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Renovation Solutions: Survival tips for living while remodeling

Published: Friday, Dec. 20 2013 6:53 p.m. MST

Before: The family who remodeled this kitchen lived in the house during construction and survived life without a kitchen for three months, but the finished product makes it worth it.

Kevin Bunnell

Last week we introduced you to the Smiths, a family of eight that just survived a fairly extensive renovation while living in their split home throughout the construction process.

Their remodel included an addition of 400 square feet to both the main and lower levels, creating a great room (family room, dining area and kitchen) on the main level and a secondary family room below.

As much as they tried to keep the construction zone contained, living in a home that is being remodeled disturbs the rest of the house and how a family lives. Tiffany Smith offers some insight into how she survived living through the remodel with her small children.

Deciding to stay

The Smiths broke ground for the project when the youngest of their six children was 7 months old. It took almost a year to complete the construction, and they lived through it, literally, right in the midst of the construction zone.

Many families stay in their home during a remodel. One common reason is the budget.

On one hand, if a family moves out, they can theoretically save money because the contractor can get the job done faster (and therefore more cheaply) if they don't have to work around a family.

On the other hand, the cost of a temporary apartment or a condo tends to eat up any such savings.

For the Smiths, it was a hard decision. "I thought about this so much," Smith said. Even now that the remodel is finished, she has gone back and crunched the numbers again.

"Would it cost more to stay, or is it cheaper to move out? Honestly, I still don't know."

Ultimately, they stayed because they didn't want to uproot everyone. "Even though it was a weird construction phase, the kids were sleeping in their own beds," Smith said. It was a constant among the chaos.

Stay organized (as much as possible)

The problem with staying in the house during a remodel is that it is almost like moving but you don't go anywhere.

You still have to pack boxes. Everything from the areas to be remodeled has to go somewhere else during construction. The Smiths used a storage shed for some boxes, but most of the stuff ended up stacked in the den and the master bedroom.

"Our master bedroom was the catchall," Smith said. "Everything had to go somewhere, and our room was floor-to-ceiling with boxes. I don't know how we survived it."

Check in with reality

The reality is that remodeling is messy, noisy and stressful.

"So many people prepared me," she said. "They warned me about the constant mess and the constant dust. They said you just have to grin and bear it, and in the end you will be grateful. They warned me that those days are going to come where you are going to cry and say, 'How in the world are we living here?' "

So, when those days came, she was prepared for them. "There were only two or three days when I threw up my arms and said, 'I can't stand this; I want my house back!' And that was pretty good for me."

Getting over the no-kitchen blues

Surviving three months without a kitchen is not easy, especially when you have a family of hungry children.

The Smiths' secret: lots of microwaveable and slow-cooker meals. Smith says one thing that saved her was that her older kids were back in school during the time when they had no kitchen.

“That way, I didn't have to worry about all three meals for all the kids,” she said. “Breakfast is easy — toast, cereal or oatmeal in the microwave. For lunch, the older kids would be in school so I would only have the younger kids to worry about. They were so young, they won't even remember how bad it was.”

Make as many decisions as you can upfront: Smith says it took a year to get all the plans and specifications done. She worked with the architect and an interior designer to finalize all the specifications. "I made 95 percent of all the decisions before we even dug the hole," she said.

"I didn't want to make any last-minute decisions. I knew with my family responsibilities I wasn't going to have the luxury of going out and pricing items that the contractor needed the next day."

At the same time, because she was living in the house, she was accessible for the contractor when there was a question. “Being on-site made it easy to meet with my contractor," she said. "I didn't have to pack up the kids to go talk to the contractor for 15 minutes."

Think safety

When you are living in your home during a remodel, safety comes first.

"Safety definitely was a concern," Smith said. "You have to make sure the job is cleaned up every day and that there are no nails lying around. We had a really great contractor who was always good about keeping his job site clean.” The family has a responsibility to stay out of the construction zone for the duration of the remodel no matter how much they may need that space.

Overall, living in your home during a remodel is not easy. It will take patience and a good attitude. “Sometimes we just needed to pack up and go to the park," Smith said.

"My attitude was, 'Just grin and bear it.' I knew it was going to be worth it in the end, and it was. It was all worth it.”

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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