Undertaking any Renovation, can be, and usually is, like opening Pandoras Box. It is my experience that most people don’t realise just what they are getting themselves into.
They often don’t realise the scope of the works, they underestimate the amount of time, labour, materials and costs involved. Renovating is nothing like building from scratch, it is a lot harder, takes longer and will often cost you more than if you had pulled down the house and started again. I wish I had a dollar for every person who has come into my store and said exactly that.
Renovating an old home will require you to first strip out everything you want to change, and often a lot more.
For example, it is common for older homes to have the old type of plaster where they used to put battens on the studs and then render over them, more often than not this plaster will be drummy and brittle and the second you try to make any changes it will fall off the walls and you end up having to strip all of it out. It is a messy, time consuming job, you not only strip the plaster but the battens as well, and if you haven’t allowed for this you will have a massive blowout in your budget and timing. The additional costs here are the labour to remove the old plaster, bin hire to remove the debris, the cost of a carpenter to fix and straighten the walls (old wall frames were normally built using OB Hardwood, the studs are not normally straight and vary in sizes), additional timber to pack out or replace studs. Other costs associated with this will be skirtings and architraves, and as careful as you may be removing them so they can be re-used, breakages happen and they will need to be replaced.
If they are a period style skirt you may have a difficult time matching them and in some cases you may need to have someone machine a replica, which is very expensive. Then there’s the cost of re-plastering the entire area, and it doesn’t stop there! The wiring in the house is likely to be old and brittle and will need to be replaced, which will also mean upgrading your switchboard. Another cost here, and one which I would recommend, is to insulate the walls with acoustic batts with a high R rating, this will reduce heating and cooling bills and also make the home quieter.
One place that needs to be given a great deal of consideration and inspection is the sub floor, inspecting stumps, bearers and joists. If the house needs to be re-stumped you will need to budget for it and allow enough time for the house to re-settle before commencing other major works. Please note that when a house is re-stumped they don’t necessarily level the floors, this may need to be done by you or a tradesman. Things to look for are rot and evidence of borer or termite activity. Under the floor will be the easiest place to spot this and you will want to address any problems here well before launching into a renovation. I would like to point out that these are worst case scenarios but prevention is always better than the cure. If you have had no renovating experience it is a very good idea to pay a builder to do a full inspection and estimate before purchasing a property or renovating one you already own, whether or not you intend to use a builder or to do it yourself, make a note of the points contained throughout this article and be sure to raise each one with the builder so nothing is missed.
Choosing tradesman is probably one of the hardest but most important aspects of your renovation. How do you know if they are good or bad? Well, there are a few ways that have always worked for me and for other people I have suggested them to. Firstly, find out how long they have been in business and don’t just take their word for it, do your homework. Secondly, choose someone who has bricks and mortar, not just a guy who runs around in a van. Thirdly ring their phones if they never answer but ring you straight back after getting your message each time, there is a very good chance they are screening their calls and only returning the ones that are new job prospects. Trades people have a bad habit of over extending themselves and leaving the customer waiting extended periods of time for them to show up and complete the works or they might owe money to suppliers , etc. Whatever the reason for screening their calls, it’s usually not a good sign. Go and view some of their work, and where possible talk to previous customers and have a list of questions prepared. Lastly, understand that a really good tradesman does not work cheap, they are usually in demand and for good reason. A good tradesman will not only do excellent work but be on time, use good materials, often have a good network of other good tradies from which you may be able to draw from, will not try to milk out the job and charge extra for every thing they missed in the quote, a good tradesman will know what is required and put it in the quote but in the situation where there is some uncertainty as to what may be required to fix something, they should be able to give you a good indication of costs.
One of the single biggest problems encountered when people renovate, is trying to cut corners or choosing the wrong people based on price. You don’t have to spend a fortune, the right people will save you that fortune in the long run, when the job is done the first time, on time and to a high standard. The wrong people will mean lengthy delays, a bad job, and often ends up in court and with costs going through the roof. One last suggestion and one that I find gets excellent results, is to contact major suppliers and ask them for a referral to the best tradesman they know, you will find most are happy to give you the details of a good one but some will be hesitant, they worry that if anything goes wrong they be held responsible and harm their reputation. I use this strategy religiously and have always been happy with the results, just recently I needed an air-conditioning system to be installed, after contacting a major supplier to the industry, they gave me the number of a company who I contacted and they had someone come out that day, his knowledge on all types of systems was vast and he was able to tailor a system exactly to the area I required it for and gave me a price on the spot. As I have been in the industry for quite some time I am fairly up with the pricing on such things and his price was more than reasonable. I asked if the works could be completed within the timelines I had allowed and he assured me it could, so from where I was sitting this was a fair and reasonable outcome, I then made a point of telling him I wasn’t going to try and haggle him on the price but please make sure it is a good job and meet the timelines and that the job was his. I can tell you they did a fantastic job, it went smoothly and everything works just as it should and both parties were very happy with the outcome, and this is how it should be.
Too often things start out on the wrong foot if the customer starts the old “you gotta do a better price, because such and such can do it for half,” or “thanks for the info, I’m just going to get ten other quotes and then I’ll make a decision”. Trust me when I say this leaves a bad taste in the tradies mouth. It’s not that they don’t understand you need to get more than one quote, but it may make them feel like they have just wasted a bunch of their time, knowledge and effort for you to then use that information to try and find a cheaper alternative, which can be quite insulting and does nothing to foster a good working relationship if you do decide to use that person. If the price is fair and they tick all the other boxes engage them and keep them on side as much as possible. And here’s a another tip, if you’re around when the guys or girls are on site, offering a coffee or a cold drink goes a lot further than you might think. Just like you, tradesman like to feel appreciated and welcome in the place they are working and when they do, you will be surprised by the little extras they will do and not even charge you for. On the other hand if you treat them as hired labour who should just do as they are told, all I can say is good luck. I have been on both sides of the fence and nearly all of my friends and colleagues are tradesman and this topic and the topic of customers that are bad payers are the two most discussed amongst tradespeople. On that note, if you do have tradesman and they are doing a good job, pay them the agreed amounts on time, if you don’t you will have a hard time getting them back when you want them, even after you pay what is owed. This might all sound rather obvious to you, but take my word for it, this goes on all the time and the frustration is felt by both parties and is completely avoidable. Think of your renovation as a partnership, with both parties trying to achieve the same final result, not as you are the customer and you’re paying the bills, so you are the boss and when you say jump they are meant to say how high. If you have employed professionals, they will know what is required, you just need excellent communication lines open at all times so you don’t have any clashes, meet time frames and make the most of the person you have engaged.
As important as it is to get the right people working on your project it is equally as important to have planned out every detail before making your first blow with a hammer. Planning is everything and is the key to sticking to budgets and having everything run smoothly, no detail is too small. Having a set of plans is just the beginning, you will need to work out every item that is to go into the house and quantities, the type of tiles, taps, cupboards, sinks, plaster, cornices, flooring, paint, colours, lights, electrical, range hoods, stoves, even the fridge and so much more. You need this information to give to your builder or tradesman so you can get fixed quotes and to determine the correct spacing, location and costs required for each item. If you’re on a strict budget, try sourcing your materials for your tradesman to fit. For example, you could find the perfect flooring. This would bring their overall cost down a little as they haven’t had to source the flooring themselves, saving them time and you some money. Also, if you organise these items before starting there will be no delays due to you not being able to source what you want when you need it. I’ll give you a basic example of why it is so important, on a set of drawings most architects draw the toilet showing the cistern inside the bathroom. Now, what would happen if you hand that plan to your plumber and you buy a toilet that has a cistern that goes inside the wall? Chances are he will have put the pipes inside the bathroom instead of the wall and now will have to re-run them, not only that, but the carpenter won’t have set the frame up to fit it in, and in the worst case scenario, you may end up with a hole in the tiles in the floor then have to strip off new plaster, re-jig the timber framing, replace the plaster, re-run the plumbing and cut out a tile and put in a new one, all of which are going to add major costs and delays for such a little thing that could have been easily avoided had you handed the actual toilet to the plumber at the beginning of the job! On top of that you are going to have ticked off tradies. No-one likes having to redo work they have already completed once and they are going to charge you heavily, especially if they have to come back to the job to make the changes and who knows when they will be able to fit you into their busy schedules. Pre purchasing as much as you can will give you the opportunity to take advantage of any specials that arise or simply put you in a better bargaining position when you have time on your side. You can, at many places, pay for the items and pick them up or have them delivered when you are ready for them, however, there are some stores that will not want to hold them for you and you may need to store them yourself. On many occasions I have hired a container to put on site where I can store materials dryly and safely over the renovation, if you don’t have a garage you might want to look into this as an option, it is cheap insurance and excellent storage, this will save you stacking materials in the areas where you are trying to work where you run the risk of damage and you will be constantly moving them around to give you space to work.
When designing your spaces give a great deal of consideration to light, believe it or not getting the lighting correct will make a massive difference to how a room looks and feels. You will want to give careful consideration to the positioning of windows and the type of windows you use. I have a carpenter friend who, when he was designing his extension and renovation, went out into his back yard with a stick at different times of the day over several months and held it up at different heights in different locations to see where the light would enter the house and then designed his widows accordingly. He found at certain times of the year he would lose a lot of light early in the day so he added two triangular windows high up in the walls and now has light filling the room right up until the time the sun drops below the horizon, he also placed them so he would never have direct sunlight on the screen of his tv. Some other things to consider is the type of lights you are going to use and how they will effect the colours in your rooms. Light is measured in degrees kelvin and depending on the kelvin output of the light source, your colours will look very different, a white wall can look anything from white to yellow to blue. Therefore, before you choose colour schemes you must have the style of light you intend to use and shine it on your samples to see how it looks, you should also view them in the daylight.
There are many styles of lighting available in todays market and they are becoming more energy efficient. LED is one of these, they are becoming more affordable and the energy consumption is minimal compared to older styles of lighting. You can have LED downlights, strip lights and panel lights all of which give you new and creative ways of introducing light into your home. You can create mood lighting by recessing the lights and have uplighting onto a ceiling, you can back light almost anything to great effect, (eg. strip lights behind a TV). In summary, however you choose to light your home, spend the time to get it right, you will be glad you did. Consider using a lighting consultant, it may be money well spent, the cost of the consultancy may end up being offset by savings on the lights you purchase, if the consultant points you to the right supplier, they will often be able to get a discount that you wouldn’t be able to get, just make sure to ask if they have arrangements with any lighting suppliers, before you engage them.
So if you’ve made it to here, you must serious about renovating and I wish you all the luck in world, you’re possibly going to need it. Just remember, you’re a couple, that you love each other and that one day the renovating will end and you will have a beautiful home to enjoy, and your patience and perseverance will be rewarded! I truly hope that this article has given you some idea of what’s ahead and some ways of avoiding problems and also ideas to improve your finished product. If you found this article helpful, I encourage you to please share it with friends, family and acquaintances through facebook, twitter etc, or send me an email with your feedback, I am always interested in hearing your thoughts. There are many other articles on our site you may find of interest, please feel free to share those to, we will be adding new posts on a regular basis so be sure to check back from time to time.
Copyright Connollys 2015
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