How to survive your renovation project

You sometimes wonder why we put ourselves through such trouble: we’ve all heard the stories about the family without a bathroom for weeks, using the neighbours’ shower, having to use a builder’s portaloo; without a kitchen, eating out for weeks or having takeaways in the lounge room. Afterwards, it seems a bit like childbirth – the pain is forgotten (I’m a man so that’s what I’m told) and what is left is pride in the end result.

How can you survive your renovation project? Before you start work on your project you need to consider what we call Should Be Asked Questions:

How much time is it going to take?

On a residential renovation the sketch design process can take at least a month or two, with another month to complete documentation for the application to council, depending on how quickly the clients approve the design options. Council approval can be two months all going well, with a complying project and when council officers are not too busy – generally allow three months. Then you will need to get the engineering drawings and other more detailed documentation for the construction certificate and tender documents. Depending on the scope of work, and client approval, allow another two to three months before tenders are issued to the potential builders, and another month for the builders to prepare their tenders. After tenders have been received, allow for another month for negotiation with the lowest tenderer, signing of the building contract and starting work on site. And of course, sometimes the lowest priced tenderer cannot start work straight away. Construction can be six months to nine months to more, depending on the size of the project, the builder’s methodology, and the weather. The worst parts of the project, when there is no water supply and sewer connection, can be a few weeks in some projects, or it could be months.

What will the weather be like?Glebe_works1

We aren’t affected by snow or intense cold in Sydney, but rain can cause havoc with a tight schedule. Sydney’s wettest months are from March to June, but every month of the year has on average seven to ten days of rain. Depending on the stage of the work it will affect your project, to a greater or lesser extent; if there is no roof and the walls and windows are open then power tools will not be able to be used; excavation and concreting are also stopped by inclement weather. But even when the building is weather-tight materials can be affected by excessive humidity – timber especially – while plaster, floor finishes and painting will never seem to dry, which can cause delays at the end of the project.

Do you really want to live in the house while work is ongoing?

It is always best if you can move out while the builders are onsite. The builders’ work hours will be set by the conditions of the development consent, in Sydney usually from 7:30am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday and 7:30 to 3:30 on Saturdays. If you are living in the house that means that builders only start noisy work at 7:30am – they will be arriving on site, greeting each other, setting up their tools and machinery before then. No more sleep-ins, and if you are at home with young children it will hard for them to relax with all of the noise, let alone have an afternoon nap. And what will you do with your pets? If you are living in the house the builders will have to work around you – they won’t have full use of the site for materials storage, they will have to be quieter when you have to answer that important phone call or when you need some peace and quiet. They will build-in to their tender price costs of the added inconvenience. Why not build-in to your budget the cost of renting somewhere else for a few months? If you can’t move out for all of the project, consider staging the work so you can move out for the worst – noisiest, messiest – bits.

Do you really have the cash?Balmain_works

Even if your project is right on budget, the sheer amount of money you are spending may be a concern. If you’re used to writing four-digit cheques, you will certainly be writing cheques with one or two more digits during a large renovation project. If costs are increasing, along with variations, it will increase your anxiety. Having cash on hand – called a contingency sum – that’s a bare minimum of 10 percent above the contract sum for extras that are needed, due to unforeseen circumstances, or changes of mind, will help alleviate that stress. If you want to worry less have 20 percent available.

Where will you store the materials?

Another way of looking at this is what is going to happen to the rest of the house and the front yard? Even if your project is confined to out the back, the mess won’t be. Materials have to be stored, new ones and old ones. Materials from the demolition will have to be located somewhere on site before they are loaded in a truck and carried away. If materials are going to be kept on-site for later re-use in the construction – and a lot of them can – they will have to be cleaned and stored away from the pile that is to be carried away. There will also be the cars and trucks parked in the garden if they are not blocking the street, occasional bits of scaffolding, the portaloo …

Where will you cook and do dishes?

If you are staying in the house you will certainly be using the barbecue a lot. In order to wash-up you might have to re-purpose the bathroom or laundry. Budget for eating a lot of meals out. You will be inconvenienced; it will only be temporary, even if it doesn’t seem so at the time.

Where will you wash yourself, and how can you get rid of all that dirt?

Do not underestimate how this may wear on you over time. Washing your dishes in the bathtub might get old after a few weeks. Even with thorough site protection brick dust and plaster dust will get everywhere in the house.

What happens when everything seems to go wrong?

Be prepared for absolutely everything to go wrong. And then make sure you can handle it if and when it does. Have several backup plans, places of refuge so you can leave if it all gets too much, that contingency sum we referred to earlier …

What will happen to your peace of mind?Pyrmont_works

If you stay, be assured that you will be intimately aware of the state of your home. Going away will be less painful. The project will occupy plenty of your time in general decision-making; on top of that there’s no need to be exposed to all of the day-to-day action as well.

Do you have time for all this?

If you are managing the project you will need to be available to the contractor nearly every day, to answer questions, make decisions and ensure that things are moving smoothly. If you can’t or don’t want to do all of this – you are probably better employed doing your own work – then engage a professional to act as your agent.

That’s when an architect comes in handy.