Whether done out of necessity or by choice, home renovation projects can be daunting. They are (more often than not) tediously detailed, expensive, and stressful.
My husband and I love our 40-year-old home, so we decided to give it some TLC – major necessary maintenance and elective improvements. Fourteen months later, we are about to move back into our updated home and I am ready to share some of the things we learned along the way to help you navigate less stressful home renovations.
Our family’s adventure in renovating was an arduous journey and I hope my tips help you have less stressful home renovations and maybe even a little bit fun.
Tip #1 Have a Vision
What is your primary goal for your renovation? Do you want to make your layout more functional, make your home more energy efficient, or simply give the place a facelift?
Your renovation goal can be a combination of things, but you should be very clear about your:
- Desired outcome
Our focus was to make the house more energy efficient, improve functionality, and update the aesthetics. Consider creating a file or vision board with your family using magazines, Pinterest, or Houzz to help you define your goals. This part of the project was dreamy! It allowed us to discuss our home design tastes before getting into the nitty gritty. We fortunately (and somewhat miraculously) agreed on a lot of the aesthetics, so this part was really fun for the whole family.
Tip #2 Do Your Homework
Research contractors, materials, and local resources. Scour the internet, go to trade shows, and poll your social circle for any and all suggestions.
You want to know you’re making the most informed decisions you can about who to hire, what to buy, and how to have it installed. We hired a very reputable company and received advice from them and everyone else we could to ensure we were happy with our choices. After you select a product or vendor, continue your due diligence and get multiple quotes. This step ensures less stressful home renovations because you won’t leave wondering if you’ve been ripped off.
Tip #3 Get Hands-On
My family had a blast doing some of our own demolition work. If you have the tools and the wherewithal, light carpentry and painting can save many labor hours and expense. Even if you’re not the handiest person on earth, there are things you can do to help cut costs, like purchasing materials directly and hiring your own sub-contractors. Contractors add mark-ups (meaning they charge an extra fee) for materials and labor if they purchase and coordinate things for you; this can sneakily eat away at your renovation budget.
You are going to have physical, mental, and financial limitations. When something feels like too much, take a step back and reassess if it is the right thing to do. This could indicate that your DIY project turned into a DDIY (Don’t Do it Yourself) project. Or maybe your brain is too cluttered with choices and you can’t make a decision. Or when you think you can stretch the budget for a special item without knowing all the details. In short, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Knowing your limitations is critical for less stressful home renovations.
Tip #5 Keep Your Mind on Your Money
Yes, I just quoted Snoop Dog. No, I’m not sorry. Can you think of anyone less stressed?
Have a starting budget. Expect cost estimates to increase. Due to material cost escalation, transportation costs, labor shortages, or any of the other myriad fiscal effects of COVID, everything we were quoted three years ago increased in price. Plan accordingly. Have a contingency budget. Explore available rebates that may be offered through your state for energy-efficient upgrades. Regularly update and check your budget to make sure you’re on track. Keeping your money on your mind is how you stay laid back. Thanks, Snoop.
Tip #6 Expect Delays
So many factors in the construction schedule are beyond your control. Weather, material stock shipping from various locations, availability of subcontractors, unexpected structural problems that may arise, and more. More material may be needed and/or more labor, which equals more time. Our project was slated to run June 2021 – April 2022. The reality has become September 2021 – October 2022. I am still digesting this, and all I can say is UGH.
Tip #7 Expect the Unexpected
Surprise! You have mice excrement in the insulation. Surprise! The countertop cracked during delivery. Surprise! The ground wire supplying power to your house got dug up because it wasn’t buried deep enough. So many problems can arise in old dwellings. Our house is only forty years old, but when codes are updated faster than your toddler’s wardrobe choices, the existing work often is not up to code. These surprises don’t come with cake, but you should buy yourself a cake for having to deal with them.
Tip #8 Communicate Everything in Writing
Be clear, concise, and detailed, and be direct with the people you are employing. Ask questions.
If we don’t understand something, we say, “Talk to me like I’m dumb.” I am not dumb, but I do not speak contractor language and I want to understand the what, why, and how things are happening to my home. Learning more than I ever wanted to know how our house has helped make less stressful home renovations overall.
Tip #9 Ask the Experts
One person may know a little about a lot of things, but they rarely know everything about one thing. I’m talking about site leads or contractors or anyone building a house who has a million and one things to accomplish throughout the project. For this reason, I suggest that when making certain selections (I.e., windows, flooring, plumbing, hardware, etc.) you ask the experts in those areas the following questions:
- What are my options here for materials, application, and installation?
- What maintenance or upkeep will be required?
- Are there any negative ramifications that come with this selection?
- What else does my selection require to work well with all the other selections already made?
- What have you successfully done in previous projects?
- How many years of therapy do I need to get through the rest of this project?
Tip # 10 Buy Local
Every good Vermonter knows that rule. We did our homework, shopped around, and made a real effort to keep our money here at home (pun intended). There may be some items that make sense to buy at a box store, though most home renovation items are worth investing in, such as plumbing fixtures, hardware, tile, and lumber. We had great experiences at Blodgett Supply, North Country Tile, Planet Hardwood, Tom Moore Builders, and Close to Home. There are so many talented local tradespeople and artisans who deserve your business. Buying locally is not only good for our economy, but it can make life less stressful should you need help after your project is complete.
Tip #11 Get the Kids Involved
Finally, another fun one! This is a great learning experience. Our 3- and 5-year-olds have been along for the entire journey. They came to nearly every store and showroom with us and learned about all the things you need to fix up a house. Shopping for paint colors was the most fun, of course, and they even loved choosing finishes like tiles and cabinet hardware. Sometimes during these showroom trips, the biggest lesson was in patience and that is invaluable. Other times, they love to help measure, create templates, set up floor plans, and test out furniture. Children are more observant and smarter than they get credit for. Ask their opinions and let them help!
Tip #12 Be Patient
Be patient with your partner, with your family, with yourself, and with the entire process. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your house won’t be either.
I hope these tips give you less stressful home renovations. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Treat it, and yourself, with care. Hopefully, when the project is complete and you’re sitting in your brand new, beautiful space, you’ll be happy with the outcome and grateful for the experience.
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