renovation planningBy Herb Lagois

Earlier this year we were invited to our friends’ home. On their dining table was a partially assembled puzzle. Typically, the border was mostly done, some of the interior was filled in, and the remaining pieces were scattered all over the table.

We talked about how challenging, yet rewarding, puzzles are. As we tried our hand at fitting pieces together, I couldn’t help but think about how similar renovating or building a new home is to putting a puzzle together. You start with the picture, secure the material, cut the pieces, ship the pieces, assemble, and then admire the accomplishment.

It reminded me of the time I was asked to help owners who had been left in the lurch with a partially-constructed addition. It was like a partially-completed puzzle.

I will always remember their defeated expressions when they opened their door to show me what had gone wrong. As they led me through their home, they started talking.

It all came gushing out. The design had not achieved their goal of rear-yard views or access. Installed flooring had not been protected. The heating ducts could not be accessed. A trade had disappeared without doing the work but after being paid. Others had not shown up. Water was coming in from unfinished siding. There had been a city-issued stop work order.

And, to top it off, their own relationship was strained.

Had their designer listened to them? Understood their needs? Had there been a holistic overview – an understanding about the impact of the addition to the existing home?

Had there been systems and processes in place, between owners and trades, that ensured a safe, on-time and on-budget project?

As I looked at their failed project, I wondered how well their puzzle would have come to fruition if there had been a holistic design, and if there had been a renovator – with proven processes – who had respected their home, safety, time and budget.

When you are interviewing designers, builders, or renovators, no matter how professional they are, be sure to ask questions about their planning, processes, communication, and execution. Ask them for references, and references of similar-sized projects.

Ask how well they control costs and manage surprises. Make sure you have a contract that is very specific about details such as finishes, materials, and types of surfaces, such as tile.

Be wary of general language in the contract that does not specify a time frame, a large number of cost allowances, or specific labour costs. If possible, get the entire project designed on paper first.

This eliminates many sources of confusion and misunderstanding. It also assists your contactor with all the details needed to build your project. That way your contractor won’t have to constantly ask you for on-the-spot decisions or tell you that your project is delayed, because everything can be ordered well in advance.

And that’s how all the puzzle pieces fit – properly.

Herb Lagois is the owner of Lagois Design−Build−Renovate.