I’m writing this as a forewarning of a hard lesson learned — an example of what not to do (and what I knew not to do) when it comes to renovations and remodels.
Prior to Mark and I buying our most recent home, we’d already done two thorough walk-throughs of the place. Based on these visits we’d compiled a work list, constructed a budget and work timeline and then added a bit on top for contingencies. It was a sane start to our next remodeling project.
But then things went off the rails. As soon as we took possession I added days to the work schedule (and a few thousand to the budget) when I decided that the walk between the kitchen and living room had to go. It wasn’t a bad decision. It was just made at a bad time.
That’s because renovations and remodels can go easily way over budget when you make changes to the designs and plans. What may seem like a simple request — remove this wall — can turn into a complicated job: demo wall, re-route electrical outlets and heating ductwork, patch hard wood floor, patch and paint new drywall.
There are some simple techniques for sticking with your reno budget. Here are four tips to keep you on-track and on-budget for your next project.
START WITH A REALISTIC COST: The primary cause of over-spending on a reno budget — particularly do-it-yourself projects — is starting with an unrealistic set of expectations. Avoid budget over-runs by being as specific as possible before the work starts. The more you know about your finishes, your plans and your expectations, the more you can use actual, rather than theoretical, costs. That means if you’re remodeling your bathroom: pick out the tile, vanity, sink, faucet, toilet, tub and paint. Also think about where you want lights, what type of fan you want (loader fans are often cheaper) and the placement of electrical outlets. The more detail you can offer, the more detailed a quote a contractor can give you for the work. Even if you’re doing the work yourself, you’ll know exactly how much your material will cost and, by creating a list, you’ll also be able to determine what components need to be completed and when.
ADD IN EXTRAS: The rule of thumb is to add 10% to any budget for contingencies. For extremely large projects, that can jump as high as 30% to 50% (but we’re talking about luxurious second floor additions). Still, there’s always unforeseen circumstances that can add to the cost. For example, my husband recently gutted and remodeled a co-operative in the Forest Hill neighbourhood in Toronto. The building has been built in the early 1950s and, as soon as he started the demo, he realized there was a problem. This three-storey walk-up had been built, and marketed, as a bomb proof place of residence — and the developers weren’t joking. The walls were solid concrete enmeshed with chicken wire and steel studs. Instead of a sledgehammer and some grunt work, my husband and his crew had to use saws and a lot of time and patience to remove the walls of the unit. The result: eight tons of concrete and metal. To put this in perspective: a standard basement reno (roughly the same size as this co-op unit) would yield about two tonnes of debris. For the co-op owner, the additional cost was minimal: a few extra days of labour, which was easily absorbed by her 10% contingency.
KEEP A RUNNING COST: The best way to keep costs under control is to know what the project is costing on a day-to-day basis. For DIYers keep a book of all receipts and tally them at the end of the day. For those using a contractor, make sure you review the contract weekly and ask the contractor for walk-throughs as the project proceeds.
STICK TO THE PLAN: Finally, and most importantly, stick with your reno plan. Every time you make changes, add work or second-guess work done, you’ll be adding additional time, labour and material costs to the project. If, however, you’re absolutely convinced that a change does need to occur ask that your contractor submit a “written change order” — this is an addendum to your contract that lists the extra work and the cost. At least this way you’ll know exactly how much extra you’ll need to pay to get the project completed the way you want.