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Remodeling Survival Guide

Posted at 1:45 PM, Mar 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-09 13:45:32-05

Home improvement can be a joy or a nightmare – or both.  Simple planning and prep work makes all the difference. Learn how to keep your household intact while weathering the storm of construction. 

You start out thinking you are just tearing up your kitchen or your bathroom – but in reality, it can tear up your entire family!  Suddenly finding yourselves without a place to relax, on your 15th straight night of carryout dinners, picking sawdust out of your hair during morning meetings, you wonder what you were ever thinking.  And, it all looked so quick and easy when you saw it on HGTV.  

Wake up, Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner!  Those 60 minute makeover shows on TV never show you the weeks and weeks of turmoil that construction can create.  I’m here to tell you, though, that with proper planning and preparation, you can sail through it with your sanity – and your marriage – intact.  

I’m always surprised to find that most people take more time planning their vacation than they take to plan their home improvement project; a vacation lasts a week or two, but a remodeling project can take months to complete and you’re living with the result for years!  A small investment of your time and attention at the start will really pay off for years to come. 

The 12 Basic Rules

You’ve selected your contractor.  You’ve approved your plans and selected materials.  Now, the real fun begins.  How will you survive the actual experience of remodeling?  Here is my “short list” – the 12 Basic Rules – to help you through it.  If you do nothing else, these will solve or prevent a majority of your headaches. 

1. Are You Really Ready to Say “I Do”?  Whether your project is big or small, all good projects start with the right chemistry.  You have to pick the right ‘partners’ for your job.  Did you do your homework?  Check their licenses and insurance? Interview their former customers? Visit a jobsite? Are you truly comfortable with your plans and materials? Do you have everything in writing – what is included, and what is NOT included?   Any concerns you have before the job starts will come back to haunt you later on.   That’s why I created “Hire It Done” – to help homeowners find the right “match” for their project.  Better to be safe than sorry!  Okay – let’s assume you are ready to move forward.  Dive in with both feet, and be prepared to make this project work!  

2. Life Goes On!  Much of your home will be in some state of disarray – even if you are just remodeling a small area.   Plan – in advance – how you will function without the use of the effected rooms:   cooking, sleeping, showering, laundry, and access to your clothes and belongings.   Even though you think you’ll be able to get by on carryout and microwave meals, you’ll be much happier if you set up a makeshift kitchen in your garage or basement BEFORE the work begins.  Go to Bed Bath & Beyond or IKEA for some good rolling racks and temporary shelves for your clothes and toiletries.  Preparation is the key to living a sane life while the work is in process.   If all else fails and you absolutely have to live elsewhere for a short time, pick a nearby hotel or short-stay inn, so you can easily check on the job daily.  You don’t want to drive 30 minutes every day to see how things are going at home. 

3. Trash Talking!  Abandon any hope of a clean worksite – it’s just not going to happen.  But, you can control it and contain it so it doesn’t ruin your daily life.   Nobody ever thinks to ask about the ‘trash plan’ before the job gets started –  but it sure becomes an issue when you can’t pull into your own driveway, can’t get in through your back door, or can’t walk between rooms because of the piles of debris.   Before the work starts, talk with the contractor about his plan, and come to a clear agreement about who, how and when the areas will be cleaned – and where the debris will be taken.  Talk about the path that the debris will follow out of your home – will it ruin your prized garden or trample your new ground cover?

4. Cover it – Move it – or Lose it!  Of course, you’ll need to hang tarps in doorways surrounding the project area, tape floor pads on all floors around the area, and put drop clothes over furniture and any property that will be sensitive to dust or debris.  The more you can cover, seal or protect in advance, the less you’ll have to fix later on.   Once the work starts, you’ll be amazed how far and wide dust and debris will scatter.  Your books and paintings… your drapery and light fixtures… anything made of fabric… these will all be left with dust embedded into the nooks and crannies when the job is finished.  Prepare early, cover everything, and your life will be so much easier after the workmen leave.   

5. It’s a Date!  Create a ‘House Calendar’ and confirm it daily.   Go buy the biggest calendar you can find – and sit down with the Contractor before the job to ‘map out’ the stages of the job on the calendar – in PENCIL.  Then, as the work begins, start every week by asking what will be going on in the house day by day.  Write these in INK.  Will there be noise?  Will there be heavy equipment blocking the driveway?  Will there be noxious fumes requiring you to be out of the home?  Will deliveries block rooms or entry points?  Make a clear “living” plan for the week, and then confirm it every day with the contractor to update it and know what to expect. 

6. Get Thee to a Safe Place (and Fido Too!)  Even the simplest jobs create potential hazards to your family’s health – solvents, glues and finishes create odors that can irritate your sinuses, cause headaches and rashes, or be just plain unpleasant.  Make sure what materials your contractor is using, and prepare to live elsewhere if needed for a day or two.   If you have pets, I strongly advise you to find a ‘doggie day care’ to take them every day while the work is going on.  They don’t understand what’s happening, and often get very upset by the noise and strangers coming and going.  And of course, any pet owner knows that Fido or Fifi will be tempted to taste exactly the most dangerous substances left laying around the jobsite.  (Plus, your contractor will thank you for keeping the pets out of harm’s way.)   

7. Construction isn’t Child’s Play.    If you have small children, you know their favorite TV program is “Bob the Builder”.   They will be tempted to wander where they shouldn’t, and you need to prepare them for the rooms that will be off limits to them.  Put up barriers into those areas where trouble will be found.  But more than where they can’t go, focus their attention on a cool new play area you set up in a quiet spot out of harm’s way.  Put their favorite toys and videos, a cooler with pop and treats, and set up a tent with pillows and stuffed animals inside – creating a dust free and cozy nap area for them during the day. 

8. It’s A Jungle In There!  You’ll be tempted to wander around the construction area after the workers have gone for the day – but beware!  Loose boards, random nails and debris are a recipe for a trip to the ER.  I’m a big believer in scheduling a twice weekly ‘walk through’ – think of it as a Safari through the Jungle of construction!  Your contractor can point out all the details that are in process, completed and tell you what’s next, so you can discuss and give your input as the job progresses, with his supervision and explanation of what you are seeing.  Looking at a job in process without understanding what’s going on can be a frightening experience- so get in the habit of going ‘on safari’ at least twice a week.   Take photos of the job before you start… then more photos at every walk through – post them on a wall so you can track your progress and be reminded of how far you’ve come.  It’ll keep you motivated through the project, and will ‘memorialize’ any issues that arise as the project moves forward. 

9. You Deserve a Break Today!  During remodeling, everyone is under some stress.   The money, the decisions, the workmen, the disruption to your home and schedule – of course it’s stressful.  Plan some fun family activities that will get you out of the house and having fun together.  Go to the zoo, get away for the weekend, check into a nice hotel for a night or two.  Do something different that will create fun memories in the midst of the project.  Remember why you are doing this project – creating a nicer home for your family to enjoy. 

10. Your Home is Your Castle – and Their Workplace.  Yes, it’s your home. But for the days or weeks that it’s under construction, it will also be home to dozens of workers, delivery people and outsiders.  What is your smoking policy?  It’s more realistic to establish a smoking area somewhere on your property, and put out a can as an ashtray.  Talk to your contractor and also post a “no smoking” sign on the door if you want to make sure there are no issues with cigarettes.  Designate a bathroom for the use of construction crew, and remove any guest towels or items you don’t want to come into contact with your workers.  The vast majority of workers are very respectful of your home, but you can’t expect them to be ‘white glove clean’ when they’ve been hard at work on your project.  For bigger projects, talk to your contractor about getting a ‘port-a-potty’ delivered to the site.  The key is to work with your contractor to make the rules clear for everyone, respect the needs of the people working on your house and save yourself unnecessary hassles. 

11. Even The Best Laid Plans…   Changes will occur.  Absolutely.  Every time. As the work develops, you’ll have great new ideas and changes that will really make the project better.  Understand that these “change orders” will make the job more expensive and push back the completion date.  Even a job with no changes will have cost overruns and delays.  For instance, did you know the price of roofing shingles is directly related to the price of oil? There was a 15% increase in one month – so your price would change mid-project.  Keep track of your changes, talk with your contractor, and get everything in writing so there are no misunderstandings.  But also, be reasonable.  It is a process, and everyone is working for the same goal – a great outcome for you!

12. Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace!  You’ve heard that communication is the key to a successful marriage.  Consider yourself (temporarily) married to your contractor.  If you don’t tell him what’s bugging you as the project progresses, he can’t fix it after the job is done. Not sure about that countertop?  Thought the windows would be bigger? Worried that wood stain isn’t dark enough?  Speak Up!  Most of your concerns can be allayed by just asking the questions that are nagging in the back of your mind.  Don’t keep it in – communicate.  A good contractor will encourage you to share your thoughts along the way, so you are both ‘on the same page’ throughout the process. 

If you have any questions about finding a qualified contractor for your project, or you have concerns along the way, visit    I’m not a marriage counselor, but I can certainly help you keep peace in your home during your remodeling project!  You’ve heard all the terrible tales of remodeling – follow these steps and your story can be a fairytale – ending “happily ever after”.