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The key to successful remodeling, even if you do it yourself

We would like to preface this column by saying that we
are not automatically opposed to do-it-yourself remodels.
We have seen some beautiful homes remodeled by homeowners
as the contractor and/or laborer. Granted, the homeowner
who successfully does it himself is usually experienced
with construction or handier than the average homeowner,
but putting some sweat (but hopefully not any blood or
tears!) into your own home can definitely be rewarding.

However, more often than not, the DIY remodelers’
completed project ends up looking a little less than
ideal. As residential architects, we get to see a lot of
homes. Unfortunately, we have seen countless examples
where a previous homeowner has tried to tackle a remodel
or addition themselves and it has ended in an awkward and
sometimes even butchered floor plan or exterior curb

Usually, the renovation met a need for the homeowner at
the time, but the solution almost always caused new
problems when you consider the house as a whole. You can
often see where the remodel started to get tricky and the
homeowner got in over his or her head. For example, when
the power panel is right in the middle of a wall you would
like to knock down, instead of taking the time and money
to move the power panel, the DIY homeowner just works
around it, leaving an awkward column or half-wall housing
the power panel.

There are strange things that happen to the design and
flow of a home when it is remodeled compartmentally
instead of as a whole. You have to look at how the
remodeled portion will affect the rest of the house.
Otherwise, you get weird steps leading down into the new
addition, doors knocking into cupboards, or a walkway
through a bedroom to the new kitchen.

The secret to a successful remodel is proper planning and
more specifically a master plan. Having a master plan
doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to do a full
house remodel this year. It just means you have an
ultimate vision for your house — a clear goal as to
how you want it to function now and in the future. A
master plan takes your vision for your home and actually
puts it down on paper. The master plan looks at your house
as a whole and focuses your projects to finally meet an
end goal.

Developing a master plan takes time and thought. The first
step is to consider the motivation for the remodel.
Analyze how you currently live and try to look ahead five
or 10 years. Do you need more bedrooms because your young
family is growing? Do you need more gathering space
because your older family is multiplying? Do you need to
improve your organization with better storage areas?
Thoroughly think through your motivations for remodeling
so the final design doesn’t just add space, but solves

Next, before you knock out anything, determine what you
can afford to rebuild. You can generalize the costs by
multiplying the estimated new square footage by $100-$120
per square foot, which is average for this area. You’ll
also need to account for expenses such as demolition,
permits, engineers and architects.

Planning takes time: A year in advance of when you want to
start construction is not too early to start planning your

Your master plan should include detailed floor plans and
architectural renderings of the exterior so you can see
what the final product will look like and envision how it
will function. A preliminary budget should be created to
help you be realistic about how much your project will
cost. By informing yourself about current real estate
values in your neighborhood, as well as home appraisals
and lending trends, you will be prepared to make an
informed decision regarding the scope and timing of your
proposed remodel.

Whether you are hiring it out or doing it yourself, having
a clear vision with a detailed master plan will save you
time and money. It will help to ensure you will end up
with a beautiful, seamless remodel that doesn’t look
like you did it yourself — even if you really did!

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V.
Schwemmer are the co-founders of Renovation Design Group
an architectural firm specializing in home remodels. Send
comments or questions to

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