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How to Survive a Major Remodel

A big remodel can uproot your way of life. Want to learn more? Check out these home construction pictures!
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Jody Costello wanted a master bedroom addition. What she got was a headache.

During the project, remodelers removed a hot water heater vent, which caused carbon dioxide to build up in the house. Costello was plagued with splitting headaches and bone-numbing exhaustion until the leak was discovered and corrected.

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Costello's troubles didn't stop there, however. Unlicensed subcontractors were assigned most of the work, municipal building codes weren't met, and after nearly two years of ongoing delays, the contractor suddenly ceased communication. Instead of a new master bedroom, Costello ended up with a perpetually leaking roof that led to irreparably damaged carpets, ceilings and walls on which mold started to grow. She eventually entered a lengthy legal battle to recover damages and then launched a Web site to warn others of the potential pitfalls that surround major remodeling projects [source: Costello].

Although Costello's experiences are outside the norm, you'll still need a plan -- and patience -- to go through a major remodel relatively unscathed. Whether you're embarking on a long-held dream to update your '80s-era kitchen, add a master bathroom, or convert your basement into an entertainment destination, we have a few universal strategies that can tip the survival scales in your favor.

Preparation is key. Along with navigating the logistics of a major remodel, which range from storing furniture to sleeping off-site, you'll want to ready yourself for the emotional ups and downs. Expect to go from the highs of selecting custom cabinets and cushy carpets to the lows of permit hassles and dusty demolitions [source: de Jesus]. All the while, you'll need to continually adapt your daily routine, conquer communication with your contractor and keep an eye on cash flow.

Thankfully, horror stories aren't the only story. When it comes to a major remodel, there are plenty of rewards for the reaping, including the satisfaction of a job well done. If you prepare for the worst, but ready yourself for the best, you'll be halfway to the finish line -- before the first hammer ever swings.

You may be revamping just a portion of your home's interior, but you'll need a plan for the rest of your home, too. From protecting furniture and floors to placing fragile items out of harm's way, there's plenty to do before the remodelers arrive.

Start by identifying the rooms that will be affected by the remodeling project and deciding whether you'll store furniture in another part of your home (the garage is a prime candidate) or in an offsite storage unit. Either way, you'll want to cover your sofa, dining table or credenza with plastic to protect them from dust, water damage and surface scratches.

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Place the contents of cabinets and drawers into sturdy moving boxes, along with wall hangings and other items. Organize the contents of each box by location, function or fragility, and label them specifically. For example, "photo albums, board games and children's books" is a much more effective label than "living room." Plan either to move these boxes into another room or into offsite storage for the duration of the project.

Allow a few exceptions as you pack, so you don't make often-used items inaccessible. This seems like simplistic advice, but if you box up the contents of your kitchen cabinets and then realize you can't find your coffee pot or "Dad of the Year" mug, you'll be in for a hassle. Set aside the items and equipment essential to your everyday life, as well as a few creature comforts. For example, if you just can't get to sleep without first snacking on cereal out of your favorite bowl, then don't put it in months-long storage.

You'll need to learn to deal with significant changes in one or more rooms.
You'll need to learn to deal with significant changes in one or more rooms.
Rosanne Olson/Photodisc/Getty Images

Most major remodeling projects involve a floor-to-ceiling redo, and if the area affected is a kitchen, bathroom or bedroom, it's a good idea to make alternate living arrangements. Temporarily relocating to an extended-stay hotel or rental property is a real sanity-preserver, especially when your home renovation reaches a fevered pitch.

Living offsite isn't always a financially feasible option, though. The good news is that you can weather a major remodel onsite; you'll just need a plan to make it work. Take a kitchen made inaccessible by an ongoing renovation, for example. You could convert your bedroom into a studio apartment. With the addition of a mini-refrigerator, microwave, crockpot or hot plate, you'll be all set. Add a table or temporary counter-height cabinet to double as a pantry, and provide an easily accessible surface for items like a coffee pot or toaster oven. Creative renovation survivors sometimes set plastic bins in a sanitized bathtub to wash and rinse dishes, and use the faucet for a water supply.

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Before the project begins, give your old kitchen one last go-round as you prepare and freeze simple meals in advance. Once renovation begins, you can reheat sauces in the crockpot or microwave, and cook pasta or rice on the hot plate. Relatively simple menus, such as salads, cereals and soups, will make cooking in your consolidated kitchen easier. And if the weather's temperate, you can prepare everything from meats and vegetables to desserts on the grill. Try marinating fresh pineapple rings in butter and brown sugar for a simple sweet-tooth satisfier you can pop on the grate. Cooking at home will keep your fiscal and caloric budgets in check, unlike dining out for every meal [source: Apartment Therapy, Wallick].

Plus, if you're outside, you can escape the dust -- if only for a few moments. Although most remodelers agree to seal the construction area with plastic, there's just no getting around the dust. Especially if you have central heat or air -- expect the dust to migrate through ductwork and vents.

Perhaps your quiche-making skills have reached the point that it only makes sense to install a gourmet kitchen. Or maybe you've inherited an eyesore created by a former homeowner, like an ill-fitting second floor bathroom's sewer and water pipes that hang from the living room ceiling like a strange chandelier [source: CNN].

Regardless of the reason for your major remodel, a self-led financial boot camp should be at the top of your to-do list. You'll need to plan for the extra expenses that come with remodeling -- and they often have nothing to do with new flooring, drywall or light fixtures.

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Your cost of living will almost certainly increase, especially if you're paying for a hotel room or rental while making your mortgage payments. Plus, you'll probably spend more on food, even if there's a kitchenette in your temporary digs. The average fast casual meal is $10 to $12 -- multiply that by the number of your family members and it can add up quickly [source: Bilsky]. And being holed up in a hotel may cause to you spend more on entertainment, such as movie tickets.

If your interim abode isn't near your place of employment, you'll need to budget more for transportation, too. Remember to factor in frequent trips home to check on the progress of work crews. And if the renovation project will linger through a change of seasons, you'll want to make sure you have easy access to seasonal items -- like shorts or sports equipment. If they're tucked in boxes at the back of a storage unit, you'll probably just end up buying replacements.

Good communication during a major remodel will ensure that everybody's happy.
Good communication during a major remodel will ensure that everybody's happy.
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A great working relationship with your contractor and home remodeling crew is vital to the process. You can help things go more smoothly by setting up clear expectations before the first tool belt ever crosses the threshold.

Work hours. Will construction start at 7 a.m. or extend past 6 p.m.? Will the crew work weekends? And if the job gets behind schedule, will you be willing to adjust the work hours? Try to strike a balance between the crew's missive to get the work done and your wish to have a semblance of a normal life.

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Access. How will workers get into your home? Realistically, you won't be home to offer access all the time, but there are other options. Consider using a lock box that uses a code or infrared sensor to release a key. You can remove the lock box when you want to prevent access. Alternatively, you could have a temporary lock installed and put the project manager in charge of the key.

Material storage. Imagine your surprise at opening the garage door on Monday morning to start your daily commute, only to realize a stack of lumber blocks the exit. Determine whether material will be delivered to the driveway or street, and where it will be stored in case of inclement weather.

Restroom access. Major remodels are lengthy. But even if your project only lasted a single day, workers would still need somewhere to use the restroom. Either designate a crew restroom or ask for a portable toilet to be provided.

Contractor and crew relationships aren't the only ones to manage during remodeling. Give your neighbors a heads-up that your home will be undergoing a major renovation, especially if you live in a neighborhood or building bound by homeowners' association covenants. It's not usually in the best interest of neighborly relations to surprise anyone. And promising to invite your neighbors to a post-project celebration could help grease the wheels, too [source: Beck Design Group, Hawaii Home Remodeling].

For years, the National Association of Home Builders has ranked kitchens and bathrooms among its top homeowner-requested projects. These popular renovations can be pricey. The national average for a major kitchen remodel is $58,000, but could easily reach more than $100,000 if high-end cabinetry and appliances are included. Bathrooms can cost almost as much as kitchens, even though they're only a fraction of the size.

One thing's for certain, remodeling requires commitment, and it's not only because of the price tag. We once stacked most of our furniture into one room so we could remove the carpets and uncover the hardwood floors in our starter house, a 1920s bungalow. We'd planned to sand and seal the floors in a weekend, but after discovering hundreds of staples that had to be pulled by hand, it actually took a couple of weeks. And after eating take-out dinners on makeshift chairs made out of buckets for longer than I care to recall, it's beginning to dawn on me that if I'd followed some of the advice in this article, I would have been far better prepared.

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Sources

  • Apartment Therapy. "How to Survive a Kitchen Reno ...Without Going Hungry." (May 20, 2012) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-survive-a-kitchen-renov-146251
  • Beck Design Group. "Surviving a Home Remodel Tip List." Beck Design Group. (May 20, 2012) http://www.beckdesigngroupllc.com/survive_remodel.html
  • Bilsky, Carolyn. "Feasting on Fast-Casual." CCIM Institute. (May 20, 2012) http://www.ccim.com/cire-magazine/articles/feasting-fast-casual
  • Costello, Jody. "My Horror Story." Contractors from Hell. (May 20, 2012) http://www.contractorsfromhell.com/my-horror-story/
  • CNN. "Remodeling Horror Stories." Jan. 24, 2011. (May 20, 2012) http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2011/real_estate/1101/gallery.gallery_of_horrors/index.html
  • De Jesus, Jenny. "Remodeling Handbook Part I: how to Survive a Remodel." Hawaii Home Remodeling. Feb. 28, 2012. (May 20, 2012) http://www.hawaiihomeandremodeling.com/articles/2012/March/survive-a-remodel-1
  • National Association of Home Builders. "Kitchens and Bathrooms Remain Top Remodeling Jobs According to NAHB Survey." May 7, 2012. (May 20, 2012) http://www.nahb.com/news_details.aspx?newsID=15282
  • Simkins, Brian. "Seven Things to Expect When Living Through a Home Remodel." Do It Yourself. (May 20, 2012) http://www.doityourself.com/stry/financingremodeling#b
  • Wallick, S.H. "How to Survive Your Kitchen Remodel Project." Yahoo. May 20, 2009. (May 20, 2012) http://voices.yahoo.com/how-survive-kitchen-remodel-project-3337138.html?cat=6

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