If buying a home is all about location, location, location, then remodeling one is all about planning, planning, planning. We’ve all heard the stories: friends and family doing dishes in their bathroom sinks, cooking meals on hot plates in the garage, grabbing food from the refrigerator that’s now in the laundry room. Such are the travails of remodeling a house. And there’s really nothing you can do but be prepared. “It’s a big inconvenience but a big payoff,” says architect Brian Lucas.
If you’re about to embark on an extensive remodel or renovation, here are 11 questions you’ll want to ask, plus what to do to keep everything moving along smoothly.
1. What will the weather be like?
Rainy, snowy, muddy, cold, hot? Remember, contractors and subcontractors will be going in and out of your house for hours all day during a remodel. This means that if it’s summer in Florida and you’re cranking the A/C all day, then you’re going to waste a lot of energy. If it’s in the dead of a Minnesota winter, it’s probably not the best time to peel the roof off.
What to do: If you’re hoping to get your kitchen done by the winter holidays, you should be in the design phase by late August to early September at the latest. Also, your contractor how he or she is going to seal up the house to prevent dust buildup and air loss. Paul Conrado, a general contractor in Saratoga, California, who’s been building homes for more than 25 years, builds an insulated dust door out of plywood that can be locked from the homeowner’s side. This prevents air loss and dust buildup in the rest of the home — and affords some privacy.
2. How much time is it going to take?
Permits, inspection, building custom cabinets — these things take time, and sometimes you never know exactly how long something will take. Getting permits varies by city and can take a couple of days or sometimes up to 12 weeks or more.
What to do: Start as early as you can. While you’re drawing up plans and doing value engineering, have your designer or architect call to see how long the permit process will take. Also, try to be flexible about the deadline. If you make builders rush to meet a deadline, the quality will likely drop. “It’s important to have a continuous dialogue with your builder,” Conrado says. “You should be concerned if you drop by the job site and it’s empty. You should be calling your contractor and asking what’s going on.”
3. How long will your materials take to arrive?
So you really want that special tile from Italy? Or that cool new refrigerator that’s exported only from Germany? No problem! Just sit tight for three months. If you have to have it, then by all means order what will make you happy. But be prepared for the ramifications if all your workers have to stop mid-project because they need to wait six more weeks for a material to arrive.
What to do: When you choose a material, ask about the lead time. And be flexible with materials. “There’s not just one perfect answer to materials,” Conrado says. “There are many ways to do it that would look good.” When in doubt, talk with your builder. Builders deal with many jobsites and see a lot of materials. They can usually suggest good alternatives.
4. Where will you store your materials?
Your contractors will need a staging area, and the best place for that is a garage or driveway. If your home business is based in the garage, you’ll need somewhere else secure and weatherproof for the materials.
What to do: If your cabinets are ready and you don’t have a place to store them, your contractor will have the cabinetmaker hold them, which can get expensive. Don’t have a place? Conrado suggests renting a temporary storage container that can be delivered to your property and secured.
5. Where will you stay and for how long?
As your house — not to mention your life — is ripped apart during a remodel, you might want to consider staying somewhere else. Hotels can get expensive, and staying with family can be taxing for some — especially if you get a call that your remodel has been delayed two weeks for some unforeseen event.
What to do: If you’re undertaking a major renovation that will last nine months to a year or more, rent a place to stay in. If it’s a shorter-duration project and you can’t stay with friends or family, and don’t want to hole up in a hotel room for weeks at a time, Conrado suggests buying a used RV or trailer with a kitchenette. It’s like having a one-bedroom apartment on site. “At the end, just sell the trailer,” he says.
6. Where will you cook and do dishes?
Conrado and his wife ate dinner in their garage for six months during a renovation. Granted, it probably wasn’t as nice as the garage kitchen shown here, but Conrado did run a gas line through the wall and hook up his full Viking range to cook on (which probably wasn’t up to code). “I have a photo of my wife eating at a poker table in our garage with a not-too-happy look on her face, which pretty much sums it up,” he says.
What to do: Work with what you’ve got. Set up the fridge in the laundry room or garage. If you have an electric range, set that up in your garage (just make sure it’s away from oily rags etc.). A microwave, toaster oven and hot plate in a laundry room or garage will get you through most meals. An outdoor grill can be your best friend. But also, you might want to budget for eating a lot of meals out. Do the dishes in a bathroom sink. “Remodeling is not perfect,” Conrado says. “You will be inconvenienced.”
7. Where will everyone go to the bathroom?
Chances are, if you’re remodeling one bathroom, you’ll have a powder room or another bathroom to use. But think about how long you’ll be sharing a bathroom with your family members. Also, your contractor and workers will need a place to go as well, and it’s not recommended that you open up a downstairs powder room to a cadre of construction workers.
What to do: Get a portable bathroom for workers. Conrado says a portable toilet costs about $100 a month, and there are higher-end versions for homeowners if you’re doing a remodel that will knock all your bathrooms out of commission.
8. What’s going to happen to your front yard?
It’s not just a portable toilet. A renovation means trucks parked in your driveway, possibly a Dumpster, pallets of materials and debris everywhere, muddy sidewalks. It’s a tough thing to come home to, but you can’t expect it to be anything less than a mess.
What to do: Have a constant dialogue with your contractor and know when the trash company and city require debris to be picked up. In some places it’s daily; in others it’s weekly. Sometimes it’s an onsite Dumpster; other times there’s a trash pile that a truck comes and hauls away.
Also, let your neighbors know what’s going on. Your contractor might send a letter to your neighbors — you might want to ask him or her to do this; it’s a good marketing opportunity for them anyway — or the city might do it if it’s a big enough project, but the polite thing to do is let your neighbors know what’s going on.
9. Does your homeowner’s association or planning commission prevent anything?
Your HOA might not allow the type of home you had in mind. Better check with any sort of regulations before you get too caught up in one element of your renovation.
What to do: Check to see if you need to get your design approved by any departments or committees. These same committees also might dictate when contractors can work. For instance, they might allow construction to occur only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., and prohibit work on Sundays. This could set your project back if you haven’t taken it into account.
10. Will you please, for the love of God, stop the hammering?Construction sites aren’t meditative places. People are constantly coming and going, hammering and cranking the band saw. If you’re a couple who both work and are gone all day, this might be no sweat. But if you’re a stay-at-home parent with young kids who need their daily nap, you’ll want to figure out a quiet place you can go to.
What to do: Arrange for a daily refuge at a friend or family member’s house if possible. If not, you might want to hold off renovating until you can rent or buy a used RV or stay in a hotel, or until your kids are old enough to be at school all day. Also, tool noise comes with the territory, but don’t be afraid to tell your contractors to not blare their music all day.
11. Do you have time for this?
If you’re not a morning person, you’re not going to like your general contractor’s showing up at 7 a.m. every morning and looking for you. You need to be available to a general contractor. Also, you can’t exactly leave town on vacation for three months and hope all goes to plan. You’ll still need to be available for phone calls and emails, even if you’re in Australia and your home is in the U.S.
What to do: You need to be available to your general contractor to answer questions and make sure things are moving along smoothly. Conrado says that 8 a.m. is reasonably the latest time workers should show up. “These people have jobs; they have to work,” he says. “If you want to have everyone show up at 10 a.m. every day, sure they’ll do it if you’re going to pay them for those hours they could be working.”