Renovation Rescue Me! How to avoid the 6 reno mistakes I just made
Lessons from our recent home renovation
I have renovated a reasonable amount of properties (17 to date), however this one was a little different because it is our own home which we are living in while the renovation happened around us.
Anyone who has ever renovated their own home will relate to the roller coaster of emotions, challenges, lack of sleep and inconvenience a home renovation can bring. Until now I have never understood the challenges and annoyance renovations bring out in people because all of my renovations so far have been very easy, on time and on budget. But I wasn’t living in any of them!
Renovations completed in this round:
- Complete electrical upgrade (new power points throughout, removal of old telephone/foxtel/alarm/TV antenna outlets)
- New down lights throughout & new ethernet outlets & some fancy media center set up (husbands domain – I have no idea what he had them do here. The only thing I do know is it means less cables which equals a happy wife!)
- Rip up and remove carpet
- Remove timber panelling
- New blinds & curtains
- New Carpet to bedrooms
- Polished floor boards
- Paint throughout
- New & relocated doggy door
- New barge boards around bottom of house after restumping
- New furniture
This home renovation has stretched out over 10 disruptive weeks and it’s not yet over. So I will be really upfront and say that the delay could have been avoided had I have had experience living in a property while renovating it. To put things in perspective, this renovation would typically be completed within 2.5 weeks. It should be the simplest renovation ever. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and do it easier when it’s your turn.
Why has it taken so long
There were a few reasons why things didn’t run so smoothly on this renovation. The biggest overarching reason is that I did not approach it like I do any other renovation, which is like a drill sergeant working to a plan, not deviating and being hyper organised.
- I chose items emotionally rather than with my head like I would an investment renovation
- I didn’t plan ahead as adequately as I usually do
- I didn’t have time pressure or deadlines I was racing to meet
- I was fussy with the quality of finish asking trades to do work the longer way round to achieve a better finish (rather than opt for efficient solutions)
My top 6 mistakes and how to avoid them
Mistake #1 – Poor Planning
With a busy business, studying and project managing new branding and website, I just wasn’t as organised and as assertive as I normally am when renovating. I let things unfold rather than take control of the process and drive the renovation.
Fully scope out your work with your builder prior to starting. With a properly scoped project, start day and time line your builder should be able to line up all the other trades (electrician, plumber etc) to be available at the right time, back to back. This eliminates “down days” where work cannot proceed because you’re waiting for a trade to come in and do their bit.
We had 5 down days which boiled down to really poor planning. If this was an investment renovation this would not be acceptable.
Mistake #2 – Not Driving The Team
Having worked on many projects with my team before, I was complacent and just expected my team to know what I would want when it came to small details. I didn’t provide a properly scoped plan in writing and meet with them daily to trouble shoot. Additionally my head trade was off-site leaving employees to do what he had instructed them too, rather than manage the process more carefully. This led to unsatisfactory work without solutions and consequently I have had other trades come in to finish the job to perfection.
The Solution- Always maintain professional boundaries
Always maintain professional boundaries no matter how long or how often you have worked with someone.
When you have good boundaries and clear expectations communication is clear and projects run smoother and people will generally respect you, your time, your property and give your job the time and attention they would if you were a brand new client.
Mistake #3 – Not knowing how to live in the middle of a renovation
I thought I would move furniture as needed (ie a day in advance), however in reality this didn’t work well.
For the trades to be as efficient as possible all the rooms needed to be almost fully cleared out. This would have eliminated the disruption to our life in a significant way because I was having to move furniture and household items at times I wasn’t expecting to. Coming home to move furniture after a day of work is not fun when you were expecting to sit down to dinner and catch an episode of Game of Thrones.
The Solution – Organise storage & an ‘Escape Space’
Plan ahead. Think about where you can store your things while the renovations occur. Move as many items from the renovation site as you can before your trades arrive. It will make your life, and their life, easier, protect your belongings and save you from having to wash and get rid of dust from your items.
You will be eating dinner in odd places and potentially have nowhere to sit – try to find at least one tidy and organised space for yourself to “be” and have some places you can “escape” to if you are at home during renovations.
Mistake #4 – Order everything “before”you begin
We have had delays in furniture, blind and curtain installation which meant it’s been cold. Having no curtains or blinds on windows allowed cold air to enter the home and hot air to escape.
I usually avoid these delays because I typically renovate for investment purposes. I know the lead times on the standard products I use consistently on these renovations and have them ordered at the right time.
Renovating our own home we decided to go with our hearts desires as it is a home we plan to stay in for at least another ten years, possibly longer.
Having our hearts desires meant waiting for things. Fabric for the curtains has been delayed and will now arrive the end of October. This means curtain install is November instead of the initial expectation of them being installed this week. (floor to ceiling “S” bend sheers – I can’t wait!) If this was a reno for investment I would use an alternative fabric and get the job completed and no-one would even notice if they were the perfect shade of white.
But given it’s my own home I had to have the PERFECT shade of “not quite white” – it literally took 8 weeks and 3 different companies sending me samples (check them out!!)
Know your lead times and do not begin renovations until all of your decisions have been made on colours, materials and you have confirmed the supplier has them in stock – or be prepared to wait it out like me if you are going with your hearts desires and it’s your own home.
If it’s an investment renovation it comes down to dollars and return so waiting will not usually be viable. Be head smart with renovations that are designed to return you money!
Mistake #5 – Underestimating the side-effects of Floor Sanding & Polishing
Polishing existing floor boards is often cheaper than a good quality carpet and the return on investment is HUGE.
I would estimate that for $2,000 spent on floor board sanding and polishing would return you approx $20,000 in value added in a home worth $500K. I use this technique in many properties I renovate for both myself and for clients.
Check out the difference it makes!
The upgrade is easy when the property is empty however when you are living in the property there are some things you need to prepare for
- You need to move out of the house because you can’t walk on the floors once the varnish begins
- You can’t walk on the floors afterwards for at least 2 days
- The fumes are toxic and get into EVERYTHING. Even closed rooms and cupboards.
- If you have foam, latex or bamboo products (mattresses, pillows etc) the fumes get stuck in these materials more so than anything else in the house – even if they have been locked away in a closed bedroom. We had to sleep on the couch cushions while we aired our mattress and pillows out for 5 days after we returned home from having the floors done
- If you (or a family member) tends to be sensitive to fumes, chemicals or tends to suffer from a lot of allergies the fumes will be unbearable, prepare to be away from the house for up to a week after the job has been finished
- You cannot leave food out and even rooms and cupboards that were closed the entire time will smell and be affected
- If you have animals be mindful of their water bowl because the fumes get into liquids left out
- Move out during and for up to 5 days after the job has been completed.
- Move furnishings out of the house completely
- Have a neighbor open up the whole house to air out each day while you are away. Open the cupboards, put the evaporative cooling on and all extractor fans.It took a good 5 days for all of our bedding, cupboards and the house to air out from the toxic fumes. We had neighbours lend us pillows and bedding and we camped out the back in our studio for a few nights until the fumes left the home and our bedding.
Mistake # 6 – Oil Based Paints
I typically use a LOW VOC or NO VOC paint when I do my own painting and I use aqua enamel for the trims. This time round I opted for oil based paint for the trims because the aqua enamel doesn’t finish as nicely and is not easy to work with. However after the trims were undercoated in an oil based undercoat I began to feel unwell from the fumes. The paint fumes were still in the air more than 1.5 weeks later and returning to the home brought up all the symptoms again.
Think about how you and your family may react to the fumes of an oil based paint. Plan to be out of the house for several days afterward as well as during the paint job to avoid falling ill and having symptoms flare up (headache, nausea, dizziness, stinging nose, sore throat, tight shoulders/neck etc).
We have received a recommendation for a natural oil paint which is made from orange peels – LIVOS paints. However in discussion with a Dulux representative I thought it safer to go aqua enamel and was pleased to learn that Porter’s Aqua enamel was much easier to work with and provided a much smoother finish than the Dulux equivalent I had used previously. So we went back to a water based paint for the trims and we are really pleased with the result.
Additional tips & comments
When you renovate an investment you should have a very clear plan, a set budget and should get a full renovation completed within 6 weeks for a non structural renovation. When it’s your own home you have the option to piece-meal the renos. ie) doing a few jobs at a time.
While this is great for budget purposes it is frustrating, more timely and means doing the same things multiple times (like moving furniture) instead of just once.
PLUS – Once you start renovating an old house it is very hard to stop because the contrast between old and new is so vast it makes the old stuff look SUPER outdated.
Either treat your home renovation like a business deal OR prepare adequately and remove yourself if possible from the renovation during key times.
What I would have done differently?
Pack the whole house and move out for 3 weeks!
Honestly! The only reason I didn’t was because I dreaded the thought of packing everything up. But at the end of the day we have essentially ended up there anyway. Sure it would have cost us an additional $3000-$5000 in accommodation costs, but it would have been worth it.
How to not lose your mind while renovating your own home
Just book a holiday and GET OUT OF THERE!!!! Or book local accommodation (AIRBNB is often very affordable) so you can continue to work and live your normal life. If you are not in a position to do this try to plan your renovations in two stages. Have one half of the house renovated while you and your belongings live in the other half and then swap.
I hope this has been helpful and helps you avoid some stress in your life. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments, a story to share or if you have any questions you would like answered in an up and coming blog post.