Any aficionado of  TV home renovation shows knows the pitfalls.

The reno jobs on which costs balloon without warning.  The scammers who ask for a deposit upfront, never to be seen again.

Here, four industry veterans tell you how their award-winning companies can ensure a happy ending for your renovation, and what you can expect to pay.

George Jacques, owner of General Repairs and Renovations Inc, says his 18-year-old company does renovations ranging from basements to roofs and everything in between, including constructing new additions. They’ve completed additions at $280 a square foot and an even more modest $140 a square foot. When discussing costs, he says that giving rule-of-thumb estimates can be deceiving.

“People need to look at their budget and what it will allow, realizing that materials and labour are expensive today. We try to work within their budget range without compromising quality.” Jacques also advises to allow from 10-20% for costs that are over the original budget because the client had decided on upgrades or added features mid-job.

There are often surprises in old houses, Jacques notes, mentioning a recent renovation where his men tore down the walls of a century-old structure to find “knob and tube” wiring that is illegal under today’s building codes. As well, there may be structural deterioration calling for reinforcements from the basement up.

In such instances, Jacques provides estimates for the new electrical work or structural engineering services. “We always supply change orders with a contract, and will not proceed unless the customer signs off on it,” he says.

For any project that costs $20,000 or more, the company gives a prospective client a binder with complete specifications including cost estimate, drawings, change order forms, contract conditions, copies of liability insurance and workers’ safety certification.

Winner of the BBB Torch Award in 2006, and the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) customer service award in 2008, General Repairs and Renovation Inc. enjoys the reputation of a quality renovator and contractor. “’Quality first’ is our company motto,” Jacques says. “We take a lot of pride in our work.”

Rex Engel’s firm, Engel Construction Inc., concentrates on large renovations and construction projects, ranging from $50,000 on the low end, to just shy of $1 million. “They are all very high quality, more complicated jobs,” he comments.  For example, Engel will do heritage restorations, and frequently works with prominent Ottawa architects and designers like Linda Chapman, Christopher Simmonds and Chuck Mills.

With a track record of 26 years in the business, Engel says he prefers to specialize and to stay small. As necessary, he contracts with the highly skilled subtrades he knows and trusts.  His company’s work has brought accolades from OCHBA, garnering the Renovator of the Year Award, as well as recognition for best renovations over $250,000 and in the $75,000 to $150,000 price range.

When budgeting for a whole house renovation, the consumer should estimate $100 per square foot, and then add the costs for kitchen and bathrooms, Engel counsels.  Starting with a gutted space, a new kitchen would range from $10,000 to $12,000, excluding counters and cabinets. Cabinets can cost from $7,000 to $50,000 or more. A new bathroom can run from $10,000 to $15,000 and up. If considering a house addition, the client can usually figure on spending $250 to $400 a square foot, Engel says. “Of course, the cost is size and quality dependent,” he notes. Estimates should also include the “tie-costs” to successfully meld the project’s new roof sections with the old, as well as elements of the basement and first floor.

He echoes other renovators in suggesting that clients reserve a percentage, perhaps 5-10% of their budget, for potential cost over-runs to replace old plumbing, heating or electrical systems. As well, there is the potential for costly upgrades or expanding the original scope of the job. “They see what we are capable of doing, so the other part of the house may not look up to the level of the renovation,” Engel says.

According to Herb Lagois, owner of Lagois Drafting and Construction Inc., the ultimate success of a renovation project hinges on a good architectural design. “If the design is done well, then everything flows well within the project”, he observes. Not surprisingly, his company’s focus is architectural design, but it also has the capability to undertake renovations and the construction of additions and custom homes.

Lagois takes the client’s budget into account, and then following their “wish list” produces detailed drawings with cost estimates for both exterior and interior renovations and additions. The client owns the drawings for a fixed fee at the end of the process. “Of course we can be involved from A to Z,” Lagois says.  “All of us here have construction experience and know when the drawings will work.”

In 25 years of business, Lagois’ firm can boast awards at the national, provincial and local levels. Recently, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) recognized Lagois Drafting and Construction with an award for designing and renovating a home — which happens to be in Ottawa — for someone who is environmentally hypersensitive. It was the first to receive the award.

Lagois notes the challenge in renovating the home because of the pervasiveness of synthetics in conventional building materials. “Simple things like caulking and glues used for plywood all produce off-gases, so we had to find substitutes,” he explains.

Because each project is totally unique to a client’s needs and desires, Lagois is hesitant to suggest ballpark figures for renovation. As well, a design fee is project-dependent and can range from $2,000 to $20,000, he says.

He advises the consumer to have a budget in mind, and then do their homework in selecting a contractor: checking references and industry credentials, looking at similar jobs they have done, and listening to their own instincts to tell you whether or not they can work together.

Lagois says that his company follows a phased approach to ensure clients get what they’re looking for. “In the end, it is your home; you have to live in it. Unlike some other designers, we offer flexibility.” Another key to Lagois’ success is offering a high quality result. “Although we will work within a budget, we don’t skimp or take shortcuts.”

Michael J. Martin has been in the home renovation business for some 22 years. Luxury Renovations, his award-winning company, puts its distinctive stamp on projects ranging from small bathrooms to major additions and whole home renovations. He has been recognized by the industry as a GOHBA Renovator of the Year.

Martin describes his company as doing “fairly high-end” work featuring fine craftsmanship, and first-rate materials and finishes. Costs can run as high as $850 per square foot, Martin says. However, he points out that a bathroom renovation, to give an example, can be also be designed for $200 per square foot using basic tiles, drywall, paint and fixtures.

His wife, Suzanne Martin, runs the design side of the business, and provides clients with pamphlets and samples to help them shop for flooring, tiles and fixtures in their selected price range. Among the biggest enemies of someone who is budget-conscious, Martin says, are discovery of major defects like rot behind the walls and foundations of older homes. When added work involves change orders to the original contract, he will out the costs in time and materials.

Martin is currently Chair of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association ßRenovators’ Council and backs his company’s work with his personal guarantee.  How can the consumer be sure of getting an honest job done by qualified building professionals?  Your best insurance, Martin says, is to look for a renovator who belongs to a local or regional homebuilders’ association, and to RenoMark, a Canada-wide organization of certified renovators who subscribe to the highest industry standards.

RenoMark members must provide a detailed written contract for all jobs, big or small. They also follow a code of conduct that includes carrying $2 million in liability insurance, the proper licences and permits, and enforcing strict workplace safety. As well, they must stay current of building codes and continually refresh their technical skills.