How to Complete a Successful Renovation

Aren’t renovations fun? You just signed a contract, committed to investing tens of thousands of dollars and many weeks of disruption for a crew to come in and demo your home’s finishes. And all with the trust and faith that the team you’ve hired will deliver the product on time and on budget, and with the desired results. Talk about a leap!

We have just completed a very extensive $250,000 renovation and addition project that presented many challenges.  We began to dig on January 8, and with frost taking hold, we endured days of shovelling out after several large dumps of snow.  Change work orders had increased the scope of work by nearly $30,000. In spite of the obstacles, the project is a resounding success.

We had scheduled 12 weeks to complete the original design, and the increased scope of work added just two more.  The entire process is now behind us, and because we worked with excellent partners, all working together to achieve a beautiful and functional new addition and renovation, it was a positive experience for everyone involved.  We are able to produce results like that, time and again, because we are able to keep working with the same talented and friendly crews on every project.

This is how to do it:

Work with an architect and/or designer with whom you trust and communicate well 
Married couples and partners have unique tastes. I can only imagine how many stories have been written about how “…this renovation almost destroyed our marriage…”  it’s so cliché.  A good architect and designer will be able to bridge the gap between your individual tastes and make it whole.

Remember, there are countless options for bringing your dreams together. It is also important to not accept just any designer’s opinion as gospel.  I have seen designers bring their own tastes into the mix and impose it on the owners.  It’s better to cut ties early if it’s not a good fit.  It’s your vision and wish list – in YOUR home. Own it.

Choose your renovation company well
The project that we are finishing up this week could have gone south many times had it been left in the hands of the wrong crew. It takes special skills complemented by emotional intelligence to deal with the myriad of personalities brought together to achieve a common goal like this one. The process began well when the architect recommended the contractor (us!) to the owners. After having interviewed three other builders, and receiving three disparate quotes, they felt most comfortable with us.  Notice I said “felt most comfortable”.  This IS the time to trust your gut feeling.  If there are any red flags, take note.  For example, one of the contractors quoting the project was unrealistically low, so they were thanked for their time and dismissed. The other two were very close in range, so our company was chosen based on approach and the owners’ feeling.

Plan every detail
There is a good reason why renovation projects are expensive.  A typical home renovation has over 20 different stages, and each one has many sub-stages. There are hundreds of decisions to make, and it is not uncommon for people to get lost in those decisions. And sometimes, they might throw their hands up, and begin to thinking of making choices as a chore.  With a proliferation of websites aimed at residential design, such as HOUZZ and Pinterest, people using this database of images often feel overwhelmed with the various elements that go into a whole home renovation, or even a kitchen and bathroom renovation. The key here is to take your time. When you feel overloaded, just step back, take a moment and when you are ready, step back into the process. And don’t forget to order the cabinets at the beginning!

Embrace your creative side
Trends are fine. For a while. If you walk into a showroom and see a display of a beautiful bathroom, and say: “I want that!”, remember that the display will be replaced with a new, updated display every so often. The idea here is to pick the elements and finishes that you like and will continue to like since you will be using and enjoying them for a generation.  There are plenty of talented and open minded architects and designers out there, and they have the tools to help you realize your vision.  We may have to draw the line at an eccentric penchant for unicorn wallpaper though.

Overcome problems like a pro
Every single renovation has unforeseen issues to address. With a seasoned and talented renovator on your side, these problems can be overcome, and can even be turned around into interesting features of the finished product. I remember a bathroom project where we were installing a new bathroom in the basement of a 1940’s house and uncovered an old coal chute. Rather than removing the vintage (and beautiful) old iron frame, we simply replaced the door of the chute with a glass insert, installed glass block on the inside for privacy, and re-purposed the old door as a keepsake, mounted on the wall as a reminder of a by-gone era.  It wasn’t necessarily a problem, just an unforeseen element that we turned into a feature.

Don’t go cheap
Renovations are like weddings: Ideally only done once, so let’s get it right.  Once you have a budget set you want to stick with it, but it’s important not to compromise one very important element (like your roof) for another. Don’t accept the cheapest roof estimate so that you can afford that beautiful Brazilian rainforest hardwood you saw on display at a fancy showroom somewhere. Keep an appropriate balance.   Oh and if your roof and floor both need doing, and you only have the budget for one, do the roof and make sure you hire the right company to do it.

Move out!
If you are planning an extensive renovation that will disrupt your main living areas for weeks or months, move out. The cost of a short term rental at maybe $1,500/month is well worth it – I promise you.  Our latest project is large addition with a main floor and master bedroom renovation to boot. The owners had to move out, but could only manage six weeks at another spot and came back while we were still working. It was manageable though, because we were able to get their kitchen, master bedroom, and existing living areas done in time, and then we erected temporary walls using 6mm poly and extension poles to control the dust. The noise was a different matter altogether. Nothing quite like listening to hardwood being nailed down with a pneumatic gun while trying to enjoy your morning coffee!

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