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How to remodel your dream home

Updated on December 8, 2010
Remodeling a home takes planning, budgeting, and follow through on your part!
Remodeling a home takes planning, budgeting, and follow through on your part!

Remodeling your dream home.

We all do it.  We drive through neighborhoods, and make mental notes of how somebody added columns to their home.  We walk through home improvement stores and see fixtures with nice lines, and flooring that reflects your taste.  Whether in your existing home, or in a new one you've got your eyes on, you know it's time to implement your ideas.

Ideally, your future dream home is a different address than your current one. Remodeling can happen in varying levels, but not currently living in the home makes unique options available. Removing walls, especially plaster walls, can be messy business. Repairing ceilings, or changing floor plans can be done while you're living in the home, but the dust, mold, and other airborne contaminates can be unhealthy and disheartening. Maybe you want to change the shape or height of archways. Perhaps an overhead light should be added in a room or two, and a closet. You're running the risk of pulling insulation into the room, or even materials like asbestos. Whether it is you doing the work, or you have hired most of it out, sleeping in the home while the work is being done can be harmful in many ways.

Not living in the home, even if it means you rent an apartment while the work is being done, makes for some timing freedoms.  Contractors often work on several different jobs at different times.  Having the house equipped with a cheap set of locks (or simply get them re-keyed afterwards) makes for 24 hour access for your contractor(s) making progress much more likely, and often less expensive.  I have found that if a contractor can spend 6 hours on a big project, and 4 hours at night on mine, they consider it "extra money" and actually charge you less.

Starting this endeavor involves a plan.  This plan involves the house you start with, the house you want to end up with, and the drama, stress, disappointments and pleasant surprises in between.  The only thing you are 100% responsible for is knowing approximately what you're starting with, and approximately what you'd like to end up with.  Tell your contractors what your vision is, and then share with them your excitement about the home.  Encourage them to give you suggestions about different ways to perform a task, and ask if they would do anything different if it were their own home.  Often a minimum investment yields big returns and you would have never known to make that investment without drawing from their experience.

When you spend a day outside and get extra filthy, you typically shower from the top down. Wash your hair, then your face, and work you way down to your feet. Gravity will always see that dropped materials hit the ground, be sure that they don't bang up your walls on the way down!

Repair the ceilings, fix your walls, and lastly do your floors. If you are doing work on ceilings and walls, leave your existing carpet intact until the end. Drywall dust and plaster mess is much easier to clean up if it's rolled up into an old carpet.

Always be sure that the roof and supporting structure are in good health before any other projects get underway.  There is nothing worse than repairing walls and floors, only to have water damage undo all your hard work and rob you of your monies.

When all else fails, gut it!  Removing walls allows you to replace mechanicals easily, repair structural issues, and replace plaster with drywall which is easier to repair in the future.
When all else fails, gut it! Removing walls allows you to replace mechanicals easily, repair structural issues, and replace plaster with drywall which is easier to repair in the future.

Be open to changes along the way.  Watching your budget and your desires change is fine, as long as you take notice of both.  Be flexible, open minded, and always remember that the end goal is your dream home.  Throughout the process, appreciate the fact that things will often look simply awful, until the last few days when the big cleanup begins.  

Always, always, always get three quotes for everything.  Ask for pictures of previous done work.  Be sure that the labor charges that come in for your estimates are reasonable, in every way.  If somebody offers to replace an entire ceiling in your dining room for $75, you can bet they have no idea what they're doing.  If the estimate comes in at $5000, you can bet they're hoping you don't have any idea what they're doing.

Make use of alternate sources for labor and trades.  Craigslist and local papers often provide numbers for tradesmen that work for peanuts.  Some jobs that require rented equipment can often be performed for less than if you were to perform the job yourself!

There are many homes on the market that have been foreclosed, or have simply been vacant for long periods of time.  Mold can take hold, and add to an already serious odor problem.  Particularly where basements are involved, vacant homes can STINK!  Find a local chemical's distributor and ask for a solution that is relevant to your location.  Often, pool chlorine is sold at 12% concentration, which is more than adequate to kill mold growth in its tracks.  As long as the humidity is effectively removed from the air, undamaged surfaces (rot etc.) can be made reasonable again with coating of latex paint, after a chlorine treatment.  Bleach alone will not kill mold.  Before using any chemicals, heed the warnings on the packaging.  A $30 respirator will go a long ways in protecting your lungs and throat in even a ventilated area.

There is a balance between staying out of your new home long enough for the work to be completed, and allowing more and more projects to keep you from living there.  Where possible, leave the manageable projects that you intend to tackle for after your move in.  Design and paint your rooms to suit the purpose of those rooms and the furnishings that will be put in them.  Know when to say when with writing checks.  Every home can be turned into Buckingham Palace, cause there are a dozen contractors who want to add 20,000 sq ft onto the back of your family home.

Make the drive to various stores where you can see various rooms staged in ways that may inspire your own style.  IKEA, Home Depot, Lowes, local hardware stores, or even visiting open houses in your area, our in neighbor areas can prove helpful.
Make the drive to various stores where you can see various rooms staged in ways that may inspire your own style. IKEA, Home Depot, Lowes, local hardware stores, or even visiting open houses in your area, our in neighbor areas can prove helpful.

While watching contractors or friends working on your new home, offer ideas, ask questions and challenge their reasoning if it seems incorrect to you. Most of the time you will gain an education, and that is always helpful. Sometimes, your contractor will smile, and implement your better idea saving both of you time and money. The process is emotional, stressful, and is capable of creating problems in an otherwise perfect relationship. Maintain your cool, and always speak to helpers and contractors in a professional manner. To them, this is their job. Crying, yelling, or other signs of potential hysterics create an atmosphere that is difficult to be productive in. When you hit hidden costs, or overrun spending, take it in stride. Sometimes a job costs more than you thought, but when boards are lifted, and wires are pulled, new things are discovered that change the game.

Subtle architectural differences may often cost very little, but separate your home from the flock.
Subtle architectural differences may often cost very little, but separate your home from the flock.

While progress starts to take hold, pick a room off the beaten path.  Pick a room at the end of a hallway, where it receives the least amount of traffic, and try to get that room finished as much as possible to your liking.  Having the flooring, lighting, walls, paint, and even window treatments in a room is a real boost to you, the workers, and any visitors to the home.  It also gives the workers something to keep in mind while completing other projects.  That room can set a standard of quality and style that will help perpetuate the rest of the home.  Maintain the top - down mentality, and finish that room as much as fiscally possible.  Even having to do touch-ups on that room later will pay off quite well emotionally and aesthetically throughout the rest of the house.

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