10 Things To Consider Before You Renovate
December 5, 2019
Last month I wrote about the pre-renovation process and here are the ten things to consider before undertaking a renovation:
1. Things are never as simple as they seem.
Did you know that flooring comes in different thicknesses? Until recently, I hadn’t thought about it. For my unit, I’m getting ¾ inch engineered hardwood. It wasn’t until just before we were about to place the order that someone asked about the threshold at the front door. If your flooring is higher than the threshold, you’d have to cut down your door, but the door is a common element which can’t be changed, so you have to make sure your flooring is below your threshold. Thankfully, the flooring we chose is compatible but it cost us time to go back and measure, which brings me to #2:
2. Measure twice… but five times is better.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of accurate measurements. If a quartz counter-top is cut too small, there is no way you can make it larger. If it’s too big, it can be cut down, but it’s a hassle. Measure it yourself, have the contractor measure, have a friend come over and measure. A few extra minutes doing this can save you hours (or days) and thousands of dollars.
The same thing can be said for appliances. If you’re ordering and installing your kitchen cabinets first, make sure when it’s time to measure appliances you get the right size. If you’re particular about appliances and ordering them first, make sure the cabinets you order will fit within the space you have left.
3. Things look different in different light.
When you go to a showroom to choose finishes, get a number of samples and grades so you can compare them when you get to the actual space. The lighting in the showroom is different than the lighting in your home. You may think your choices align with the colour palette you want, but when you get into the actual space with the lighting and shadows and daylight turning to night, a floor you think looks great can look green or the tile looks far darker than you thought.
Always get multiple samples, which they give away freely. Don’t be concerned about asking for too much. You’re spending a lot of money and you should get what you want.
4. Ask questions and be prepared to ask more.
When you start to look for things like fixtures, you’ll realize that most of the people working at the stores only give you half the information you need. Just when you’ve made a decision, you realize you have to start all over again. It’s hard to ask the questions when you don’t know what the questions are. The best question you can ask is “What do I need to know?”
I went to a showroom that specialized in bathrooms. I got lucky because the guy we dealt with was on the ball, asking questions about how far the shower was from the wall, what the enclosure was going to be and even whether a rain shower would work or would it end up spraying water all over the floor. Ask the sales reps about the negatives, ask about how things work, what you should be concerned about when installing an item like the one you’re considering.
The last thing you want is to order something, including a toilet, and find out it doesn’t work the way you thought it would. You can usually return unused items, but this results in delays and higher costs.
5. Nothing runs on schedule
No matter how well you or the contractor plan, the schedule will need to be updated on a regular basis. Getting a permit from the city will inevitably be more complicated and take longer than you think it should, the wrong item will be delivered (whether it was ordered correctly or not) or something surprising will happen; the water or electricity will be off for a day, a shipment of tiles may go missing, the list is endless. Your renovation will take longer than expected and the final details could take weeks longer. Once the bulk of the work is done, it can be hard to get the contractor in to complete the smaller final items.
6. Make sure you know the rules.
There are building codes and condo rules. It’s not necessarily up to you to know what the building code is, that’s why you hire a contractor. Knowing the code helps you not make mistakes and order the right things.
If you’re just doing surface renovations, you don’t need to report it to the city or get permits. But condos have separate rules. There are some buildings still say that you need to get permission if you’re going to paint!
At Radio City, the condo corporation has rules that have to be followed in terms of sound insulation when it comes to flooring. They have an alterations agreement that has to be signed and you need permission to lay new flooring so they know that the insulation meets their minimum standard.
If you decide to sell, there’s often a clause in the agreement that you haven’t made any changes to the unit that required the corporation’s consent and if they did require consent, you got it.
If you represent and warrant that, you have to make sure you got consent. If you got consent in writing, you’re covered. If you do the work without consent and something is not compatible with the rules, the corporation can force you to remove whatever you did and start again. That’s a note for a buyer – ensure you have the seller represent and warrant that any renovations were done with the corporations permission and that proper permits were in place.
7. Timing is everything.
With a house, it’s fairly straightforward because you’re in control. With a condo, there are other variables. With my personal condo reno, I’d love to get it started as soon as possible, but Radio City is doing a huge landscaping job which is impeding my ability to get a contractor in for demo – they’re limiting truck access, elevator access and it’s a real challenge. So it’s a good idea to check with management what major projects might be occurring with the renovation so you can schedule around it.
8. Whatever your budget is, double it… or be prepared to compromise. A lot.
I always thought that 30-40K would be enough for a substantial change to the unit but once you have the walls open, there are a lot of ‘might as well’s’. The reality is that 30-40K isn’t enough. The contractor alone will be $30K and that doesn’t include any of the fixtures.
I know from past renovations I’ve completed that you should just double your budget because the reality is when walls start opening up there are often surprises. Unless you’re super clear about the budget and you compromise around it, your renovation is going to cost more than you anticipated.
9. Things are not as simple as they seem, Part 2: Toilets are complicated
I have learned more about toilets in the past few weeks than I ever thought I would:
Some toilets work on gravity, others work on flow.
There are two different heights available – comfort and a lower toilet, which is apparently better for you and the positioning of your colon. If the angle is wrong, you’re more prone to colon cancer.
Toilets are bigger than they used to be. The 30 inch rule: you should have 30 inches available in front of the toilet , from the centre of a toilet if your vanity is next, and a minimum of 15 inches from the centre of toilet on either side
Depending on the flange and the stack, there are toilets that are adjustable and not adjustable
Toilets are fastened to the floor in several different ways. Some attach to the flange and some don’t – for those you have to build an attachment to the cement floor, but condos don’t actually allow you to drill into the concrete slab so you have to be careful of the toilet you get.
10. It’s tough to find a good contractor!
Contractors can be unreliable, throwing out numbers without substantiating them. They are so busy that they often don’t want your job and will price it higher just to make it worth their while.
I don’t think I’m being cynical, it’s a common theme for people who are looking for a contractor. You don’t always get what they promise…
How do you find a good contractor?
Using somebody that’s been referred to you is a good start. But you can also get a referral from a friend and your experience is completely different than the experience that the person had and not in a good way. It’s hard to know what you’re going to get.
Do your due diligence: get more than one referral, check out reviews on sites like Homestars and Yelp. Get every promise in writing… and cross your fingers!