How to Plan for Renovations

Home renovations can be both lengthy and costly and can easily go off the rails when the necessary planning steps are skipped. It might be tempting to break out the sledgehammer and start working on that open concept redesign, but if you want to avoid expensive mistakes and time-consuming errors, it’s best to start with these planning steps.

Why are you Renovating?

There are all kinds of reasons you might want to renovate. Perhaps repairs are needed to your roof or windows. Maybe your bathroom is outdated and you want to give it a modern look. As your life changes, sometimes your home needs to change with it, like converting your old office space to a room for a new child. 

The first step in planning your renovation is to really nail down what it is you hope to gain by changing your home. You may say “I hate my kitchen” but that isn’t enough information to make sure your new kitchen will be something you’ll love. Why do you hate your kitchen? “I hate my kitchen because there isn’t enough room for two people to work and when I’m hosting, I’m always hidden away in the kitchen instead of socializing.”  This shows you want more working space, better movement throughout the kitchen and perhaps an open concept kitchen or a kitchen more suitable for entertaining. 

When trying to determine what it is about your home you want to change and what it is you hope to gain from these changes, include the entire household in this conversation. Other family members may use the space in different ways and may remind you of issues you’ve overlooked. 

Figuring out not just what you want to change but why and what opportunities for improvement exist during your renovations is the first step in a solid renovation plan.

Wants vs Needs

Make a list of everything you need to do in your renovation. These are must-do repairs and maintenance items plus any items in your remodelling that need to be done. If you’re going to update your kitchen, you’ll need appliances. You might want specific top-of-the-line appliances -- all upgrades, all features, all add-ons. When making these lists it’s easy to get caught up in what you want right now, but keep in mind what you’ll need in the long run. When it’s the beginning of summer and you want to add a few feet to your bathroom, taking over the hall closet might look pretty tempting, but don’t forget how much you used it last winter for everyone’s coats and boots. This goes for long-term needs as well. You might be considering taking out your tub to replace with a stand-up shower, but if there are children in your future you will wish you kept your tub.

Reality Check

From here you’ll need to determine what is actually possible. This will be determined by a few factors. For starters, the make-up and architecture of your home. You may want to open up the kitchen to the living room, but it may not be possible in all kitchens or rather, it may be possible but at considerable costs that may be outside your budget. For these types of extensive renovations, it’s wise to consult an architect or engineer before getting started and finding out halfway through that your plan isn’t going to work. You’ll also need to contact your local permit office. Almost all major renovations require a permit and may restrict certain aspects of your work depending on local bylaws. 

Of course, your renovation will also be restrained by your budget. Where are the finances for your renovation coming from? Do you have funds already set aside in your bank? Will you be talking to your financial adviser about a home equity loan or refinancing your mortgage? Perhaps a construction loan? Figure out how much you have to work with. Add 20% on top for incidentals. That’s your budget. Looking at your budget, determine how much the must-dos will cost and see what you have remaining for your additional wants. Bringing a contractor or designer in to give you quotes will help you determine these numbers. If you plan on doing the work yourself, make a spreadsheet with each to-do item, your expected cost for materials and/or contracted professionals for work you’re not able to do yourself. Be realistic about the money you have and what you can achieve with it.

Take Your Time

Take some time to explore what design options are available, what new features are on the market that might be a great addition to your renovation. Look at home builder sites online, browse model homes, look at magazines, scroll the internet; see what options are out there. The last thing you want to do is get halfway through your project and discover a great new idea that’s too late to incorporate. Take the time to consider the whole project -- how does it tie into the look of your home? Will this add value to your home? Does it make the best use of your available space? Will it serve you in the future?

Taking the time to plan for your renovation will help keep you within your budget. A poorly planned renovation is often the cause of many renovators’ problems.