When the Reno Bug Bites

Move to a hotel or park a trailer in the laneway and call it for the duration

I have renovated eight times in seven different houses, and it never gets any easier. Renovation is hard on your life. You have to decide whether to move out or live through the rubble.
You have to select a good architect or architectural designer and contractor. You must make day to day decisions that crop up. All that, and we haven’t even talked about money.
My best advice is to take your time and find a team you can trust. Hiring a good contractor is the best insurance against a renovation disaster. A TV contractor who recently began writing an advice column warned people never to trust a tradesman whose quote is a few numbers on the back of a napkin. Contractors, he warns, should provide extensive legal contracts that must be vetted by a lawyer.
This is sad, but safe advice. When a job is extensive, a three page quote with payment terms and legally enforceable language is a good idea.
But for smaller jobs, I would rather talk to a trusted tradesperson who can tell me about how much and about how long. Sure, a written estimate is better than a verbal one. But the best tradespeople I know are too busy to worry about typed quotes drafted by a lawyer.
I expect to give a deposit and not to receive detailed paperwork until the job is done and the final payments are due. Then I like to see an accounting. In 25 years, I have not been burned.
Of course, this honour system requires that you govern yourself. Changes cost money. No one is saying not to make them – it’s your house. But be fair.
Keep a list of every change you make from the start of the job.
I ask my contractor to keep me abreast of extra costs that arise. I encourage frequent conversations about costs, and we agree that he will price changes as we go – and tell me when costs are getting out of whack.
Most people will tell you to move out during a reno. Not me. I send all my stuff to storage except for the bare necessities. Then I move to the basement or attic and camp for the duration. The construction site is sealed off with heavy plastic. Every night I rip off a corner of tape and crawl through to inspect progress.
This timearound, my contractor installed an interesting invention. A plastic zipper provided a door down the center of one of the plastic sheets. They’re available at The Home Depot for $10.
The exception to the stay put rule would be a total gut job when it’s not safe to stay in the house. Then you go to a hotel.
Last spring, we taped at the home of Ken Birdsall, a newly retired Vancouver accountant who fulfilled a dream of renovating his 1930’s bungalow. His was a total redo, so he moved to a hotel.
When I asked Ken if there was anything he would have done differently, his answer surprised me:“I wouldn’t have worried about the money and I would have enjoyed myself. After all: I’ll never get to stay in a hotel and be waited on like that again.”
Another couple we visited parked a luxury trailer in their driveway and lived in it for five months during the reno. They were onsite for daily meetings, able to collect the mail, use their backyard and not uproot their children from the neighbourhood. Cramped, sure, but still better than moving.
A reno is never easy, but if you get it right – no regrets. In fact you may even wake up one morning with a familiar itch to change something. Could it be the reno bug? It’s bitten me. Eight times – and counting.

Attributed to Lynda Reeves. Lynda Reeves is the host of House & Home with Lynda Reeves. This article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday, November 4, 2006.