issues could create additional work and expenses. A final inspection should be done upon completion of the project.

7. The aftermath. So the project is complete! It’s exciting to see the end result. But there is still work to be done. If you’re thinking of painting or putting up wallpaper, this will need to be done before reorganizing the room. Unpacking boxes and organizing rooms with furniture, window coverings and wall hangings is quite a task, similar to moving into a new home.

Some contractors are good at cleanup, others are not. Your garage, hallways and basement could be filled with boxes, packaging, empty paint cans and other miscellaneous garbage, which will need to be disposed of. Try to take advantage of the disposal bin on the driveway before they take it away. Otherwise, you will find yourself making many trips to the local dump!

Any items which were not covered or packed away will need to be cleaned, as they will be covered in a layer of dust. It’s a good idea to hire a duct cleaning company to clean all the ducts and the furnace. Until this is done, the dust will continue to blow back into the rooms that you have already cleaned.

It’s wise to keep a little extra cash handy for things such as area rugs on new flooring or bar stools for the new extended countertop in the kitchen, or just for special décor items that will complete the room.

And finally, enjoy your new home. You’ve earned it!

Lisa is a freelance writer and survivor of a home renovation. Her articles have appeared in publications in Canada and the US.

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