How to Renovate a House

Aspasia Athinaiou
December 8, 2023

Table of Contents

Plan your home remodeling project carefully, and consider your skill level combined with your budget

There’s a good chance you have home improvement plans in the near future, whether you just closed on a fixer-upper or you’re looking to update the house you’ve lived in for 20 years.

A well-thought-out plan will set you up for success, for both small remodeling projects that change or update the look and function of a space or larger renovations, which might involve knocking down walls. Even a small repair or home improvement task, like annual maintenance on your HVAC system, will benefit from some planning and consideration of the scope and cost of the project.

Here’s a checklist for renovating your home:

  • Ask yourself : Why are you remodeling
  • Decide what are you remodeling
  • Apply for permits
  • Find inspirations from styles and trends that appeal to you
  • Determine your budget
  • Determine the scope of your project
  • Choose to hire a constructor or DIY
  • Pick out materials
  • Demolish the place
  • Begin remodeling
  • Have required inspections completed
  • Add finishing touches

Ask Yourself: Why Are You Remodeling?

Before you start drawing up plans for an addition to your house or a major kitchen conversion, identify the reason behind your home improvement project: Does your plumbing need an update? Are you looking to convert a room to more usable space? Are you simply ready for a change? Understanding your motivation behind the project will give you a better idea of how to apply your budget and prioritize tasks as well as whether you should tap professional help.

Here are five primary reasons you may want to remodel your house:

  • Maintenance.
  • Update rooms.
  • Try out new styles.
  • Get ready to sell.
  • Improve efficiency.

Decide What You’re Remodeling

Some rooms are more likely to see changes every few years, while other areas of your house, like your roof, may not need to be replaced for 30 years.

If you’re looking for inspiration or are curious to know whether your plans for renovating are considered out of the box, here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular home improvement projects.

Maintenance, Upgrades and Repairs

In Houzz’s 2023 study of renovations in the U.S., 58% of more than 46,000 surveyed homeowners reported that they made home renovations in 2022 while 48% made repairs.

Popular maintenance-related projects include:

  • Plumbing.
  • Electrical.
  • Automation.
  • Roof.
  • Heating and cooling.
  • Water heater.
  • Ventilation.
  • Insulation.
  • Structural or foundation upgrades.

Apply for Permits

Depending on where you live and the scope of your work, you may need to apply for a permit for any work you do through your city, township or county. Permits are most often required to ensure work is completed properly to avoid posing a threat to you and your neighbors in the future. Structural work on a home, like an addition, significant electrical work and major plumbing changes, are examples of some of the most common permit-required work.

Many cities offer permit applications online, though others will have people visit in person at city hall or the local planning office.

When you apply for a permit you may need to pay a small fee as well. Depending on the project, you may need blueprints or other formal plans to obtain your permit. Many general contractors oversee the permitting process on behalf of their clients, but you should clarify this detail before signing a contract – a miscommunication on who is responsible for permits can slow down the renovation process significantly.

Find Inspiration From Styles and Trends That Appeal to You

Even if your renovation is motivated by a repair or preparation to sell your house, envision what the finished space will look like and what styles or trends will appeal to you or a would-be buyer.

Start by getting an initial feel for the project by looking online, says Leah Tuttleman, an interior designer certified by the American Society of Interior Designers and corporate designer for Re-Bath, a full-service bathroom remodeling brand.

“Always do a little bit of research on your own to understand what your style is that you gravitate towards,” she says. It’s not just about knowing what you want the room to look like, but realistically taking your budget into account as well.

Determine Your Budget

Know how much money you have to make renovations before you start your project, and research your options to get a better understanding of how much certain upgrades, materials and changes cost.

Among homeowners who renovated in 2022, 27% reported staying on budget was a challenge, according to the Houzz report. Most projects also end up costing a hefty sum.

Determine the Scope of Your Project

Budget is typically the deciding factor on the scope of your project – whether you’ll be installing a new shower or changing the layout of the toilet, sink and shower as well, which can cost thousands more.

Plumbing and drains are often a major cost in bathroom and kitchen renovations and can be a limiting factor.

The bigger your project, the more time you can expect it to take as well. A major renovation can take weeks or even months, and you have to factor in the level of inconvenience if you’re still living at home during the renovation, or the cost of living elsewhere temporarily.

Approach the planning process carefully, and don’t rush into demolition or upgrades without a solid plan from beginning to end.

Choose to Hire a Professional vs. DIY

If you have a limited budget, you may be hoping to take on a DIY home renovation. Home improvement tasks can be fun, rewarding and far less expensive than hiring a professional, but keep your level of expertise in mind as well as the amount of skilled work the project requires.

Many municipalities require permits for electrical and plumbing work, and those permits often require a licensed professional to at least sign off on the work if not complete it entirely. Even if it’s a simple repair, leave any project that could potentially harm you or the house to a professional.

Pick Out Materials

Whether it’s paint brand and color, appliances, cabinets or flooring, you’ll have quite a few decisions to make when it comes to the materials you’ll use in your home renovation.

The biggest driver for your materials choices will be your budget. There are lower-cost and luxury options for every kind of material you may need, but you’ll also want to weigh how the space will be used when determining where to splurge and where to save. High-end materials may be ideal for a room or item that you’ll use and notice every day, while you may be able to save with lower-cost materials for details that are less important for daily life.

Demolish the Space

When working with a contractor, you may be able to save a bit of money by offering to demolish the existing room on your own. However, it’s important to keep in mind that demolition is a very small portion of the total cost – roughly 6% for a bathroom.

Demolition may be a bit more involved than you think as well. It’s important to know the location of plumbing, electrical wiring and studs before you send a sledgehammer through a piece of drywall.

Begin Remodeling

At last, it’s time to begin transforming the space into the room you’ve planned. If you’ve hired professionals, it’s best to let them take control – a general contractor will oversee subcontractors doing specialized work, whether it’s electrical components, tile installation or a buildout for custom cabinets. You’ve hired experienced hands for a reason, so don’t micromanage.

“Not everything seems logical to an inexperienced eye,” Tuttleman says. It’s important to allow a hired project manager – whether it’s the general contractor or interior designer – to be in charge of ensuring everything gets done as efficiently as possible. More sound advice: Avoid last-minute change requests and be clear on your expectations from the start.

By the point that either you or contractors are working on the space and installing anything from walls to appliances, you want to feel confident about the style and material choices you’ve made. “That should take serious consideration, because once things are ordered, you have almost no ability to return anything,” Tuttleman says.

Have Required Inspections Completed

If your renovation involves any major electrical, plumbing or structural work, there’s a good chance your local municipality will require an inspection to approve the permitted work. This inspection ensures the work was done properly and won’t be a danger to the home or anyone in it.

A beginning-to-end general contractor will often handle the permit application and inspection scheduling process as part of the total cost of the project, though that is something you should clarify in advance. Otherwise, you are responsible for providing the paperwork in advance and scheduling the inspection. For some work, like plumbing, the inspection must be conducted before walls are installed to cover up the pipes, so be sure you don’t skip this key step in the renovation process.

Add Finishing Touches

Finally, you’ve completed the more labor-intensive work and are able to assemble the space with furniture and decor. In a kitchen or bathroom, this often involves merely stocking the drawers, shelves and cabinets with the items you normally keep in the space. For a living room or bedroom, you’re moving furniture around, placing art and finding the best spot for tabletop accessories.

If you’re working with an interior designer or full-service renovation company that includes interior design, the professional will continue working with you throughout this phase. But this is the time to really make the space your own, from the angle of the sofa to the TV to the decor on your shelves, and enjoy your newly renovated home.

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