Every home building project is unique, but planning a renovation takes a different approach to when you’re constructing a new property from scratch – largely because you’re working on a pre-existing structure that already has its individual quirks in place.
The trick to setting up a smooth project is understanding what needs to be done when, and keeping in communication with your trades when delays crop up. Here are some key things to remember when planning your schedule.
Look at the project as a whole and have a clear order of jobs written down. Think about whether it makes sense to tackle one room at a time (it could if you’re going to live in the house during the works).
Or is the scale extensive enough that you need to take a whole house approach? This would probably be the case if you’re doing major structural updates and changing the plumbing and electrics throughout.
Perhaps a middle ground would suit you better – ie doing a few sections of the house simultaneously because you’re running the same flooring in two rooms and the adjoining hallway, for instance.
The first thing to prioritise in your schedule are any jobs that will prevent further damage. Every building naturally deteriorates over time, but if a property has been empty for a while then it’s likely to need more than simply an aesthetic facelift. Addressing major structural issues, such as rotten rafters and damp issues, should be top of the list.
Other common problems to look out for include incorrectly specified products that were installed by previous owners and are actually damaging the building.
Learn more: 11 Common Period Home Renovation Mistakes
One key example is where (now dated) plastic windows were fitted to replace original timber units without due consideration to lintels. This might have destabilised the walls, which would now need to be fixed.
Live-In Renovation Project
Julia and Nick Keem stayed living in their home during the 18 months that their 16th century farmhouse was renovated and extended. “I don’t know how we did it. It was dreadful to be honest,” says Julia.
“We were just trying to save money, even though we were told it would extend the length of the build, which it did.” Things were manageable while the extension was being built separately, but when it broke through to the original house, there was no keeping out the dust and the noise.
“We moved out for 10 days while the kitchen was being installed, but that was it,” she adds
Remember the house needs to be weathertight before you focus on internal works (they’ll be ruined if the building isn’t dry). So, if you want a snazzy span of glazed doors in your new kitchen-diner, schedule for these to be installed before the new kitchen cabinets go in. For a guide to the order in which things need to happen, see the box opposite.
We’ve highlighted the importance of this in past features in this series, but it’s always best to speak to professionals to establish how extensive individual tasks are likely to be. There’s no point in scheduling an electrician for a few days’ work only for them to turn around and tell you the house needs a full rewire, and the job is therefore much bigger (and more expensive) than you’d planned for.
Another trick to keeping things on schedule is to make sure you understand exactly what each trade needs from others and when. Once they’ve finished a section of their work, you should agree with them exactly when they’re going to be back on site and what jobs they expect to
have been completed by the time they return.
Don’t forget that you’ll need to follow the Building Regs. This could involve details that you hadn’t considered, such as fire doors and a sprinkler system as part of a loft conversion. This is just another example of why speaking to the right experts and possibly to building control in advance of doing the work is crucial – you don’t want to have to undo things because they aren’t up to scratch.
In a renovation, you’re dealing with an old building that can throw up problems nobody was expecting. Plus, every major project is at the mercy of notorious UK weather. Be prepared for things to end up taking longer than planned.
The homeowners featured in our real-life readers’ stories often highlight that delays from one trade have ricocheted onto the next, leaving them frustrated if the next contractor can’t be on site when needed because they’ve got other work on. What we can learn here is to understand the lead times for trades’ availability at the same time as estimating the project scope and how long jobs will take.
It’s fundamental to communicate with the people working on your home, especially if timings change. Most contractors understand that things happen, so will try to build some contingency into their schedule.
Basic schedule of works
Every renovation project is unique, but there is a certain flow of work that makes sense in order to get jobs completed as efficiently as possible. Here is a typical action plan that many schemes follow:
1. Demolition & structural repair
You’ll need to make sure the building is structurally sound before anything else can get started. Jobs at this beginning stage range from removing old extensions that are going to be replaced through to repairing rafters, stabilising walls and fixing bad damp problems.
2. Weathertight & external finishes
This includes any updates to the roof covering, external walls, doors and windows. Once the external envelope is up to scratch you should have a nice dry home to get started on the inside. Any updates to the facade, such as new cladding or render, should be completed now, too. Depending on the nature of your project, this might
3. First fix
This is when everything that goes on behind the scenes to make your home run smoothly is installed. Carpentry jobs, such as new stud walls, happen here, as well as fitting pipes, cables, insulation and the boiler.
With all the work inside the walls and floors complete, you can seal these up ready for decoration – start with the ceiling so that the finishing elsewhere is smooth.
5. Second fix
It’s at this point that your interiors will start to take shape, as you’ll be fitting the elements that you’ll be interacting with on a day-to-day basis. That includes kitchens, light fittings and sanitaryware. The boiler and heating system will get commissioned (turned on and certified), too. Floor tiles and wood flooring can be laid, especially if you want the surface to go under kitchen cabinets. But they’ll need to be protected while other work continues.
6. Finishes & decorating
Anything that could get damaged during the previous stages should be left until last – that includes painting, wallpapering, applying skirting boards and fitting new carpets. Staircases tend to be put in at this later stage, too, to ensure they aren’t ruined while the potentially messier jobs are being completed.
You’ll have picked up some issues as you go along, but this is your final chance to check there are no problems or areas where the quality isn’t what you agreed with your trades. This is when it pays to be clear on who is responsible for what and what level of finish you’re expecting right from the beginning of the scheme.
Delays are common and not always an individual’s fault, so don’t go pointing the finger until you understand the full story. For example, bad weather is something that’s difficult to account for in advance. Perhaps that means you can’t get the foundations for your extension completed because it’s been raining for weeks, for instance.
This is annoying because it will have a knock on effect for your entire future schedule, but it’s also no one’s fault; you just have to stay calm and progress when you can.
Saying that, a bit of seasonality sense can be factored into your plans – if you’re digging in January you’re likely to face more problems than if you’re doing the same job in June.
Ensuring that materials arrive at the right time is another key priority. Take windows for example – on the one hand they’re chunky items, so it’s tough to find space to store them on site if they’re delivered before they can be fitted; on the other, lots of other jobs can’t be finished until they’re in place, so if they arrive too late it’ll definitely impact your schedule.
This issue is notorious for holding up projects, so get your timings right and make sure the manufacturer can supply the units exactly when you need them.
Renovation Overcomes Hurdles
When Barry and Jenny Tape renovated and added another storey to a 1980s bungalow, they came up against various issues with their schedule. A strong gale caused damage, as the bricks twisted in the storm. Further problems were caused by a miscommunication over window lead times; in the end, the units arrived to site a month later than planned.
Lead times are important with any product – some take longer to manufacture than others, or just aren’t held in stock, so be aware of these things when you’re specifying. Remember that bespoke items always take longer to produce than standard sized, off-the-shelf products.
So understand the supplier’s processing time, from purchase to delivery, and be aware that some components might actually have to be ordered months before you need them.
A project schedule is a live beast, especially when it comes to a renovation. So keep in mind that, regardless of how organised you are, things will crop up along the way – and that’s because every time one trade is delayed by a day, or something hasn’t been delivered exactly when you need it, that has a knock on effect for everything else.
You might be able to tighten things up to get back on track, but you could face another delay, for instance, when the next trade isn’t available for two weeks. Basically, prepare to be flexible as well as trying to stick to the schedule.
Some people like to use organisers such as gantt charts, which is a project planning spreadsheet. These allow you to set out how much time the various phases will take and what specific works need to be done when. They can be good, but as things start to shift you need to stay on top of rearranging your notes, otherwise you’ll just get frustrated with future delays.
WHERE WILL YOU STAY?
Living in your home while a major renovation progresses has its advantages. You’ll be able to keep an eye on jobs as they get done, as well as know who’s around on site and when. The main downside is that you’re likely to get in the way, which could delay things. Your trades will want to know if you’ll be there and you’ll need to work around the jobs – ie making sure you and your possessions are out of certain rooms when required.
If you are staying in the house, you’re likely to only be able to live in part of the property, moving around as different areas of the home are worked on. It might be worth getting a storage container for a short amount of time to keep your things safe – especially if work is going on in the loft, which is notoriously full of stuff that you probably don’t want cluttering up the few rooms you are actually able to use.
The site needs to be kept clean to ensure things are safe for you and your family, but bear in mind that no matter how well you tidy up, there will probably still be dust around. That’s not quite such a challenge if you’re not living in the house, so recognise that this will eat into time when jobs could be done.
The alternative is moving out for a short while, whether that’s for the whole build or just during major structural changes. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have friends or relatives close by that you can stay with; if not, you’ll need to factor the cost of renting into your budget. Another option, if you’ve got enough outside space, is to stay in a caravan – but this comes in at a cost, too.
It’s also important to share keep other trades in the loop – if you haven’t let them know that the schedule is slipping significantly, you’ll soon be in trouble.
What’s important is that you use scheduling tools properly, listen to people on your site and keep on top of communication – and that’s as vital at the project planning stage as when things are progressing on site.
Main image: Amos Goldreich Architects