Ten Ways to be successful with your home renovations and additions

The thought of a renovation and /or addition project can be intimidating, but with proper planning and sound professional guidance the process can be fun, exciting and ultimately very rewarding for you and your family.

1. Consider hiring a professional who has broad experience in renovation work which will give you the advantage of having someone on your team who can develop a design which is holistic and appropriate to your home’s age and community and who can also evaluate potential problems or hidden issues.  Hire an Architect to develop a design and ultimately construction drawings based on your needs, wishes and ideas for what you want in the home.  You should always plan on a few surprises.  Interview a number of Architects to evaluate their breadth of experience, as well as design sensibility, and how well they listen to your needs and desires.

2. Initially, work with your Architect to define the scope of the project, and then develop a preliminary budget based on this scope to create a target of costs that can be kept front and center during the design process.  Now is the time for you to begin a project notebook*. Organize it based on the components of the work.  

3. During the design process, the architect will develop concepts to help you evaluate the best solution for your particular needs. Keep track of the scope throughout the process to ensure that you stay focused, and thus ultimately not add undue costs. If during this phase you, along with your architect, realize than an addition to the original scope is either necessary or desirable, by all means include it in a revised scope, and amend the budget accordingly.

4. Once you and your architect have developed an initial “schematic design*” which addresses the scope, have a contractor or two develop an estimate of construction costs.  This effort will result in a more specific budget for your project.

5. The final Construction drawings will be developed by the Architect. Make sure that you have the opportunity to review the drawings on a regular basis as they are being developed.  This will help you to be ready to make final decisions regarding finishes, construction components and fixtures as the project progresses. Your architect should help you to understand the components for the construction of your project by providing an outline of the scope of construction.  Some projects require more components than others.

6. Invite Contractors to bid on the final Construction Documents prepared by your Architect. Have your architect provide an outline of the components of the work for bidding purposes to ensure the contractors address the costs consistently.

7. Evaluate the Contractors based on their references, the detail of their bid, and your impression of the quality of their work.  Ask each of their references if the contractor initially provided a comprehensive budget, timeline and was able to complete the project within the agreed upon budget and timeframe.  Also, tour at least two or three of the contractor’s projects to see if their “quality of work” i.e., finishes, details, and final appearance are reflective of your wishes and desires.  Try to talk to at least two references that have been living in a project for longer than a year to see if they are still satisfied with the quality of work.

8. Choose a contractor who will be available to you every day that the project is under construction.  He may not be on site all-day every-day, but should be easily accessible via phone.  Make sure he has given you a time line of the work, the payment schedule and an agreed upon final completion date.  Your architect can act as your advocate and help make decisions and give you direction during the construction phase.

9. Consider where you will live during the renovations and additions.  It is important to decide whether you should move out during construction if major work is being done.  If only a few spaces will be impacted, evaluate whether your family can live with the inconvenience of contractors, dust, and noise for a period of time.

10. If you are not living at the home during the construction, visit the house on a regular basis because you must stay involved with the project.

You will be able to see how the construction is progressing and make essential decisions regarding systems (electrical, lighting, HVAC, plumbing) during the framing stage.  During the finishing stages you will want to be involved with decisions regarding trim, finish details, and final finishes and colors.  Try to have all of your decisions made as quickly as possible to allow the contractor to proceed with work in an efficient manner. If you take too much time making decisions that keeps the contractors idle, and thus can’t finish your project…and may cost you more money.

The thought of a renovation and /or addition project can be intimidating, but with proper planning and sound professional guidance the process can be fun, exciting and ultimately very rewarding for you and your family.

*Look for Project notebook ideas in an upcoming article!!

How to Create your Project Notebook

Stay organized during the design and construction of your project.

When I first meet with clients I listen carefully to their “wish list”. Sometimes they show me “inspiration” photos of other families’ homes or parts of a house, like a kitchen or a particular type of window or door; sometimes they have colors and finishes in mind. Even if you are undertaking a fairly small project, you will most probably have to make decisions about finishes, fixtures and color. It is always helpful to have some idea of what you like, and what would work best with your new space.

A few times, my clients have already started a notebook of ideas and are organizing it based on the components of their project. I like to recommend that my clients take their project notebook a few steps further so that they can track the entire projects’ process from beginning to end. The project notebook becomes a valuable tool for documenting crucial decisions, as well as keeping track of all the paperwork that will accumulate during the designing and building process.

A project notebook is really something that each person must develop based on their organizational style, but here are some pointers as you start to think about your own notebook. I suggest going ahead and putting the entire notebook together based on an outline like this, knowing that it may evolve/change as the project progresses.

Gather a 3 ring binder, divider sheets, pocket sheet protectors, tape, paper, 3 hole punch and a pencil pouch. The components of a project notebook might include:

Section A. Predesign phase

  1. Site survey: whether building new or renovating
  2. Plan(s) of existing conditions if renovating (if you do not have this your Architect will prepare this prior to beginning design work)
  3. List of project needs, wishes: rank them in order of importance
  4. Inspiration photos, drawings, color swatches, i.e., anything that seems important at this stage.

Section B. Design phase (early)

  1. With your Architect you will develop the written Project building program which outlines the spaces and their sizes, as well as their functions (ie, the scope of the project). Make sure to include any important furniture/rug sizes and special equipment in the building program.
  2. With your Architect develop a list of appliances and their sizes that will be included in the project.
  3. Concept drawings and final Schematic Design (based items 1 and 2 above) developed by your Architect with your involvement and review.
  4. Site development (if applicable) and impact of zoning issues.

Section C Construction drawing and Construction phase

You will want to go ahead and start organizing this section early in the project, since you will have a lot of items that will ultimately belong here. As you proceed new sections or pages most certainly will need to be added.

  1. Include the final set of drawings reduced in size small enough to include in the notebook (either 11x17 or 8.5 x 11) should be to “scale”, and also have available the larger set for use when ordering components of the project.
  2. Finish schedule developed by your Architect (list of finishes for each room, i.e., carpet, hardwoods, tile, painted drywall, wood paneling etc)
  3. Lighting and electrical schedule developed by your Architect (list of fixtures for each room)
  4. Construction Bids
  5. Contract with Contractor
  6. Contractor schedule
  7. Contractor pricing list with allowances
  8. Contacts: ie, contractor, subcontractors, suppliers
  9. Project Spaces: Divide the notebook into sections; one for each room or space in your project, don’t forget to include outdoor spaces like porches, patios and lawns.

· Within each section place at least one pocket protection sheet and a clear plastic baseball card sleeve for accumulating small items like paint chips, swatches and small samples.

· Include any inspiration photos relevant for that particular space.

· Include cut sheets for appliances, fixtures (plumbing and lighting), finishes or other equipment that will be included in the space

· Include photos and/or dimensions of furniture/rugs that will be included in the space

  1. Invoices for construction and purchases: you may want to have one separate section for all the invoices for the project divided according to component of the work:

· Contractor invoices

· Subcontractor invoices

· supplier invoices for fixtures, finishes, appliances

Remember this project notebook is a tool you can develop to help you achieve success with your project, and also to keep track of important documents that may be of value in the future.