We’ve all heard jokes about home renovations. How many divorces after the big job? Or, what about the 1990’s sit-com Home Improvement? Beyond the wisecracks, if planning a home makeover, it’s always a good idea to make plans.

We spoke with Blaise McDonald, owner and president of Mac Renovations and Raubyn Rothschild, principal designer with Rothschild West Design + Planning, to get 10 tips on getting prepared before the sawdust flies and new sinks arrive.

Set a realistic budget

  1. Prepare a realistic budget that includes a contingency amount. “Even with fixed-price projects there’s an average eight per cent because of change orders,” McDonald says. The budget should take into account not only the labour and materials but consider the scope of the job, if hazardous materials are encountered, interior design costs and even structural engineer expenses. For example, a kitchen renovation that’s estimated to take three months may require three months of design work, McDonald says. And there are two types of contracts: Fixed price, which is self-explanatory and cost-plus where the contractor is paid for all construction-related expenses plus an amount for profit. 

Choose the right contractor

  1. Interview three contractors and go with the one you like best, McDonald advises. The concept of securing three quotes works well in commercial construction, where three qualified companies will bid, but not with residential construction. Big projects have wiggle room, unlike a home reno. McDonald says he’s constantly asked what is his cost per square foot, but the scope, sequence and schedule of a home renovation can suddenly change. So rather than going with the lowest quote, talk to past clients of the three contractors you’ve connected with and if possible, look at the work done, McDonald says. Having a good relationship with your contractor is important.

Do your research

  1. Do the research. Even with a contractor, home renovations can have hidden complexities and surprises. Getting the required permits is crucial. If necessary, check the permit history on an existing home where items such as variances may be discovered. In older homes, hazardous materials may be a factor, McDonald says. And for strata properties, knowing the strata bylaws is absolutely necessary.

Take notes and save photos

  1. In the “old days” clients would present photos cut out of a magazine to indicate what they wanted. Today websites such as Pinterest and Houzz make it easy to find what appeals. Save photos from the sites and make notes explaining what you like, McDonald says.

Having a good relationship gets the job done 

  1. Ensure your contractor has a strong relationship with the sub-trades. There can be up to 30 companies involved in a home redo, McDonald says, everything from framers and glaziers to masons and architects. “I don’t know if people realize the complexities in construction,” Rothschild adds. “You could be working with a dozen sub-trades.” Having a copacetic relationship with the work partners makes the job go smoother.

Insurance is important

  1. Ensure proper insurance has been purchased, McDonald says. Course of construction or builder’s risk insurance is to protect property owners and contractors while major home renovation work is being done and in some cases, for a period following completion.

Give your workers some space

  1. If it’s a major renovation, live somewhere else during the project. McDonald has “camped” in his house, but, “It’s not your house anymore. It’s a construction site. What a carpenter thinks is broom clean isn’t the same as your expectation,” he says. Rothschild adds that it’s wise to keep the return date open in case of unforeseen delays. “Move out so the project can go quickly,” she says. Rothschild adds that labour is one of the larger costs. To save labour costs, especially for a large renovation, items that need to be shuffled around by the workers, should be moved off-site.

Organizing is key

  1. Before vacating the family home, mentally prepare for the scale of the work, Rothschild says. Leave enough time to get the necessary jobs done, such as packing. And purge and organize prior to packing to avoid moving items twice, she adds.

Consider re-using beloved items

  1. Make note of important items you plan to re-use. Take photos and dimensions of artwork, sculptures and decorative items you plan to display in your renovated space, Rothschild says. Your team can make sure those are considered in the new plan and it may inform dimensions of millwork and colour schemes.

Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts

  1. Share your personal passions and collections with your team so they have the opportunity to document items before you pack. Perhaps it’s books, albums, wine – have your team determine the linear feet of shelving required to ensure proper space exists in the revamped space, Rothschild says.

Planning a home renovation can be stressful. With these tips we hope you’ll feel more prepared for your next big project – and ready for your vision to come to life.

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