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Communicate with the contractor to avoid misunderstandings


Published: 06/20/2012


When I sat down to write this article, I realized that sometimes the toughest part of the task was to figure out where to start. This is just as true when deciding to renovate or add on to your home.

After more than 20 years in the renovation business, I've found that the best place to start is to try to establish the reason for renovating.

Is it just for aesthetic purposes or to upgrade ageing finishes, or is it to increase your living space? The latter is a common reason these days as people with growing families find they need a larger home and don't want to leave their neighbourhood where they have established friendships and their children have settled into local schools.

Next, before you rush out and hire a contractor, you should take some time to decide what your needs are. Decide what the function of the addition will be; put as many of your wants and needs as you can down on paper. This will be your wish list. Of course, after your are finished designing your dream room in your head, you must consider the reality of your budget.

It is at this point that you should start considering a contractor and architect. They should be should be able to give you, based on their experience, a budget price based on the approximate size and design of the project. It is best to hire people with a history of working together. There is nothing worse for a homeowner than to wind up refereeing a contractor and an architect.

It is also best to find a general contractor who can handle the entire job. This will make co-ordinating the work much easier. The best way to choose a contractor is through a referral, however, if none of your neighbours or friends can recommend someone, then select an established company that is licensed and insured and who can supply references.

It is important to find professional people with whom you feel comfortable with, as they will become part of your life for the next several months, coming and going while working in and around your home. You must realize that your lifestyle will be interrupted, no matter what you have been told -- from a disposal bin in the driveway to days that you might have no power nor water -- depending on the type of renovation.

Once you have selected a contractor and are working on the design, don't lose sight of your original reason for renovating. Sometimes designers, in an effort to create their own vision of the project, forget that their artistic ideas are not necessarily yours. However, it is also important to consider their advice as they do this work for a living and have a lot more experience than you do as a layperson.

To avoid problems, the best remedy is communicate. Make sure the architect knows what you want and need.

Another problem sometimes arises when you apply for a permit, as provincial or local building codes may not allow you to build what you want, where you want, because of the size or location of your lot. This may require a trip to the committee of adjustment to apply for a zoning variance.

When you have a completed the design and have received your permit, arrange a start date. At this point, it helps to arrange a work schedule with your contractor to try to minimize the inconvenience of the work being done. It is important, again, to realize that there will be inconvenience. The old expression "you can't make an omelette without first breaking a few eggs" applies to renovating.

The best way to avoid conflicts is through communication. This doesn't mean telling the trades how to do their jobs, because if you feel this need, you have probably hired the wrong people. The best idea is to make notes of suggestions and concerns and meet with your contractor on site on a regular basis. Usually, once a week is sufficient, depending on the size of the job. As the job nears completion, it becomes more important to voice your concerns. This will avoid any misunderstanding when the project is completed.

Although we have all heard nightmarish stories about renovating, these can all be avoided by planning and, most importantly,  by communicating. If you keep these two things in mind, your renovation can be a very positive and rewarding experience.


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