Lessons from a Home Renovation

As we near the end of our renovation, lots of people have asked for my advice on the process. I can honestly say we’ve learned a ton in a very short (but wish it had been shorter) amount of time.

Through these past months of what we’ll simply refer to as “character building,” we’ve lived through permit issues, a Stop Work notice from the City, communication frustrations, and then all the normal stuff that goes along with a renovation.

Has it been hard? Oh yes. Has it been worth it? Definitely., Would I be crazy enough to do it again? I would renovate another home, but I would NOT live through it.

So to sum it all up, I’m putting together my lessons learned from this whole process.

The General Contractor you work with matters.

Pick a good one. How do you know he’s a good one? I would recommend asking for referrals from people that you trust. We found our General Contractor through our realtor, and we had an excellent experience working with him.

You’re going to want someone who is responsive and who communicates well so that you know what is going on during all phases of your home project.  You want them to answer when you call, or call back quickly when they can. It may sound elementary, but this matters. Big time. You’ll appreciate hearing that they’re still waiting on something rather than having them only respond to your inquiries when they have the information.  It’s frustrating to not reach someone when you’re wondering what’s going on. Communication is everything.

We also appreciated that our GC was very upfront with what he thought was realistic. This helped us greatly when it came to budgeting.  If he didn’t think he would afford something, he told us. There was no sugar coating or vague language, and that was extremely helpful because little things add up very quickly.

Also, our GC was around so much that he pretty much became another member of our family. When he wasn’t physically at the house we talked on the phone several times a day.  You want to make sure that you have a good enough chemistry with your GC to tolerate that kind of close working relationship.

I would also recommend interviewing your GC to gauge how they view the integrity of their work. If they value their work, they’re going to take the extra steps to ensure everything is done properly. They are also more likely to contract with reliable workers who do quality work. Think of it like this- if you hire someone to do the dry wall and they do a sloppy job, you’re either stuck with the sloppy work or your timeline is delayed. It’s better to find someone who has a good team in place to avoid either scenario.

Know Your Non-Negotiables

Knowing your non-negotiables will help tremendously with budgeting and decision making. It will also help to pinpoint areas where you can skimp.

In our renovation, my non-negotiable was gutting the kitchen. In order to accommodate this into our budget, we had to scrap expanding the entryway into our house. It was tough to give up, but ultimately it was second tier on our list.

Non-negotiables can come from either how you want to experience your new home or how it will impact the property value. Fortunately for us, what I wanted was the biggest driver for increasing the property value. 🙂

Have a Vision (but be flexible)

Now that you have your non-negotiables in place, you’ll be able to create a vision for what you’re wanting. However, do yourself a favor and create your vision with flexibility. A few months ago, I shared the vision we had in mind for this renovation. We found that as our renovation unfolded, our vision evolved to create a more cohesive space throughout our entire house.

You’ll also want to allow yourself the flexibility to work well within your space. Things will come up as you examine electrical, tear down walls, etc. and you may need to adjust your vision according to these more concrete parameters.

If you asked me in the beginning what my vision was, I would have told you that the big picture was a big bright kitchen with a warm and welcoming space. However, the details leaned more towards a farmhouse style since that’s how I decorated our previous home. Once we started the construction, we uncovered a brick wall and put up an industrial beam that we decided to leave exposed. My farm house vision just didn’t fit the space anymore so I had to adjust to accommodate these new features that I loved. My bigger picture stayed the same, but I loved altering the details to fit the new nature of the space.

Plan for the Worst Case Scenario

Things will come up. Things will go wrong. Things will cost more than you anticipated. So just go ahead and plan for the worst case scenario to allow for pleasant surprises if/when  things are better.

We had delusions of grandeur. Our renovation was actually ahead of schedule (unheard of!) and we were only three weeks away from completion when we got hit with a Stop Work Notice from the City. Wah wah wah…. Three months later we were able to resume, but that was three months of frustration and living in a nearly (but not quite) finished home.

Paint & Lighting Make the Space

Are you obsessing over the lighting and paint colors for your new space? Good. These set the mood for your new space so it’s worth investing some time to make sure you get it right. Lighting is harder to change than paint colors, but I would recommend testing color samples in your space to see how they will read.

You can read about my tips for picking paints colors here.

Hopefully you found these tips helpful, and best of luck on your future renovations!

To read more about our renovation project, click here.

Meet Jen

I’ve always had a love affair with creation. Since I was a child, I handmade my gifts or combined toys to design something new. Fast forward twenty years, and I’m still making my gifts every holiday and designing new ways to do things.


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