Sunday, February 3, 2013

How to Start a Full House Renovation : Creating the Plan

I'm frequently asked how to get started designing a new project.  After all, it's pretty daunting to think about renovating an entire house.  I don't know that there is a 'cookbook' of what is required to create the perfect plan.  But here are the things we keep in mind whenever we look at a house.  I hope you'll find it helpful:

-  Style - What style works well for the architecture of the house & the neighborhood?  Many of the homes in our neighborhood were built in the early 1900's.   It's a New England beach community with small houses on small lots - victorians, cottages, capes and bungalows.  So we try to stay true to their origins.  I would never want to take one of these houses and turn it into a super contemporary home.  Instead, we try to work with the architecture that's already there and enhance it.  It might be something as simple as cleaning up siding, or it might require the addition of architectural elements to enhance the the style of the house.  

-  Evaluate Floor Plan and Traffic Flow - Old houses typically have clearly defined rooms.  While this might have worked well in the past (although my poor mother always felt like she was sequestered in the kitchen cooking!), today's lifestyle has a more interactive lifestyle.   Whenever possible, I try to make a circular floor plan on the first floor.  It allows people (and in our house - pets!) to easily move through the house.  Think about how the house would work if you were entertaining.  Is there space for people to move about and interact?  Or are there 'pinch points' that make it hard for the cook to work or people to gather around the dining room table?  If you look at the example below, from our second project, you can see that by removing a few walls, we dramatically changed the space.  It helped the traffic flow and made the overall house feel much larger.  Click here to see the difference!
Diamond in the Rough - Before Floor Plan

Diamond in the Rough - After Floor Plan with walls opened u

-  Economics - It's incredibly easy to over spend when you're updating a house.  You can fall into the 'while we're at it' trap.  Such as: While we're moving the plumbing, let's go ahead and add an additional sink/bath/tub/etc.  Or, while we're adding a new back door, let's build a new deck too!  Keep thinking about your total budget.  And remind yourself that you don't want to over-improve the house.  Real Estate doesn't go up in value the way that it used to, so it's critical to carefully weigh the investment for all of your changes.  You might even want to prioritize your list, so when something unexpected crops up, you know what you would be willing to sacrifice to pay for the surprise.

See the nail going through the wiring?  Yikes!!
-  Safety and Security - You need to put things that add to safety and security at the top of the list.  Old wiring, such as knob and tube, or unsafe outlets are a 'must do'.  Remember this post from our first project?  Someone had put a nail right through the wiring - major fire danger!  You may also find structural problems, insect damage or rot that needs to be repaired.  Unfortunately, that might mean the new bathroom you're dreaming of needs to go on the back burner for awhile.

'End of life' furnace in our current project
-  Energy Efficiency - In our part of the country, keeping a house warm in the winter is a critical issue (I know it's hard for many of you to believe that we don't have central air conditioning in many homes here!).  Insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, and an efficient furnace are must haves.  The inspector called the furnace in our current project 'at end of life'.  That made it pretty clear that it was time for a new one (and at the moment it keeps shutting itself off at least once a day - tough to handle with our frigid temps!)

Once you've evaluated these 5 priority areas, create a list with what you've learned.  This will   start to shape your plan.   And once you understand these elements - and what they'll cost you - then you can start working on the really fun stuff - design!!!!

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  1. Laurel,

    I love your blog and love your finished projects! Just curious about one thing, the list you've provided, would you say it's more for the person like yourself who is "flipping" or would it apply equally to someone who finds an old home but wants to renovate with the intention of moving in?

    1. Hi Denise, Thanks so much for reading the blog! I really appreciate your support!

      I gave that some thought as I was writing the post and think it's actually just as important for someone that is planning on moving in as it is for a flipper. The biggest benefit for someone who will be living in a house long term, is you can pace yourself on the projects. Things like safety/security and energy efficiency need to be at the top of your list. But moving walls or updating a bath could wait until after you do the more critical projects. And it gives you more time to save up to do the work!!


  2. This article is very good & informative.I have gain so much information from this blog.I like your blog.Thanks for the post.I am waiting for your new post.

    Birmingham, AL Kitchen Remodeling

  3. I am sending people on Drive-Bys of your new project!!! I am sure that this one won't last long either. Marc ;-)

  4. Wonderful information here! Thank you so much for walking through the process - I've learned so much from blogs that I'm getting the courage to start my own!

  5. Great article, really informs new renovators what to keep an eye out for. Thank you for adding the fact that renovators should keep in mind the style of their neighbourhood when renovating. Majority of people just focus on their house and there house alone but when it is situated in an old neighbourhood its best to keep the house's natural look rather than creating an eyesore in the street. Again great article, thank you

  6. I'm so excited about these blog posts! You have always been one of my favorite bloggers and I love both your writing and photos. I am planning a kitchen renovation and I'm not sure where to start, I shall definitely look out for the Real Living special edition.


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