Having completed 3 cosmetic renovations I've begun compiling a list of lessons, some of the lessons I learnt early enough to avoid mistakes and others arose because I made the mistakes and intend to avoid them the next time I renovate.
1) Renovating from a distance
Unless you already have a full team of experienced, reliable tradies in place that you have worked with extensively before, don't try to project manage your renovation from a distance. When I tried this with a project that was over a 5 hour drive away, I found that the project which should have taken about 6 weeks took about 5 months instead.
2) Not allowing for contingencies
It is essential to have a contingency fund in your budget and it should be a realistic one. It's highly likely that something unexpected will happen, if not several things and the bigger your project, the more likely this is. For this reason it's essential you have a financial buffer built-in to your budget and you should also check before beginning your project that the budget you are allocating for each trade is also realistic. If, like I did, you are overly optimistic in your budgeting for all items, you will absorb your contingency and exceed your budget very quickly.
3) Be present for the entire renovation
With my last renovation I was overseeing everything until a week or two before the end due to holidays I'd scheduled some time before. There were only a couple of extra items to be completed and I thought they would be simple but when I returned I was disappointed with the results.
4) Install blinds after floor sanding
This is no doubt common sense for most readers yet in a rush to complete most items on my last project before I had to go away, I had new horizontal blinds installed throughout the house before the floor sanding not knowing how dirty this process was. They were covered in the sanded timber when I returned and very difficult to clean.
5) Get the painting process right
Internally painting will need to be done in multiple stages and the better this is planned the more cost effective it will be and the better finish you will get. Make sure you also allow plenty of time for painting to dry properly before the painted areas will need to be accessed by other trades.
One round of 2 coats of internal painting in key areas is needed before the installation of items. After the removal of any old items and before the installation of new items is the best to time paint areas including bathroom ceilings, what will become the back walls of built-in wardrobes, back walls behind the cabinetry for the fridge, dishwasher and rangehood etc. You can also get all other internal ceilings, walls, windows and doors painted at this time, in the areas that will have little to no trade traffic during the rest of the renovation. This would see most painting done before any new flooring is installed which will minimise any potential issues re paint spills. Skirting boards could also be painted now, if you have removed old flooring and will install new flooring or carpet. If you are going to sand your floorboards, do not paint the skirting boards until afterwards as the sander is highly likely to ruin the paint work.
After kitchens and potentially wardrobes are installed you will need to organise the painting of any new bulkheads created during this process. This is when I recommend you get any additional doors painted that were left during round 1 because they were in high traffic areas or they had been removed for easy of access during the renovation. If you are needing to paint skirting in round 2 due to floor sanding for example, I would recommend buying new skirting that can be painted and then installed but you can discuss this option as opposed to painting existing skirting with your trades to evaluate the impact on cost.
6) Install new hardware after painting is completely dry
Whilst potentially obvious and you do want to make sure your renovation is completed as quickly as possible, make sure all your trades know to wait until paint is completely dry before beginning work in or on those areas, including the installation of new door handles and locks, door stops, cupboard door handles etc.
7) Determine your spend based on value not just price
This applies in a myriad of ways during a renovation, with tradies as well as products you purchase. Whilst working to a tight budget is key to a profitable renovation, the cheapest options are not always the best choice. As an example if you purchase a laundry tub that needs assembly and you need to pay your tradie an hourly rate to build it, it may end up costing you quite a bit more than buying a pre-assembled tub of higher quality in the first place.
Another example of this would be taps. I believe it is worth investing in quality tapware, this was reinforced to me for the kitchen by the kitchen installation company given the extensive wear and tear kitchen taps need to withstand. Quality tapware doesn't mean extremely expensive either, just do some research to choose items that are great value for their price (possibly on special) and look good. Appearance can also add value and I would definitely spend a bit extra during my next renovation to buy more attractive tapware of a higher quality for use in the bathroom as well.
8) Large tiles can be a problem for floors
I like the look of large tiles on the floors and walls in bathrooms as they add to the perception of space. Working with my plumber on the last renovation though I learnt that in small bathrooms large tiles 300 x 600 on the floors can be problematic, as they can make it very difficult for tradies to get the ideal fall to the drains. The plumber I was working with recommended tiles for floors of small bathrooms no bigger than 300 x 300.
9) Get patching done early
If you need any patching of walls, ceilings etc. this needs to be done before painting. Keep in mind any extra patching that may be required to fix areas of walls after old items are removed, including old electrical items such as lights, powerpoints, ceiling fans etc. Also, keep in mind potential patching for doors and door frames due to changes in hardware.
10) Consider replacing internal doors
If your project only requires stock standard internal doors consider buying all new doors instead of repairing and repainting old doors. When you weigh up the work involved to fix old doors i.e. repairs and patching due to changing hardware including handles, hinges and door stops before the cost of painting them, it may be much easier and less expensive to buy new doors as they are around $25-30 each. If you are replacing handles and hinges on existing doors, check the dimensions carefully as you will want to match up the new ones as close in size to the old as possible.
11) Evaluate floor sanding carefully
If you are considering floor sanding be very careful as you can receive some unexpected surprises in how the floor comes up. I experienced the same original boards in different areas of the house ending up very different colours and I'll write another post on this. Floor sanders also need to be careful they don't sand down too far and if any original boards get broken or are found to be broken during this process being able to repair this can be very challenging.
12) Check windows carefully
If any windows need replacing make sure you do this first, before any tiling or painting e.g. if you tile to the window in a bathroom, so there is no timber to rot, it looks great but you would then need to remove all the nearby tiles if the window itself isn't closing properly and cannot be repaired, making it much more expensive to replace.
13) Provide shower screen measurements
Whilst it would be very fair to say that all measurements need to be accurate and all measurements should be being discussed with the relevant trades early, if you are organising your shower screen, make sure you discuss all measurements with your bathroom installer early to ensure that any necessary reinforcements can be built into the wall frame if needed, in the right locations.
14) Plan your layouts taking all details into account
As an example, if you are imagining your vanity being flush against a wall, check whether this is even possible when you consider the full width of the top e.g. does the top extend out over the base, also consider how much room you would need from the wall to allow for the vanity doors to open fully, taking into account the size of the handles.
15) Check door handle direction
If buying new handles and locks for your front and back doors, carefully check the correct location of the handle so that you buy the right replacements i.e. is the handle on the right hand side when looking at the front of the door meaning the door opens left, or when looking at the front of the door does it need to be on the left hand side, as the door opens to the right.