How To Plan A Home Renovation Project

Jess Ann Kirby refinishes her old hardwood floors with hardoil wax for an updated look. How To Plan A Home Renovation Project
cozy ranch kitchen

How is everyone doing today? I hope you had a celebratory weekend. I had some amazing and heartwarming conversations with many of you the last few days and it has brought me a lot of joy. And I know we still have much work to do (including Georgia!) but it feels good to celebrate this. I know this year has been tough and the last few weeks in particular have been very intense and hard on everyone’s mental health. So I hope you are giving yourself whatever self-care you need right now. I needed to do that for myself and it made a huge difference. Ok, so now let’s get into a post I’ve been working on for a while. Let’s talk home renovation projects.

As you probably know by now we’ve done our fair share of projects over the last few years. What some of you may not know is that even before we bought our first house, we did some renovation projects for our landlord as renters. We actually renovated 3 apartments in the building we were living in before we bought our first home. Our landlord was out of state and the apartment building was in terrible condition but we were basically broke and did not have a big budget for rent. When we moved in I called to say it needed a lot of work and mentioned Craig could do it. That’s actually how it all started. Fast forward 6 years and here we are!

All that said, we are not contractors nor are we professionals (though Craig has 8 years of construction and plastering experience under his belt, he’s the real hero here). We are a couple that loves DIY projects and transforming dated spaces into something cozy, updated and inviting. Home renovation projects can be OVERWHELMING (we’ve had our fair share of breakdowns and what did we get into moments with the Vermont house and our RI house). But they are also so rewarding and home improvement can be an incredible investment. There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of things to consider, so I hope if nothing else this post helps you have a better understanding of how we approach a renovation project and how to have a plan in place before you get started.


How To Plan A Home Renovation Project

make a plan

I’ll be honest, our planing process usually happens on the back of a napkin or in Craig’s case, paper towel or piece of mail. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it is really helpful to write down exactly what you want to do, have some sort of blueprint, and a list of needs for the project. For drawing floor plans Craig uses the free version of Smartdraw. We also use Pinterest a TON for inspiration. It’s helpful to make a list of everything you need for the project and your wish list (I say wish list because sometimes depending on budget this needs to be flexible).

Determine what steps along the way you can DIY and what will require a professional (contractor, electrician, plumber, etc). At this point it’s also helpful to look into zoning regulations and permits for certain projects (for example we needed permits to convert the garage into a bedroom and bathroom-contractors can likely do some of this too).

SET A BUDGET

I get questions all the time about how much money to set aside for a renovation project and it’s an impossible question to give a straightforward answer because it really depends. What can you afford? What can you do yourself? Also, what are your must haves? And probably most importantly what makes sense to spend based on the value of your house and the value of other homes in your area? A kitchen renovation can cost $5, $15k or $50k. The way we typically go about setting a budget is probably a little backwards but it’s the only way I know how to figure out if we can afford to do something, and then we plan accordingly. We come up with our idea of what we want to do and then price it out (a little more on that below).

I get quotes from contractors if we need them, price out materials/appliances/furniture/etc and go from there. I then adjust as needed. It’s also important to decide how you are going to pay for your project. Are you financing it? Are you going to pay cash? We do not finance projects. We pay as we go, though I do put materials on a credit card often to get points (to use for the travel we’re never going to be able to do anymore). I always add 10% to whatever my project budget estimate is because inevitably something will always come up.

material pricing

Getting prices for materials is an important step in the process and will be a huge help in figuring out your budget. Craig and I sit down and make a list of every single thing we need for the project (fixtures, lumber, hardware, tools, supplies, etc). I then go and find pricing for everything on the list (for things like lumber and other similar materials I call around to compare but it’s typically all in close range). This is where the wish list comes in too. For example, in Vermont I wanted to do stone countertops. When I priced them out they were just too expensive and would take too long so we went back to the drawing board and decided to go with butcher block (something we’ve already done and know is more budget friendly).

I will do this for each component of the project and see where I can save and where it makes sense to spend a bit more. On that note, we initially planned to do a pressure treated deck at our RI house, but decided to spend more on mahogany because it lasts longer and adds more value to the work Craig was going to be doing. Since he did all of the work himself and we had no labor costs, we decided to invest in better materials for that project.

hiring A contractor vs diy

When you are in the planning process you want to figure out what steps you will need a contractor and what you can DIY. You want to look into hiring contractors, electricians, plumbers etc. in the beginning because not only can it take time to actually get someone who is available but you also want to get multiple quotes for the work you need done. When you’re a homeowner it is SO helpful to find people you trust and stick with them. It may vary by region, but in the Northeast, particularly in RI (and in Vermont) getting contractors is not an easy task. There are often long waiting lists and for plumbers often times they aren’t even taking new customers.

The more you can plan ahead the better. Get as specific as possible with your plans so you can get an accurate quote for any work you need done. When finding contractors, electricians, plumbers ask for references and make sure they have proper licensing, etc. If you can get referrals from people you trust, even better. For our addition, the plumber and electrician handled the permits for their work while we got the building permit, definitely ask about this too.

Don’t be discouraged by this process. The first plumber we had look at our addition made it seem like the work we needed done was going to be very difficult and expensive. The second plumber that came through said “no problem!” gave us a reasonable quote and did a great job.

set your schedule and get to work

Once you have a step by step plan, your budget, and a strong idea of the project it’s important to create a schedule (especially if you are using contractors). Be realistic about your timeline and coordinate with electricians, plumbers accordingly. Often times various stages of work will impact what can be completed so it’s important to have a good understanding of what steps need to be done by when and approximately how long they will take. If you’re going to DIY the entire project (or most of it) you have a bit more flexibility but it’s still really helpful to have some sort of schedule to keep you on track. Particularly if you are living in the house as you are renovating, you want to have an end date!

Do you have more questions? Working or planning on a specific reno project? Let me know in the comments and I will do my best to answer!

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5 Comments

  1. You two are serious ROCKSTARS. Someone needs to get you guys your own show LOL. I’ve always been SO impressed with your before and after shots!

    Dana | It’s Casual Blog 

    11.9.20 | Reply
  2. Marcella wrote:

    Love the deck reno!! Growing up my dad did all our renovations (he used to have a contracting business) and when my parents renovated our kitchen they had to drag us to the IKEA 2 hours away to figure out cabinets. I remember it was soooo boring being stuck in the kitchen section for hours with my little brothers, but of course it was all worth it 🙂

    11.9.20 | Reply
  3. Erica wrote:

    Setting the budget is definitely the toughest for me. I want to do a front yard overhaul, converting it from a massive (weed-ridden) lawn to xeriscaping with low-water local plants, permeable hardscaping, and possibly some shading to improve home energy balance. But trying to research something like that gets quotes from the $3,000 to $80,000 ranges, which is basically useless noise. And getting quotes in the landscaping world costs at least a $150-$300 design fee per inquiry, which is tough to swallow if you don’t know ahead of time if your vision is remotely feasible at all or if you’ll just be throwing quote money out the window.

    11.9.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That’s a tough one and honestly I think there’s a gap in the market for some sort of more DIY landscape design program (like a Modsy) where you can figure out something like that. I don’t know if that’s doable but I think people would go crazy for it.

      11.9.20 | Reply
  4. Lynn wrote:

    My Former Husband and I did a Farmhouse over ourselves in Vermont . It was hard and I did a lot of dishes in the bathtub at times . He was no Craig but my kitchen colors and general look was similar to our lesser version. You’ve done a beautiful job Jess and Craig. I appreciate my years more looking back how rewarding that was . We were much more of a couple then working together . It definitely bonds you. The house is gorgeous and I’m sure theVermont house will be too. Can’t wait to see it❤️

    11.10.20 | Reply