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.

 

Adding Value to Your Home

Add value from top to bottom
Add value from top to bottom

Buying a home is probably the biggest investment most of us will ever make, therefore as well as making it as comfortable as possible for ourselves whilst living in our home, we want to get the maximum return on our investment too. Location is a key element. You can change the property, but not the location. The more desirable the location, generally the higher the price you will have to pay.However the returns should pay dividends when you eventually sell. If you don’t have the necessary funds for the best location, you may decide to buy a house in a popular road, but at the ‘dodgy end’ of the same road, or in an area adjacent to the ‘prefferred’ area in the hope that the area will eventually become more desirable. This can work, but should be viewed as a longer term return on your capital investment. You may have to wait a long time.

Advice The thrill of owning your own home can carry you away on a DIY spree, or with builders quotes for major improvements. Do not be too hasty to knock down walls, live in the house or flat for a while, find out what works and doesn’t work for you and your lifestyle. Long term homes evolve gradually. For shorter term homes used as a step ladder in the property market, think about who your target market will be when you come to sell. Who will want to live in your property, what will they need and want. Then plan any updating and renovations on this basis. immaterial of your goals, do your sums first, do not over do or over develop as this can have a derogatory effect and end up costing you. Recently I have viewed properties which are in need of renovation. The asking price did not particularly make it a bargain to instantly grab. After planning and costing the work necessary to bring the property up to standard, I asked the selling agent what selling price could realistically be achieved. The agent suggested a vague figure. “Oh” I said. “By the time I had bought the property, spent X amount on it, not mentioning the blood, sweat and tears) the house will be worth maybe a little more, or even less than it had actually cost me”. The agent replied that I should look at it as a long term investment. Even so, you at least want to break even, better still make some money for all your efforts, otherwise you might as well go and buy something already completed and lovely, and save yourself all the grief and bother. The same can be said when over developing a property on very expensive and unnecessary improvements. Use the existing values of  houses in the same vicinity as a guide for the ceiling price which could realistically be achieved, and don’t forget to take market fluctuations into account too.

Value Added

Kitchen – Will add up 4-5 % value. A well planned and designed kitchen help sell a property. It will also give you pleasure whilst working in it. Don’t install a very expensive kitchen in a modest house,  your gain will not cover the cost of the kitchen. Likewise a very cheap kitchen could de -value an up market home. Think about which style of kitchen is going to suit your target market. You may love bright orange, but will they?

Bathroom -Will add  will add up 3% to the value. Keep it simple by adding a white suite,  a shower screen (if over the bath) instead of a curtain.  a chrome heated towel rail, nice taps and shower heads.

Conservatories or Orangeries – Will add   up  7% to the value. Create extra square footage by adding a conservatory or orangery.  Always build it as big as you can, but do not compromise your garden. Place furniture in it for it’s intended use i.e. dining or lounging area. Make the space flow from the existing house and not look like an added ‘bolt on’ afterthought.

Loft Conversions – Will add  up to 12.5  %  to the value Use a ‘dead’ space for living space and extra square footage. However be careful not to compromise  the existing accommodation  to fit in the stairs  i.e. by encroaching on small bedrooms or landings. Employ a specialist company to plan and execute the work. Building Regulations will be required.

Converted Cellars and Basements Unless your home is worth £300 per square foot, which is the cost of doing a basement, you will not get a return on your investment, only add extra living space. Though expensive, this is a very popular choice of adding extra living space for kitchens or family rooms. A specialist basement conversion company should be hired to carry out the works.

 Garages –  Not many houses actually use the garage for their car. It is often used for storing stuff. Turn it into living space. The cost will be approximately £10,000. To calculate the added value simply multiply the square footage gained by the local price per square foot of property.

Less is more, it is better to do less very well with good quality fixtures, fittings and finish, than more done badly.

Cover Story

One of the simplest and easiest ways to give a living room a light summer feel is to change the cushions and or chair covers. The choice of cushions available is endless. From richly textured weaves, monogrammed, digitally printed, or woven. There is a current trend for jewel coloured velvet cushions, but personally, I will be adding these in the Autumn to create a warm luxurious living room. For now, I long for bright sunny days with visions of the sea side, a coastal feel, perhaps a touch of country nature.

However, my condumdrum is that I already own lots of cushions and don’t really want to buy more, just because the colour’s are too dark for the summer. This would mean me cramming my existing cushions into dustbin bags and storing them under the bed or in the attic until needed again. No, I just want to change the cushion covers. I do not want to spend a lot, as this is a quick fix for the summer.

There is a plethora of ready made cushion covers available from the High Street and online. H&M Home http://tablet.hm.com/gb/subdepartment/HOME?Nr=4294925259, has a great selection, and  John Lewis   http://www.johnlewis.com/search/cushion-covers?_requestid=6831546, and Etsy https://www.etsy.com/uk/search?q=cushion+uk for individually made covers. Despite the availability of choice, if you cannot cannot find exactly what your looking for at a price you want to pay, be  inspired by the designs, and  make your own cushion covers. Remnant boxes of fabrics and roll ends can be sourced quite cheaply, and are perfect for cushion covers. Don’t despair if you are not ‘A Sewing Bee’ and can’t put in a zip, by folding the fabric, similar to that of a pillow case, or envelope (only make a larger flap otherwise the cushion pad will come out of the cover), and stitch together. There is bound to be a You-tube film on this technique! However this link may be of help http://www.cushionsandmore.com/overlap-opening.html

Sofa’s and chairs perhaps are a greater challenge to brighten for the summer months. You could buy  throws to put over the chairs, and spend the summer straightening and tucking them in to keep tidy, or have loose covers made. With the price of a strong upholstery fabric and the labour costs, you may think I might as well buy a new chair or sofa. However, having two different looks created by your summer and winter covers, you have two different looks for the price of one. If your present sofa or chairs are sturdy and comfortable, why get rid of them?

Pictures from Pinterest, Etsy, and John Lewis

Conservatories, Orangeries and Garden Rooms

 

 

A few brief, tantalizing warm sunny days drew us out into our gardens and garden centres in droves, under the false impression that Spring had sprung. Now driven back indoors to view our gardens from the warmth of our homes to view and admire the flowering spring bulbs. If, like me you are a fair weather gardener, a garden room, conservatory or orangery are ideal places to enjoy your garden all year round, and will bring light and extra space to your existing home.

Decide on the purpose of your conservatory, orangery or garden room. Is it to create a kitchen, dining area, living space or even somewhere to indulge in hobbies such as painting or plant propagation. Make the room as big as you can afford. Ensure the design will compliment the existing style of your house, this includes the brickwork, cladding and paintwork. Which material you choose will come down to budget. Hardwood being the most expensive, softwood much cheaper, but will require higher maintenance with regular painting or staining, UVPC and Aluminium. These do not have to be white, UVPC and Aluminium are now available in a myriad of colour’s, which can be matched to your existing window colour. Why not choose a shade of green for the inside colour, thus blending with the garden. All conservatories orangeries and garden rooms can and should have double and sometimes triple glazed units.

Plot your required furniture placement on your plans.
Plot your required furniture placement on your plans.

Heating is a must, and underfloor heating laid beneath a well insulated floor is efficient under tiles. If opting for another form of flooring, check the manufacturers recommendations with under floor heating. Good ventilation with roof lights is recommended. These can be manual or automated and can even include rain censors. Depending on the aspect of  your glass extension, solar controlled glass, and temperature controlled technology in glass means that it will reflect the the heat when cold and let the heat out when hot. Roof blinds maybe necessary too to avoid too much glare and spoil plants. If you want plants on a window cill, use tiles, perhaps off cuts from your floor tiles for the surface other than wood in case of water spillage.

Lighting is a primary consideration in a glass room. Light reflecting the glass at night makes a stunning atmosphere, whether electrical or candle. Plot where you want your furniture to be placed and plan the lighting requirements around this. Plotting your furniture also helps decide where to place the door into garden, and traffic flow. If you plan to dine in it fit a decorative pendant light over the table. Specify this in planning, as structural changes maybe necessary. Plot wall sockets for table lamps. If it has a high pitched roof , light this space up with with cowled directional LED spot lights to add sparkle, minimizing glare and prevent cold expanses of darkness at night. A row of low voltage up/downlights bring out texture of a wall, can highlight wall art or mirrors and creates drama. Use a dimmer controlled switch.

Furnishings, really depends on your intended use of course, and should blend and compliment the joining rooms. Pick a colour from the adjacent room and use in the conservatory for example. Choose good quality fabrics which won’t fade too quickly in strong sunlight. Group several small potted plants together on a table, this has more impact than several individual plants dotted around. Or opt for one or two  over sized containers with large specimen’s. use framed botanical prints and add a mirror on the wall. Try not to look too contrived, a mix of styles looks more relaxed and informal.

There are many specialist conservatory, orangery and garden room companies, for all budgets, and will sometimes involve Building Control approval, so do check this out.