For clients who are about to begin a major remodeling project for the first time, I do my best to prepare them for some of the realities of a construction project. Being in the profession, I’m accustomed to what happens throughout the months that it takes for a renovation to go from demo to completion. But for homeowners who have never gone through it before, it can be overwhelming.
The key to every successful project is to have a good design team in place from the very beginning. Architects offer a level of expertise and construction experience that can save any client time and money in the overall process. Hiring an excellent contractor will protect you and your home from many of the pitfalls and horror stories people have experienced. But even with a phenomenal, experienced team in place there are certain factors that occur on every. single. project. So in an effort to prepare clients for the inevitable, here are some things I share with them prior to beginning a major residential remodel:
Its NOT HGTV
Have you seen those shows that reveal a total house makeover in one weekend on a $10,000 budget? (spoiler alert: Its not real) I’m always blown away by the perception that a house can be remodeled in a weekend. In “non-reality-tv”, demolition is done carefully and safely (no sledgehammers bashing cabinets off walls). Permits are approved first. Cabinets take 6 weeks to order. Budgets include labor AND materials. It takes a significant amount of planning, time and expertise to make a job come together well.
Work BEFORE the Work
Some jobs require work to be done before the project even starts . Its always best to move out of a home during construction, but more often than not, this isn’t possible or practical. Even if you plan to stay in your home, there can be a lot of packing to do to clear the area affected. Some other examples are relocating trees and landscaping, moving furniture, and emptying all the kitchen cabinets. If there are children in the home, some safety guidelines should be discussed. If there are pets, they might need time to transition to eating or sleeping in a new area.
Most contractors start work at 7am. If you are not accustomed to having people in your space that early, you might want to consider how you will work around them. One client of mine set up a coffee station in her bedroom so she could avoid seeing the workers in her pajamas. Another client tweeked their work hours so they could go to the office earlier and be out of the house about the time when work started each day. One mom with a young toddler asked that work not begin until 8am each day so her child could stick to her wake up routine. Plan ahead for the interruption!
There’s nothing like waking to the sound of birds chirping, a compressor humming, and a nail gun pounding (see previous paragraph about early mornings). Usually there isn’t much I can say to prepare a client for the seemingly constant banging, hammering, and sawing that goes on during construction. You just have to experience it to know its LOUD. And persistent. So if anyone in the household is home during most days, plan ahead and schedule some days to get away. Your ears will thank you. If a client has a home office or works from home, I strongly encourage them to relocate during the project. Your boss will thank you. In this image above, they are carefully drilling into the side of the house through about 14 inches of brick and concrete block for a new exhaust duct for a range hood. That sound was nothing like I’ve heard before. It took about an hour. The owner thought their house was falling down, and we reassured them all was fine and its par for the course when cutting through concrete.
Construction requires materials. Lots of them that need to be stored on site. Sometimes the site is large enough to keep them organized and out of the way. Other times the area is small and contractors have to get creative about where they put stuff. Needless to say, there are a lot of tools, stacked wood, and boxes. I advise clients for their safety its always best to stay clear and let the contractor store things in the best way to keep them protected and ready to use.
I have a few photos I wanted to share of driveways and streets lined with cars, vans, pick up trucks, and delivery trucks. But too many of the trucks have logos on them and it wouldn’t be fair to show only SOME of the amazing contractors and subs I work with. So imagine what your driveway and/or street would look like if you hosted a BIG party. Without a valet. That’s what your house will look like on SOME DAYS during a construction project. Not all days, but there will be a few where you might accidentally get blocked out of your own driveway. Or worse, blocked in and cant get out without asking 3 or 4 people to move their vehicles. It happens. My suggestion is if you have an important need (like you’re on your way home with a car full of frozen groceries and NEED to get in your garage without issue) just give the site foreman a heads up you are on your way. In addition, I suggest letting your neighbors know before the project starts so THEY are prepared for the party thats about to happen at your house for the next few weeks. A plate of cookies makes the announcement more palatable too!
At some point you will see parts of your home you did not know existed. You will see the guts. If I was in an operating room, not only would I have no idea what I was looking at, I would be terrified and I’d probably pass out. The same sort of thing happens when some clients see the guts of their home. They think it means something is wrong or broken. But it doesn’t! It just means the bulk of the transformation is underway. This transition phase might take longer than feels comfortable, because owners just want it covered back up and looking neat. But know that uncovering pipes, ducts, studs, etc. doesn’t weaken the house. If it bothers you, just look the other way and repeat “its going to get put back” over and over to yourself.
There are a number of strategies that contractors use to manage dust during construction. Its possible to block off rooms, seal doors, and install filters at return air vents to minimize dust getting into the home. Zipwalls are a plastic barrier that can be installed with a zipper door so one can still go in and out (imagine the tents in the ET movie). But it seems on a number of jobs that right about the time that clients start to get a little frustrated with the inconveniences of living in a construction zone, the drywall goes up. Then the sanding starts and there is more dust than one can imagine in a powdered sugar donut shop. I call it “hitting the wall” of remodeling fatigue. Just hang tight and know this too shall pass.
This is a positive way of saying that there will be unexpected stuff that pops up on every job. Yes every job. Here are some recent hiccups I’ve seen on the last few projects, just as an example:
- On a new basement bathroom, an inspector required an additional plumbing clean out be installed on a waste line under a slab
- When digging for footings, the soil was “bad” in one area and they had to dig 5 feet deeper to reach a solid bearing point. It turns out the house was built on the fill from the rest of the neighborhood houses.
- A vanity that took 6 weeks to deliver arrived damaged. The company agreed to exchange it, and expedite the process, but it still delayed some of the other work that was dependent on the vanity being installed.
The point I make with clients is that hiccups will happen. The important part is how they are managed, how the professionals who are involved take responsibility to fix the issue, and how the issues are communicated to the clients. A good design build team will recommend solutions or options to resolve issues as they arise.
Towards the end of a project, just when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it seems like it should be “done” but its still not totally “done”. This important phase in construction-speak is called “Substantial Completion”. A space can be ready to move in and use but there are a few outstanding items such as touch-up painting, installing a rogue appliance, or waiting for an item on backorder. Clients should prepare for that last leg of the process where you are enjoying the renovated space save for the last few finishing touches.
It will come and it will be worth it! Yes, there will be a day where all the workers will all leave, the sign will be removed from your yard, the house will be clean, you will love your new space, and you will think, “you know, it really wasn’t that bad!” After hosting a REAL party to celebrate your new space, you might even consider the next project you want to do. Hiring an experienced team and a good Architect can help relieve “remodeling fatigue” by preparing you for the process while running on budget and on schedule.