Ted DuArte, Lic Tech OAA, MRAIC, LEED® Green Associate
If you own a home, chances are you’ve been faced with the need to renovate or build additional space to your dwelling. Construction is not cheap, it takes time and it should be carefully planned, especially for larger renovation jobs. Four or five years ago, my wife and I put ourselves to the (large) task of demolishing and rebuilding our home, turning a bungalow into a larger two-storey house. Being in the design/construction industry, we planned it all ourselves, but not without considerable time and effort. Here are some useful tips, if you’re thinking of embarking on such an exciting experience.
Hire an architect
If you want to extensively renovate your house, say add a second storey or significantly modify an existing layout, there is no doubt you will be better served by hiring a planning and design professional. An architect or a Licensed Technologist OAA, in Ontario, will provide you with the necessary guidance and services to help ensure your project is completed on time and on budget. Let’s face it, when it comes to residential construction, be it a new home or major renovation, costs tend to escalate and, in terms of schedule, you don’t want to be doing this for months and months on end. Most architects can run a project from beginning to end, from designing and acquiring the construction permit, to closing out the work when all trades leave the site.
A good architect should be familiar with the local planning and approval processes and will be aware of the most current methods and materials of construction. If, by any chance you have a contractual disagreement and a dispute arises on site, the architect will look after your interests from an Owner’s perspective, in representing you in dealings with the Contractor. Approach working with contractor as a collaborative relationship – they are the building experts and often have great ideas also.
Act as the General Contractor
If you’re running a tight budget, you may want to consider coordinating the effort of all contractors (trades) yourself. The management aspect of a renovation project is very important, so make sure you have firm control of coordinating schedules, deliveries and, especially, any interfacing work between two or more trades. It is not an easy task. This is more suitable for home owners with reasonable knowledge of the industry, but it is definitely not something that a well organized individual (with somewhat limited knowledge of construction) can’t do. If you decide to go down this route, give yourself plenty of planning time and get familiarized with different construction options and materials. Regardless of your knowledge of the industry, it is highly recommended to take some time off work, to do some planning, meeting and organizing the trade work sequence.
Do as much work as you can
Being familiar with the construction industry, and how materials are assembled, will definitely give you an edge in terms of doing some of the work yourself and saving money in the long run. The labour aspect of construction is what usually “breaks the bank”, since physical assembly and/or installation of materials is what causes cost escalation in renovation work. And renovating means unexpected costs, as we all know. So, if you’re handy, and if you can afford the schedule to be a little stretched, doing some of the work yourself may pay off in the end. Some of the advantages are having control of the work quality, dealing with fewer contractors and, of course, saving a considerable amount of money on labor. Examples of some of this work would be selective demolition, painting or installing hardwood flooring, all depending on your knowledge or ability to undertake such work yourself. We did about 95% of the interior finishes ourselves, from installing drywall, to flooring, painting, light fixtures, baseboards, etc.
Keep a tight control of your budget
From a financial point of view, and if you endeavor into a sizeable home renovation, keeping a tight budget is very important. If you know the industry yourself, you should have no problem in asking technical questions of others in the field. And even if you are not so familiar with construction, chances are you have friends or family members in the industry, who can provide you with some advice. And that includes financial advice on the current cost of certain materials, labor rates and even construction trends that may change your initial budget on planned costs for the renovation. Always have a budget and stick to it. You may change your opinion on certain material and spend more than initially planned. That’s OK, as long as you don’t make it a huge increase in overall expenditures. And try to cut down on something else, to offset the overall burden. As a general rule (of mine), be ready to spend 20-30% more than planned, especially on extensive renovation work. In our case, we ran over budget by less than 10%, which was great, considering the size of the job.
Don’t sway from original design and commit to completing the job
We’ve talked about architects, contractors, getting involved in the work and the importance of finances in renovating or building a home. But an equally important facet of construction is the sense of creating spaces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. After all, that is why buildings get renovated; because they need improvements or a complete overhaul in these two areas. Before you undertake a project such as a home renovation, hopefully you’ll have a design, a set of drawings and the work planned out ahead of time. Coming up with a design can be a rigorous and timely process. Discussions with your spouse, web research and advice acquired from industry experts will all form the basis for your final design. You may indeed choose to change a couple of layout elements here and there. That WILL happen. Nonetheless, try to stick to original ideas and follow through on your design intent. Significant deviations will only lead to added time on the project and likely higher costs for carrying out the job. Lastly, make sure you commit to completing the project, by setting an end date. It may be adjusted, but don’t let it extend too long. When you’re involved in a project that is your own home, it is easy to let time slip and take much longer to complete it. Don’t fall into that trap. Get it done!
Have you designed or built your own home? What were your main obstacles? Feel free to share your ideas, experience and successful projects.
Photo credit: Ted DuArte, 2013