One of the very best things about owning your own home is that you can change it to fit yourself and your lifestyle. Home renovations are more popular than ever before, and there are countless shows, blogs, magazines and other resources where you can indulge your dreams of a perfect home — if you’re willing to jump into renovating.
But a home renovation project isn’t a journey for the faint of heart. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and there’s a lot that can go wrong before the finished product is, well, finished. To ensure that your home renovation process goes as smoothly as possible, make sure you don’t make any of the following home renovation mistakes.
Forgetting about permits
This might not be something you realize you forgot about until it’s time to sell the house — which is basically the worst possible time to discover that your house needs a permit for something and doesn’t have one. So when you’re sure of what form and shape you want your home renovation to take, do yourself a favor and head to the permitting department at your city or county office and ask them what you’ll need.
In general, you probably don’t need a permit to do things like paint walls, replace cabinetry, repaving your driveway or other minor updates. But if you’re going to be changing a room’s purpose or knocking down a wall, then you definitely want to check on the permits that should be filed to make a change like that.
Setting an unrealistic timeline
You’ve no doubt heard horror stories from fellow homeowners about the amount of time it takes to actually finish a renovation. And you might think that those people probably just had bad luck — that won’t happen to you!
Here’s the thing: Everybody thinks that their home renovation is going to be completed on schedule (and on budget, too, but more on that later). Even professional house-flippers who have worked on dozens of renovations can get it wrong. So your timeline needs to reflect the realistic estimates that you’re hearing from contractors, and it also needs to include a little bit of wiggle room in case something outside your control pushes it back.
Creating an unrealistic budget
After watching a few different tanned and glossy couples complete a specific renovation for a certain amount of money, you might feel perfectly comfortable deciding that you can designate that certain amount of money for that specific renovation, too. But like your timeline, your budget needs a little bit of room to stretch. Between material upgrades, hiring extra labor, emergencies or any other budget-breakers, at some point during the renovation, you’ll be glad you built in some budgetary breathing room.
Buying the cheapest materials
It’s really tempting to try to discount your way through a home renovation. And one of the easiest ways to do that is by choosing the cheapest materials — but resist! The adage “you get what you pay for” is as true for home renovation materials as anywhere else, and if you’re buying flooring, windows or doors that you’ll have to replace in five years instead of twenty, then you’re not actually saving yourself any money because you’re going to have to do this all again sooner rather than later.
Talk to your contractor (or contractors) about the options open to you, and make sure you understand what sacrifices you might be making in quality or longevity for price.
Skipping prep work
If you’ve ever painted a room, then you already understand how critical prep work can be. It’s a lot easier to thoroughly tape off the area you’re going to paint, right? Well, that truism holds for home renovation in general, so make sure you’re doing yourself favors by smoothing the road for yourself.
Cover furniture with drop cloths, for example, or make sure that you’ve got a food prep area set up outside the kitchen that you can use while it’s having work done. The small steps you take to protect your belongings and make necessities more accessible will be well worth the time they take in the long run.
Taking inaccurate measurements
If there’s one home renovation mistake that you should try to avoid at all costs, no matter what, this is it. “Measure twice, cut once,” is sound advice, but when it comes to your money and your house, what’s the harm in measuring ten times before you cut?
Imagine realizing that your new cabinets don’t leave enough room for your fridge, for example, or that you didn’t order enough flooring, or that the bookshelves you’re installing are too tall for the office. All of those catastrophes can be avoided if you measure carefully and accurately, so whatever you do, don’t breeze through this step.
Starting without a plan
This might not be as critical for smaller projects, but if you’re renovating an entire room or an entire house, then you absolutely need a game plan for exactly what you’re doing and when. Planning also includes your own time, so make a plan for how much time you can devote to the home renovation, and avoid starting projects when you know you aren’t going to have time to finish them.
You’re really going to have to know yourself and your tendencies in order to plan for them and around them. If you’re the kind of person who loves to start projects and has trouble finishing them, then you might want to call in assistance in the form of a friend or loved one to keep you accountable. Or perhaps this is a project you need to outsource. Whatever the case, make a plan that makes sense for you and your lifestyle today.
Failing to anticipate a mess
A home renovation is usually a big, messy project. There’s likely to be dust everywhere at the very least, and some of your rooms might not be usable while the renovation is taking place. That’s not always a big deal in the case of a closet or bedroom, but when you’re redoing a bathroom or kitchen, then renovating a house where you currently live can get quite a bit trickier.
Be prepared for a big mess, and think especially hard about how it will affect you if you’re living in the house while it’s being renovated. Use plastic sheeting and drop cloths to keep as much of the mess as you can at bay, and realize that any clothes you’re wearing into the construction zone might need a lot of wash cycles before they return to normal, so dress accordingly.
There’s nothing wrong with admiring a super-trendy house — but nothing dates a house quite like a trend. Remember, shag carpeting and avocado-green kitchen appliances were once the height of trendiness.
If you absolutely love one of the kitchen or bathroom trends that’s been making the rounds and you really want to try it, consider asking your contractor about a modern twist or spin on a classic look that might satiate your desire for the trend without obviously dating the house and the renovation.
Using the wrong tools
The beauty of construction tools is that each tool was specifically designed to do one job, and to do it very well. But when you don’t use those tools every day — or if you’re missing a tool that you should have — then it’s pretty tempting to use the wrong tools for a project that you’re trying to finish on time.
But the danger in using the wrong tools isn’t just in potentially damaging your materials or the tool, which can definitely happen; you could also hurt yourself pretty badly trying to leverage a tool in a way it wasn’t designed.
Selecting the wrong paint
Some people just look at paint color and think they’re done, but paint comes in so many different finishes and price ranges because it’s meant to be used in different ways. The paint typically used for ceilings is usually less reflective and less sturdy than the paint typically used for walls, so make sure that you’re considering the paint’s purpose as well as its color before you buy.
Choosing materials that aren’t sustainable
Even if you aren’t particularly environmentally conscious, there’s a lot of merit in considering “green” building materials and upgrades when you’re renovating. For a start, they can be very appealing to buyers when the time does come to sell — but they’re also often money-savers for you as the homeowner. Low-flow toilets or showerheads, solar panels and other upgrades might be worth adding to your house whenever you renovate so that you can save some money down the road.
Ignoring additional storage opportunities
Almost every house has some odd nooks and crannies that could use a little attention, but they’re often ignored during a home renovation. So when you’re working on your renovation, consider storage and think about creative ways to use it.
When you’re redoing your kitchen cabinets, consider adding a shelved lazy susan to the big, deep corner cabinet so that you can easily access everything you store. Drawer dividers, shelves and bins can also be used to make storing your stuff feel easier and more natural than ever.
Neglecting safety measures
Goggles and hard-toed shoes might not feel very sexy, but if splinters go flying or you drop a hammer, you’ll be pretty happy you indulged in them regardless. Make sure you’re following best practices for safety for any renovations you’re helping with — and if you’re hiring out all the work, ask the contractors you interview about their safety practices to make sure everything is in order.
Failing to secure subcontractors or backup
Speaking of contractors: It’s commendable if you want to do your entire renovation yourself, but at the very least, make sure you have a backup plan for what you’ll do if something unexpected happens and you can’t finish it yourself.
It’s also not so commendable to mess up your house because you didn’t correctly gauge the level of expertise needed to finish a job … so make sure that you’re actually qualified to complete any renovations that you tackle.
Hiring the first (or cheapest) contractors you talk to
Finding and hiring a contractor to work on a home renovation can be incredibly stressful; it’s a huge trust, and you may be tempted to make an “easy” decision by hiring the first person who calls you back, or just going with the cheapest option.
Resist! This is your home, a huge financial investment, and you should really make sure that you can rely on the people you’re hiring to help you realize your dream.
Being afraid to think big
Sometimes homeowners just don’t know what’s possible in a renovation, and sometimes they’re worried that their plans might be too complicated. But you might be surprised at what a skilled contractor can accomplish — you can change the entire layout of a bathroom, for example. So if you think you might want it, but you’re not sure it’s possible, just ask! You might be pleasantly surprised.
Overbuilding is the mistake at the opposite end of the spectrum of buying the cheapest materials possible. A room can start to look and feel overwhelming if you don’t consider balance when you’re making your plans, so be wary of adding features … upon features … upon features as you renovate, especially in places like the kitchen and bathroom. It’s easy to get carried away, and the results probably will not have the cumulative impact that you hoped for.
Changing your mind
Before you take the first step on your renovation journey, make sure that your mind is set in stone and that you have no intention whatsoever of changing it. Because if you don’t, you’ll be spiraling well beyond the realm of “reasonable and realistic” when it comes to both your budget and your timeline. It’ll stress out your contractors, and the end result is almost never worth it.
Believe it or not, this also applies to changing your mind to accommodate more affordable options when you’re renovating. There will be times when you need to cut corners, but make sure that you’re really okay with cutting this specific corner when that time comes so that you don’t regret eliminating something that you really wish you’d kept.
If you can avoid these mistakes, your renovation will undoubtedly make your house shine. Good luck!