Give me a home renovation strategy strategy
August 24, 2014 6:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm purchasing a new home that needs a lot of work done to get it to where we want it. For anyone else who has been through this, can you help me with figuring out what my strategy should be in terms of order of operations? Any other advice from people with experience is very much welcomed, since we have never done any home renovation before.

Here are some examples of things that we want to get done to the house, vaguely in order of the way I'm currently planning to do them, so that you can give me feedback on whether my current plan sounds like it makes sense or not.

Right after closing (we're taking 2 weeks to get this stuff done before we move in):
- Have some of the interior walls painted
- Have new flooring installed in a few rooms, have carpet taken up and underlying hardwood floor refinished in a few rooms.
- Replace oil tanks in basement
- Repair some minor electrical issues identified in the inspection
- Replace hot water heater
- Have dry well installed for outflow from water softener
- Services for septic system
- New cabinet handles to freshen up the kitchen/bathrooms
- New kitchen appliances and washer/dryer
- New lighting fixtures
- Have sink disposal installed in the kitchen

Sometime in the not too distant future after closing:
- Have landscape architect come and help me figure out what to do with the property plant and garden wise (I am a gardening idiot and this property has a huge yard/garden area)
- Have an architect come and consult regarding projected cost and design for a significant addition and remodel to the house that would expand the kitchen, the master bedroom, and the family room, as well as redoing the home exterior and entryway completely (to give us a budget to save for, and so I'll have an idea of which parts of the house are likely to change during the remodel and which I could work on improving prior to the remodel.
- Possibly getting an interior decorator to consult about the inside of the house, although not sure I should do this until after the remodel is finished, but I also want to buy some furniture that will both fit the house now and in the future/after the remodel, which is going to be a challenge.

and… that's as far as I've gotten. We also plan to pave the fairly lengthy driveway, to knock down the detached/rickety garage, and possibly to build a barn type structure. Presumably we'll want to incorporate an attached garage into the renovated house design plan. Any thoughts as I get this process started on how I should go about it? I'm nervous I'm going to either waste money or do something really annoying I'll regret down the line unless I choose the correct timing for these tasks.
posted by treehorn+bunny to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
When you say "not too distant future," how long in the future do you mean? Because it doesn't make sense to do some of the stuff you plan on doing now if you're going to be doing that other stuff soon. I'd leave as much stuff off the "right away" list as I could stand.
posted by adamrice at 6:29 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh god, this sounds like the gung ho list I put together before buying current house in January. There's no way you're getting all that stuff done in 2 weeks unless you have your contractors figured out and are scheduling them way in advance and one of you is going to be on site full time. Like, reading your list makes me laugh and cringe at the same time, because oh god, I still can't get the floor refinishing guy to answer his phone to come back and do the other two rooms I want him to do, and he did the kitchen just last month. Now, maybe you have a lot more free cash than we do and can afford to prioritize fast and good over cheap, but... oof.

In terms of order of operations: do the paint before the floors, hold off on the interior consults until you've lived in the house for a couple months and have a better sense of what must change.

Oh, and especially if it's an older home, consider a home energy audit with blower door test (your utilities provider may subsidize them), even though in our case that added a ton of new questions about changes and the order we should do them in.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:39 PM on August 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Anything that requires tearing shit up should be first.
Anything making a mess should be second.
Painting should be dead last and honestly you could leave this until you've moved in.
Two weeks sounds optimistic. Actually it sounds impossible but I'm trying to be upbeat.

So I'd do this

- get septic serviced
- get the tanks replaced and the electrical work started and dry well started
- schedule people to do hot water heater and kitchen sink disposal
- wait and see how long that stuff takes
- paint whenever

I would not go buy light fixtures and handles and stuff or think about appliances if you're talking about a major remodel. Same with the landscaping unless you're talking basic curb appeal stuff. I wouldn't do any major landscaping until the additions are done. I'd very much consider not really tackling the floors until you've got the whole place ripped apart.

With what you're considering doing, if you really go through with a renovation, I think you should budget on the home being sort of "in process" for a few months. If this is the case, I'd hold off buying "forever furniture" until the dist has settled, literally and figuratively. Some of the projects like the tanks replaced may be textbook and simple or they may involve a whole bunch of problematic unknowns.

You can't totally modularize this sort of move-in/reno/update stuff but you should sort of project manage it so that you can have flexible timelines that can, mostly, move around each other. Think about what you need to start to live in the house (floors (?), appliances, electric and water and sewer) working, and what you'd like in the longer term (landscaping, paint, handles, lights) and try to work those things in a good order
posted by jessamyn at 6:50 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't give you big picture advice, but refinishing any floors is going to throw up a shit-ton of dust and make an enormous mess. Definitely do it toward the beginning, and for sure before you move in.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:07 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: adding information for clarification:

I would not go buy light fixtures and handles and stuff or think about appliances if you're talking about a major remodel.
I realized this is not clear from the question, but we are not planning to do the remodel for 2-3 years. It will take us that long to save up the money to do it the way we want it, and the light fixtures and cabinets we're talking about are a special late 1970s style of awful that will make me sad every day if I have to look at them for that long. The appliances are from the late 1980s but are maybe serviceable for the time being, just dated.

The landscaping should wait until after the house is redone, unless you just want to put in some annuals as bedding plants to brighten things up.
I also ought to make clear that the type of landscaping I am looking for is to turn the giant lawn part of the property into as low maintenance/ecologically friendly a space as possible by transforming a large portion of it into wildflower meadows or other such non-grass, native shrubbery solutions. I hate giant expanses of grass that need to be mowed and ornamental stuff.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:28 PM on August 24, 2014

First, your immediate list sounds like a lot but is really only four or five contractors (or of course one general contractor who will coordinate the subs):

(Painter)- Have some of the interior walls painted

(Flooring person)- Have new flooring installed in a few rooms, have carpet taken up and underlying hardwood floor refinished in a few rooms.

(Plumber)- Replace oil tanks in basement
- Replace hot water heater
- Have dry well installed for outflow from water softener
- Services for septic system
- Have sink disposal installed in the kitchen

(Electrician)- Repair some minor electrical issues identified in the inspection

(Handyman or DIY)- New cabinet handles to freshen up the kitchen/bathrooms
- New kitchen appliances and washer/dryer
- New lighting fixtures

Personally I'd call it a mistake to replace appliances and fixtures right before a big remodel, but it's your money and if you can afford it then go to town. Before you spend much money and time (and the comments above about considering capacity on things like the water heater are smart) I think you will want to talk with your various architects, landscape architect, etc, to make sure you aren't duplicating work or spending money on things that will need to be replaced anyway. A little time planning and consulting up front will save you significantly down the road.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:45 PM on August 24, 2014

Your floor wish list will be challenging in two weeks, and may delay action on some of the other works. Be aware that if you get refinishing with polyurethane, they need time to dry and harden (no walking, no heavy things) and the VOCs will smell insanely radioactive for a week at least, dependent on weather and air flow in house. You won't want a baby crawling around when it reeks.

It's a hot topic for debate but our guy recommended polyurethane not water based as he said water based is not there yet in terms of durability. He does it for a living so should know. Water based dries quicker and smells less.

Absolutely do before painting as it throws up a tonne of dust, and cleaning off newly painted walls will make you a sad panda. Do not use a painter with suspiciously fast turnaround. You need time for cleaning, for primer to dry and time to dry between coats. Shoddy painters won't clean properly before painting, won't prime properly, and will slap on coats without drying. End result is very crappy and will fall apart and peel etc much faster.

Best of luck, how exciting for you.
posted by smoke at 7:46 PM on August 24, 2014

Check and see if you need a permit to replace that hot water heater. I wish I were kidding.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:22 PM on August 24, 2014

Check with a plumber about having a sink garbage disposer with a septic tank. Sounds ideal, but there may be a restriction.
posted by Cranberry at 10:56 PM on August 24, 2014

Best answer: Snickerdoodle, especially, has given you good practical advice. I've gutted and renovated two Victorians, so I'll add mine. It's hard-earned :/

Essentially you need to start with the deepest, most "internal" work. If you need to do anything foundational (like jacking up an addition which has sunk), that's first. Then anything that requires ripping out plaster/drywall -- like, putting in insulation, replacing water pipes or redoing the wiring, adding central vac, etc. Next is structural stuff like moving a staircase or framing up or removing walls. Then you do floors. Then finally cosmetic or simple jobs like painting or replacing hardware, fixtures, cabinetry or appliances. Anything outside the house or on its exterior --landscaping or dealing with external structures, etc.-- can happen on an independent timeline, whenever you feel like it.

In general, everything will take 3x as long or more, compared with what you think. It will take much more of your effort --getting estimates, following up, scheduling, making decisions and giving approvals-- than you think. Odds are that most of your contractors will be fine and several excellent, but at least one will be completely incompetent and will make your life hell for a little while. (When that happens, don't blame yourself :)) It will probably all be filthier than you expect, and that may affect your ability to do normal things like making dinner or getting dressed for work. It will cost more than you plan for, and in the meantime new bad things will happen: the roof will need replacing, or the pipes will start to leak.

Upshot: you may get tired or run out of money -- and so therefore you should try to block out the work in chunks so you have the option to pause without significantly impairing your quality of life. Renovating is fun and satisfying in lots of ways, but you will also get bored sometimes and just want a break.

It sounds like you're planning an "interim" strategy -- doing some cosmetic stuff like light fixtures and cabinets -- before a more extensive overhaul that might render that earlier work redundant. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I totally get the pain of previous owners' terrible taste. But FWIW with my houses I always just lived with the horror until I was ready to permanently redo it. This kind of work, for me anyway, was too expensive and too much of a hassle for a bridge strategy to make any sense. And your idea for an extensive remodel plus major addition -- well, I'm not sure I would buy a house that I felt needed that much work to make me happy. You may decide eventually that you're okay to skip it.

In general, I think your plans sound super-ambitious. Not just from a timing perspective but from the perspective of OMG you're talking about *a ton* of effort and money. If I were you, I'd think about making up an alternate more minimal plan, maybe a third the scope of what you're currently imagining, that you can fall back on if you decide you want to. Good luck, and enjoy your house :)
posted by Susan PG at 12:13 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have thoughts but heading to a meeting. If the new flooring you want to install is hardwood, it has to be ordered, delivered and on site two weeks prior to installation so it can "acclimate."

My biggest advice. Don't live in a construction zone, especially with a toddler.

Rent an apartment. You will thank me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tackling your list by order of priority and necessity:

1. Address flooring now. Determine what you want and go order it. As I mentioned before if you’re adding hardwood, it needs to be ordered and delivered a couple of weeks before installation. Some hardwoods take quite a while to come. I recommend site finishing the same wood as what’s already installed. I had hardwood oak floors in my house. We installed new oaks to match the old and had them site-finished to match. It was seamless and looked gorgeous. Also, less expensive than installing tile. Refinishing wood flooring means that absolutely NOTHING can occur during the drying process, which depending on humidity, can take days. Also, have it all covered with brown paper until you’re ready to move in.

2. Have a plumber put a camera down your pipes to verify that they’re solid and don’t need to be replaced. Wish I had done this.

3. Have septic taken care of.

4. Oil tanks. That’s a can of worms. You could do that. Or you could replace your oil system with a new, energy efficient electric or natural gas system. There are Federal, State, Local and Utility rebates available and this could easily be upgraded for future additions. Find out what removing the oil tanks involves, because that too…issues that involve the EPA, and heaven help you if they leak.

5. Hot Water Heater. Again, consider tankless electric or natural gas when you do this. Your plumber can arrange the installation in conjunction with the installation of the HVAC.

6. Kitchen appliances. Go to the scratch and dent section of your local appliance store. I’m assuming that at some point in time you’re going to be doing a grand kitchen upgrade. Measure EVERYTHING and note what’s installed, slide in or free-standing. Buy appliances you can live with for a couple of years until you’re ready to do the big remodel.

7. Kitchen handles, one of those cheap and cheerful replacements. Easy to do, and if it gladdens your heart, do it earlier rather than later. FYI, those handles aren’t all standard. So bring the old ones with you so you can be sure you’re buying the correct sizes. The handles have inches/mm between the screws. The ones I bought actually covered the existing holes in the cabinets, and I drilled new holes. There are plenty in stock at Home Depot/Lowes, but count well, because guaranteed, they won’t have as many as you need. If you’re ordering, again, expect delays.

8. Lighting fixtures. Get an electrician to do these for you. Go to your favorite big box store and buy what you like, the electrician will make it work. An electrician can also wire up lighting in closets (surprisingly important), put in pot lights and generally do all the stuff you’d like to do, but will be too tired to be bothered with. Our electrician upgraded our breaker panel, which you may want to do as well because we have a LOT more electrical stuff than folks did in the seventies. Our electrician gave us a discount. (And let us use his Sawzall to take out a wall in the kitchen.) Basically he was on-site for 4 days and we found a TON of stuff for him to do. You will never be sad letting the pro do this stuff for you.

9. Expect to run to the big box hardware store twice a day during renovation. I wish I was kidding.

10. As for furniture. After your ‘livable’ phase of construction is complete, ask your friends if they know a decorator. If you’re in Dallas, I recommend my sister. Don’t invest in very expensive furniture. Just get good quality stuff that will work for you for about 3 or 4 years. When you do your BIG renovation, you’ll probably want all new furniture.

11. When you tear down the barn and build the new barn/garage, put an apartment over it. That way you can live in it during the big renovation. Afterwards, it can be a guest house, or you could rent it out, or your nanny could live in it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:31 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've done this whole buy and reno a house thing - a few times. Let me give you the benefit of that experience.

Hire a General Contractor.

General contractors figure out job sequencing and hire/fire/manage subcontractors. They do things like bring the painters back to do the final touch ups and do the punch walk. Unless you plan to be on the job site all day, every day you need a general contractor. GCs also have a crew of subs that they work with all the time. You're on a tight calendar, if one sub drops out the GC will bring in someone else.

I've been my own GC and I've hired a pro to do this. Pro is the way to go. On your timeline (and on top of the stress of a home purchase and move!), you should absolutely hire a GC.
posted by 26.2 at 11:31 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone - initially I wanted to mark everyone as best in appreciation, but I realized that isn't really the function of the best answer marker, and it devalues the response that answered my questions best! (Special thanks snicker doodle!)

If anyone's still around, I was unclear on this:
- Several people recommended not to purchase appliances until after the renovation. How likely is it that we will want a different size appliance with the renovation? There is plenty of room currently to put a fancy new washer and dryer in place. I thought dishwashers were fairly standard in size, and the refrigerator is a pretty big (but old and not very nice) one. I wasn't going to change the oven to allow us to get a fancy one in the future because I know the fancy ones are much larger than what the house has. I would go with stainless steel and not be worried at all about that not matching any future color scheme. I was just excited about new appliances and I thought it would help us get psyched about our new home when a lot of things aren't the way we want them yet.

I'm not sure I would buy a house that I felt needed that much work to make me happy.
Trust me, this house is special.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:34 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

How likely is it that we will want a different size appliance with the renovation?

When we did hardwoods in the kitchen, the subflooring needed to be augmented, that and matching the height of the existing hardwoods, raised the floor half an inch. Just enough so that the fridge didn't fit anymore.

If it all works. Wait. You won't be sad that you did.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:12 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just wanted to follow up on this question in case anyone else is reading and curious. I have now arranged:

- Painters for the walls and trim (took 1 week, cost: expensive)
- Replacing of the cabinet handles, outlet covers throughout the house, and bathroom accessories like towel racks (took 1 day, cost: cheap)
- Septic system: had the leach fields "jetted" and a distribution box replaced as recommended on our home inspection. (took 1 day, cost: moderate)

We decided not to do the flooring right now because with our toddler and one on the way, we'll probably just wreck anything nice anyway, and most of the carpeting is at least decent.

I retro-best-answered Susan PGs answer, even though I was originally off put by the suggestion that I just shouldn't have bought my house. I love my house despite its flaws! She was certainly accurate in describing the experience I have had with most contractors. I had no idea so many contractors were so poor at communicating with potential clients. Despite MANY phone calls I still hadn't been able to get just 2 estimates for each job and complete the following:
- Electrician (now scheduled for this week to fix 'double taps', install GFCIs, replace some lighting fixtures, and fix grounding rods, moderate cost)
- Plumber (scheduled for this week to install sink disposal, and a few other tasks, possibly replace hot water heater)
- Oil tank replacement - have only had one estimate which was extremely expensive. Other oil companies have not been easy enough to connect with.
- Landscaping - organized a site visit, they never showed up.

In the meantime, as Susan predicted, other issues have arisen. I had to have an exterminator come today to get rid of wasp nests that had sprung up all around the roof and were causing bees to continually invade the house - significant cost! I'm also glad it's taken me this long to schedule the plumber, because after several days living in the house it became apparent to us that there are more issues with the plumbing than we had thought… the water has a strong sulfur odor, and it rust-stained several loads of laundry.

For anyone looking to install a sink disposal or "insinkerator" - you need the electrician to come first to put an electrical outlet under the sink, and then the plumber can install the disposal.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:28 PM on October 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

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