Television's popular home remodeling and reconstruction programs make it look so easy.
Building experts arrive on schedule and promptly get to work. Everyone has a great
time, and in a short while, with few glitches, the house has been transformed.
That's not what happens in the real world. Major residential renovation is chaotic,
time consuming and expensive. The moment you commit your time and money to a large
scale remodeling of your home, your world changes for a significant period of time.
You are invaded by an army of strangers who arrive at sunrise each morning and leave
at dusk. Dust and dirt permeate the air inside and out. Noise and confusion reign.
Your privacy disappears, and normal daily routine is disrupted. Delays and setbacks
cause frustration. It's emotionally exhausting. It's financially depleting. But, it
can also be satisfying and rewarding. To start with a mundane and unremarkable house,
and wind up with the home of your dreams is an exhilarating experience.
Start with a vision. Form a crystal clear, razor sharp, visual image of the
exact living space you want, down to the minute details. Take as much time and thought
as you need to imagine the new entryway, the slant of the new roofline, the size and
style of the windows. What materials will be used? Only when you know exactly what
you want can home improvement become a reality.
Know your contractor. A great renovation starts with a great general contractor.
Check references thoroughly, interview previous clients and ask to look at finished
work. Find the right expert for your needs. If you want post and beam construction,
hire a post and beam professional. If you're restoring a Victorian, find someone with
a solid and successful background in restoring Victorians. Don't make the decision
based on the lowest bid. Ask yourself a few questions. Does he understand and share
your enthusiasm for your vision? Can you communicate easily and clearly with each
other? Is there a mutual agreement about the timeframe for the project, the costs
involved and the necessary steps to completion? Finally, get a written estimate of
the financial costs as well as a copy of the work schedule.
Educate yourself. Research some simple ABCs of the building industry. By learning
some basic terms and common lingo of the trade, you can communicate more easily with
your contractor, and more importantly, better understand what your contractor is telling
you. Think of yourself as entering a National Geographic Special, of being immersed
in a different subculture. If you don't know what a load-bearing wall is, you might
want to find out quickly.
Expect chaos. Construction is noisy, messy and intrusive. There's no space
to yourself when you're surrounded by a work crew. It's excruciatingly difficult to
carry on daily living amid a constant invasion of interfering activity. You can't
shower, dress, work or play without a crowd of spectators on hand. It can be an emotional
Consider a temporary move. If possible, relocate for the length of the project.
But steady visits to the work site are essential. This isn't the time to take a two
week vacation unless you're prepared to return to discover that what was built during
your absence isn't what you wanted. The ensuing tear-down and rebuild will only add
to the final cost and length of the job.
Carve out some privacy. If a temporary move isn't feasible, try to find at
least one room or undisturbed space to live in during the renovations. A single, structured
space, free from the clutter and disorganization of construction, is a necessity and
will help reduce the stress of the situation.
Expect delays. The weather may be uncooperative. The crew may disappear for
a day or so to tend to an emergency at another job. There may be the discovery of
rotted wood in a wall or sill in your house that takes a full day to repair before
the remodeling can resume. Delivery of supplies may be late. Work may grind to a halt
while everyone waits for a specific subcontractor to arrive to perform his needed
Anticipate surprises. As soon as the old air conditioning system is disconnected,
but before the new one is installed, there'll be a sudden heat wave in the weather.
The plumbers and electricians will arrive and turn off the water and power at the
exact moment you step into the shower. The roofers will knock the TV satellite receiver
from your roof during the World Series broadcast (something that actually happened
Beware miscommunication. On Monday, you and your general contractor will agree
that no subcontractors will arrive until Friday. On Tuesday morning, two plumbers,
three electricians and four carpenters will turn up knocking at the door at dawn.
You'll learn to accept and tolerate all of the disorder because it's the nature of
the business, and the end results are well worth the confusion.
Keep track of costs. Up-charges and extra expenses will occur. Ask your general
contractor to keep you apprised of additional charges on a timely basis throughout
the course of the project. Substantial monies will be spent on subcontractors. Most
general contractors include these fees in the original estimate, but a smart owner
will ask upfront before starting the project. Charges from electricians, plumbers,
heating specialists, masons, dry-wallers and other tradesmen could add significant
dollars to final costs. Money may be no object, but it's only good sense to know how
your money is being spent.
Pay wisely. While most contractors like to be paid 50% at the start and 50%
at the end of the project, consider negotiating to pay 1/3 of the bill at the beginning,
1/3 at the midway and 1/3 at project completion. It can be a safer plan.
Rejoice in the results. Eventually, the job is finished. It will have taken
longer than you originally anticipated. It will have cost more than you initially
expected. It will have exhausted you more than you could ever have imagined. You will
be emotionally and financially spent. But, the sheer joy and satisfaction you feel
in your new living environment will far outweigh the disruptions and inconvenience
you've experienced. You'll know it was well worth it, and you'd do it all again.