What I Learned from Our Three Month Home Renovation
As you guys know from this week’s post, we are officially done with phase one of our renovation! It was a trying few months but we made it to the finish line (albeit with much lighter pockets!). We’ve never gone through a renovation of this size and we learned a hell of a lot along the way. If I had to go back in time, there are a lot of things I would do differently because I know better now. When we tackle the next huge project with a professional, I’ll definitely be more prepared and I’m confident it will run more smoothly!
Nine Home Renovation Lessons
If you’re about to start a big project, here are my home renovation lessons.
I’m a very type-A person and I always try to control all.the.things. But there was no way I could control every aspect of our home renovation – not even on the day it started. My contractor, Patrik, had other projects that he was working on and we ended up kicking off our reno about a week later than we expected. We then lost a few weeks of work after this big setback, which messed up our timeline even more.
While it wasn’t ideal to push back our move-in date, we had no other choice and we did our best to be flexible. I say, “Don’t put an exact move-in date on your calendar. Instead, take it day by day and go with the flow.” If not, you’re just going to stress yourself out!
Have All Items On-Site
Patrik liked having all of the supplies and products on-site long before he kicked off those tasks. For example, he asked me to choose paint colors early on in the process (I think he and his team had just finished demo!) because he wanted to have the cans on hand, just in case one of his guys was free to get started painting. The same went for lighting, tile, door knobs, etc. I didn’t anticipate this at all. Instead, I was planning to take my sweet ass time and figure out exactly what I wanted as the house came together.
Making decisions quickly was not fun, so I say, “Go in with a clear picture of what you want and place those orders ahead of time.” It’s better to have everything on-site than to delay any tasks while you wait for shipments.
Budget for the Unexpected
This one should go without saying. Things are bound to come up when you open up walls, especially when renovating an older home, so budget for the unexpected. We had a $25,000 setback that we were luckily able to cover when it came up (we really had no other choice but to figure it out!). This forced us to penny-pinch for all of July and August, but we made it work.
I’d say add AT LEAST 10% to your bottom line to budget for unexpected things. Other expenses we didn’t originally plan on were a lot of “add on” items, like wiring the house for speakers and installing HDMI cables in each room. We decided to include these as we went along simply because the walls were open and we figured “better now than later”. These added additional expense, but we felt they were well worth it at the time.
Stay in Constant Communication
One of the main reasons I chose Patrik for my contractor is the fact that he is excellent at communication. I can call him at any time of the day and he always answers the phone or texts me back. I talked to him just about every single day and I would often drive over to the house to see the progress and get updates from him.
He was also very clear from the start that if I saw something that wasn’t right, to be vocal about it right away (and not wait until the end!). Every time I did a house visit, we would walk around and discuss everything to make sure we were constantly on the same page.
Check Out the Progress
Similar to the above tip, be sure to check on the progress as often as you can! Not only is it exciting to see your home come together little by little (I was thrilled walking through the door each day!), but it’s imperative that you stay on top of your contractor and his team. Fix mistakes before they go too far and everyone will be happier in the end.
I was always able to watch when the workers were coming and going on my Ring Doorbell camera and I would go over there at night to see all of their progress. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, walking in the door every day, and it was fun to really enjoy the process from start to finish.
Figure Out your Payment Plan
Handing over checks for thousands of dollars at a time is no fun and we were constantly doing that during those three months. At the very beginning, we made a plan with Patrik, agreeing on when payments would be due. Towards the end, it got a little murky as we added things on, the timeline got screwed up, and changes kept coming up. Keep detailed notes of how much you’ve paid and what is left on your tab as you go. That way, there aren’t any surprises! I’m lucky that I had Finn to spearhead the financial part of the renovation, so I could focus on the design and staying on top of our renovation team.
Document It All
I’m lucky that I have the blog because it forces me to document every step along the way. Even if you’re not a blogger, I urge you to take before photos, lots of progress photos, and after photos! It will be fun to look back on how far you’ve come and you’ll appreciate the hard work that much more.
On days when I would be frustrated with some house fiasco, I would go back and watch my Instagram story highlights of the early days of the renovation and I’d always feel better about how much progress we had made. Sometimes, you need to look back and see how far you’ve come, instead of focusing on what’s left to do.
Work on Other Tasks
We had a few weeks there where nothing was happening at the house and it was really disheartening. To combat that stagnant feeling, Finn and I would go to the house and do as much as we could elsewhere. We power washed the sidewalks, stained the deck, prepped our patio space, worked on the lawn, installed our closet, and more. We did as much as possible (while staying out of the workers’ way) to make it feel like we were inching towards the finish line!
Our renovation team worked from 7:00 am until 6:00 pm, each day, only taking a quick break for lunch. That’s a lot of hours of heavy labor! I tried to show them my appreciation by stocking the fridge with waters, putting popsicles in the freezer (for those hot summer days), and then bringing coffee and donuts in the mornings. I even got them a pack of Polish beer once we neared the end of the project, so they could reward themselves on Fridays! Showing this appreciation and being kind to the workers will make your project run smoothly and you’ll get to the finish line that much faster.
Finn and I learned so many home renovation lessons this summer. If we ever take on a project like this again, we will be much more prepared. Now, I would love to hear from you. If you’ve undergone a home reno, what are some of your key takeaways and home renovation lessons? Let’s all learn from one another!
I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.