Friday, 6 February 2015

Home Reno Planning

The new year is a natural time to make changes, to set goals, to plan for the future. Though many of us don't necessarily make any new year's resolutions in the traditional sense, this time of year is often a time for planning and organizing and looking forward. Planning out the annual family vacation, planning out the kids' summer sports and camps, planning out any work that needs to get done around the house - these things all need to be booked now though they may not take place for another six months.

A new year means another look at the household budget, an opportunity to tweak a little bit here and there, shift those dollars around to where they make the most sense for where your life is and where you want it to go.

Every year is different from the last. Sometimes there's a major budget-altering life event - a house purchase, a wedding, a baby; sometimes it's just a matter of a little more debt paid off and a little less owing on the mortgage. Maybe you got a raise. No matter how big or small the change it's always a good idea to revisit and re-evaluate the budget on a regular basis - and what better time than at the start of a fresh new year when you're already busy making plans?

For our family, the year's planning usually includes a couple of home renovations. We bought what we hope is our forever home three and a half years ago and have been improving it one project at a time ever since.
In our first few months in the new home we repainted top to bottom and replaced all the light fixtures. (The previous owner had...questionable taste.) We removed a bulky, awkwardly-placed counter and wall of cabinetry in the kitchen, opening it up and doubling the space. We re-did the entire main floor bathroom - wallpaper, flooring, fixtures and faucets, counter and cabinets - everything. The next year we tackled the floors, replacing the entire main floor, stairway, and upstairs carpets with hardwood and updating the ugly brown pickets and rails with clean, crisp white ones - not a small task in a three-storey townhome with seemingly endless flights of stairs.

The last year and a half were spent focussed on outdoor improvements: new stonework and steps out front, new gardens and retaining walls out back, landscaping and trees and the real biggie - a brand-new two storey deck in our backyard complete with wrought-iron railings, an overhead pergola on the top deck, barbecue and eating areas down below, and a turned staircase connecting the two.

We do these projects ourselves to save costs and stretch our home improvement budget as far as possible - which means that these projects, though half the cost they'd be if we hired contractors, also take two or three or four times as long as they otherwise would. When we plan and budget for home improvements we have to budget time as well as money.

Because we're not professionals, our projected project costs are often out of alignment with reality so we've learned to factor a pretty big contingency plan into our budget. Even so, last year's deck project went way longer and way more costly than we'd hoped, so this year we're keeping our home improvement plans conservative.

We're finishing off our deck project by adding French doors from our living room out to the upper deck. Since we're using a contractor for the project (cutting an enormous hole through the second-storey brick wall of our house in a little beyond our abilities as DIY homeowners) our budget should come in close to predicted. We've priced out the door, have the list of materials and costs, and our contractor (my brother!) is doing the work for free (lucky us!)

Our next big project will be a little more unpredictable as we plan to do it ourselves. Our front entrance isn't exactly looking its best - the concrete steps were coated by a previous homeowner in some sort of non-slip surfacing which is peeling up here, there and everywhere and the painted wood pickets and rails are peeling and weathered and worn. We need to remove the concrete coating (How long will that take? Will we need to use a specialized product? Will we need to try several?) and apply some sort of resurfacing. Depending on the state of the concrete underneath, we may bring in a professional to apply the new surface. The wooden railing will be replaced with much sexier wrought-iron railings, which is where most of the cost for this project will come in. We've budgeted almost double what we actually hope and expect this project will cost just in case - if we come in under budget that's money we can spend elsewhere or save, but if any unexpected costs come up we won't be surprised or have to put the project on hold.

And that's it for our home reno plans this year. Though we could squeeze one more small project out of our budget the several years of costly time-and-energy-consuming projects have really taken it out of us and we're going to sit back this year and just enjoy our home. There are plans for the future - there are always plans for the future - but in the interests of keeping a little extra breathing room in the budget and a little more contingency money waiting in case of emergency (boy, did we learn our lesson with that electrical disaster over Christmas!) we're reigning in our home reno plans for this year.

Originally published as "Home Reno Planning" on my weekly article at

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