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SURVIVING A RENOVATION: 101

Do you have a renovation on the calendar for this year?  Or do you hope to be able to renovate sometime in the future but you’re not sure where to start?  I’m going to try and lay out in this post everything I can think of to pass along to the person who has never been through a renovation.  If I miss any of your questions, please ask in the comments and I’ll reply there.

Without further babble, here we go!

Budget – you need one.

General Contractor – you need one.

Designer – you might need one.

The end.

Kidding, kidding! Those are the top 3 things to think about first and foremost in my opinion, but let me break them down further.

1. Budget – Start saving.  A minor kitchen update (think countertops & backsplash) could be less than $10k and a major overhaul could be $100k.  Kitchen cabinets are usually the most expensive item in the renovation budget, then appliances, flooring, countertops and backsplash come after.  A full master bathroom renovation will usually start around $20k and will go up depending on size, plumbing, and finishes. This is not a hard rule, but just an observation from the projects I’ve done. Set a budget for what you want to spend and what you think is a good amount to invest into your home.

2. General Contractor – This is very important.  You need to find a GC that has a great reputation among people you know.  Ask for references and pictures of their previous work.  Quality workmanship is obviously extremely important, but second to that in my opinion is communication.  Does the GC answer the phone or call you back in a timely manner?  Do they show up when they say they will?  Do they complete the job close to the time they estimated it would take?  I know we all want to save money, but please hear me on this — you may pay a little premium for a good GC.  If someone is coming in thousands of dollars under your other quotes or can start almost immediately, THAT’S A HUGE RED FLAG.  I’d speculate that a quality GC is booked at least 4-6 weeks out for small renovations and 12 weeks for a large project. I can’t tell you the times that I’ve known people to skimp on hiring a GC at the beginning of a job, or decided to go with “the cheap guy”, only to have a project get drawn out double to triple the time it should take or have the crew just quit showing up after a fully demolished project.  So get referrals from trusted people in  your community, ask the questions, and get a few estimates before committing to a General Contractor.

3. Come up with the plan/design-  Does the current layout work?  Do you need to move plumbing, electrical or gas?  Do you need to add lighting or outlets?  Are you using the current footprint and just updating? Or are you expanding the kitchen and reworking the whole thing?  Come up with your IDEAL plan and see how much that costs.  I tell my clients to dream big. Start big and you can always trim the project down. Are you unsure of the best layout for the kitchen?  Do you want your kitchen to be better than a builder-grade kitchen?  Are you looking for a high-end kitchen? Do you want special features such as hidden appliances, a custom range hood, a special cabinetry style?  You may want to consults a designer for a more in depth project like that. Nothing is more disheartening than spending tens of thousands of dollars and weeks to months of renovation chaos and then not be thrilled with the result.  A designer can bring to the table a lot more possibilities than you probably have ever considered.  Mixing materials, paint colors, and metal finishes in the perfect way to produce a one of a kind kitchen is what a good designer will do.  This usually makes for a very happy renovation result.

Whether you hire a designer or make all the decisions yourself, make sure you leave NO DESIGN DECISION up to the contractor.  Please. Trust me on this.  And you must communicate this with your GC.  Make sure they know that they aren’t to make any executive decisions on where something should be hung, where a cabinet pull should go, what paint sheen to use, etc.  You may think that others think the way you do or see things the way you see them, but if time and experience has taught me anything it’s that they do not!  What seems like common sense to me isn’t common sense to everyone else.  Where I’d assume everyone would put that pendant light may not be where the electrician assumes it would go. I’ll say it one more time, make sure you or your designer is involved in every detail.  Do not let the GC make the design decisions.

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For a kitchen renovation, these are some of the design decisions to consider:

Cabinetry 

Inset, partial overlay (don’t do this. please. ever again.) full overlay?  Door style?  Trash can drawer? Spice organizer?  Drawers? (yes, drawers.  always yes to drawers.)  Paper towel holder/drawer? Pot/pan organizer?  Coffee center?  Pot filler next to the coffee station?  Special paneling on any backside of cabinetry that will be seen?  Be aware of interior corners when laying out cabinetry –be mindful how doors/drawers/appliances open. Not considering this is a common mistake and could lead to a drawer or appliance not being able to open properly.  Paint/stain color (lacquer is usually custom mixed and may be different than paint sample)? Paint sheen? Paint inside of cabinets or stain only? Hardware for cabinets — pulls, knobs, both? What metal should you use? Where do you put them?  Where should the appliances go?  I have a hard rule that refrigerators should always at least appear to be built-in.  Make sure you know your appliance specs before you finalize your cabinetry design.  There are plenty more things to consider, but that’s a good start.

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Countertops

Marble – beautiful. natural (cold), soft, porous, will etch and stain, requires sealing

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Soapstone – beautiful. natural (cold), soft and will scratch and dent (but can be sanded or oiled to re-surface or hide imperfections), non-porous thus antimicrobial, will not etch or stain, may require mineral oil treatment to achieve color preference.

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Quartzite (hard marble) – beautiful. natural (cold), will etch & stain.  I’ve heard it’s supposed to be harder than granite, but I had quartzite in my last kitchen an it was softer than our marble vanity tops.

Granite – can look very dated since this was so popular in the early 2000’s. Avoid over-speckled slabs as to not look dated. Natural (cold).  Honed absolute black granite is a great option; similar looking to soapstone but more durable.  Requires sealing occasionally. Very durable.

Quartz – man-made.  most durable. there are beautiful quartz options out there, but there are also a lot of not-so-beautiful options. Try to find a full slab to look at before committing to purchasing.  A small 3″x3″ square doesn’t show you enough to make a good decision.

Honed or polished – honed=matte. not shiny. soft looking. very beautiful but will show more imperfections usually.  polished = glossy.  Polished hides dirt and water rings better than honed if you’re concerned about that.

Edge finishes – Squared and eased are standard.  Other styles such as Ogee, French Cove, and Dupont, are typically upgrades.

Seams — good fabricator will lay out slab with as few seams as possible.  You may want to consider countertops/islands based on slab sizes to avoid seams.  Or find super slabs that are bigger.

4.  Finish saving plus at least 10%.  15-20% would be more ideal.

5. Start picking out and purchasing tile, light fixtures, appliances, hardware, plumbing fixtures, etc. 10 weeks out from install. Backorders are common.  Be prepared with your materials so you’re not the one holding up the workers. This helps to ensure a timely renovation.

My final advice is to GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING.  EVERY LITTLE CHANGE.  TEXT OR EMAIL. HAVE DOCUMENTATION OF EVERYTHING.

I hope this is helpful if you’re new to tackling a renovation, and as I mentioned before, if there are other questions I didn’t address please leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them there!

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Home renovation lover and dreamer. Renovating my home one day at a time and starting to renovate other people's homes too.

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