Home Renovations – How to Get Started

As a designer, I always get the same questions:  Where do I start?  Do I need an Architect? An Engineer?  What about building consents?  What about Builders?  How do I survive the process? Here are some answers to common questions from people considering a renovation project.


The first step for even the smallest project is to have a plan. This plan should be very detailed and written down, with drawings and illustrations as needed. Try to think through all of the smallest details to address on your plan. For example, in addition to choose light fixtures, think about switches and outlets. Where will the light switches go, do you want them turned on in one place or two, and which lights will be controlled by which switches? What about electrical outlets, how many do you need and where will they go? What style and colour should they be? What about trim, for doors, windows, baseboards and ceilings? We tend to think about the big things, but forget about the multitude of small questions that will arise during construction. If you are doing your own designs and drawings, make sure to take very accurate measurements, and then re-check everything at least two more times. Being off by even a few millimeters when you order products can create major problems and huge unexpected expenses.

For all products that require installation, purchase and take delivery of everything before work begins. For items that are too large or impractical to have delivered in advance, have them pre-purchased and stored for you, ready for delivery on request. The biggest delay in building projects are caused by products not being on site as required. If you have everything lined up and ready to go before starting, your project will proceed smoothly and be finished in the minimum timeframe. And confirm that your builder follows the same practice. If you have done your part, you don’t wan things slowed down because he hasn’t done his.


The best way to find a reliable builder is on referral from someone you trust. Direct experience from someone who has worked with a builder is a good starting point. Ask for names from any other professionals you are working with, such as your architect or designer, or vendors you are buying products through. But regardless who makes the recommendation, be sure to check references.  Ask for contact details of former clients and completed projects. Call a few and ask some important questions. Was the builder on time? Did he run a clean jobsite? Did he come in on budget? How was his work crew to get along with? Ask to look at examples of work done on projects similar to yours. When inspecting these projects, make a point of looking past the shiny new fixtures and fittings to try and ascertain the overall quality of the workmanship. Clues to look for are smooth walls, clean cuts on any timber finish work, level installation of work done by the builder. Be sure to have a friendly chat with the homeowner, asking important questions about their satisfaction with the process and the results. Get quotes from 2 – 3 different builders, making sure that the quotes include good details and explanations on the scope of work being quoted. But be careful not to hire on price alone. The least expensive may not be the worst builder, just as the most expensive won’t guarantee the best outcome. Do all of this research with due diligence. But in the end, go with your gut. All other things being equal, make sure the builder and his employees are people you feel comfortable with. You will be spending a lot of time together!


With completed plans and final decisions on all your product choices, you will be in a position to get the most accurate quotes from all of your vendors, including the builder, sub contractors and cabinet maker. You will have determined the most accurate budget possible, but always factor in at least an additional 10% for the unexpected, particularly when you are opening walls and getting into foundations. If your builder doesn’t advise this himself, that’s a red flag. Any quotes from builders or subs should include a detailed description of work to be performed, a payment schedule and guarantees. Invoices for product purchases should clearly specify model numbers and description, state  return and warranty policies, along with the process for resolving any errors. A small mistake can lead to major headaches and difficulties if it is not clear who is at fault and who will be financially responsible for resolution. Then make sure that you follow these policies. If a product purchase invoice states that any errors must be reported within a certain time period, be sure these policies are followed to the letter, either by you or whoever has been designated as project manager.


A professional designer can be a very important addition to your renovation team. And of course I will recommend myself as your best choice! I can give you all the information you will need to proceed, including all necessary drawings and builder referrals. As a qualified and experienced design specialist, I can often take the place of an architect, particularly on interior renovations, and for a fraction of the cost! I will create a plan, procure building consents and produce all design and technical drawings to complete the installation, including specialty items such as mechanical and electrical plans.

In addition, I can help you narrow down the dizzying array of products choices and will save you money by passing along trade discounts. I will help you weigh the relative merits of different product lines, and save you money by suggesting products that offer the best value and durability.  And as a designer, I have sources, and product choices, that are not available to the general public.

For a busy working person trying to live through a major renovation project, such as a new Kitchen or Master bathroom, it helps to have a coordinator. Designers speak both yours and the contractor’s language and are therefore ideally suited to help you manage the fine details that will keep the project running smoothly and on schedule.