Before you begin your renovation, you should take into consideration the following information
this is an excerpt from Build It, the home renovation survival guide written by Jonathan Hayes. this book can be purchased through any book store
The design phase
Quite often when I first get called out to a person’s home, they go through their wishlist and what they want to do to their property. The first step in achieving this is addressing the design phase. A good builder can help you transform your wishlist into a plan and advise on materials based on the existing home’s structure and suitability for the site, how easy or hard the work will be and whether you will need the help of a structural engineer.
To do this you need to book in an obligation-free in-home consultation. This type of consultation will usually take about an hour. At this initial meeting explain to the builder exactly what you’re trying to achieve e.g. Do you want to remove a wall or change the structural components of the home? Before your consultation, research what type of finishes and materials you like and give the builder lots of references to go on. If it’s a room with tiles, research what types of tiles or brands you like. Look online, in homewares magazines and visit a local showroom. What will the extent of the tiling be? A fully tiled bathroom? Tiles halfway up a wall? What type of taps or sink do you want? Will you have shower shelves or a heated towel rack in a bathroom? The list goes on.
I recently undertook an initial consultation where the owners wanted new timber floors, a new kitchen and laundry, a structural wall removed and large-format bi-fold doors installed to open up their living space to the backyard. They were still unsure of the levels of finishes but were wondering if a) it was achievable and b) would it work within their budget. I was able to draw up a rough sketch of the house during the visit and show them the proposed new layout. This gave them an idea of how the space would work. I suggested they should relocate their laundry and kitchen so that the room with the new bi-fold doors could become a large living area. After that I was able to give them a rough price for the works. If the estimate was accepted, I could then go away and prepare the PBA so they could see the in-depth costs for preparing their documentation in order to give them a fixed-price quotation.
Once you have a solid idea of what you’d like to do, your builder can engage a draftsperson to draw your plans. The builder will then be able to ensure these plans comply. The sorts of items that are still unknown in regards to compliance are structural, geotechnical and hydraulic engineering so they will engage separate experts to advise on those aspects. Making sure these plans are accurate goes back to guiding your builder in terms of what you want.
I once quoted a bathroom renovation where the clients said they were budget conscious and wanted standard finishes only. Their plans and specifications were a bit light-on so my quotation became the specification for the works. What I was being asked to quote on was roughly:
• Standard 300mm x 300mm ceramic or porcelain tiles laid to floor
• 600mm x 300mm ceramic wall tiles laid to all walls 1.8m high in the shower and 1.2m high for the remaining walls
• 90mm cove cornices
• Paint the non-tiled wall areas
• 1 x 3-in-1 IXL exhaust fan installed to ceiling
• Installation of vanity, standard back-to-wall toilet, shower rail, 2 x towel rails, a toilet-roll holder and a semi-framed shower screen (colour TBD)
All sounds pretty standard, right? However, when it came time for me to chase them up on their specifications and PC items, I discovered they had gone out to a bathroom showroom and started to spend up big. They had decided to use up their contingency fund on luxury finishes. The problem with this is that all these high-end PC items cost a lot more to work with.
The list of items that came back was:
• 1 x wall-hung toilet with in-wall cistern: this toilet was worth double the standard toilet. There would be extra charges for the plumber to install it and extra charges for the carpenter to configure the framework to suit it.
• 1 x wall-hung vanity: there would be extra charges for the plumber to install it and extra charges for the carpenter to install load-bearing studs to hold the vanity to the wall
• 1 x shower rail with ceiling mounted rain head and diverter tap mixer set. There would be extra charges for the plumber to fit additional water points.
• 1 x heated floor element (extra charge for electrician to run circuit, extra charge to install heat mat before screed bed gets laid)
• 1 x recessed shower niche (additional charge for carpenter and tiler)
• Tiles to ceiling with 1 x feature wall using natural stone tiles (additional tiling charges, additional charge to seal natural stone tiles)
• Natural stone floor tiles (additional charge to lay tiles, additional cost to seal
• 2 x recessed downlights above vanity (additional electrical charge)
Obviously my new estimate blew out their budget so back to the shop they went to try and get the same look with standard finishes. If they had done this research before contacting a builder, the builder could have factored these costs into the budget and worked with them to achieve the look they wanted.
Your needs and wants vs what you can afford Before you start planning your project, you need to consider three major things: budget, time and quality.
What is your realistic budget for the project? If you’re restricted by budget then you’re likely going for the cheapest quote. You’re looking for the best value for money and if so, you’ll need to be prepared to compromise on quality and time. In this case, you’re asking the builder to cut costs. The simplest solution is for a builder to remove some items from the job, which you can have done yourself at a later stage. Items that can be removed include external works, such as landscaping, laying concrete paths and driveways, and sometimes painting. Let’s say your brother’s an electrician, you may also be able to organise with the builder to leave out the quoting for the electrical work and have your brother come in.
In this instance, you need to make sure that your builder is prepared to work with your outside contractor. Quite often the builder will need to check if that person is licensed and insured, and that they can walk onto the job and do the necessary works. They also need to make sure the subcontractor doesn’t causes damage to other subcontractors’ work or the builder’s employees work so that the builder isn’t required to come back and fix those damages. If so, the builder will likely charge you for that. Sometimes it’s easier to use the builder’s own tradies.
Another consideration if you’re undertaking a budget build is what kind of finishes you want. If you’re working with an older house, and the existing house has Federation architraves and skirtings and high ceilings, do you want to retain the original finishes? If you’re building an extension or altering existing rooms and replacing the walls and ceilings, you need to let your builder know to salvage these items. Some people assume this is a cost-saving technique but saving these things may be complicated as often older finishes will actually need to be custom-built to be replicated as they’re not readily available.
In this case, another cost-saving technique is to include a modern extension on a period home. This way, you can opt for cheaper skirtings, architraves and floor finishes, and the ceiling height can be lowered. You can also save on items like window frames. The existing house may have timber windows, which are usually more expensive, but you could opt for more cost-effective aluminium.
Is time an issue? If you’ve got an event coming up or people coming to stay, you’ll likely be pushing your builder to meet a completion date. In this case, be prepared that the quality of the job may deteriorate somewhat.
If you have time constraints on the job, a really common question I get asked is, ‘Can I live through the extension renovation?’ If you are trying to make this happen, it’s important to clearly define the workspace from the homeowner’s space. The homeowner may only need one working bathroom and a kitchen set-up so you can close off the back of the house to build the extension. Once the extension’s locked up, you can move the owner into the new part of the house and renovate the front part of the house. However be aware that even though this may save time and the need to stay elsewhere, quite often living in your renovation adds a lot of cost to the job because there’s no efficiencies between trades.
What kind of quality are you willing to accept? If you’re really particular about quality and you want high-end finishes – and budget isn’t an issue – you’re likely someone who wants to make decisions as they go. These people will see spaces as they’re starting to be created. They’ll walk into a room and say, ‘Okay, maybe we’ll put a fireplace in the corner, or maybe we’ll change the window, or maybe we’ll change the skirtings and architraves’. These people often can’t make up their mind until they see the space taking shape. In this case, you’re really drip-feeding information to the builder. So you need to understand that time can’t also be a priority. The job will take as long as it takes but at the end of the day you’ll get the quality that you want.
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