10 Things To Remember When Starting A House Renovation

Photo Credit: Andrew Watson 

Do your homework From major structural work to smaller aesthetic jobs, don’t just leap at the first contractor’s bid or the carpet deal flier that slides under your door. Cheapest isn’t always going to be best, of course, but you need to shop around. Especially with big pieces of work, such as plumbing, plastering or electrical jobs, ask your friends or find reliable references who can account for the contractor: Are they trustworthy? Do they finish work within the set deadlines? Is the quality of the finished product in line with what’s been paid for?

...And expect ‘surprises Also known as setbacks. Planning approval delayed or - worse - denied? Discover there’s a rare species of salamander that only lives in the 2x4 area where you were planning to extend the kitchen? House renovations are full of the unexpected.  

Be realistic with your budget So now that you’re moving from a dinky one-bedroom apartment to your very own freestanding house, you can have it all, right? Floating staircases and fireplaces that hover from a three-story atrium. The most powerful shower available to mankind, with platinum-plated fixtures. A roof terrace with an infinity pool. But unless your name is Sheryl Sandberg or you’ve stumbled on a cool ten million, you might need to tone down your house dreams. Little could be worse than to get your heart set on things you really can’t afford, only to discover you’ve landed yourself in massive debt. Get the basics done - and done right - and then see whether there’s any budget left over to play with. House projects always cost more than expected, so be prepared to put some of your dreams on hold. 

Think to the future Depending on the amount of work your house needs, you could install a range of energy-saving options that will save you money in the long run. The problem is, they are invariably much more expensive in the outset, and finding someone qualified to install, say, a ground source heat pump can be tricky. Start with an energy audit of your house and look for cost-efficient updates such as new insulation and draft-resistant doors and windows.

Get to know your house’s history If you have the time (and inclination), do a little search through your local library or city or county records office. If you’re lucky, you might discover bits of information or even pictures to offer clues about your house’s past, and perhaps you can even incorporate features that may have been hidden over the years.

It will take time If you’ve never launched into a serious home project - and even if you have - it might not seem like it will take very long. Or cost that much. But if you convince yourself that it could take a very long time and cost every penny you have set aside (and then some), you may feel less anxious and perturbed when you’re not moving in two weeks after builders start hauling out the asbestos insulation. Better to give it the time needed to get it right - the first time.

It will be filthy Yes, of course you know this. It doesn’t take a veteran home renovator to realise fixing up a house takes more than a couple coats of paint and five minutes with a vacuum. But prepare yourself for just how nasty a job it could be. Wading through cobwebs like strung-up Marshmallow Fluff. Weeks of paint speckles and ceiling plaster in your hair. Sawdust. Cement dust. Dust dust. Invest in some heavy-duty face masks and goggles or rue the day you started working on a house without protecting your lungs and eyes.

It will not look magazine perfect I have a vision for my Georgian manor house to look like something out of The English Home magazine, all polished walnut floors, sweeping bannisters and wisteria draped as sumptuously over the door as the crushed-velvet curtains cascading to the foor. But in reality, I need to be happy with ceilings that aren’t caving in, floor joists that haven’t disintegrated and window frames that are decidedly more early 2000s than late 1700s - at least for now. Someday, it may be as magazine perfect as I hope, but more likely it will just be a comfortable, lived-in family home with scuff marks along the stairs and not-very-special soft furnishings. And that’s ok.


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