This week marks one year since I began my third home renovation. It feels a long time ago and it has been easy to forget the stress and upheaval, and mostly just how bloody cold it was, now that I'm sitting here at my desk in my cosy studio/guest room.
Each project I've done has been bigger and messier than the last and each one has taught me something different so I thought I'd share a few of the most important things that I have learned over the years.
1. DON'T: UNDERESTIMATE!
Like, anything! The mess, the timescale and, perhaps most importantly, the cost.
No matter how prepared you think you are for the upheaval it will always be worse than you think. There is no point trying to keep anything clean! If you're precious about your stuff you either have to remove it or expect it to get dirty. Luckily, I was able to store most of my furniture and personal possessions either in my cellar or with family. Perhaps what I underestimated most though was the disruption it would cause to my neighbours. When renovating a flat it is always going to be tricky to keep everybody happy and I had several disagreements with the people upstairs over all the dust and and mess. Keeping everybody informed is paramount to maintaining good relationships - something I will definitely have to get better at if I'm to do another flat.
Timewise, I was expecting this latest project to take about 8-12 weeks to complete but due to various setbacks it ended up taking six months! There will undoubtedly be a few unexpected issues that will crop up and need sorting but, if possible, try to keep things moving and people on site. I had about two weeks where nothing much was happening while I waited for a structural engineer to visit and send his report. This led to my builders taking on another job in the meantime (which is understandable) but it meant they were then fitting me in around it. Very frustrating!
Be realistic when it comes to working out your budget. I think a good way to work this out is to get an estimate for the building costs then expect to double it for the fixtures and fittings. Don't forget to add between 5% and 10% on top as a contingency. I always use a spreadsheet to keep an eye on things, it makes it easy to see where you can afford to spend more or cut costs.
2. DO: PLAN AHEAD!
If possible, it is advisable to spend time living in your property before starting any work. This gives you a good idea of how you will use the space and also how the light affects certain areas making it easier when deciding on paint colours and the positioning of sockets. I spent six months planning the new layout (particularly for the kitchen) - I changed my mind several times during this time but it is much better to do it on paper and avoid any costly mistakes once the builders have started.
Timing the arrival of materials is also important. Because I was ordering materials myself I had to keep up with the progress of the work and schedule deliveries accordingly. Communication between your builders and suppliers is key: you don't want things turning up before they're needed and taking up valuable space.
It also helps enormously if you can provide your builders with drawings, something of which I was constantly reminded by mine! I'm not talking detailed blueprints but, for example if you're re-wiring, sketches showing where you want sockets, switches and lights. If, like me, you're designing your own kitchen and bathroom you'll need a plan showing exactly where appliances and sanitaryware are to be positioned so that plumbing and electricity can be installed in the right places. Because, this leads me on to my next tip...
3. DON'T: ASSUME ANYTHING!
You know what they say about assumption...
Perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt so far is to never assume that tradesmen know what you want. I can't stress enough how important it is to communicate your thoughts and ideas and even if you are think you are stating the obvious it's better to say it than not.
A prime example of this was during my second renovation when I left the guys to tile the splash back in the kitchen. I had ordered Fired Earth's Retro Metro tiles and, given the size and shape, I thought it was pretty safe to assume that they would be fitted in a brick pattern. I came home to find that they had been put up stacked one on top of the other which was not at all what I wanted. Although it was a relatively minor mistake it added more stress to an already fragile situation. Needless to say my builder wasn't terribly impressed when I asked him to take them all off and do them again!
Making sure everyone knows exactly what you want, down to the last little details, may seem like you're being incredibly finicky but it can save an awful lot of time and money.
4. DO: MAKE LOTS OF TEA!
There are three little words that every tradesman I've ever worked with loves to hear: tea and biscuits!
Keeping everyone on site happy is imperative for a successful build and having a good relationship with your team makes it all a hell of a lot easier. If you can have a laugh as well, great! At the end of the day they are going to be in your home all day, hopefully every day, for weeks and weeks. Try to enjoy the process and know that it will eventually be over. After all, it will be worth it in the end.
I have to admit that I did lose the plot once or twice (ahem!) around month five (I had to leave the house and burst in to tears in the front garden) but I was quite pleased to hear my builders say it was one of the most fun jobs they'd worked on.
If you're starting your own refurb I hope you might find some of these tips useful. If someone else can learn from my mistakes they will not have been in vain! I'd love to hear some of your renovation stories - leave me a comment below.