Because Things Go So Wrong When You Don’t Have One – Adventures in Renovating (Part 1)

“Because things go so wrong when you don’t have one” was the answer.

The question? “In your opinion, why should someone planning to renovate their home hire an architect?”

Recently, I spoke to homeowner and (now) experienced home renovator, Heather. Heather and her family live in a standard colonial home in D.C., built in the early 1900s and they were starting to outgrow their space. The decision to move to a larger house or stay and renovate their current house was an easy one, given the family’s love of both their neighborhood and school.

Heather, both educated and super organized, decided she would save money by not hiring an architect and doing the overall project management work herself. “I can do it. I can totally do it!” was Heather’s philosophy. As the project got started and challenges began to arise, she quickly found that her excited willingness to tackle a large home renovation project was replaced by frustration.

The planned renovations were substantial. The garage would be knocked out, the basement would be dug out and the attic would be finished. A mudroom would be added, as would a second kitchen in the basement. The two bedroom, three bath house was to increase to seven bedrooms and five and a half baths. The house would double in size with the primary goals being to get her husband out of his “dungeon” (office in the basement) and move the kids downstairs to enjoy their own living space.

Throughout the project, Heather faced unanticipated challenges. Sharing her thoughts on several items, she stated:

  • Clear communication. Plain English was expected, but the contractor was often confusing to us.
  • Visualization. It’s hard to visualize an entire room while looking at an open ceiling.
  • Unknowns. We just didn’t know or understand why there was a need for certain things.
  • No one asked. We weren’t asked to be involved with things like outlet placement (i.e., How big is the bed going to be?)
  • Lack of planning. Wouldn’t the contractor point out what was needed for appropriate lighting in the bathroom?
  • Inconsistencies. The contractor’s small team lost key members and work was stopped unexpectedly and often.
  • Rushed work. Because the workers wanted to finish quickly, they were sloppy. At one point we noticed workers using bathroom floor tiles instead of shower tiles to complete the top two rows in the shower. Why? Because they didn’t want to take the time to go get additional matching tiles from storage.
  • Lack of options. No guidance was given for cost-effective options. We were not given floor options and the final product was not the quality we were hoping for.
  • Assumptions. Painting color choices were not explained well. We picked too many colors and were then told there was a limit. In addition, paint needed in existing rooms affected by the renovation work was ignored.
  • Poor workmanship. Even simple jobs had issues such as granite being laid incorrectly in the kitchen around the sink and the stove and doors being cut both short and uneven.
  • No approvals. There were no sign offs offered before moving on to the next step.

And these were just the “small” issues.

One of the biggest challenges for Heather was her attempt to stay ahead of the project. “You think you can research the next part, but things move ‘funny’ and it’s hard to know what will happen next.” An architect could have made all the difference.