GuideHome ImprovementReview

Before You Renovate Plan, Plan, Plan: A Real Families Home Improvement Adventure

With two growing children, Jo-Anne Stead and Paul Fecser knew the time had come to build an addition to their Alta Vista home that would include an expanded, eat-in kitchen and a new family room.

The couple spent more than a year in research, planning and design, working with an architect and interior designer before they applied for a building permit in April 2004. Work began at the end of May and was completed about four months later, with final inspection in late October. Although they think the process might have taken less time if they had renovated before, Joanne and Paul are convinced that their detailed planning paid off.

Experts agree that planning is essential. No matter what type of renovation you’re considering, learn all you can about it, develop a clear idea of what you want, what you want to spend, and where you’re prepared to compromise.

First, ensure that you have a safe, viable space to renovate. Make any necessary repairs, and if you’re finishing the basement, deal with moisture and ventilation problems. If you’re building an addition, check your property survey to see what area is available for construction. Decide the purpose of your space and how it could evolve with your needs.

Once your ideas have gelled, draw up a detailed plan or have a professional do it for you. This helps ensure that you and the contractor you hire understand the project the same way, and allows you to obtain more reliable price quotes.

Make sure you hire a reputable, professional contractor. Find out how much experience the person has with the type of project you’re planning and check their references and insurance coverage. Above all, pick someone you can work with. “Chemistry is important,” says Robert Cronier of Fuoco-Cronier Construction and Renovation, who built the addition to the Fecser-Stead home. “To avoid problems, you must be able to communicate with your contractor.”

Next, prepare a detailed contract that spells out everything, including time penalties, payment schedules, responsibilities, and how you’ll handle change orders. Because there will be changes, no matter how much you plan. The renovation may uncover a plumbing or electrical problem, materials may be delayed, or you may change your mind about finishes. “Go with the flow,” advises Norm Lecuyer of Just Basements. “It’s important for managing stress levels.”

Because changes are inevitable, your project will last longer and involve costs that you didn’t foresee. For example, the Fecser-Stead addition exceeded the original budget by 20% because of repairs that had to be made to the roof and the couple’s decision to upgrade to a granite counter for the kitchen island.

Planning should also include strategies for coping with disruptions to daily life. Joanne and Paul timed their renovation for the summer so they could cook on the barbeque when they were without a working kitchen and take holidays when the work was most intrusive.

“The best advice I could give about renovating is to know what you want,” Paul says. “Research everything so you can make good decisions. And find a contractor you can communicate with. There are always decisions to be made and always surprises, so you need to talk or meet often.”

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Paola Garcia lives in Jakarta Indonesia. She is an associate professor in University of Indonesia and also managing Scoopinion at the same time. She is also fond of watching theatrical plays.

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