A guide for homeowners doing renovations.

Specifically - Hiring Contractors, How to Save Money and Disaster Prevention.


Quite often, a hurdle many clients have is recognizing what their real priorities are.  Priorities that will lead to not just a completed project but a successful one - in which they are the happiest they can get.

Trying to decide on your priorities takes knowledge and experience input from your contractor.  Your contractor should inform you of some simple, obvious priorities but the number one priority is always the project cost.  Everything else comes secondary.  Usually I find that because this is at the forefront of everyone's mind, it triggers an "I don't know where to begin" issue.  Someone will want an addition but they don't know what it will cost and so they don't know what can be designed.  It's a classic issue.

In terms of a big reno, really, the first step is finding out what you're approved for and then vetting and finding a contractor you can trust who will help with the design process.

The fact that there's a looming, forced changes to building code that is going to happen, should be secondary on everyone's mind, but too often I'm finding that builders/contractors are building spec which doesn't address a client's future needs/priorities, but simply based on past market trends.

Aside from the changing building code and the shift to cleaner, greener, energy efficient buildings, here are some other priorities often missed.

Classic Examples of poorly planned priorities

Example One: The Pergola or Roof over a deck without adequate footings.

I often show up to bid on a pergola only to find out that the deck footings/structure was never planned for the load bearing roof/structure load despite either knowing the request from the beginning and not sharing it with the contractor or not thinking about the extra features and instead having a "we'll discuss that afterwards".  

Example Two: A newly designed basement,  home office or den without thought going into storage space.

I understand how it happens which is why I always ask what the priorities are because sometimes clients will realize they really wanted their clutter out of the way or out of sight or they want to be organized.  What sometimes happen is you get a newly renovated space that looks like a plain box with some nice paint, a floor and some trim.  It's usually neglected that there could have been a nice set of shelves "built-in" for optimal space or perhaps a simple storage room or storage under the stairs.

Example Three: Your bathroom isn't as easy to clean as you realized you wanted.  

So now you have a bathroom or ensuite.  It's what you've been waiting for but after awhile the novelty quickly fades away.  You've discovered that your dream bathroom is hard to keep clean.  Everything is just a little too tight, the grout is getting discolored and it shows because the grout lines are too big.  The vanity is just off the floor enough to trap dust and hair under it but you can't get under it easily to clean.  The toilet is too close to the vanity and tub and you can't get behind or around that either.  Your shower doors are really bad.  You realize the door style you chose is very hard to keep clean and the caulking is hard to access to re-caulk.
Really, the majority of these issues can be addressed early on.  It's only after you've started and ordered fixtures and decided on a floor plan that it starts to bleed money to make the changes.

Example Four: Realizing the priority that you didn't know you had is actually the top priority.

So you start your project.  You love the floor; it looks amazing.  The counters are incredible, and they're quartz!  The bar feature is everything you had dreamed of.  The only thing is that you are now at 75% of your budget but only 50% of the floorplan is completed.   So now, you need to cut down everything in that remaining bathroom just to be able to come in 10% over budget.  But if your budget is maxed out then your left with either an incomplete room or you end up with one "gold room" and one "bronze" room when maybe you should have just had one "silver room" however 100% completed and on budget.  

The moral of these stories is sometimes you shouldn't go with what you want because it looks good or it's cheap but choose more according to your priorities because your priorities are much more important for the longevity of your reno and in some cases resale!

Thank you for reading!

-The Bird with the Hammer

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  1. Decide on a project priority
  2. Find some features you like
  3. Research the kind of contractor you need
  4. Research the kind of plan maker you need
  5. Consider finding & including a contractor in the designs for big projects
  6. Develop a budget from the concept designs
  7. Tweak your concept and budget until it's affordable
  8. Continue saving for more contingency until the project is ready to start!

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