Remodelling your home can become one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, but it could be quite stressful. With a solid whole home remodelling plan, and careful execution, this can be an exhilarating, deeply gratifying and life-changing experience. Some owners claim their home remodel strengthened their relationship(s), as they worked together to create their dream home together, working through the many ups and downs. While others approached it without much of a plan, and the remodel was a disaster.
Expect a roller coaster ride. There are a lot of ‘moving parts’ in a large or whole home remodel. Delays in obtaining approvals and permits, having materials delivered to the site on time, tradespeople not showing up on the scheduled day, or taking longer than was blocked in on the Gantt chart… these things happen. Even the best project manager will receive a few surprises. It’s important to prepare for a few bumps along the way, so you aren’t plunged into despair when things don’t go exactly according to plan.
If you’re planning to live in your home for years, it’s best to have already lived in it for at least a year before embarking on a major remodel. You learn how it could be better through experience; not only what you’d like to change, but why. Some say the house speaks to you.
Designers will often use the term “living spaces.” That image is useful when evaluating your home’s pluses and minuses, and considering the changes you want to make. It’s important to spend time evaluating the way you currently live in the spaces of your home, and then the shortcomings that have become apparent. Do you need more space for family gatherings? Or have children moved out, and a bedroom could now be converted into a spacious home office, rather than cluttering the dining room table with a computer and paperwork?
If cooking has evolved into a passion, you may need to expand the kitchen to accommodate a spacious island counter, a larger gas range and a double fridge. Or perhaps these days you eat most of your meals in the home theatre area, and you need a buffet style serving counter in there, with fridge, microwave and dishwasher. Is the fireplace the centre of your home over the winter months, and you would like a large stone one, with a raised hearth?
Instead of fitting your life into what you’ve got, as you have been; a whole home remodel is your opportunity to make your living spaces fit your needs perfectly. If you can determine exactly what you want and can describe or show your vision to your designer-builder, that’s going to help the team deliver what you want. Arriving with only a loose idea makes the design and construction process far more difficult.
Successful remodels begin with research
As you begin creating your remodelling wish list, and saving photos to your dream book or Pinterest pages, it’s important to begin learning some of the industry jargon, so you’ll know how to describe what you want to your designer or architect. Websites like Architectural Digest, Design to Inspire Dwell, HGTV, Houzz, The Mart, This Old House and The Spruce can help you understand the materials and labour that will become part of the various sub-projects in your remodel job.
As you study the design sites and Pinterest, find spaces and finishes you love and read more about the materials, you should begin to gain some idea of what’s possible and how much things cost. If you stop by the local building centre, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many homeowners will price out materials for various sub-projects, but not consider the cost of labour. The department staff in larger building stores often work closely with related tradespeople and can give you a ballpark estimate. It’s important to keep notes during your discovery process.
There are some exciting virtual room design apps available for brainstorming, and they will let you experiment with a range of finishes and design elements:
- ArmstrongFlooring Design a Room (online)
- Ikea Home Planner (online)
- RoomStyler 3D Home Planner (online)
- Homestyler – 3D Home Decor Apple App Store, (Google Play )
- Homestyler (online)
- Home Design 3D (Google Play )
- Planner 5d (Apple App Store, Google Play, Mac App Store )
In planning a budget, a reserve of 15 – 20% to cover any unforeseen expenses is generally recommended. If you’re prone to rethinking earlier choices – let’s say you find the perfect light fixtures for the living room after your original choices have already been installed, and you simply must have the new ones – then allow extra in your budget for changes later.
The design process
Once you know exactly what you want it’s time to bring in a designer or architect. If you need to see the bank about pre-approval your designer should be able to help you refine your ballpark estimate.
As the design drawings begin to take shape, there can sometimes be reality checks and adjustments, and you should be prepared for that. Moving wiring for lights and outlets is usually not a problem, but plumbing can be trickier. The water supply lines and small drains for the sinks or shower can often be moved over a few feet without much hassle. Moving a toilet in the same joist bay is also simple enough.
However, when you have to cross through structure to move the waste lines from a toilet, it can become a budget buster. The original 3- to 4-inch drain pipe was put in place before the joists were closed in, while it was fairly easy for the plumber to cut the holes so the pipe maintained pitch, allowing the toilet to flush and drain correctly. If the floors need to be torn up to place a new drain pipe at the required pitch, your designer may be able to recommend a layout that gives you a solution very close to what you originally envisioned but at a more affordable price.
Choosing your contractor
There are several ways to hire your team:
- You can have an architect draw up your plans, have them approved, and then vet and hire your tradespeople to complete the various segments of the project.
- Or you can take your plans to a contractor, who will handle the project management, ordering of materials and hiring of sub-trades.
- The third option is the design-build approach, where you’ll be working with your architect/designer in converting your vision into plans; and then have them switch hats and handle the project management and every detail of the project to completion. If you feel your designer-builder understands exactly what you want, and you can work well together, going with one “master builder” can be a lot less stressful. There are simply fewer moving parts in this traditional approach.
Be very wary of low bids. A low bid may indicate that the contractor has not accounted for all of the costs when preparing the quotation. When those omissions sink in, they may then feel compelled to use inferior materials or cut other corners to avoid losing money. Also, bear in mind that the best contractors are very busy, and a large renovation will need to be scheduled into their workflow. If the contractor can start right away, that could be a red flag.
You want to hire a contractor who works on jobs of the size of your project. If you’re renovating a large portion of your home, you don’t want to bring in a contractor who specializes in decks and porches, or a big firm that remodels large apartment buildings. It’s important to do your homework and check whether they are a certified Renomark Renovator, have an A+ Better Business Bureau rating, if they’re listed in Houzz, and have a solid track record. Look over the portfolio of contractors you’re considering, and call some references.
Don’t overlook your gut feeling when speaking with your prospective contractor. Whether you like it or not, these people are going to be in your house a lot, and you should feel comfortable with that. If you like and trust the people you’ll be working ‘around’ during the weeks and months to come, that’s a good sign, and it should be factored into your decision.
Working around tradespeople, and keeping the neighbours happy
A remodel is going to be inconvenient, and there’s no way around that other than living somewhere else while the work’s being done. For most families, that’s not an option, so you’re going to have to schedule your lives around the contractor’s team and/or sub-contractors. It’s important to frame this as a family adventure and maintain good spirits. If the kitchen is going to be out of commission for ten days, where can you set up a temporary kitchen station? You will always need at least one functioning toilet, sink and shower available.
It’s important to let your neighbours know about your remodel project at least two weeks before the first workers arrive at your home. Make apologies in advance for any noise and inconvenience and be sure they have your phone number. If there are any problems, you want them to call you, so the matter can be resolved quickly, rather than get the bylaw officer or police involved. Give them a tentative timeframe, and promise them you will update them along the way.
It’s important to look into parking restrictions and then observe parking regulations and the construction hours specified by the municipal noise bylaw. Both you and your contractor should keep an eye on the street, to make sure none of the driveways have been blocked. Keeping the job site as clean as possible is also important.
It’s important to check in with the neighbours regularly, to make sure they aren’t having any issues with the tradespeople. A little thoughtfulness can go a long way. If you know there’s going to be some jackhammering going on the next day, stopping by the homes of a few close neighbours with a gift certificate for a restaurant dinner is a lot better than receiving complaints.
When the remodel is complete, inviting the neighbours over for a barbecue and tour of the finished product can help erase any memory of the noise and inconvenience.
Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Squamish and Whistler builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.