How To Survive A Renovation

Planning to upgrade your bathroom or kitchen? Although you may have been shown a lovely vision by your interior designer of what your improved space will look like, the road to getting there can get a little rough at times. It can also test your patience and even your relationship with you loved ones. Here’s what to expect:

1)      It may take longer than expected – Simple bathroom renovations (i.e. replacement of floor and wall tiles only) should take about 8 to 10 days working days or more (or a little less than 2 weeks), depending on whether you have a simple upgrade or a more complex design. Why can’t it be faster? Even with the smallest bathrooms, demolition (i.e. removal of existing tile and existing drywall) can take half a day or more. And then plumber has to come in somewhere in there just to install rough-in valves for your new shower and vanity faucet. Installation of new drywall and flooring preparation is another day. Tiling takes another two days. And then you have to leave everything for a day to let the grout dry properly before you can install your new bathroom fixtures and let the painters do their thing. Otherwise, you’ll have dust (your painter has to sand the walls before painting the first coat) contaminating your still-wet grout, which happens all too easily when one tries to rush these things. And then comes the installation of your new vanity, countertop sink and mirror for another day. And then finally, one more day of sanding and painting.  As much as we all would like to make things go quicker, it’s best to let things happen in a logical and timely (not rushed) order and to not let the tradesmen get in each other’s way, especially in small areas.

2)      Things won’t always go smoothly – During one bathroom renovation, all the materials, permits and approvals were secured on behalf of the owner. But when we opened up the walls, we discovered that our client’s plumbing was connected to their next door neighbor’s so we had to get their permission before proceeding. This pushed everything back by one day. These and many other surprises  –  such as mould or rot  – await you when you open up your walls. These can cause delay and expense because these have to be dealt with first before you’re able to embark on the actual renovation in the first place.

3)      You’ll have to make alternate provisions – If you live in a space that has two or more bathrooms, you’ll have the benefit of using a spare bathroom while the other one is being renovated. If you only have only one bathroom, then you will have to find another bathroom elsewhere, either in your building or in someone else’s home. Keep in mind that this could be a huge inconvenience for your neighbor or friend. If you don’t know anyone else in your building – or someone close by – you may have to rent a hotel room or stay at a relative’s home while work is being done on yours. With kitchen renovations, you’ll probably end up eating take-out or going to a restaurant (or fastfood place) a lot while your oven, cooktop or microwave isn’t properly hooked up.

4)      There will be a lot of people, dust and clutter on the floor – If you’re going to live in your home while work is going on in some other part of it, keep in mind that drywall (or sandpaper) dust will seep into everything – your cabinets, your furniture, your floors, etc. Very fine dust particles will float in the air and workmen’s tools and materials will be strewn all over the floor for the duration of the project. It will be very messy and very stressful to look out.

5)      Everyone’s patience and good humor will be tested – As much as you plan and try to micro-manage your renovation, there could still be some surprises along the way (see #1). Workmen may not show up due to illness, thereby disrupting your perfectly planned schedule. Things that were ordered in advance may not arrive on time, due to some customs glitch at the border or some railway strike along the way. You may be forced to choose a more expensive substitute or pay more for a different tradesperson to show up. And with added expense and delay comes added stress not just for you but for everyone who else who has to hear you complain about how things aren’t going smoothly (refer to #2 – “Things won’t always go smoothly”). Just remember to keep cool and just roll with the punches.

So now that you’ve got a good idea of what it feels like to live in a construction zone. Here are some tips on how to prepare yourself and also members of your family, in case you are thinking of going ahead with your home improvement project:

1)      Tell your neighbors what’s about to happen – Part of being a good neighbor is telling them what you’re planning to do. That way, they’ll give you some slack and won’t come knocking at your door to complain about how much noise (or dust) your demolition guy or drywaller is generating as they conduct their daily business. And more importantly, they won’t call city hall to let them know about an unauthorized renovation going on in your home. If one of them has an axe to grind with you, you can be sure that they’ll use this wonderful opportunity to try and totally derail your plans, or at least slow you down.

2)      Make sure you have all the necessary permits (if required) and HA approvals – If you’re just changing finishes, chances are you may not even need a permit. But in many cases, especially when people move walls and add (or remove) electrical outlets and/or drainage and plumbing connections, these will typically require permits. Best to check with city hall if in doubt. You – or your project manager – can apply for these yourselves. And don’t forget to tell your homeowner’s association (HA) and property manager that you’re about to do a renovation as they will have to approve any changes done to common walls or piping.

3)      Make alternate arrangements – This is another reason to be friends with your neighbor and be close to your family. You never know when you’ll need their help. If you want to save on hotel fees and meal expenses, now is a great time to ask if they would be willing to accommodate you during your renovation. It’s best to not abuse their kindness and to impose on your friends and family for just a few days each time. Remember to give them a thank you note and a gift when you depart (you’ll be fondly remembered if you do). After all, they’ve all got busy lives to lead and having guests over can stretch their patience and generosity.

4)      Budget for meals outside (or even a hotel room) – If you don’t want to impose on anyone or have no access to a second bathroom, you may want to budget for a hotel stay and even for meals. This way, no one will get inconvenienced (or stressed out) and you will get to live in peace and quiet while the work at your house is being done. It’s a pretty pricey solution but it’ll give you the greatest peace of mind – so it’s money well spent.

5)      Be prepared to sweep and/or dust every day (or hire someone that will) – If you’d like to minimize dust on your floor and on your furniture, you may want to sweep or wipe these surfaces clean (1) before your workmen arrive and (2) right after they leave each day. Alternately, you can wait for all the work to be done and hire a cleaning service to do this for you. Take note that many work crews will clean after themselves and even throw away debris. But more often than not, they will only do the bare minimum and may even charge you extra if you want your place spic and span after their work is done. Make sure to agree in advance what the cleaning arrangements will be so you don’t end up expecting too much.

6)      Make sure that all the materials are on site (or will be onsite) – Some materials (e.g. bathtubs, faucets, sinks, tiles, etc.) may need to be specially ordered and may have to be transported by air, sea, rail or overnight delivery to your home. Ideally, these should all be ordered way ahead of time and sitting at (or somewhere close to) the job site even before the renovation begins. You can’t afford a rail strike to prevent delivery of a key item that has to be installed on a specific day by a crew member who requires advance notice. It might be another week before your plumber becomes available, for example, and that could completely derail your completion and move-in date.

7)      Budget for contingencies – Planning is very important. Having a budget and a schedule will ensure that things will go as planned. However, not everything will always go as smoothly. Be prepared for “life’s unexpected surprises” and add 10% – 15% for unforeseen expenses and even time delays. So budget a days and a half (or up to 2 days delay) extra for a 7 day project, for instance, and between $ 1,000 – $ 2,000 dollars extra on a $ 10,000 job. Normally, your overrun won’t be this much, especially if you’re working with a professional who’s done a hundred similar renovations as what you’re planning, but it never hurts to have this extra amount ready for those little emergencies in case YOU change your mind on something and want to increase the scope of work (which will happen 50% – 70% of the time)

8)      Protect your floors and your furniture – If you’ve got expensive flooring and/or furniture, you will not want to leave these unprotected during a renovation. Make sure these are protected by drop cloths (for the floor) and plastic covers (for your furniture). Ask your general contractor or project manager if they are going to supply this (usually they do but not always), or if this is going to be your responsibility. Some homeowners will go as far as to cover their walls with plastic tarp during the renovation but that’s up to you.

9)      Designate an area for your furniture and for tradespeople’s tools & clutter – If you fail to designate an area for your tradespeople, they will end up putting all their tools and materials wherever they please and this may end up accidentally scratching your floors or your valuable furniture. Let subcontractors know you’ve assigned a specific area or spot where they can leave their tools. And make sure to gather your own furniture and put them to one side of your house (and out of their way) or better yet, put them all in an unused guest room or den that’s far away from the construction zone so that your stuff doesn’t get contaminated by drywall dust.

10)   Make life easy for your tradespeople – Remember that your workers will need to use a bathroom just like you. If you only have one in your home but have a different one somewhere in your building, let your tradespeople know that there is another bathroom available nearby and give them a key so they can use it. Although not a huge requirement, you can also leave a pitcher of water and some plastic cups each day so that they can quench their thirst. And if you’ve got a microwave handy, you may want to consider letting them use this to them to warm their food. And don’t forget to tell your tradespeople where and when they can park their trucks, throw their garbage and smoke their cigarettes.

You can decide on what sort of allowances and restrictions to impose on your workmen. Just be clear about these on the first day of the renovation, before everyone gets caught up with their tasks. And more importantly don’t forget to let your family know what’s about to happen to minimize misunderstandings and stress all around.


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