Kitchen Renovation

"Is a DIY Kitchen or Bathroom Renovation for Me"? Part Two

In this two-part blog series, we’re focusing on what aspects to consider before jumping into managing your own bathroom or kitchen renovation.  It’s very tempting to save money by sourcing your own materials and hiring various handymen, plumbers and electricians to help you put everything together.  You see it on home improvement shows all the time, so how hard could it be?  Let’s do a deep dive into the questions we posed in the first blog to find out!

1. Can I make a design and select my own materials?

The first thing you’ll need to focus on when planning a renovation is what it’s going to look like.  If you’re not keeping everything in the same place, you’ll need to come up with a functional design that improves your current frustrations in the space.  In a kitchen, especially, you’ll need to consider symmetry, the best range and sink placements, the best cabinet sizes to eliminate the use of fillers, corner storage, appliances, and the split up between open cabinets, drawer bases, and pullouts.  Finally, you’ll need to make sure every cabinet is functional – all drawers can open fully, doors don’t slam into each other, hinges are in the right location, etc.  After your layout is selected, you’ll need to pick every material.  I spend weeks in the design phase with my clients and we typically go through several revisions before approving a final bathroom or kitchen design.  Our designs are always a balance of their ideal requests and their budget constraints on the construction side as some ideas are very expensive to implement.  Then, we go through all the details of picking materials.  I always get asked for advice on how to narrow down colors, what grout to choose, the best countertop material and color, the best cabinet brand, and virtually anything else you can imagine.  If you don’t feel confident making these decisions on your own, it’s extremely helpful to have a professional guiding you through this process.     

2. Do I have a connection for good quality materials?

So, let’s assume you either did the design/material selection process on your own or hired a professional just for that portion.  Now it’s time to actually purchase them.  While the purchase itself is pretty straightforward, an advantage of working with a construction company who is also a dealer is that you get access to brands that aren’t sold to the general public and you get to work with a source that’s going directly to the manufacturer and therefore has a better quality control.  Particularly for cabinetry, flooring, countertops and tiles, you’ll want someone who has an industry connection not only to save money, but to make sure your materials will stand the test of time.    

3. And I willing to be my own ordering department?

Assuming you’ve chosen to purchase materials from your own sources, it doesn’t end with just a payment.  We have an entire position in our company whose main job is to oversee the orders.  They are responsible for checking for mistakes, making sure the vendor processes the order, keeping track of delivery dates, and regularly following up with the vendors to make sure the materials are on schedule.  Once they are shipped, all the tracking information needs to be collected and the materials are tracked daily to make sure nothing is stuck or lost in transit.  For large orders or orders requiring a signature, someone needs to be present to accept and inspect the delivery.  All orders generally are opened upon receipt and inspected for damage or completeness.  If anything is missing or damaged, replacements need to be requested and the tracking process repeats.  This is a job most DIY’s aren’t prepared for as the everyday person isn’t typically ordering so many construction materials at the same time.  Working this into your daily life when you have your own obligations can be quite difficult. 

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4. Do I have the ability to hire my own field team?

If you’ve chosen the DIY route and ordered all your materials, you won’t have the luxury of a one-stop shop as most require you to purchase materials through them.  Instead, you’ll need to hire tradesman and will be left with trying to weed through one- or two-man operations all claiming they will do a great job.  You’ll need to know how interview them and what questions to ask.  You’ll also need to clarify which non finishing materials are being provided.  Are you responsible for buying their paint, grout, diverters, and anything else they pick up at Home Depot for your project?  This can sneak in extra costs you may not be prepared for if they are just expecting to show up with their basic tools and reply on you to fund anything they need or don’t have left over from their last job. Our field team’s Home Depot receipts add up quickly!

5. Can I build a construction schedule and manage it myself?

Once you’ve hired your tradesmen, you should assume you will be your own project manager.  Leaving it up to the guys you hired to decide the speed at which your project is completed is a recipe for disaster!  You’ll need to build a construction schedule that broadly lists what’s happening when and make sure all tradesmen involved agree and commit to the schedule.  You’ll need to designate work hours and make sure your contractors are adhering to it and completing the tasks they need to so you can prevent project delays before they happen.  For third party contractors like your countertop fabricators or custom glass door or mirror, you’ll need to align their template and installation dates with your schedule and coordinate their arrival times.  You’ll need to be physically present to inspect major work milestones and monitor major material’s arrival and installation as many of the finishing materials are not returnable if someone on the jobsite messes up.  We have full time employees solely in charge of project management, so it’s a big role to take on without the time and expertise needed.

6. Do I have a basic understanding of construction, and can I catch mistakes before they happen?

If you’ve managed to put together a realistic field schedule and have your contractors onboard, another role of a project manager is to inspect the daily work of their field teams.  Particularly during the rough-in and prep stages, you’ll need to know exactly what you’re looking for to ensure the foundation of your new space is built to last.  If you don’t have industry knowledge, contractors are able to cut corners and cover up a lot without you realizing.  Also, younger contractors just might not have the experience to know what to avoid.  For instance, we had an experienced field team member tell a client a shower niche would fit on an exterior wall.  This was true, but he didn’t have the experience to know why contractors don’t install niches on exterior walls without reframing so insultation can be added behind to prevent potential grouting issues during the season changes.  Our project manager was able to explain this to the client and teach the field team as he is responsible for making sure mistakes like this don’t happen.  If you don’t know, you don’t know and you’re relying on people to advise you who may not have as much experience as you think they do.

7. Can I pull permits and manage my own inspections?

Depending on which contractors you hire, you may have to pull your own construction permits.  If you are the sole person on the permit, scheduling and attending inspections is completely on you.  You also have the possibility of having an open permit or a failed inspection on your home’s record should things go sour and your contractor quits on you or refuses to correct an issue.  Having permits opened by your contractor marries them to your job until all inspections are passed so they will be motivated to work out issues with you to maintain their ability to pull permits in the future. 

8. Am I prepared for delays and change orders?

Even the best contractors experience delays and unforeseen issues, so you can definitely expect to encounter delays and change orders if you’ve chosen to manage your own construction.  Maybe you didn’t allow enough waste and need to wait for another tile order or a cabinet doesn’t fit the way you thought it would or maybe you thought knocking out a wall would be simple and didn’t realize how much was inside it or maybe there was a misunderstanding between what you thought you hired your contractor to do and what they thought they were hired for.  If you manage your own renovation, I would expect these frustrations to happen and be prepared with a plan for how you’re going to handle them when they occur. 

9. Am I willing to live with mistakes and without a warranty?

With smaller contractors, you reach a point in the project where it’s considered “done enough” and you’ll have to learn to live with minor mistakes and imperfections that weren’t caught soon enough to be corrected without significant work.  You can also assume that if anything fails months or years down the line, you’re not going to be able to track down the people you hired and force them to come back and address it.  Any future repairs or waterproofing issues will be on you to hire someone to correct.  Call it the price of saving money upfront to take care of issues and live with imperfections.    

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If the answer to all these questions is “yes, I’m prepared”, the final true question is “do I really want to take on this project just because I can?  Is the money I’ll save really worth the effort or is it just compensating myself for time I could have spent doing something else I enjoy?” 

When doing a renovation yourself, you’re essentially doing the full time job of multiple employers at a design build firm.  You’re designing, ordering, hiring, and managing and there will be a ton of stress and frustration especially if you don’t have a ton of experience.  Your time and quality of life have a dollar value and it might not be worth it to endure months of headaches just to save money. 

If you decide to manage your own renovation, proceed with caution.  If you’d like to explore the costs of hiring a professional, give Mayflower a call!


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