Exiting Remodeling Hell

Somewhere in Dante's Hell, there exists a place for those of us foolish enough to remodel our homes

I’ve already written at length about the extensive remodeling project my wife and I began almost four years ago — when that piece was written in February of last year, I thought that my massive home renovation was finally nearing its end.

Turns out I was wrong.

For the past eleven and a half months, the road to completion has been filled with hurdle after hurdle, and there’s been times where I was firmly convinced that we were never going to finish the house.  I’ve had more than a few visions of everything getting completed — in some point in the far distant future, right before we end up selling the place and before we could even enjoy the fruits of the hard work ourselves.  The words “This just isn’t ever going to be over, is it?” have come out of my mouth several times, and I suspect that they’ll come out again several more in the upcoming weeks and months.

The main culprit?  Unfortunately, the main amount of blame ends up on my shoulders — largely because I overestimated what could be done ourselves in the amount of time we had, and also largely because I trusted in the assertions from people I was counting on to help me.  The latter has been crippling to both the time line and the budget; as I mentioned a year ago, my father-in-law, a handyman with experience in a number of fields, had been a huge contributor to the project in its initial stages — but the key word to focus on there is had.  Sadly, as the project stretched past one year — and then two — he seemed to lose his stomach for the job, along with the will to push it forward, as I believe the scope of what we had undertaken finally overwhelmed him.  And while I’m eternally grateful for all he did help us do (and for the money he helped us save along the way by lending his expertise), this has meant that, for almost the entire last calendar year, he’s been a no-show more often than not at the house, leaving crucial projects unfinished — and others completely unstarted.

Which would be less of a problem if I were more capable in my own right.  Unfortunately, I’m not.  There’s been plenty I have been able to work on finishing in the past year, but larger-scale projects — like tiling the new master and guest bathrooms, finishing the brickwork in the front of the house, installing the hardwood floors, and finishing the electrical work — that we were supposed to be working on together have been far beyond the capability of me to do alone, so they’ve either be left unfinished or they’ve been contracted out to professionals, adding huge labor costs to a budget that was already strained by the weight of the project.  When you add in the fact that a home refinance is on indefinite hold until the project in complete — as well as the fact that I took a year off of work partly to focus on working on the house (only to be left twiddling my thumbs idly when my father-in-law doesn’t show) — then it should be easy to understand why the whole situation is starting to leave me with a sense of frustration and a regret that I even began the project in the first place.

But those obstacles aside, we are still fitfully forcing our way to the finish line, even if it’s not along the way we intended to get there.  We’ll be about 90% complete by April, and nearly 100% done by the end of the summer.  And with the benefit of my experience, here’s some of my own remodeling tips for anyone reading this who wants to try their own huge project (and by huge, I’m not talking about simply changing the paint color in a room or installing new cabinets, for example — though a number of my warnings can still apply to even the smallest of home renovation projects).

— Whatever you think your time frame is going to be, you need to double it — at least

We thought we were going to be finished in two years or so — we’re now headed onto four.  The reasons for the delay?  Well, they’ll be the same ones that’ll plague your home renovation as well.  Projects are harder and more complicated than you anticipated they’d be.  People get sick, or are too tired from their everyday jobs to put in the hours necessary to finish the job.  Holidays mean that nothing gets done until afterward (without fail, mid-November to the first week in January was always our dead zone for getting anything done around the house).  People you think will help you, won’t.  All of these can — and likely — will happen to you, so be conservative in coming up with whatever time frame you think you’ll need to finish the project — then double it, to be safe.  And then don’t be surprised when you’re still not done at the end of that time period as well.

— Whatever you think your budget is going to be, you need to double it  — at least

Like the time frame, the budget is going to be one of those things that, no matter how conservative you think you’re being with the numbers, you’re probably going to be coming in over.  We were very careful to price out as much as we could in material before we even started the job, and we’d thought that we’d taken into account everything that could come up during the process.  And we were wrong, of course.  Things happen along the way that you’ll never expect, and there will be snags and unforeseen complications that will invariably drive the budget up.  If you’re not going into a remodeling project with a good chunk of money held in reserve for that inevitability, then you’re going to be looking at having to scrounge up the money somewhere (not a pleasant option) — or worse, you may have to make sacrifices on your remodeling vision or even shut the entire project down midway through until the money can be found (an even worse option).

— Be prepared to go through a lot of discomfort along the way

We were prepared at the beginning of our project for our life to change — but we had no idea some of the trials we’d end up going through.  There were the two winters we went through without any heat in the house, except for what we could muster from our wood-burning fireplace and a pair of space heaters.  We’ve spent four years with only one bathroom, and part of that time without hot water.  We went most of a summer without air conditioning,  a whole year without sheet rock on the walls, and more than three years with cement and plywood for floors.  We’ve had flooding, rodents,  and bugs that invaded our home.  We’ve got lights that still don’t work, a second heating/air unit that isn’t hooked up, and a number of other things that are 95% completed but not all the way done.  Add them all up, and it equals a lot of days and nights spent living in conditions that have been less than comfortable.  At times it’s been more than stressful and put both my nerves and my wife’s on edge.  No matter what your renovation project is, you’re going to have times when it’s not going to be enjoyable to live in.

— Try to keep the big picture in focus

The last one may have been the hardest for me to do.  It’s been difficult at times to keep the eye on the prize and focus on the completed project, especially when there have been so many delays and obstacles along the way.  But that’s exactly what I’m motivating myself with now, with the end of the project finally close in sight.  Along the way, it’s been tremendously satisfying for every part of the house that has been finished, but it’s been tough not to get complacent and to forge forward onto the next step.

As a number of other people who’ve tackled major renovation projects say, I’ll never do this type of thing again.  Hopefully, if you’re reading this and have thoughts of your own about doing something dramatic with your house, what I’ve gone through might help you with what to do — and what not to do.

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One Response to “Exiting Remodeling Hell”

  1. […] hold on there!  After complaining about the state of my home renovation only days ago, my father-in-law beat back the nasty virus that had laid him up for most of the last two weeks […]

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