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The Six Degrees of Renovation

Like the six degrees that are said to separate you from every other person, six phases separate every homeowner from a completed renovation.

<p>Steve and Dan discuss the perils of renovation.</p>

Steve and Dan discuss the perils of renovation.

Like the six degrees that are said to separate you from every other person, six phases separate every homeowner from a completed renovation. Every project goes through what you might call a natural "life cycle," each phase with its attendant ups and downs on the part of the homeowner. The first phase is design and planning. You own the house, and the world (at least from a renovation standpoint) is pregnant with possibilities. You are, or should be, working with an architect or design professional to help you form a master plan and advocate for the design itself, over and above budget considerations and ease of building or lack thereof. On our current This Old House project in Charlestown, Massachusetts, we went through this phase of the project last summer. Our homeowners Dan and Heather Beliveau were filled with anticipation and raring to go. The second phase is demolition, when the work gets going. Demolition is fun to a point. There are those who claim that ripping out the old is therapeutic, but when walls and ceilings come down and are shoveled into the Dumpster, you realize that the house you just purchased for hundreds of thousands of dollars has been reduced to the value of two dollars and ninety-five cents. This phase tests your will. You just have to keep going. The third phase is framing - for me one of the most fun of the whole project. As walls quickly go up, the project seems to fly along at a furious pace. After the serious jolt that demolition deals to one's sense of well being, framing is a welcome tonic. The fourth phase is the rather long and tedious rough-in of electrical, plumbing and HVAC, in which the mechanical bones of the home are placed in the walls, ceilings and floors. If you want a phone next to your bed, better think of it now. Want an extra outlet or two in a closet so you can install your stereo there? Now's the time to wire it. Want heat light and power in that far corner of the basement for use as a darkroom? Speak now or forever hold your peace. In this phase, decisions are coming at you fast and furiously while money is going out of your checkbook at a rate most people only experience in their worst nightmares. The fifth phase is plastering. Once the rough-in is completed and the local building inspector has given each tradesman "permission to cover," insulation is placed in the walls, followed by drywall or blueboard that is then plastered. At this point, plasterers pretty much take over the whole project and, although few of the other trades can be productive on the job, the homeowner typically enters a new stage of panic. The thousands of decisions about kitchen cabinet details, bathroom counters, tile for the entryway and lighting fixtures for the master bedroom must be finalized so that finishes can proceed unhindered. If you have been absolutely meticulous in the design and planning phase, then you are sitting pretty, because all these little decisions are done. But it's a rare homeowner who's accomplished everything. Even Dan and Heather, who have lived through renovation projects in the past, are a bit awed by the sheer number of decisions they have to make. "Because we have a rental apartment there are two of everything," Dan says, "two kitchens, two master baths, two powder rooms. And even though we are going to rent the other apartment, we still want it to reflect our best taste and design sensibilities." The sixth phase is finish work: installation of kitchen and bathroom cabinets and fixtures, finish carpentry, floor refinishing, painting and wallpaper. Money is still going out of the checkbook at a phenomenal pace but at least you feel you have something to show for it. In a well-planned project this phase is more one of making sure the various sub-contractors can stream through the job without conflicting with each other. In a poorly planned project, this is the time of ultimate panic, when every tile color and doorknob represents a decision yet to be made, with all it's associated aesthetic and financial implications. In other words, finishing can be heaven or hell.. So how are Dan and Heather faring? To their great credit they understand that much of the success of a renovation project is "flow" or momentum. Once the project is rolling, just keep it rolling. For a homeowner that may mean doing some work on the project-as Dan has been doing-but more importantly, it means making thousands of decisions early enough in the game so that the material will arrive at the job site when the tradesperson who is going to install it is ready to do so. Dan spends a great deal of time with his clipboard and cell phone. He has the excellent sense to leave most of the renovation work to Tommy and his crew and to do his primary job as a homeowner-make decisions, chase down products, track the budget. This is the biggest project Dan and Heather have tackled and, although in each succeeding show Dan looks as though he's lost a little sleep, he is clearly staying ahead of the wave. When we hold the wrap party, I expect to see a mostly completed project and a mostly happy pair of homeowners. Many of our viewers ask us how they can successfully undertake their own renovation project. My answer is to do what Dan and Heather are doing. Put in your time up front in the planning stages. Then find a good contractor like Tom, wait for his schedule to free up so he can undertake your project. During construction, focus on making decisions, chasing down products and tracking the budget. Other than that, use your nights and weekends to keep the project clean and well swept-this alone will speed the job-and slowly count down the six degrees between you and your completed renovation.