The key to successful remodeling, even if you do it yourself

Simple secret to a successful home remodel

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 16 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

When our clients bought this charming home, it was clear that it had undergone a previous DIY addition that had not been well thought through. Unfortunately when the contractor started tearing into it, he also discovered that they had made some poor structural decisions as well.

Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

We would like to preface this column by saying that we are not automatically opposed to do-it-yourself remodels. We have seen some beautiful homes remodeled by homeowners as the contractor and/or laborer. Granted, the homeowner who successfully does it himself is usually experienced with construction or handier than the average homeowner, but putting some sweat (but hopefully not any blood or tears!) into your own home can definitely be rewarding.

However, more often than not, the DIY remodelers’ completed project ends up looking a little less than ideal. As residential architects, we get to see a lot of homes. Unfortunately, we have seen countless examples where a previous homeowner has tried to tackle a remodel or addition themselves and it has ended in an awkward and sometimes even butchered floor plan or exterior curb appeal.

Usually, the renovation met a need for the homeowner at the time, but the solution almost always caused new problems when you consider the house as a whole. You can often see where the remodel started to get tricky and the homeowner got in over his or her head. For example, when the power panel is right in the middle of a wall you would like to knock down, instead of taking the time and money to move the power panel, the DIY homeowner just works around it, leaving an awkward column or half-wall housing the power panel.

There are strange things that happen to the design and flow of a home when it is remodeled compartmentally instead of as a whole. You have to look at how the remodeled portion will affect the rest of the house. Otherwise, you get weird steps leading down into the new addition, doors knocking into cupboards, or a walkway through a bedroom to the new kitchen.

The secret to a successful remodel is proper planning and more specifically a master plan. Having a master plan doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to do a full house remodel this year. It just means you have an ultimate vision for your house — a clear goal as to how you want it to function now and in the future. A master plan takes your vision for your home and actually puts it down on paper. The master plan looks at your house as a whole and focuses your projects to finally meet an end goal.

Developing a master plan takes time and thought. The first step is to consider the motivation for the remodel. Analyze how you currently live and try to look ahead five or 10 years. Do you need more bedrooms because your young family is growing? Do you need more gathering space because your older family is multiplying? Do you need to improve your organization with better storage areas? Thoroughly think through your motivations for remodeling so the final design doesn't just add space, but solves problems.

Next, before you knock out anything, determine what you can afford to rebuild. You can generalize the costs by multiplying the estimated new square footage by $100-$120 per square foot, which is average for this area. You'll also need to account for expenses such as demolition, permits, engineers and architects.

Planning takes time: A year in advance of when you want to start construction is not too early to start planning your remodel.

Your master plan should include detailed floor plans and architectural renderings of the exterior so you can see what the final product will look like and envision how it will function. A preliminary budget should be created to help you be realistic about how much your project will cost. By informing yourself about current real estate values in your neighborhood, as well as home appraisals and lending trends, you will be prepared to make an informed decision regarding the scope and timing of your proposed remodel.

Whether you are hiring it out or doing it yourself, having a clear vision with a detailed master plan will save you time and money. It will help to ensure you will end up with a beautiful, seamless remodel that doesn’t look like you did it yourself — even if you really did!

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the co-founders of Renovation Design Group an architectural firm specializing in home remodels. Send comments or questions to ask@renovationdesigngroup.com

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