Home remodel planning is not easy. But let me suggest the best way to approach it.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
|1: Adopt a “write it down” mindset|
|2: Answer two key questions|
|3: Work through our 71-point whole house remodel wishlist-checklist|
|4: Beware of hidden costs and aggravations we’ll warn you about|
|5: Get organized with a project binder|
So you are thinking about a whole house remodel project and are wondering how to even start.
What we are going to do here is take you step-by-step through some thought processes, get you into the right mindset, and provide some practical tools for the best way to approach a home remodel project. In short, we are going to arm you for success.
The right approach to home remodeling
A home remodeling project can have a major emotional and financial impact on one’s life and is not to be approached lightly. The impact can be either very harmful or very beneficial.
If not addressed in the right way, it can cause one to suffer severe anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and the financial damage of wasted money. On the other hand, if you do it the right way, it can lead to a feeling of intense satisfaction and achievement plus the knowledge that you have made a sound investment in your home and that you will be enjoying the result for a long time. Plus, you can have a lot of fun along the way.
Our goal here is to help you get your remodeling project started out in the right way so that you have a good experience and no regrets.
So, what is the right way? The right way is to start organized, stay organized, and keep records. And also stay patient in the knowledge that this is going to take longer than you think. Records and a patient mindset are the only sure path to success and sanity with your remodel project.
We talk about record keeping later but you start with a Remodeling Organizer Binder.
And what is the key to organizing a home remodel project?
Put it all down on paper. All of it – from your initial thinking process, through the financing, contracting, design, and planning stages, to the details of the execution of the project, to the generation of the final punch list at completion. And make written notes to yourself all the way through, so you don’t forget anything. Keep a notepad by your bed – I’m not kidding! Promise yourself you will do this.
However, if all that sounds too daunting or too much of a pain in the butt, our follow-up advice is – don’t do the project!
That said, and now that you are mentally prepared, let’s get down to the right approach to the remodeling project itself. This is what you need to accomplish before you even talk to a designer or contractor.
Start by asking yourself these two key questions:
1: Why am I doing this remodel in the first place?
Your answer to this question is going to shape the entire project and give it purpose. You must clearly identify your motivation to remodel in the first place.
For example, are you a young couple just starting out with a young family, with a view to moving on in a while and making sure you get your investment back and then some? The costs and potential financial returns of a home remodeling project will be the subject of a future post.
Or are you approaching your senior years with a view to maximizing your enjoyment of the home and including some aging-in-place features without much thought of resale value?
- Related post: How to Remodel for Aging in Place
- Related post: How to Remodel with Universal Design
2: Have I lived in the house long enough to know what I want to do with it?
Do I really know what I like and dislike about it? Have I identified its strengths (to maximize) and its weaknesses (to minimize)?
Write your answers down. They will frame your response to the more detailed questions we have set out below. Your answers will go a long way to a successful first meeting with your chosen designer/contractor.
We have developed below the framework around which you will be designing the entire project. It takes the form of a wishlist which you will gradually refine to the point at which, with the help of the professionals you select, it becomes a project checklist.
Our purpose here is to address the most important aspects of the remodeling process in order to help you arrive at a practical end product in a style to suit you and within your budget. The emphasis is on you. Our goal is for you to create and fill a space that realizes your vision and relates to your lifestyle.
Good remodeling contractors or interior designers will not seek to impose their personality, style, and ideas upon their client’s homes. Their purpose should be the opposite. They should learn about your tastes and preferences and make the final product all about you. They will certainly make remodel and design suggestions and comments intended to help your thinking, but you will want all design decisions to be yours and for you to be comfortable with them.
If you develop your wishlist-checklist ahead of time, you will be better prepared to ward off any inclination or attempt by your chosen professionals to impose their own will and preferences on the project.
We offer this wishlist-checklist in order to help you explore, refine and structure your thoughts and develop a scope of exactly what it is you want to achieve with your remodel project. What is listed here, while certainly extensive, is not exhaustive. Nonetheless, it will get you on your way and will probably bring other questions to mind. It should certainly get your creative juices flowing.
This wishlist-checklist is to help you and your interior designer/contractor map out the entire project from start to finish. It will also help with the due diligence that is necessary for project planning, budgeting, and execution; and also in anticipating and heading off potential surprises along the way.
Your responses to the questions in the wishlist-checklist will start an interactive planning process between you and your interior designer/contractor. Print this out. Use the right-hand margin for any detailed comment. Otherwise, just indicate your reaction by circling or highlighting words in the text.
No need to answer all questions – just the ones that are important to you. Your interior designer/contractor will want to understand the wants, needs, likes, dislikes, and priorities that will make up your wishlist-checklist. This wishlist-checklist is a tool to make this as easy as possible. What we have here is a brainstorming exercise, not a literary effort.
We have numbered each checklist item for reference.
First, some broad questions:
1: Off the top of your head, what are the three topics that come immediately to mind when you think of your remodel project?
2: Have you worked with a remodeler/designer before? What was your experience? What would you do differently?
3: Are you planning to remodel the entire space (interior/exterior) or partial, such as kitchen or bathrooms? (We have separate specialized checklists for kitchens and bathrooms.)
4: Do you have a budget in mind?
5: What is your timeline?
6: What do you think will be the effect on your property’s value? Talk to a realtor.
7: How long do you think this will take? Then double your answer.
The spaces in and outside the home – who will use them & for what?
8: Permanent residence or vacation home (perhaps eventual permanent residence)?
9: Will it be used in a rental program?
10: Household Members: How many adults, children, pets?
11: Any special needs? Counter height, door width, disabled, elderly, very young?
- Related post: How to Remodel for Aging in Place
- Related post: How to Remodel for the Visually Impaired.
12: Is entertaining important?
13: Our entertaining style is: formal / informal / both
14: How many guests, typically?
15: Entertaining type? Meals, music, games, watching TV, indoor/outdoor, other
16: What cooking facilities are required? Standard / professional?
17: Does more than one person cook at a time?
18: Where do you like to eat meals? Dining table, kitchen table, kitchen counter, family room, other
19: Hobbies to be accommodated? Reading, entertaining, cooking, TV/home theater, music, crafts/sewing, sports, other?
20: Any technology needs? Computers, wireless, DSL/satellite, surround sound, home theater, home security, other?
21: Home Office? Necessary? If so, any special requirements (lighting, soundproofing, computers, Zoom etc.)?
22: Lighting? (Note any locations that need additional lighting): Bedrooms, bathrooms, office, kitchen/nook, living room, family room.
- Related post: How to Design Lighting for a Remodel Project
23: Storage needs? Multipurpose furniture, books, closet storage / organizers / garage storage / safes
(Note these choices may be restricted by a Homeowners Association)
24: What exterior features are most important to you: Patio for dining, covered patio, Pool, Spa, Firepit/fireplace, BBQ, Sun deck/private spa, putting green, bar/outdoor kitchen, outdoor dining, fountain/water feature, courtyard garden entry.
25: If these already exist, will you want to change or upgrade?
26: Will you be changing out windows or doors? Repainting?
27: Will you want to make landscape changes?
28: What are your room measurements? Draw sketches.
29: Do you want to add balconies, windows, window seats or patios?
30: Do you prefer higher ceilings (11’ plus) or lower ceilings (8’ to 10’)? Coffers/soffits?
31: Do you want to alter doorway sizes? Higher / wider / lower / narrower
32: Do you want to change/upgrade the front door or entryway?
33: Do you want to display artwork or collections or sports memorabilia? In-wall niches, for example. Does this need special lighting?
34: Man cave? She-shed? (though as far as we know, this is always outside the house)
35: What interior features are important? wet bar with seating, basic wet bar, dry bar (no sink), refrigerator in the bar, fireplace in the living room or great room or bedroom, whirlpool/soaking tub in the master suite, separated closets in the master suite, guesthouse/casita, other? If they exist are they to be upgraded?
36: What fireplace treatment do you have in mind: New mantle, surround, hearth?
- Related post: How to Include a Fireplace in a Remodel Project
37: What fireplace fuel? Electric, Ethanol
- Related components: Electric Fireplaces and Remodeling
- Related components: Ethanol Fireplaces and Remodeling
38: Do you want to add a fireplace, sitting area, or outside patio in the master suite? If they exist are they to be upgraded?
39: Are there any other amenities that you wish to change/add in the master suite?
40: Do you want to add bedrooms or bathrooms?
41: Do you want to add a “snore room” to keep the peace at night? It could double as a gym or reading room or den.
42: Do you want to enlarge rooms to create additional space?
43: Do you want to move/alter partition walls to create space/light?
44: Would you like to provide extra space for visitors such as a guest or entertainment room, attached suite, or detached casita?
45: Do you want to add: a formal dining room, formal living room, breakfast nook, den or office, air-conditioned storage, home theater, wine room/storage, butler pantry, exercise room, or other? If they exist do you want to change/upgrade?
46: What will the effect on plumbing and electrical systems be of what you want to do
47: Check our posts on bathroom and kitchen remodeling specifically.
- Related post: How to Approach a Kitchen Remodel
- Related post: How to Approach a Bathroom Remodel
- Related post: How to Lay Out a Kitchen Remodel
- Related post: Bathroom Remodel Mistakes
48: Do you want to change the lighting in your home? How much lighting control do you wish to have? Check out our post on lighting.
- Related post: How to Design Lighting for a Remodel Project
49: Do you want to add a central vacuum system?
50: Do you want to install sound systems?
51: Do you want to install a security system?
52: Do you want to add an automation system? If so, what functions should be automated,
53: Audio/video, lighting, drapes, awnings or sunscreens, security screens, gates?
54: Do you want an Alexa or Google Home smart system?
55: Are “Green” objectives important to you? Will you weigh cost and benefit?
56: Is heating /cooling adequate?
57: Are there adequate electrical sockets, telephone/cable outlets?
58: Is lighting adequate? Where does it need to be improved? Do you need more natural light? Would you add solar tubes or skylights?
Note items of interest: energy-efficient air-conditioning system, energy-efficient appliances, indoor air quality items such as low VOC (volatile organic compound) in paint, lumber, and glue, low “E” or dual pane windows, shaded windows, covered entrances, new insulation, duct sealing. If these areas are important, ask your local utility company about a Home Energy Audit.
What ambiance do you want to achieve?
59: What effect, mood or atmosphere are you seeking to evoke? casual, formal / defined, spacious, clean lines, warm/cozy, open/light/airy, elegant, sophisticated, lived in, welcoming, romantic, contemporary
60: In what style? Tuscan, Beach Cottage, Old World, Mediterranean, Country Cottage, Art Deco, French Country, Asian, Tropical, Early American, Mission style, Southwestern, Modern minimalist, Chinese, Mexican, European classical, American country, Modern avant-garde, other.
61: Does bringing indoors outdoors or vice versa appeal?
62: Color and tone preferences: lighter / darker, whites, blacks, burgundies, pinks, greens, teal, orange, reds, blues, yellows, peaches, grays. Warm colors, cool colors, subtle, bright, neutral, earth tones, bold, pastel, other
63: Colors you like and dislike
- Related post: How to Use Color in a Remodel Project
- Related post: Colors and Cultures in a Remodel Project
64: Hard materials you like: This would be tile, granite, etc
65: Hard materials you dislike.
66: Flooring/accent preferences: wood (hardwood, cork, bamboo), carpet, laminate, marble, natural stone, stamped/etched concrete, ceramic tile, Saltillo tile, combination, other.
67: Counter/vanity preferences: granite, quartz, marble, tile, wood, other.
68: Window treatment preferences: custom draperies, blinds (verticals/horizontals/roll), sheers, Bermuda shutters, curtains in fabrics, metal, wood, security, other
69: Door hardware preferences: knobs /levers / pulls, bronze, chrome, brushed nickel, other
70: Cabinet preferences: styles are numerous. Any you like? Do you want dovetail built drawers, self/soft closing drawers/cabinets? Consider roll-out storage cabinets and lazy susans.
71: Do you have magazine clippings, photos, and websites that illustrate your likes or dislikes? For inspiration, we suggest www.houzz.com and www.pinterest.com.
Extraneous Factors – Beware of Hidden Costs and Aggravations
We have pretty much covered the initial brainstorming you need to do in approaching your remodel project itself. However, there are extraneous factors that, if not addressed at the outset, can give rise to unexpected cost and aggravation because they may not even raise their ugly heads until you are well into the project. However, forewarned is forearmed and you need to be aware of them before going into your discussions with your contractor.
In no particular order, these are the most important:
You may need to move out for a period of time: you may need to vacate entirely for a while, depending on the extent of the project or the type of work going on. For example, one or more or all of your bathrooms might be out of commission for a time. Or it could be that you only need to move some furniture out into temporary storage.
Meals out: If your kitchen is out of action for an extended period, you may need to do a lot of eating out. That can get expensive.
Pet boarding: To keep your pets safe or out of the way it may be necessary to board them. Yet another expense to account for.
Your own schedule: you may need to arrange meetings with the contractor during your own work or business hours. This could even cost you money that needs to be accounted for.
Change orders: this is probably the biggest (controllable) hidden cost and springs from a lack of initial planning and an inadequate agreed upon scope of work. Basically, a change of mind on your part will cost you money. If there are to be change orders (sometimes they are unavoidable), be sure that you understand from your contractor how they are to be calculated.
Structural surprises: It may be that once the drywall is taken down and the structure of the home is exposed, it may be that you need to make a structural change to achieve your desired design.
Code requirements: building standards are constantly changing and while your home may have been “up to code” when it was built, this may no longer be the case. So this could be an added expense, especially if your project requires building department approvals.
Water and pest damage: if you recently bought the house you will have had a termite report and there should be no surprises here. But if you have been in the house a long time, there could easily be problems you are unaware of and have to be fixed
The exercise you just went through has really put you ahead of the game in preparing to meet with your professionals. But it is only a start. To continue on your road to a successful project, you need to have somewhere to put everything. This goes back to our earlier advice on getting and staying organized.
Your Remodel Project Binder
Early in this piece, we stressed the importance of writing it all down and putting everything on paper. So now we are going to recommend how to do this.
At the outset, when contemplating a remodel project, we are pretty much in a nervous dream state, that is to say long on ideas and short on coherence. We have stacks of magazine clippings and visions of future interior beauty on one hand, while trying to suppress the fear of making decisions and thoughts of a dwindling bank account on the other.
But things finally gel. We have made a decision to go ahead and set money aside or put financing in place. So now we have a serious remodeling project in hand. In other words, we have moved beyond the “thinking about it” stage and are embarking on “doing it.”
Having set the stage, let’s transition from “we” to “you.”
From long experience working with our own clients, we know that right from the decision to “go” it is essential that you take control over your remodeling life. Because otherwise it will take on a life of its own and start to control you. Panic is not a good feeling.
A remodeling project can be fun and exciting but, unless you feel that you have control over it, you will experience a great deal of frustration, stress, and anxiety. This is not good for you, nor for your relationships with your contractors and suppliers. Smooth relationships can make for a super successful project.
And don’t forget. While your contractor may be in control of project execution, you need to be in control of your contractor. So you need the tools of control to keep the devil out of all the thousands of details that make up a remodeling project.
As we said before, the only way to get and keep control is: Start organized, stay organized and keep records!
But how to do it and where to start? It is really simple. There is no magic to this: Just get a Project Binder and work it! By the way, not everything has to be on paper but keep a handy paper reference in your binder for where to find info on your computer. There is a great deal of research you can do online. Bookmark all the helpful sites you find. Including this one, of course!
What to Put in the Project Binder
Put simple subject dividers into the binder so that you can break the project down into manageable pieces or sections. Use 3-ring file dividers, sheet protectors, and plastic pockets. There are no hard and fast subject rules but we suggest:
- Your thoughts and inspirations.
- Magazine clippings
- URL references to Houzz and Pinterest pages
- Checklists: you can print ours out
- Floorplans (some construction drawings are quite bulky and you may need to keep them separately)
- Design worksheet
- Product selections
- Invoices & receipts
- Contractor and supplier-related
- Project correspondence
- Meeting notes
- Progress notes
- To-do and done lists (note done dates)
- Progress photographs (before and after pix are great to have!)
- Problem notes and photos (nothing ever runs perfectly, so keep records so as to be prepared should any dispute arise)
- Product manuals
This is where your “don’t know where to put it right now; don’t want to think about it but shouldn’t throw it away” stuff belongs. However, if it makes sense, create a new section for it.
Done For You Remodeling Project Binder
Here is a purpose-made remodeling project binder kit. Just click on the image link to see it on Amazon.
It is an inexpensive project planner that will allow you to keep records of everything we have talked about here. This remodeling binder kit features:
- 8 colored tab dividers; 5 clear pocket dividers; 10 poly page protectors.
- Budget charts, room layout pages, inspiration notes
- Around 270 sheet capacity
- It includes 8 content pages: budget charts, inspiration notes, room layouts and more
- Polypropylene box binder with a durable snap-locking system.
Other Planning Resources
We personally like to put everything project related to paper. And in fact, it is impossible to keep paper out of a remodeling project. Nonetheless, there is an app for everything and here on Finder is a guide to some really cool home improvement apps. Pro Project Planner was not included but looks pretty good.
And when it comes to budgeting and to avoid sticker shock, it is always helpful to get ballpark ideas before you even think of getting bids. Here is a useful remodeling calculator.
And here are a couple of free project planning resources you may want to check out: