Planning your Renovation – Six Key Points to Consider

Front elevation of a completed cottage renovation
Front elevation of a completed cottage renovation
A newly completed cottage renovation

So, you’ve bought a property to renovate – how exciting! You’re itching to get started, full of ideas, energy, enthusiasm and the illusion that ”it won’t take long’ . Whether planning a basic renovation, such as replacing the bathroom, installing a new kitchen and decorating throughout; or major surgery  such as removing walls, re-wiring, plumbing, replacing the windows and possibly adding an extension, planning is the key to a successful project and conclusion. The age-old adage: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is true for a very good reason. But there’s another saying: “The best laid plans of mice and men plans often go awry” and despite careful planning things often do.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your first (and maybe your last?) attempt at home renovation, I have listed some key points you must consider when starting your renovation project.

1. Invest money and time in the main fabric of the building.

Roof, walls, windows, doors, electrics, plumbing, gutters etc. are the ‘bones’ of your home. If this means having to wait until funds allow for the beautiful furniture and furnishings you would like, it is a wait that is worth it. A wall in a bad state of repair will not be improved just by painting it a different colour.

2. Does the existing floor layout suit your needs and lifestyle?

If not, draw a rough plan of the existing layout and look at ways this can be improved. It maybe as simple as hanging a door the other way round! Does a wall need removing? If so, then consult a structural engineer to ensure that it is not a supporting wall and consequently is holding your house up. If it is, then a qualified engineer will be able to calculate the steel support beam required to be installed by professional builders.  You or your builder will have to notify Building Regulations at the Planning Office who will carry out a site visit to inspect that the work is being carried out correctly, and if satisfied will issue an approval notice for the work.

A stairwell box taking up most of the third bedroom
An intrusive ‘box’ stairwell in a bedroom
En-suite converted from a small box room
The ‘box was reduced, doors moved making an en-suite

For structural alterations, it is advisable to employ professionals, including loft conversions and extensions. An architect is best for extension plans, but still show them your own rough plan of ideas of the sort of thing you would like at your first meeting. This is useful to the architect, and it avoids them going off on an expensive and unnecessary ‘Grand Design’-style tangent.

Ensure that you have a good working relationship with any professional you hire. Once you are happy with the design,  the plans will be submitted to the planning department of the local authority for approval. The decision process takes approximately 10 weeks. If the plans are not approved, changes will have to be made to your drawings and submitted again for approval.  This is the most frustrating part of any renovation. You just want to get started! But the law dictates that any buildings or extensions built without planning permission may well have to be demolished, the last thing anybody wants! There are some permitted development rights, which allow you to improve your home and build an extension, but ensure you check with your local planning office for details first.

An original 1930’s dining room
Before the renovations began. The original 1930’s dining room
Grey kitchen in a 1930’s house renovation
The window is in it’s original position. Walls were moved and an extension was built.

3. Plan Room Layouts

It’s never too early to start thinking about your room layouts. Starting by positioning your furniture around your floor plan will save you a lot of unnecessary changes later. Draw a scale plan with a scale ruler on paper or on a computer if you prefer, and position your furniture in each room. If  you struggle to visualise things in this way, you can also measure the room with a tape measure and mark out the furniture positions with sticky tape. You will be able to see if you have sufficient plug sockets in the right places for your needs, for lamps by the beds, or in the living room, computer, printers etc.

Do you need any additional forms of  lighting? Mark these on your master plan drawings and incorporate into your costs. If you are planning to change the layout of your bathroom consult a professional plumber,  bathroom installer or talk to a specialist bathroom supplies showroom. They will advise you if it possible to move the toilet etc. to another position. It’s not always as simple as you think, we often forget how the waste water is going to be disposed of! Likewise, visit a kitchen designer to help you plan your kitchen, but do take along your ideas and rough plans too. These professionals will make sure that there is no oversight in your plans.

Basic drawing of a living room layout
Basic room layout drawing will help on electrical requirements.

4. Plan your Budget

It doesn’t matter how big or small your budget is, this is key to a successful project. Remember to add about 20% of the total budget as a contingency fund, in case unforeseen problems arise.

The easiest way to to do a budget is on a spreadsheet. List all the items, product codes, supplier, with possible delivery lead times of the items, and the price.  It’s also useful to have all your information in one place to refer to as the project progresses.  Knowing the delivery lead times of fixtures and fittings avoids a mad rush and panic buying when an item is needed and avoids delays. The most expensive items are not always the best quality, so shop around. Always get at least three written quotations from qualified and recommended trades people for the work for cost comparison. Do not ask for, or accept an estimate. An estimate is exactly what it says, and will no doubt cost you more than you have budgeted for. For ease of quote comparisons draw up a detailed  list of the work you require them to do, along with any drawings which can include details of your specific fixtures and fittings if they are to supply them. You will also want to know their expected start and finish dates.  A written contract or agreement of some type should be signed to avoid disputes by both parties. For large projects you may want to include a penalty clause, should work not be completed within the agreed time frame. Depending on the size of your project, it may also be a wise decision to appoint a Project Manager on your behalf.

Before - a sliding door separating dining room to a badly planned kitchen.
Before, a sliding door into a badly planned kitchen
After picture of a well planned kitchen in a small cottage
After – Dividing sliding door removed and a well planned kitchen installed

5. Keep to your Budget

This is a lot easier said than done, we all know this. By keeping to your master plan and by not changing your mind during the work or choosing more expensive fixtures and fittings will help avoid going over budget If you do change your mind on fixtures and fittings, when you update your spread sheet it will immediately show you how much you will go over budget, and perhaps you can make savings elsewhere to compensate. Be prepared to compromise.

6. Time Plan

Be realistic. ‘By Christmas’ is often quoted as a bench mark date. Christmas comes and goes and you’re still unfinished. Everything usually takes longer than expected.  As with any project have a start and finish date which is realistically achievable, and allows inclement weather to avoid stress and disappointment.

The start of a new kitchen installation
You don’t want to have a kitchen half finished with guests arriving.
Kitchen diner with central island
The finished kitchen now ready to receive guests

 

Be Prepared – For a lot of mess and disruption to your life, if you’re  planning to live in the property whilst work is being done. Be prepared for blood, sweat, tears and possibly disagreements and heated arguments.  As the project progresses you can get very tired and stressed. Keeping a sense of proportion and  humour is not always easy.  But the sense of achievement and joy when you’ve finished your home makes it all worthwhile.

 

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