6 Key Steps to a Smooth Remodeling Process

Remodeling: For many, the word evokes thoughts of soaring entryways, magazine-cover kitchens, and half-acre bathrooms. Unfortunately, it also brings to mind a sense of invasion, dread, and chaos. As our homes age, it makes more and more s…

Remodeling: For many, the word evokes thoughts of soaring entryways, magazine-cover kitchens, and half-acre bathrooms. Unfortunately, it also brings to mind a sense of invasion, dread, and chaos. As our homes age, it makes more and more sense to bring things up-to-date by remodeling. It’s more cost-effective than moving and is usually far less disruptive. But make no mistake about it, remodeling can be very stressful. However, most of the horror stories you hear are avoidable.
The six key steps to smooth remodeling are:
Collect ideas upfront
Don’t skimp on design
Carefully select a contractor
Use a clear and complete contract
Work out job logistics up front
Establish regular communication channels
Each of these steps is discussed in detail in the following sections:
Collect Ideas Up Front
The first step in any remodeling project is to begin collecting ideas. For many, this step is pure pleasure. Read articles in the home section of your newspaper. Review home or remodeling oriented books and magazines. There are many books and magazines available at grocery stores, hardware stores, and your local library. Save or photocopy ideas or products that appeal to you. Visit showrooms. Build a big file.
At the beginning, don’t rule out things that seem difficult or expensive. That can come later. What you want to do is collect as many appealing ideas as you can. It works best if your spouse does the same. As a matter of fact, getting other household members into the act at this stage can help build their enthusiasm for the project as a whole. Their cooperation can come in pretty handy during the difficult construction phase.
When your search no longer yields attractive new ideas, it’s time to sit down with your spouse or any other decision-makers and start wading through all the ideas you have collected. Try to reach a consensus on the scope of the job and what features are most important to you. Don’t worry about exact dimensions or specific product selections. Try to arrive at a rough budget of how much you are willing and able to spend. At this point, you don’t have much pricing information, so the key is to establish your priorities. For example, if reusing the old kitchen appliances means having enough money to redo the hall bath, which is more important?

Don’t Skimp on Design
Many people feel that once ideas, scope, and priorities are decided, it is time for a design professional to be involved. Most people need help making decisions about options and deciding what is feasible in terms of the existing structure and the overall budget. A design professional can help make sure that the end product is attractive and meets all the objectives for which it is built. As a general rule, the larger the project, the more important it is to have design help.
Today, there are more options than ever when it comes to design. People used to need to make a choice between hiring an architect for the whole project or winging it on their own. Now there are architects who will provide you with hourly help, and there is a new option called a design/build firm. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages.
Architects: The traditional approach involves hiring an architect to help you sift through your ideas and help you convert your needs into a detailed plan for modifications. The advantages of this approach are that the architect provides a very comprehensive service and is highly trained in the area of design. The best architects can also help you work with your contractor.
The disadvantages are that it is often the most expensive option and many architects don’t have much experience with remodeling as opposed to new construction. There are many horror stories about architects designing additions that could not be built because of the limitations imposed by existing structures.
Architects without remodeling experience tend to over-design and use unrealistic cost estimates that leave homeowners with beautiful plans that they cannot afford to build. Obviously, the key for your project is to make sure you choose an architect experienced with remodeling. Keeping this in mind, you choose an architect in much the same way you would choose a contractor. There is more discussion about the selection of contractors later in this guide.
A la carte services: Besides the traditional full-service approach, some innovative architects now provide a la carte service on an hourly basis. While not nearly as comprehensive as full service, you can save money by getting only the specific help you need the most. This is an especially attractive option for smaller projects, such as a deck or a minor interior remodeling job.
Design/build. Finally, there is the design/build alternative. The concept behind this relatively new approach is to integrate the design and construction processes. This approach can eliminate many of the problems people have had with architects in remodeling, and can often result in a less expensive design that is much more practical to build. Just as important is that when all the design and construction is handled by one firm, that firm is fully accountable for the entire project. This means problems can be addressed directly without a lot of time and energy taken up with finger pointing. These advantages have made the design/build approach extremely popular in recent years.
However, the design/build approach has its share of hazards, partially because it is a new and evolving methodology. There are half a dozen ways of operating what people are calling “design/build” firms.
In some cases, a contractor who does remodeling and was always interested in architecture simply starts calling his firm a design/build firm. At the other end of the spectrum, you might find an architectural firm that has decided to subcontract actual construction of the projects they design. Between the two are myriad options.
When talking to a firm, ask them about their design and construction expertise and find out exactly how the two are integrated. See if their approach makes sense for your project. As always with home services, the key to success is to choose carefully the firm you work with.
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