Tips for home renovations

Fixing up your home devours money and time. A small home improvement project, without adequate planning, can turn into a huge one, with the end stretching farther away each time you look, and cost you your peace of mind.
Following are a few ground rules which may help.
Know what you want. Identify if it is a repair job or a renovation project. Replacing an old, malfunctioning toilet, putting in a new sink, changing the fluorescent and incandescent lights into energy-saving LED are minor, one-shot jobs.
Upgrading the kitchen cabinets for better functionality can be considered a minor renovation. But when plans call for walls to be knocked down, entire rooms gutted, new electrical wiring and water pipes, the job is no longer minor or simple.
Tour your house and look at what needs to change. Jot down thoughts and ideas in a notebook. Determine if the task is superficial and cosmetic (such as a fresh coat of paint), or structural (knocking down a wall).
If this is your first go at repairing or renovating, it’s a good idea to have someone with you who has done it before. The voice of experience is invaluable.
Prioritize. Look in your notebook at the list you have just made. Prioritze items into what needs to be done right away, and what can wait. A leaky roof needs immediate attention. A fresh coat of paint to brighten up the bedroom can wait.
Do it yourself. If you are handy with tools and knowledgeable about homes, some of the tasks may be personally managed.
Decades ago, my husband and I repainted our kitchen, back patio, and wallpapered the bedrooms, after my sister-in-law – who is quite the handywoman – got us started. These minor jobs became our weekend projects. It took time, but it saved us the cost and trouble of hiring and managing tradesmen.
Get help. Now that we’re older, with lower energy levels, and busy with work and family commitments, we outsourced the more recent home improvement projects.
For any project that goes beyond simple, try to get professional help. An architect helps clarify our ideas. A contractor helps shoulder responsibilities for keeping the project moving and on track.
In Manila’s booming economy, it may take longer to find an architect and a contractor to take on home improvement projects. When you do find them, be sure they are licensed. Ask for references and speak with previous clients. If possible, try to see photos or samples of their work.
Take notes and write them in your notebook for future reference. An architect will do a blueprint to show how your project will look once it is finished. The blueprint will provide important information such as dimension, elevation and placement.
The contractor has the expertise and manpower to put all these together, and ensure that the new structure complies with safety standards. This is particularly important if there is structural work.
He will also advise if a building permit is needed. A permit is not required for simple jobs, such as retiling the bathroom floor.
When hiring the architect and contractor and other trades people, get their commitments in writing. Each contract should have in detail the fee, scope of work – including who disposes of the trash and disposal fees – and a schedule of payment.
When reviewing the terms and conditions, find out what is generally accepted in the industry: it will help you negotiate the contract more wisely.
Most importantly, ask the contractor to put in writing a completion date, provisions if there are delays (the client can ask for penalty clauses), and guarantee of his work.
It is not unusual to hold a small percentage of payment for 30 days after job completion, to ensure that everything works, and what doesn’t will be remedied by the contractor. If you want to have this option, put it in the written contract.
Remember there is always room for negotiation.
Look at the budget. Professional help comes at a price. So does good quality material.
Ask for a discount on contractors’ and architects’ fees and adjust the payment schedule before signing the contract. If the request is reasonable, the service provider may agree.
Beware of making a low-blow offer. The contractor may decide halfway through the project that staying with it is no longer worth his while, and simply pull out his people.
Contractors can get construction material for you, which is a great convenience, but they will mark up the prices to cover their procurement costs. Ask your contractor what is his markup.
Alternatively, get a list of construction materials from the contractor. Shop around.
Ask suppliers for discounts. While discounts are not always given, it is possible to get them – ranging from five to 30 percent – just by asking.
In many cities, large hardware depots offer one-stop convenience for almost everything, from glass and cement to finishing goods and accessories.
Intrepid shoppers can head to the hardware district in Binondo where materials can be had for even less.
Note down prices in your notebook. Don’t commit everything to memory. Prices vary widely for the same things from different manufacturers. The adage “you get what you pay for” holds true.
I have a simple rule of thumb: if it is structural, pay for better quality. If it is cosmetic, then shop hard and bargain hard. When prices are in, plan your budget accordingly.
Add a margin to allow for unexpected expenses. Some people recommend a 20 percent buffer. Prices may rise, or what you want is out of stock, and you have to consider costlier alternatives.
The wide and attractive range of choices in the stores for finishing products can tempt you to upgrade beyond the original plan.
Mistakes happen and can lead to more material and labor costs. Unexpected work comes up as well.
Two months ago, I took down a bedroom ceiling because the plywood had warped badly and the paint was peeling. What we found were two gaping holes in the roof above it, letting in rain and mice!
Obviously, the roof had to be fixed first (unexpected), then we added insulation (unplanned) before putting in the new ceiling.
Plan your sequence. In any project, some things must happen before others. For instance, bathroom walls and floors should be done before installing new fixtures.
Tackle major problems first. Fix the broken window or the leak in the roof first. By knowing the sequence, you can plan your own activities, such as purchases.
Some builders ask for things long before they are needed. I once had new toilets sitting in the garage for months. This meant more clutter for longer, and an expense that happened sooner than it needed to. As well, most hardware stores I shop at offer full credit for returned items only within 30 days of purchase.
If you have never done home improvement projects before, you may want to start with a small project. It will give you a taste of what is involved. It also gives experience and confidence. A small project is also easier on the budget if repairs are all you can afford for the moment.
Where to stay during renovation. Demolition, if any, is dirty and noisy. Decide if you can live with the mess, and the workers who come in everyday. It is intrusive, but cannot be helped.
Once, I was replacing kitchen windows. The old ones had to come out before the new ones came, which was a couple weeks later. Plastic sheets covered the big hole, but dust, rain, mosquitoes and other pests got in anyway.
On another front, there are stories of how romance bloomed between workers and household staff. Raise this matter with your contractor – or whoever supplies labor – if it is a concern.
For major projects, one option is to move into temporary quarters, leaving a caretaker in the unoccupied house while construction workers do their job.
Plan. Plan. Plan. There are many details that need to be addressed in a home improvement project. Its path is littered with surprises. Write down everything, no matter how trivial, into that notebook to facilitate planning and forethought. This will help prevent major surprises, leaving you saner to deal with the myriad little ones.