Here’s one thing I’ve learned during my renovation so far: it’s just a given everything will go wrong and take four times as long as you thought it would, so you may as well accept that this will be the most draining and gruelling 6 to 900 weeks of your life.
But then I talked to Chris Klaassen, partner in Alair Homes Chilliwack, who did not agree with my enthusiastic defeatism at all: in his humble opinion, there are actually plenty of things that can be done to mitigate disaster and delays. And, I suppose since he helps do five to 10 renovations every year alongside the custom new builds his company produces, he’s probably the expert here.
It may be too late for me, but if Klaassen’s tips can save just one other renovator from the cosmic despair I’m feeling, my Q&A with him will have been worth it. Read on for seven expert tips for mitigating the pain and strife of reno life.
Photo: Courtesy Alair Homes
Talk to an expert early
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is getting too far down the design process without consulting a builder,” says Klaassen. “It can save so much time and heartache to have a builder look at project and be able to advise as to what’s legal, structural and practical.”
Obviously, as a builder himself, he’s a little biased here, but I’ll back him up on this one. I made a lot of decisions early on without talking to a professional about whether they were “practical” or “would destroy the structural integrity of my apartment building,” only to learn these things when it was too far down the road to easily pivot. Better to learn early what challenges you’re up against so you can make a plan before money or time has been spent going down the wrong road. (Yes, I am talking directly to the wall in my kitchen that took a month to remove.)
As Klaassen puts it, “There’s very little we haven’t bumped into: we’ve seen it all, and we’ll prepare you for that.”
That being said, Klaassen isn’t just #teambuilder: he advocates for incorporating design experts into your process, too. “Bringing an interior designer on board adds the most value,” he says. “A well designed home is essentially putting a lot of thought into every dollar —the end result is more attractive, and practical, and cost-effective.”
Photo: Carsten ArnoldGive yourself a long lead time
It’s absolutely tempting to rush into the demolition phase once you’ve made that decision the kitchen’s gotta go, but taking a beat to plan as much as possible in advance is only going to help keep things moving smoothly once you’re in the thick of the drywall dust.
“Many people rush in because they want to get started, and then only know half the picture,” says Klaassen. He recommends taking three to six months to map out your budget, identify and source all the details and materials, gather your permits and consider solutions to any potential hiccups. “Make sure you have as few questions as possible before you begin.”
One other reason to plan in advance right now: the pandemic has created some serious supply chain bumps, so lead times for many construction materials are longer than usual. (Even Ikea is out of stock of basics right now — and I don’t want you to live under the same cloud of disappointment about your kitchen chairs that I am, so brace yourself for a wait!)
Photo: Courtesy Alair Homes
Understand what to delegate and what to DIY
When it comes to DIY, there’s plenty to keep the home handy-person busy during a renovation, like painting or flooring. Anything that has potential to affect the home’s structural integrity, however, Klaassen humbly suggests getting a pro.
For things like electrical work, plumbing, or installing exterior windows, it’s nice to have someone else bear the burden of responsibility, for both insurance purposes and peace of mind.
Put your budget where it matters…
Most of us are working with a budget of some kind when we’re renovating, and it can be tough to know where to save and where to splurge. Luckily, Klaassen is making it simple: “Focus on the things you cannot change.” The building’s structure, the energy efficiency of the insulation or windows, the foundation: those are pretty locked-in once they’re constructed or added, so this is a wise place to invest. Things like faucets that can be swapped out in an afternoon a few years down the line, on the other hand, maybe don’t need to be so spendy.
… And don’t overspend on appliances
“One area that’s easy to spend a lot of money is appliances,” says Klaassen. “It could range from $10K to $100K... but when you spend ten times more, you’re not getting ten times the value.” Pricier isn’t always better, so do your research with sources like Consumer Reports and Wirecutter to find the top-rated brands that fit with your budget and save your cash for a backsplash you love.
Photo: Courtesy Alair HomesGet a few quotes
Even working for a design magazine for 10-plus years, I personally had no idea how much anything cost for a renovation, so making a budget felt like a real shot in the dark. You know who does know how much renovations cost, though? Contractors and builders. And they’ll be happy to tell you. Klaassen recommends calling a couple of firms to get some high level pricing, so you can sit down with your bank and get the financing you need. (Hot tip: if you’re buying a place with renovations in mind, look into a Property Plus Improvements mortgage!)
Give yourself a break
Okay, it turns out I was right about how stressful this is… even if you’ve got a helpful builder on your side. But Klaassen reminds us (and me!) to just take a deep breath and be kind to yourself. “If you’re in the middle of it: relax, you’re not the only one," he says. “Just try to make the best decisions you can. You don’t know what you don’t know.”
To end this on a hopeful note: please enjoy this beautiful, completed, sawdust-free kitchen. May your renovation be as tear-free as possible.
Photo: Janis Nicolay