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The top dozen most expensive renovation mistakes you can avoid

Renovation? Exciting but frustrating!

As a professional builder I’ve worked with hundreds of renovations and they’re all different. What’s not different are some basic mistakes that I see time and again from people who seem to me, smart enough to avoid them.

In an effort to save you the additional expense and stress these mistakes can cause, I’ve put together a list of some of the disasters I’ve seen over my career. If I can save just one person, from making one of these mistakes, this Friday night’s beer will be worth it.

Mistake #1. Failing to consider ventilation

Effective cross-flow ventilation is something that’s rated very high on a boat, but often completely ignored in a home renovation. Yet without it, rooms can smell or become uncomfortably hot. An open window is only one part of this equation. Is the window is large enough to air the entire room? If not consider a skylight that opens, or the very least a fan that can circulate the air.

Mistake #2. Failing to consider lighting

Good natural light is important but so are light fittings. Thinking of adding another wall? Look up. Will the existing lights be well positioned in the new room. Do you need to move the rail that the existing lights hang from, that currently runs through the new wall? Is there any opportunity to add more or less powerful lighting or mood lighting to your new space? Have you considered whether your room needs general, task or accent lighting, or a combination of all three?

Mistake #3. Don’t force your guests to pee in public

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to advise people that having a toilet opening straight into their dining room is not such a great idea. Yet still some insist that the dulcet sound of pee splashing into a ceramic bowl or worse, creates great background ambience to their dinner parties. If you’re renovating and you’re not into kinky sounds my advice is to avoid this, or putting a games room next to the baby’s room.

Mistake #4. Failing to consider storage

Active families accumulate a lot of “stuff”. And there’s seldom enough space to house this “stuff”. So if you’re going to renovate, I know you’re also going to use the opportunity to “downsize” your family’s “stuff” as well, or so I keep getting told, but it just seems to me to be a great opportunity to add some storage to your life.

Mistake #5. Failing to consider building codes

Building codes vary between localities so it always pays to investigate whether your renovation will require a permit. It’s not worth the angst of wondering whether or not your illegal renovation is going to be highlighted on your contract of sale or during the home inspections.

Mistake #6. Failing to vet your contractor

Not all contractors are created equal. Although most builders and contractors have good intentions, not all are squeaky clean when it comes down to it. Ask for the contact details of at least three references. Ask how responsive the contractor was, how he handled problems and whether he stuck to the budget. All contractors should have workers’ compensation and liability insurances and certificates showing this. They should have a surety bond which guarantees they will follow the law and if they don’t, it provides you with a way to legally chase them. Google their name to find any negative reviews.

Mistake #7. Failing to manage your contractor

We’ve all seen the reality shows where the builder is sent packing from the show after a fall out with the onscreen ‘talent’. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes it clearly is the contractor’s fault. Sometimes though, it’s a combination of events. Try to maintain a positive relationship with your builder. But, if you see something you are unhappy with, speak up early. Things will only get worse and more expensive the longer you leave it.

Mistake #8. Inaccurate measurements

I can not tell you the number of times I’ve turned up to a job to find the original measurements are incorrect. Where there might be some doubt, I ask for two separate measurements from my clients – one in centimetres and one in inches. If you are at all confused or unsure of your measurements, ask for help from a professional. Within half an inch or even 2 cm is not close enough.

Mistake #9: Failing to anticipate chaos

Yes we will demolish the old room carefully. No we can not be completely invisible during this process. Most renovations involve some degree of chaos. If you plan to live through this process, in the same home, be prepared to have your lives impacted at some point by the mess, the noise and restricted access. Discuss this with your builder and contractor so you know exactly what to expect and at what stage.

Mistake #10: Failing to update the electrical system

Before beginning your renovation ensure you sit down with your contractor and together draw a diagram of where you want all the powerpoints to be. Consider what appliances you want to use in the room, where they will be located and how many you wish to use, then modify your drawing accordingly. It’s not something that can be easily added after the room has been painted and presented so ensure you do your homework before a simple powerpoint becomes the most expensive item in the room because it requires replastering and repainting.

Mistake #11. Failing to update the plumbing

Nothing worse than tearing apart an old bathroom or kitchen and finding old corroded plumbing. Before you start ask your contractor whether he has checked the condition of the existing plumbing and whether it needs to be upgraded to bring your home up to code and how much extra this will cost.

Mistake #12. Failing to budget correctly

People always underestimate what it’s going to cost to do a renovation. My advice, break down every single part of your renovation into the number of components you want.

  • How many powerpoints?
  • How many doors?
  • How many door handles, hinges, etc?
  • Exactly what appliances?
  • Landscaping?

The more detailed your list, the more accurate your budget. Now allow an additional 10% to 25% of funds for contingencies.

  • The average cost to renovate a bathroom is from $15,000 for a budget bathroom upwards.
  • A kitchen is $20,000 upwards.
  • A new wall: from $2,000 upwards.

Less than half the expense will go towards materials. Labour will cost about 33% of the overall amount while fees, permits, taxes and GST will eat up about 20%.

Don’t over capitalise your home by spending too much on your renovation.

The general rule is that you should not spend more than 25 percent of the value of your home on home improvement renovations. 

But it is worth it! 

Despite all of these potential bear traps, renovating can be the most rewarding – financially and from a quality of life perspective — activity you undertake. It’s not rocket science. It just takes some foresight and planning. With this sort of advice you’re less likely to go wrong but for a more detailed chat about your particular concerns, feel free to call direct.