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  • Yael Getz Schoen

Copy of How to survive a renovation

Being an architect, renovations and construction sites are familiar grounds. Clients often complain of the stress and inconvenience construction brings, but there's nothing like experiencing it first hand, to understand what is involved. By now, I've done it all myself- renovated a house while living in it, moved out of a house in order to expand and renovate, GC'ed a project myself, and hired a GC (general contractor) for larger construction work, here are a few lessons learned, survival tips:

1. Think through the project as much as you can before you start construction, and document as much as possible in the planning stage- it is easier to think on paper, without stress, than having to make fast decisions on site during construction. A complete and detailed set of construction drawings ensures there are less surprises later on site.

2. As much as we try to avoid changes, these will happen, so expect some- don't be afraid or try to resist, keeping an open mind will make it less stressful. After all, we make plans so we can change them. However, try to minimize "on the fly" changes during construction- Many times these will end up being mistakes. Remember that any change from the approved plans, will have to be inspected by the building inspectors if it wasn't a part of the original permit.

3. Whether you hire a GC or hire the sub-contractors directly- get their estimates before they start and create a detailed budget. Some subs work on time and material basis, making it more difficult to plan for, adding stress to the equation. Minimizing financial surprises is important for a successful project. The more detailed the design, the closer the estimates will be to the actual construction cost of the project with less change orders happening during construction.

4. Create a visual project calendar, to help with sequencing the different disciplines and with scheduling the subs. Even if you need to make changes, and push subs out because the work is delayed, at least there's a base to start from.There are various computer programs that help with project management and sequencing of the different disciplines, but it doesn't have to be complicated, as long as you have a visual place holder for all the project tasks on a timeline.

5. Ask the subs/GC about other projects they will manage in parallel to yours before you commit. If they run too many projects at once, there will be a point where you expect them on site but they'll be busy with their other projects.

6. Pack like you're moving. Everything. Don't be tempted to leave things around. Before you start construction, you can't imagine the state your home is going to get to, and it will get nasty. Unless you have a space that can be closed off completely from the renovation dust and from construction workers passing through, remove everything from site to some form of temporary storage.

7. Making product and material choices is very difficult. There are so many options that comparing and choosing becomes tedious, even for the smallest items. It helps if you narrow down to 3 preferred options, and choose once you put images or actual samples together for matching. Try to keep consistency in the styles, colors, and finishes. Not only will they match better, but it will help narrow down the choices.

8. There's a fine balance between ordering all the products, fixtures and appliances and getting them on site at the right time. If you order too early, storing them on site may be an issue, and sometimes by the time you are ready to install and discover something is broken or wrong, it's too late to return. If you wait until the last minute to order- you may get delayed with the project schedule if lead times are long or items are no longer available. The right solution may be knowing what you want, but waiting to order 4-6 weeks before anticipated installation time, and if you order through show rooms, many of them can hold items on storage for a few weeks if there's construction delay and storage not available on site.

9. Go to the fancy show rooms to get inspired, see the variety of products and zoom in on what you like, but buy something similar from a cheaper vendor.

10. Visit the construction site at least once a day, so you can assess progress, give instructions, catch mistakes, take photos (for documentation) and enjoy the progress. As tempting as it may seem at times to take a vacation while construction is happening, it is better for you to be present and available for immediate decision making, rather than let it all happen without you. You may come back and see a completed project, just not the one you wanted...

11. Build a contingency into your budget and into your schedule. I've never seen a project that ended right on time and exactly on budget. Being flexible, keeping an open mind and expecting changes helps to deal with them when they show up.

12. Unless you're in the building industry, don't take on more than one project at a time. You have to trust me on this one...

13. Wall finishes and colors are a matter of personal style. However, you can never go wrong with white. You can add color and character to the place with the interior design- furniture, curtains, rugs etc, but keep your walls white. Don't make that mistake of choosing a color you loved in a small swatch in the store, and ending up having to wake up in a navy blue walled bedroom just so you don't admit it was a wrong call.

14. There will be mess, dust, garbage. A lot. Before becoming an incredible finished project, your home will look so bad that you'll ask yourself if it ever will be livable again. It will, and you need to remind yourself constantly that the end result will be worth it.

15. If you're not sure about something- don't be afraid to ask. Assuming you gathered a team of professionals to work on your project- use their expertise. Ask their advice and opinion, get their guidance and direction, and then make your choices.

However prepared you think you are for your renovation, it will kick you out of your comfort zone. Literally. Try to enjoy it. It will be worth it in the end, and you may even miss that thrill of activity and the excitement of seeing a house come to life once it is completed. But if nothing else helps, take a walk, drink some wine, enjoy a sunset and don't forget to breath :-)

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