Part of our job is to help our clients avoid common home remodeling mistakes. Most people who undertake a significant home remodel will do so only once in their lifetime. On the other hand, we have been involved in almost a thousand projects, and that gives us a leg up in the experience department. Therefore, we try to prepare our clients as thoroughly as possible for the entire process — from design through construction — to see them through a successful home remodel.
In that spirit, we are devoting the next few columns to some of the most common home remodeling mistakes and how to avoid them. In this first column, we want to talk about the common mistakes under the umbrella of design issues and front-end decisions.
Many common home remodeling mistakes are design related. If you don’t believe us, a quick Google search will show you a plethora of examples of design gone awry. Problems like doors slamming into ceiling fans and drawers hitting walls, not to mention additions that look like they haphazardly collided into the existing house, could easily be avoided with a good design.
A project that ends up with design issues could be the result of several underlying mistakes with the basic design approach. A remodel with major design issue could be due to an incompetent or inexperienced contractor, a do-it-yourselfer trying an attempt at an illegal remodel without a permit, or a plan drawn up by an amateur designer or wannabe architect.
Not a DIY project
If you don’t have the proper skill set and experience, don’t attempt to design your house. This may sound self-serving coming from an architect, but there is a reason professionals are professionals. You would never try to fill your own cavity just because you watched a YouTube video about it. You respect your dentist because he or she has the training and schooling to properly do the job.
The same principles apply to an architect. Architects have the proper training to avoid mistakes and turn the job from amateur to truly a professional design. Beware that you do not judge a good design process based on your observations of HGTV or other design shows.
With that said, not all architects are created equal. Many architects and designers don’t have experience working with residential projects or home remodels. New construction design is different from remodeling, as commercial projects are inherently different from residential ones. Make sure your hire a residential architect with experience in remodeling.
Hire the right contractor
The same advice applies to the construction process. If you are not skilled in construction methods and materials, don’t try this yourself. Honestly, even if you are skilled in new construction, you may find remodeling challenging. Many mistakes can be avoided by involving professionals with experience in home remodeling.
One of the valuable assets an experienced remodeling contractor can provide is a good budget estimate prior to the creation of the full set of construction drawings. Since this needs to be done before all the information is gathered and all the decisions are made, the contractor must draw upon his experience to provide reasonable allowances for each anticipated trade or subcontractor. Obviously, only a contractor with remodeling experience will be able to accomplish this.
Proper channels, permits
It is important to comply with municipal regulations and codes, so required permits must be obtained through proper channels. Plan reviewers and home inspectors from the building and zoning departments are not your enemies.
Building inspectors from your jurisdiction will come on site throughout the construction process to ensure the construction is being done properly. Don’t look at this as a nuisance, but as another set of eyes trying to make your home safe and energy efficient.
It is a mistake to do a home remodel without the proper permits. If you try to undertake your project without permits and the city finds out, they will stop construction until a permit is obtained. How would they find out? It is not unusual for nearby homeowners to call the city to check on neighbors' projects, and building inspectors, who are constantly driving throughout the city, have been known to knock on the door of a house that is obviously being remodeled to check to see if the paperwork is in order. In addition, reputable contractors will not work on a project without proper permits because they are the ones who will be fined (though that cost will undoubtedly be passed on to you the homeowner).
It is true that your property tax assessment will be affected by your remodel, but your insurance company will look more favorably on a fully permitted project, and savvy house hunters will always ask if a previous remodel had a permit and a general contractor. Plan your schedule and your budget to include proper permits.
Next time, we will talk about more common home remodeling mistakes, so stay tuned.
Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com