The feeling of a freshly updated home is so attractive, it's easy to forget that the project will most likely come with the normal delays and unexpected issues. Think about it. When was the last time you heard about a home renovation project that came in on time and under budget? Chances are that the answer is, never. After a renovation estimated to take two months which went for another four months, I have a few hard-earned tips to share.
- Plan your post-renovation transition pre-renovation
When you are starting a renovation, it’s easy to be 100% focused on the renovation itself and not pay as much attention to preparing your home for the post-renovation transition. However, nothing ruins the triumphant return to your newly updated home like realizing that everything you left behind is coated in a fine, pernicious powder. Our contractor was fastidious about sealing off rooms and taping unused doors, but we still found several rooms full of dust. If moving everything out isn't an option, segregate your possessions into as few rooms as possible. Then, head to the hardware store and lay in a supply of plastic drop cloths and blue painter’s tape. As we found, sealing the entrance to the room wasn’t enough, particularly when your renovation runs longer than expected, the seasons change, and you need things that are packed away. The best approach is to seal off each section of room and each large item separately. Joon Ma's Pro tip: take particular care to cover book shelves—removing dust from our books was one of the most time-consuming cleaning jobs we faced.
- Pack as though you will be traveling
Think carefully about everything you will need over the full duration of the renovation (plus the inevitable extension) when packing. We made the mistake of thinking we could pop in every now and then to grab items we forgot, so we didn’t exactly pack for every possible need. However, as mentioned above, each time we entered a sealed room created opportunities for construction dust to creep into these rooms. And despite our contractor’s best efforts, our renovation stretched from one season to three, forcing us to again unseal our closed rooms to grab necessary items for each new season. This brings me to another Joon Ma important tip: label everything and keep a master inventory list with room and box numbers. When spring turns to summer and you need your beach gear, you’ll be glad to know where your flippers are hiding!
- Plan every detail in advance (as much as possible)
Even if you have a very competent contractor and architect, unless you have a dedicated project manager (we did not), it’s critical to know and plan every detail in advance—or be prepared for unexpected delays. At the planning stage, sit down with your contractor and architect and walk through every detail of the project. You may not be able to make every decision at the start, but you should understand all of the detailed deadlines and dependencies. In our renovation, we planned for all the major items (e.g., permits, approvals, key fixtures), but were unprepared for the time associated with some of the smaller details—the lead time for the tiles we selected, not having planned our lighting fixtures and then having to redo electrical work when we picked a side versus top mounted light, having to scramble when selected items were unexpectedly out of stock, etc. Even a few days of delay here or there will add up (in both time and cost), and there’s nothing as frustrating as being stuck in temporary housing while the builders are idle because you’re waiting on a fixture!
- Be prepared for Mission Creep
If you’re doing anything less than a full gut renovation, be prepared to deal with “Mission Creep” from your contractor or architect, which goes something like this: “Well, as long as you are doing this, you might as well do that too.” When planning your renovation timeline, build in some time to deal with Mission Creep. It happened to us, but the add-on projects we did turned out surprisingly well. For example, when renovating our master bathroom, we decided to install ceiling lighting in the bedroom, which not only added much needed light, but also created an accent wall that makes our bedroom feel significantly more polished. In addition, we were living with a legacy refrigerator barely bigger than a dorm fridge, and in the last weeks of our renovation, we asked the contractor to remove some cabinets, redo a wall and install a bigger fridge. Kitchen renovations were not in our original plan, but these adjustments made our kitchen far more functional, and we feel the extra time involved was well worth it. So, don’t be afraid to improvise a bit, but remember to build that extra time into your schedule from the start.
Best Wishes on your renovation,