Things to Consider with a Home Renovation
Are you considering a major home renovation? Learn from this Citywide client what it was really like for her and what you should expect and plan for.
As a recovering survivor of a major home renovation, I volunteered to share my story on the Citywide Website. It isn’t meant to be professional advice. It’s a Human Interest Story that may give insight into what it could be like for you. Citywide offers Home Renovation Loans to repair or improve your existing home in a single mortgage with low, fully amortized rates. So if you’re dreaming of remodeling, you’re in the right place.
A Little Background
My husband and I are retired, but our family continues to grow. We have five married children and 14 grandchildren, with a great-grandchild on the way. Our home is about 38 years old. As was the style of the day, its 4000 square feet was divided into 13 mostly small rooms, counting 3 bathrooms and a laundry room. The dream that drove us to remodel was to combine our kitchen, living room, and dining room into one “great room” that would allow us to eat and visit with the whole family, all in the same space. We love our location and neighborhood and didn’t want to move, so with the assurance that we could afford it, even if the project went a little over budget as many do, we started the process in early January of 2018.
Choosing a Contractor
I started by visiting with neighbors who had already remodeled, took tours of their homes and got recommendations that ranged from subcontracting the work ourselves to getting a contractor, structural engineer and architect to do “all the work” for us. We were referred to a highly recommended contractor we really liked, who specializes in custom residential remodeling. Because we would be taking out walls, he recommended we add a structural engineer and his kitchen designer to the team. He has been in the business for many years and has a crew of specialized tradesmen he works with. People who have used him said that made it possible for him to finish his projects on time, as promised. The only job we subcontracted ourselves was custom iron stair railings.
We had our first meeting with the contractor on February 4th. He estimated he would be able to start our project in April and be finished in 6 – 8 weeks. Perhaps our first mistake was not getting a start and completion date in writing, although that is not always possible to predict. (Within a week, he did send us a detailed estimate that was within our budget.) The reality was that the demolition started in June and most of the work was done in 11 weeks, or by August 22nd, our absolute deadline and the day our daughter and family were scheduled to arrive from VA. We didn’t have a fully-functioning sink until 5:30 on that day. I was told to expect delays that the contractor couldn’t control, and that advice was good.
Getting a Building Permit
Taking out walls, moving a door and enlarging a window required a building permit. This involved before and after drawings from the engineer, with detailed instructions on how to support the new openings. We had to leave up parts of one wall that was load-bearing. Although applying for the permit is the contractor’s responsibility and the drawings come from the engineer, I would recommend calling your city’s Building Dept. to find out exactly what they require and how they want it to be submitted. Our contractor thought it would be much easier than it turned out to be in our little town. Not getting right to what actually had to be done until after I made that call myself cost us a lot of time.
We began packing up everything even before we had a start date. It felt like most of what we owned had to come out of those 3 rooms! Boxes and furniture ended up in 4 other rooms, the foyer and ultimately the garage. The demolition crew moved our piano and a heavy curio cabinet to the foyer, but we had to hire a piano mover to move them back into the new space. The dining room table had to be dismantled in order to fit through a bedroom door. Our sofa and love seat were moved around the area until they finally landed in the garage. The contractor promised to keep our refrigerator/freezer inside the house as long as possible. Eventually, it ended up in the garage, too.
Setting Up a Makeshift Kitchen
Some people, especially those with young children, find it necessary to move out during an extensive renovation. We figured the two of us could stick it out in the construction zone. It’s not a good idea to use the time to go on a vacation or to be so far away that you can’t check on the progress every day. There will be questions and misunderstandings that have to be resolved all through the process.
In order to eat breakfast, lunch and at least some of our dinners at home, we moved our microwave, toaster, crock pot and electric fry pan to the family room in our walk-out basement. We set up a card table in view of the TV, and we stocked up on paper plates, bowls, cups and plastic utensils! We were without a sink the entire time, so got water from and wash dishes in a bathroom. I underestimated the difficulty of finding and assembling everything needed to make a full meal. We microwaved frozen dinners, and several family members and friends who knew our plight invited us to dinner. We ate out a lot!
Noisy, Dusty and Inconvenient
Downstairs, we were far enough away from the noise that it rarely made life unbearable. Everyone tells you that dust goes everywhere, but you have to experience it to believe it. We still have dust, even in rooms where we could keep the door closed most of the time. We threw sheets over the piano and curio. and the workers wrapped our sofas in plastic. They still got dusty! During the dustiest parts of the project, openings without doors were sealed with plastic. That helped the dust situation somewhat but was very inconvenient. We wore a path in the grass going out the basement door and to the front door in order to get to the upstairs bedrooms and the refrigerator.
If you can do without it, don’t run the AC or furnace until the dust has settled for the day. It will send dust throughout the entire house. Even then, if you don’t change your filter every 2-3 days, the system could be overworked to the point of shutting down. The workers said they were used to the heat, and we were able to keep relatively cool during the day in the basement, even in 90-degree weather.
All I’d really dreamed of was more space, but taking out walls, appliances, cupboards, flooring, light fixtures, a door and a window left us with what seemed like hundreds of decisions to make. In addition to decisions about replacing those basics, we had to decide on wood & paint colors; hardware and where to mount it; the location of lights, switches and outlets; stair railing; trim; counter and island tops; and more! We had to choose our new appliances before the cabinets were made, because their size determined where the cabinets could be.
Our contractor has vendors he likes to work with, so that lessened the number of places I had to go to pick out all of the above. Some people love to do that sort of thing. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them, and I worried the whole time how my choices would look when everything was put together. I started watching HGTV. I looked at lots of kitchen design ideas online, in stores and in friends’ houses. It still feels like a miracle that the combinations look awesome. I still stand and stare at our “great” room!
Communicating with Our Contractor
Our contractor smiled even when things weren’t going well. He set a great example on how to treat all the people you’re counting on to get the work done correctly and in a timely manner. To keep them happy, you should treat them well, be kind when requesting changes, praise their good work and show appreciation for the difficult jobs they are doing. Keep communication open and frequent. We found that our contractor responded more quickly to short texts. “Plumber?” “Painters?” He seemed to know just what our concern was, and he always wanted us to go through him, no matter what the question was.
“Once it’s done….”
All the people I commiserated with while the demolition and renovation were in full swing said, “Yes, but once it’s done, you’ll love it and be so happy you did it!” At times, that was hard to believe. It seemed like the mess and inconvenience would never end!
Now that the contractor’s work is done, I’m still struggling to put everything back in a new place and then remember where I put it. But YES, we’re already so happy we did it, and we DO love it! I get lots of compliments on my choices, and I love to show off what looks like “a whole new house!”