The art of home renovation
Careful planning can save you money on your next DIY renovation project
We’re never really happy, are we? Whether you’re a first-time homeowner or an empty nester with grand plans for the kids’ vacated rooms, chances are you have got a list of projects in mind to make your house your dream home. Unfortunately, reality-in the form of limited finances-often gets in the way of achieving our dreams. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little planning and some creative ideas, you can shave dollars off the cost of renovations and get what you really want.
Do it yourself
There’s something to be said for a professional job. But if you’re a reader of this magazine, odds are you’re pretty handy. And there’s no better way to save money on renovation projects than doing them yourself.
Even if you don’t have the time or patience to tackle an entire project, such as a kitchen makeover, for example, you can reduce the bottom line by doing parts of it yourself.
Ever since the time a friend handed me a sledgehammer and crowbar and said, “Take down that wall,” I’ve been partial to DIY demolition. It can be a great stress release and you don’t have to be as finicky as you do at the finishing stage. Just make sure you have a clear understanding with your contractor about what goes and what stays.
If you’re comfortable with pipe cutters and a torch, you can save money by doing your own plumbing rough-ins or, easier still, by connecting the new fixtures. Even some seemingly intimidating tasks are pretty straightforward, once you know how to do them. Check out DIY books, TV shows and magazines for how-to inspiration and guided steps. You can replace that dated pink toilet with a stylish, modern commode in less than an hour, for example, and save yourself a couple hundred dollars in the process (see “Price Check”).
At the end of the job, painting is something any budget-conscious renovator should consider doing themselves.
Whether you plan on pitching in or leaving the whole thing to the pros, when it comes to choosing a contractor, this can’t be stressed enough: you must get a minimum of three estimates.
This past summer, my wife and I solicited estimates for a relatively minor basement reno project that involved moving part of a non-load-bearing wall to make better use of the space. Of the five estimates we had, the quotes ranged from $2,000 to more than $11,000 for the exact same job. An added bonus to multiple quotes is that each contractor can suggest different ideas, products or options for doing things that you probably wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
One almost guaranteed way to save money is to use a (recommended) independent contractor for smaller projects. By having the guy or gal who’s going to do the work come and give you the estimate, you automatically eliminate a salesperson’s commission, which adds about 10 per cent to the cost of most home-improvement jobs. Larger renovation companies also build in their numerous costs of doing business-fancy showrooms, support-staff salaries and so on-into the price of every job they sell.
This is certainly not to say that you shouldn’t use a reputable home-
improvement company. In fact, for larger projects, such as an addition or custom-built home, you’re better off using a large company.
“Good project managers are worth their weight in gold,” says Susan Easson, author of The Wise Renovator. Not only do project managers have a solid grasp of the order in which various tradesmen need to be called in, they also have a stable of contacts they keep regularly employed to get you a better rate. In the Toronto market, Easson says, a well-connected project manager “can get an electrician for about $40 an hour, [while] a DIYer homeowner calling an electrician from the phone book is going to be looking at about $75 an hour.”