Renovation Rules to Follow

I once heard someone describe renovating like falling in love. When you first begin, everything is new and exciting and nothing can tarnish the dreams you have for the future. But as reality sets in, the money starts flowing out, the dust starts to fly, and you can’t find anything in the mess that is your home, the dream starts to tarnish. Help avoid renovation regret by following these basic rules.

The excitement of seeing your new home being built can be heady. But stress can ruin the experience of watching it come together.

Know your Space

Before you start gutting and changing things, live in your space to better understand how best you want – and need – it to function.


What will be most important for you about the newly renovated space? Extra space? More functional layout? Better storage? Something else entirely? Keep the end in sight and focus on that when allocating your budget.

Do it Right

Find out what you need in terms of permits and get them before you begin. Be sure to schedule inspections along the way to prevent having to tear out work when the inspector arrives.

DIY or Professional?

Do you have the skill and the time it will take to complete the work? Asking for help may save you significant time, money, and stress in the long-term. But before you sign on the dotted line, do your research. Ask for proof of insurance and, in Ontario, Canada, WSIB coverage. For some trades, such as plumbers and electricians, you also want to be sure they have a license.

Put it in Writing

Communicate with all members of your team to ensure you’re on the same page. Put details in writing and have a signed agreement with all professionals hired. Include a clause that stipulates the final payment will not be issued until after final inspection and satisfaction with the completed work.

Map it Out

Consider taping out your plans onto the floor. If you want a kitchen island but cannot move around the space without stepping on the taped island, reconsider your plans before you spend the money.

Scales drawings are essential! I also highly recommend 3D renderings to get a better sense for the flow of the space pre-build.

Create a Scaled Floor Plan

Have you ever heard the expression “our eyes are bigger than our stomachs?” The same thing often happens with our homes since pieces on display in giant showrooms often appear smaller than they truly are. Creating a floor plan that maps out everything – furniture, cabinets, lighting, etc. – will create a truer sense of what will fit. Consider hiring a design professional to help you with this and ask for 3D renderings to be included in the package.

Measure Everything. At Least Twice

There’s nothing worse than waiting weeks for a new purchase to arrive only to find out upon delivery it will not fit down the stairs or through a doorway. Measure carefully. And then measure again.

Be Inspired

Whether you browse magazines or use online sources such as Pinterest, Houzz, or Cultivate, create a design file. What do you love? What do you hate? Creating one source makes it easy to make decisions and move forward.

Create a Wish List

While drawing inspiration, create a wish list of what you want. Have you seen the perfect area rug? Do you know what appliances you want for the new kitchen? Research styles and prices and create your dream list. Just try to keep some realism to the dream.

It’s All in the Details

Renovations and builds are a lot more work than many think. There’s more to do than just select paint colours and finishes when creating a functional space. Expediting orders and managing contractors can be a full time job in and of itself.

Stick to the Scope

Scope creep – the addition of tasks to the original project plan – are a double edged sword. It will be cheaper to expand door openings while the contractors are still there and before they’ve laid the flooring and installed the mouldings. Adding additional tasks will impact the timelines and the budget; do not expect the contractor to do it as a “favour.” Any changes to the Scope should be documented in writing, either via a change order, an amendment to the original Scope, or through the creation of a brand new Scope that relates specifically to the new tasks being added.

Allocate your Budget

Having a budget is a great start. But be sure to keep at least 10-15% available for contingencies. If you’re already at your upper limit, scour your budget to see where you might be able to cut back in case something unforeseen arises during the process.

If you are thinking of doing some of the work yourself, what can you realistically do on your own? A bad taping job, for example, will be forever apparent no matter how much paint you apply.

Know when to Splurge. Know when to Save.

If you’re planning on including a great accent tile, plan to let it stand out by using a simpler, more price-conscious tile to go with it. Prioritize your wish list. Do you need to spend upwards of $5,000 for an authentic Barcelona chair? Or could you live with a replica that costs less than $500, thus freeing up some of your budget for other things?

Expect the Unexpected

Have you ever watched design shows on TV? Yes, in some cases, they create drama for better programming. But the reality is, contractors and design professionals do not have x-ray vision that allows them to see behind your walls before a job begins to know about plumbing, electrical, rot, or other potential issues. Surprises happen. Trust your design team and know they are working with your best interests at heart to complete your work on time and on budget.