Questions To Ask Before Renovating.

Services for Real Estate Pros with True North Custom Cabinets...'Kitchens for Life'

During these challenging economic times, many people are considering their options carefully before purchasing a home. You may find a house in the perfect location in a neighbourhood you love that doesn't quite suit your family's needs. Before purchasing to renovate, here are some questions to ask yourself: 

   How long do I plan to stay in this house and will the neighbourhood provide suitable amenities for my family's needs for that length of time?

  Is the house structurally sound and is it in good general repair or will a major overhaul be required?

  Can the floor plan be reworked or do we need to add on?

  How much can we afford to spend?

  Can we put up with the inconvenience of living through a renovation?


As a rule of thumb, if you are planning to stay for more than 5 years in your current home and you like the neighbourhood, it is worth considering making some significant improvements. But don't spend more than 25% of the value of your home if you want to recoup the expense when you sell.

Although a kitchen renovation is one of the more costly fix ups you can do, it can have the biggest impact on the quality of your life and the long term value of your home. No longer just a utilitarian room shut off at the back of the house, the kitchen has become the hub of activity in the home. Besides the traditional cooking and dining activities, it also functions as a playroom, home office, gathering space and entertainment area.  With this many demands on one area, it is important to take the time to plan it out properly.

Meet with a designer to put your ideas on paper and get some budget numbers. It is easier and less costly to rethink your layout and make changes during the planning stage than it is during construction. The designer should take time to get to know you and understand what you want to accomplish. You are making a big investment of time and money in this project, so be sure you feel comfortable with the person you choose to work with.

If you can rework your space within the footprint of the house, it will be cheaper than adding on. This can be done by removing walls to join rooms or reassigning rooms to a new use. Consider the flow of traffic through the house and access to exterior doorways. Avoid creating areas of congestion or interference. Sometimes there just isn't enough space to work with and the extra cost of an addition is justified. Just consider your options carefully. Here are some ideas and pointers:

Open up to adjacent rooms - Removing walls between the kitchen and family or dining room is a popular way to create a great room. If you can, avoid removing load bearing walls. It can be done but you'll pay extra to install support beams and columns. Be sure to consult a professional and get an idea of the cost involved before proceeding.

With an open plan, it is important that the colors and finishes flow from room to room so allow for some redecorating in the budget. A fresh coat of paint or matching window treatments may be all that is needed but plan for it in advance.

Add interior pocket doors - An open concept might suit your day to day life and more casual family gatherings but if you'd like to have the option of screening the kitchen from view during formal dinner parties, consider installing double pocket doors instead of removing walls.

Shuffle the space you have - Reassigning existing rooms can improve the flow or function of the entire floor area. For example, an enclosed porch adjacent to the kitchen might be incorporated to make a suitable pantry or dinette if it is winterized. Also think about views and orientation, i.e. an underused sitting room on the east side of the house could be opened up to the kitchen creating a breakfast room flooded with morning light.

Minimize mechanical changes - Moving a sink a few feet may not be a problem but try to avoid relocating the main water supply or plumbing stack. The same goes for duct work. A branch duct can be easily moved or extended but relocating a main feed will be costly.

Add natural light - Most older homes could benefit from additional natural light, but try to stick with standard sizes when replacing windows and doors. They are cheaper and more readily available. Also, it is easier to enlarge an existing window or door than to relocate it completely.

Take an inventory - In the kitchen, think about the placement of appliances and activities that will take place in each area or ‘work zone'. Make a list of all the appliances, features and accessories you want. Detailed cabinet drawings should be prepared to make sure everything is covered in the budget.

Don't forget the electrical requirements - Make sure you plan ahead to allow enough light fixtures and electrical outlets. Some appliances have special requirements and you may need to upgrade your panel. Light switches should be placed in convenient locations and allow for flexible control of light levels.

Be realistic - Know going in that it is likely to cost more and take longer than you expect. Allowing for it up front will make the whole experience less stressful. If you have done your homework and know what you want, a 10% contingency should be enough.

Renovating your home can be challenging but the rewards are long lasting and worthwhile if you plan ahead to make sure you get what you really want.

Debra Tan is an internationally recognized kitchen designer based in St. Lambert. She worked for many years as architectural technician and project manager before establishing ‘True North Custom Cabinets' six years ago with her husband Michael.  Many of her kitchens have been published in magazines such as ‘Kitchen and Bath Design News', ‘Better Homes and Gardens' and most recently the fall issue of ‘Connecticut Home and Garden'. 

Tel. 450-923-9559

Comments (4)

Morgan Evans
Douglas Elliman Real Estate - Manhattan, NY

I remodeled a fixer house that I was going to live in and it was big nightmare.  Those fix-it shows make it look easy and its anything but.  Dealing with contractors, cost overruns, logistical planning is extremely difficult if you have  full time job somewhere else.  Planning and preparing to the last detail before you get started or buy the property is the best piece of advice.

Jan 08, 2009 02:31 AM
Li Read
Sea to Sky Premier Properties (Salt Spring) - Salt Spring Island, BC
Caring expertise...knowledge for you!

A very good plan, and one to follow absolutely in any renovation.    I'm in the middle of one, and wish I'd had your script, earlier!

Jan 08, 2009 03:05 AM
David Phelps
The Roofing Company, Inc. - Portsmouth, VA

Great list of questions Debra! I find that an education on the front end can save a lot of time for both homeowner and consultant.

Design Agreements are where it is at!

Feb 03, 2009 10:48 AM
John Lupton
Elite Home Redesign, LLC - Washington, DC
The Premier Home Staging Company Servicing Washington DC, MD, VA

Hi Debra, Great Post!  Before starting my home staging & redesign firm in Washinton,DC I worked as a Kitchen & Bath Designer.  Working in a High-end design firm, clients would always question whether they will spend too much to see their money back.  It is up to us to be ethical and make sure that the clients can trust us and our word.  Best of Luck!


Feb 22, 2009 02:26 PM