How to start a house renovation?
August 24, 2017 8:40 AM   Subscribe

We have a huge chunk of work that needs to be done on our house... and I have no idea how to start. Help!

We've been putting off a series of renovations on our house because I have no freaking idea where to start. It's a whole buttload of work and we're on a budget. It is:

- New roof (insurance claim)
- New siding (insurance claim)
- New windows (insurance claim)
- Reconfiguring pantry into bathroom / laundry room
- Kitchen remodel

We have a roofer recommended from a friend but NOTHING else. (We haven't even reached out to him, yet, so maybe we don't have that.) But I have no idea what to do for the bathroom/kitchen remodel. I'm not interested in having an interior designer come and manage the whole project. We're planning to DIY what we can and hire a contractor to help with the rest.

I need someone to come in, look at our existing layout, and say "to achieve what you want, you should move this wall X feet, need to do Y and Z with the plumbing. And here is a good kitchen layout that will make sense with your space." (Which is why we probably need at least some kind of designer involved in the mix?)

We'll probably also need an engineer of some sort because one of the walls is load-bearing—we're not tearing it out, but it will be affected. And then, at the end of this all, we will have a list of projects that we can DIY or hire out as needed.

Is that a contractor? An interior designer hired on an hourly basis? Or should we ask our roofer to manage? Help! Our budget is not endless.
posted by good day merlock to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It seems to me the basic priority here is insurance claim - roof, siding and windows. I don't know how much they're covering of your claim, but a general contractor should be able to handle those things.

Pantry/kitchen can wait, as much as it's probably the thing that most excites you/would make the house nicer, if you have a limited budget then get the things that NEED doing first.
posted by notorious medium at 8:51 AM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To be clear, our insurance claim covers everything we need and we have additional budget for everything else. We have a budget to get everything started now. We do not have the budget to pay, say, an interior designer a million dollars to supervise and to get fancy upgraded cabinets. I'm not asking about how to balance our budget. Thanks!
posted by good day merlock at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2017

We hired an architect. You could also get an architectural technician. It seemed pricey at first, but I have to say that having a clear set of plans and a sounding board has been a lifesaver when dealing with all the moving parts (excavation, demolition, plumbing, electric, insulation, foundation work, some windows and construction for us so far).
posted by Cuke at 8:59 AM on August 24, 2017

On seeing your update: our architect charged about $3000 Cdn. That included three meetings, a rough set of plans and a final set of plans (for one floor only) based on our feedback and changes.
posted by Cuke at 9:02 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

This book by an architect on how to plan a home renovation is incredibly helpful. (Full disclosure: I have met the author personally through my neighborhood association.)
posted by matildaben at 9:22 AM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Unless you think you're going to be changing the roofline, you can get some estimates and hire someone to do that now. I'd wait on the siding and windows until you've talked to an architect and/or a general contractor, in case you're blowing out exterior walls and adding/subtracting windows. A good roof over your head will be so nice come winter.

You can get general contractors to come out and do a walk through with you and provide estimates on all of this. They often have their own ideas about how to change the layout of rooms due to experience. For instance, we had several contractors come look at our place and a couple asked if we were going to widen a doorway into the kitchen. It hadn't even occurred to us and now I'm so glad we did!

Shoot, if you have any friends who had done big renovations, have them over to shoot the breeze and ask what they might do.
posted by purple_bird at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can do the easy and urgent stuff (like a roof) first. If the winter rains are going to ruin the rest of the house, then just get the roof done now.

But -- the kitchen remodel could end up changing where the perforations (vents) go. Also, if you are replacing the windows and siding already, and moving a load bearing wall, then it (probably) wouldn't be much more work or permitting hassle to move a window while you're at it. So if you don't have to get the work done before winter, then I'd start with an architect.

What I most want to say is that the most important thing is to get referrals to subcontractors who are reasonable in cost and know what they're doing. We had good luck with paying a design-build firm to do a little design for us because even though we didn't want them to manage the construction, they gave us referrals to good tradespeople. I can't overstate what a wide range of competency there is out there.

So, where to start -- either call that roofer (and get two competing bids from others) and move ahead with that, or start asking around for good architects or design-build firms.

This project is not going to be cheap. We were quoted $12k in the SF Bay Area for a full set of drawings for a three-story building. Your project is less complicated than that, but it's been a few years and they acted like that was giving us a good deal (?) (we ended up not doing that). If all you're doing is replacing like-for-like in windows and getting new cabinets, you could avoid getting plans. But if you're moving walls, you're going to have to spend at least $1500 on basic engineering plans. If you want to rearrange lights, plumbing, etc., then you're talking about more plans than that.

The other way to find someone who could draw plans (especially the engineering) is via builders. You could do a lot worse than just calling reputable general contractors and design-build firms to walk around the project and talk about how they'd tackle it. That's probably what I'd do.
posted by slidell at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I totally feel you and we are a few steps closer than you on a similar project (kitchen/bath remodel). What we did was set up an in-store consultation with Home Depot (or you can do Lowes or similar). It is free and they pair you with a "flow specialist" who can help with the design. We went in with all of our space measurements and he talked to us for quite awhile about what we wanted, what our budget was, what materials we liked, etc. Then then next time we met, he had computer rendition of the space with the desired layout. We are still tweaking a few things, but this was a great start and a big help for me. Now that I've gone through that process, I feel like I could go to Ikea and purchase similar (cheaper) items, or go to a high-end place and tell them what specialty drawer I like or whatever. If you do go with Home Depot for the whole thing, they will provide their own contractors who will manage the job and subcontract out for plumbing or electrical, etc.

Everyone told me this, but it really does help to go on Pinterest and look for kitchens and bathrooms with a similar layout to what you want to achieve and look for examples of what you like. I just pinned a ton of shit and then looked back and realized I guess I like gray and white cabinets and marble-like quartz.

Good luck! I'll know even more about this in a couple months! Hope I'm not totally off base getting you started, ha!
posted by LKWorking at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Forgot one other DIY thing, if you're good with computers and want to mock-up your own plans/ideas, you might try SketchUp. My partner mocked up our kitchen remodel and we futzed with where to put the appliances and what colors to use for everything.

Our remodel was a gut it down to the studs type thing. We got our cabinets through Home Depot and met several times with a guy there who mocked up which cabinets we'd have and the door styles and even the range hood! He was great and the planning part is all free.
posted by purple_bird at 9:48 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! So to be more specific, if it is helpful in any way, we are hoping to get the roof and bathroom and siding etc. all done at once. Then we want to do most of our kitchen ourselves over a longer period of time (yes. we are losing our marbles.).
posted by good day merlock at 10:05 AM on August 24, 2017

Hire an experienced and competent Project Manager to at least advise you, possibly to oversee and manage the goals to completion. Your work is to find the best person for this role. Each house is different and you want it handled so that delays and unexpected situations (additional and necessary unforseen repairs that will get uncovered once walls and roofs are opened up) are dealt with appropriately.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 PM on August 24, 2017

If you don't think you'll be changing the footprint of your house, you might look into hiring a kitchen designer, who can help you with the layout of the kitchen, so you know what to do when you are ready. Assuming the pantry is right there next to the kitchen, the designer can help you lay that out, as well - along with suggesting what walls to move, if any. The designer will likely be able to recommend some structural engineers and probably contractors, as well.

Assuming your house footprint isn't changing, you might try calling roofing and siding companies and getting estimates. You'll learn a few things each time someone comes to give you an estimate by the questions they ask and by the time you get to the 3rd or 4th estimator, you'll know what you need to ask that person. Sometimes the good companies are booked pretty far out (at least in my area), so you might want to get your roofing/siding estimates sooner rather than later.
posted by sarajane at 12:18 PM on August 24, 2017

We are at the end of a $100k renovation of our 100-year-old row house in DC. A good, trusted contractor can do all of what you're looking for. We have a friend who flips houses as a side-line and he gave us a couple of recommendations. We tried a guy out on a few small projects first. He did a good job on my shed foundation, so we hired him to build the shed. He did a good job on that, so we had him do one bathroom. And so on for a year.

We started by talking to an architect, which was pretty much a waste of time and money. We paid the architect $5000 for a set of ridiculously extravagant plans, which would have included ripping off the back of the house--her builder's estimate was almost $300k. We talked to a design/build firm and an interior designer, too, and those were pretty much wastes, too--those folks are looking for big jobs that will involve lots of workers.

The best help we got was at a kitchen design store. Here it's Reico, but you'll have something similar in your area. They came out and did a great rough design for the kitchen, and gave us a detailed estimate of what it would cost. We took that plan to a less-fancy kitchen store and did most of the cabinet and tile selection ourselves. We also had great luck at Floor & Decor--again, mostly self service, but the design staff there did a great job of helping us coordinate colors and buy all the associated grout and backing, etc., and helped us think about how to keep stuff maintained and clean.

In the end, though, the real key is having a great contractor. He took Reico's plans and the tile we bought and gave us some great rooms. He knew enough about load-bearing walls and perforations and flow to do what we needed. We got to know him well enough that we could give him a general idea of what we wanted and he could do it.

Talk to everyone you know who's in real estate or who has had renovations done. Stop by strangers' houses, whatever. I cannot emphasize that part enough. We just spent $100,000 and are thrilled with the result, and we owe a lot of that to our contractor.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:50 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another reason to consider an architect is that depending on the permitting requirements in your jurisdiction you may need architectural drawings to get the permits. Especially if you're moving walls, plumbing or electrical. We have a great general contractor we work with and they have gotten all the permits, but when we rebuilt our (historic) side porch they recommended an architect to do the drawings the City required. But when we gutted the bathrooms we did some sketches, I got all the fixtures from the internet and I laid out the tile pattern in the living room but we didn't need drawings. Some contractors can do drawings in house. But make sure when you get the bids you're clear on who will be responsible for the permits, which permits you actually need and how the inspections work. I would be super nervous about any contractors that tell you don't need permits unless you're absolutely sure you don't. We had no idea if the electrical etc work they were doing was code and I felt a lot better having the City sign off.
posted by DarthDuckie at 2:55 PM on August 24, 2017

I am struggling with remodeling paralysis right now also. Kitchen remodel, regrade the back yard and build a deck, raise the living room floor, new flooring, remodel the bathroom, etc.

I am booting myself into action. bu getting a consultation with an architect/designer who is drawing up some ideas for me. Once we see that, we will work with him to hire a contractor, and then we'll see. But I feel like I've made the right first step at least.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:05 PM on August 24, 2017

Oh, yeah, the suggestion to take your kitchen measurements to somewhere that sells kitchen cabinets is a good one. I found more useful help at non big box places (Granite Expo and Sincere Hardware in Oakland).
posted by slidell at 9:06 PM on August 24, 2017

We're renovating two bathrooms, adding a third, and finishing our basement now. We re-did our roof two years ago. My experience is that roof people are different than renovation people. They do roofs. That's it. Siding and window people may be the same (I'm not sure).

Our process for the roof was
1) find 4-5 companies that had good ratings on Angie's List or were recommended
2) Schedule them all to come in for an estimate, choose the one that was most reasonably priced/ seemed most competent
3) Write a check

I imagine that siding and windows will be similar. Unless you're drastically changing the exterior, this is probably pretty routine, charges will be similar and depend on the size of your place, and there aren't a lot of decisions.

The remodel was a bit more complicated because we weren't sure where we were going to be able to put a third bathroom or what was needed. But the same basic process applied. We found 4-5 companies through recommendations or Angie's List and scheduled time with each of them. They all had slightly different ideas, and I made sure we had a range between neighborhood guy who does work and fancy design firm so that I could see what each offered. Estimates and walk throughs don't cost anything and it's so helpful to see a detailed proposal for different ideas. They all had different ideas of what they thought was possible.

The bigger contractors all worked with architects to draw up plans for permits, so it wasn't a separate part of the process. Some had a show room with different vanities and tile, so we could choose the fixtures and they'd handle the orders. As they write up a proposal, you can be clear about what pieces of the work you want to handle yourself - if they're not open to that, don't hire them.

We picked a company that was responsive and helpful and had a reasonable price, and they are knocking down my walls as we speak.
posted by oryelle at 8:25 AM on August 25, 2017

Get the roof done first, then the windows & things.

If you are on a budget, then moving walls is a luxury. Moving walls is complex and expensive. Do not do it unless you are absolutely certain that you need to do it, and can afford it.

Take your time deciding to hire the contractors. Go out to visit their references and see their work and talk to their former clients.
posted by ovvl at 8:05 PM on August 25, 2017

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