They say moving house is one of the most stressful life events you will ever have to endure. House renovations must be up there too, whether you live in the house or are lucky enough to have somewhere to go while works take place. Having gone through the process recently, my blood pressure saw some pretty big spikes as we dealt with decision fatigue, budget problems, and missed deadlines.
If you are thinking of embarking on some home improvements how can you avoid stress before you even begin? I asked the experts what their top tips would be to ensure any renovation runs smoothly.
1. Take your time
Quantity surveyor Patricia Power says this is her number one tip for homeowners but she admits it often falls on deaf ears. “The most important thing is not to rush it because you will make mistakes and you will regret those mistakes. This is one of the biggest spends of your life. If you are going for planning whether it is an extension or a new build, get the design right first and don’t rush it because it takes three months to get your planning permission – three months in the grand scheme of things isn’t long, and you will probably spend four times that on site.”
2. Bring in the experts
Bringing in the right people at the start will save heartache down the line, Power says. Paying people for their expertise at the initial stages will save money down the line – certainly our architect’s plans became our Bible as the renovation progressed. “If it’s an extension or any kind of major change definitely get an architect, and pay for a proper quantity surveyor who will do a proper budget, not some one-size-fits-all out of date budget you found on a website somewhere and doesn’t relate to your bespoke dwelling.”
3. Budget realistically
While there is always some robbing of Peter to pay Paul, Power is adamant that most builds can be brought in on budget if planned properly from the beginning. “An experienced QS will set that budget according to the structure, the build, and the finishes so that it’s turnkey when you walk in – bar your curtains and blinds and loose furniture items and personal items.” Don’t be aspirational, she adds: “If you can’t afford what’s going in for planning permission then that’s time to change the drawings – you have to be realistic.”
4. Choose the right builders and tradespeople
A painting disaster by a so-called professional – my three-year-old would have done a better job – cost us not only money but valuable time during our renovation. “You wouldn’t go out and buy a car without doing your research on it and where it came from,” says James Benson, director of housing, planning & development services with the Construction Federation of Ireland. He says it is prudent to check the references of any builder or tradesperson you are going to employ as part of a build or renovation. “Anyone that is looking to undertake any type of renovation work, no matter how big or how small, they need to make sure that they do their due diligence that they are finding a reputable and competent tradesperson or builder to undertake these on their behalf.”
5. Get renovation ready
People often forget that a renovation means clearing out their home, says Jude O’Meara, managing director of Elephant Storage. “It’s one of those things where they leave it until the last minute. Or they think ‘well, I’ll just put everything upstairs’, and it’s often the builder who turns up and reminds them that there is going to be a lot of dust and it will get into everything.” Similarly, a well-meaning relative or friend might offer some garage space but this can lead to damp or mould on your belongings – something that happened to us. “We offer a wide range of different-sized storage units that you can come and go from – it’s like a hotel for your things,” O’Meara says. “Renovating is extremely stressful, and this takes out some of the stress.”
6. Prioritise the build
Try not to get distracted by the other bits and pieces when you’ve got no roof on your extension. Power’s advice is to focus on the core elements of your structure when the main contractor is on site. “The electrical, mechanical, heating, air tightness, windows and attic insulation – these are the core items for a main contractor, so when they are on site get them to do those,” she says. “You can easily get wardrobes fitted by a joiner directly yourself, similarly you can easily retile your bathroom directly, so don’t worry about those for now.”
This is good advice – I spent far too much time in furniture shops looking at sofas and not enough choosing where my sockets should go.
7. Spend time choosing the big things
When it comes to those big ticket items, unfortunately the old adage holds true – you get what you pay for. “We find ourselves replacing windows that are just five or 10 years old – that’s just wrong, you should be getting at least 25 years out of your windows,” says Barry Shevlin, managing director of Global Home Improvements. He says taking time over the big decisions is essential – mistakes can be expensive and not always easily fixed. “If you get your sofa wrong or your curtains wrong, you can change them relatively easily. Flooring and tiling and windows and doors – you need to get that right first time. The envelope of the house is so important.”
8. Don’t skimp on the basics
It’s easy to get swayed by swoonworthy homes on Pinterest and Instagram but how a house looks is irrelevant if it is not built to last. A huge chunk of our budget disappeared as we invested in a whole new plumbing system but according to Power, any renovation should be about futureproofing your house – your home is your castle after all. “You don’t want to come back and do this again, you want to do this once and do it right,” she asserts. “Put money into the basics and the other stuff will come.”