Daniel Barton
At least a dozen decisions went into specifying just the finishes you can see in this remodeled bathroom.

The decision to take the plunge into home remodeling may be difficult, but it will be just the first of many decisions you will have to make.

Even after the majority of all the design decisions have been made, the average home remodel requires hundreds of additional decisions, ranging from small ones (selecting cabinet hardware) to more major ones (determining the color, style and brand of kitchen appliances).

With almost limitless options, specifying the actual materials and products for your remodel can be a daunting — and yet exciting — task. It takes time and research to know the best options for you and your family.

While you can hire design professionals to help you in the process of specifying your job, the final decision always falls back on the homeowner.

Human nature plays a role in the process of choosing the products used in a remodel.

Interestingly, this process is the same regardless of budget, household income or the homeowner's demographic profile. A study undertaken a few years ago backs up this concept. CNW Research's study, HomeSight, looked at 25 major and intermediate home remodel project categories ranging from attics to basements, including kitchens, baths, living rooms, bedrooms, porches, decks and more.

Researchers surveyed consumers through five stages of information gathering and product and brand purchase decisions for each category of project. They found that regardless of the project, the process of making home remodeling decisions was the same.

In effect, there are five stages that homeowners undertaking a remodel go through after they are motivated to begin their project.

Assessing needs

First, there is a period of roughly five weeks of assessing your household's "needs." Many full-scale projects frequently started as small, simple DIY makeovers or replacements. You determine that an old or inefficient refrigerator needs to be replaced.

That change will spark a chain reaction that may motivate you to consider new adjacent appliances and fixtures, and in turn lead to new faucets, cabinets and countertops, which further entice you to update flooring, wall colors and accessories.

This first decision stage of assessing needs generates a "wish list" of changes, product replacements and general overall style preferences. Regardless of family income, a similar list of products for a remodel will typically make the initial wish list. Differences in budgets will affect the type of product selected more than the scope of products included in the project.

Product comparisons

Until you really start looking into the details and specifications of your project, you probably don't truly understand how many options exist. When you start researching the possibilities, you begin to distinguish among the various types of the same product. Should it be a cooktop or a traditional range? Laminate or ceramic? Built-in or freestanding? Natural or man-made?

A good routine at this point is for homeowners to start building an idea folder of what they need and want for their project. Ideas should be culled and collected from magazines, books, websites and show rooms. Useful websites include Pinterest.com and Houzz.com which have loads of pictures that can be saved to your individual idea book.

Features comparisons

Once you have the basic framework of your project and an idea of the products you are considering, you can start to compare the different features of the various products. This is where more dreaming comes into play.

When you really start researching the specific features of different appliances, for example, you will learn about the all possibilities out there. Ovens that text you when the timer goes off and refrigerators that generate shopping lists are just two examples of the way technology has affected new product development.

Typically, homeowners will spend a month and a half in this stage of product comparison. Significantly, it is at this juncture that consumers decide if a specific product will remain in contention for possible selection.

Design comparisons

You will next move into a phase where you will compare the design and style of products to narrow down the range to items that are compatible with the overall style of your project. The appliances you choose for a contemporary kitchen will be much different from the appliances needed to compliment the look of a cottage kitchen.

Price comparisons

Finally, according to the study, when you find all the products with the right look and design for your project, you start comparing price. The different products you choose in a remodel can help trim the fat or can be the source of a bloated budget. Looking at your project as a whole is essential to help you see where you can compromise and still get the desired outcome while remaining within the budget. In the final analysis, it is all about what you are willing to do without in order to get what you want. For example, you may choose to trade the high-end kitchen countertop for a low-cost variant in order to afford the ultra, high-end refrigerator that you've always wanted.

Although the original study was designed to give insight into the consumer's habits from a marketing standpoint, it was interesting that it concluded that the majority of people naturally follow a similar process of product selection.

However, in our opinion, leaving price comparison to the last step could result in wasted effort and serious depression! Our eyes are always bigger than our stomach, so to speak, so falling in love with things we can't afford can only lead to disappointment or blowing the budget.

By moving price comparison up at least to step No. 3 (features comparison), you stand a better chance of holding the line and making sure your project is as financially successful as it is aesthetically. We would also emphasize that step No. 1 (assessing needs) must include a realistic budget and a disciplined analysis that differentiates between needs and wants.

Remember, only by specifying as many details as possible before construction will you receive an accurate bid from your contractor.

This will eliminate surprises along the way and will help you stay on schedule and on budget. While the multitude of decisions for a remodeling project can seem overwhelming at first, if approached in an organized fashion with help from knowledgeable professionals and suppliers, the result will be a project that significantly improves your life while respecting necessary budget constraints.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.