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Introduction to Renovations for Home Improvement

Renovation in progress - during construction, wood framing of roof and walls

Embarking on a home renovation is an exciting journey fraught with challenges. Whether you're looking to upgrade your kitchen, add a new bedroom (or office), or give your entire home a facelift; it is important to have a general understanding of the renovation process.

There is, however, a catch-22. Every renovation is different, so one person's experience will be vastly different that another's. You cannot know 100% what the process will be like until you embark on the journey.

A perfect example is simply the renovation conditions to your home renovation. You may have spoken to friends or family who had completed a successful renovation - however their "conditions" could be completely different than your own. Perhaps money is less of an object. Or, timing was completely flexible. Regardless, the variables surrounding your particular renovation could be completely different than someone else.

*Note: design is a process. Not a product. When making the decision to renovate a home, it is critical that you consider that design problems must be organically uncovered, and that there are forks along the path throughout.

Below are a few key pointers to think about. This is mainly an introduction to beginning the design process for renovations when looking to start a home improvement:

1. Define Your Goals, Budget and Timeline:

Before diving into the renovation process, it is in your interest to try and define some goals. Get a sense of what you need or what you are looking for, and try to prepare a list (for instance: new powder room and closet for the main floor, or add ensuite to the primary bedroom, etc). Also, try to establish the amount of money that you're comfortable to spend. This will help the professional (item 3 below) try to weigh your goals with the amount of money you have prepared. It is not expected for anyone to just know how much things costs - which is why hiring a design professional can help and provide advice on whether you're shooting for the moon, or if the expectations are within reason. Finally, give some thought into the timeline. The design process itself takes 3 to 6 months before submitting for permits (or even thinking about construction). As an example, for the married ones out there, think about how long it to design a single engagement ring (a single item that is about the size of a peanut). Then, multiply that to the size of a renovation.

During the Design Phase, concept images are drafted to discuss

*Pro Tip: Try not to overprepare before speaking to a design professional. Typically, home owners worry about the technical details of construction. Questions arise like: "How are the foundations going to work?" or "Where are they going to place the building materials on my property?". Questions like these will eventually get answered, and worrying about these problems before even speaking to a design professional is a cart-in-front-of-the-horse scenario.

On the other hand, it helps if you have a general sense of what you're looking to do. Just try your best not to worry about a problem on step... say step 3582, when we're still at step 7.

2. Research and Plan:

Once your goals have been laid out, conduct research on a design professional. At this time, it is rather premature to be looking into contractors as there is no design yet. While interviewing architects, you can be compiling a folder of images of spaces that you love, which can help the design professional understand and align with your aesthetic tastes. Finding an architect is a tricky endeavour - typically the best connections are made through the word-of-mouth. However, many can get lucky by searching online and conducting an initial interview. Chemistry is more important than costs (and it swings both ways), but the overall golden rule is: you get what you pay for.

Under the "research and planning" category is the design process. I'll say it again: Design is a research and planning process. Not everyone has the ability to understand this. And in a way, this segues into Item 3 below with hiring a design professional. Design is a process - and an architect working together with clients is a journey to develop a vision for the future building. Through the design process (of going back and forth) the team will be helping you conduct research on various aspects from kitchen appliances to mechanical duct layouts, to placement of electrical outlets - while keeping in mind the aesthetics and lifestyle you're wishing to achieve.

3. Hire the Right Professionals:

Choosing the right team of professionals is crucial for the success of your renovation project. I am biased, of course, and I believe finding the right architect will help guide you in the right direction for most decisions. If you've made it this far and have understood that this is a process, not a product, then you can understand that hiring an architect is a bit like hiring a captain of the ship. Architects are not 100% certain we will be able to steer a ship to the final destination, but will do their best to direct and manage the parties to get as close as possible.

It is also important to grasp an overall understanding of the various differences between professionals. An registered (ARIDO) interior designer is different than an interior designer. A registered architect (OAA) is different than a non-licenced architect (in fact, in Ontario, you cannot call yourself an "architect" without being registered, it's a protected title - but that's a whole other thing for another time).

Building permits take time.  Permits are posted on the front of buildings

4. Obtain Necessary Permits:

Depending on the scope of your renovation, you may likely need to obtain permits from your local municipality. Most do not know this, but as a homeowner, you are allowed (under Part 9 of the Ontario Building Code) to submit your own drawings to the City. However, most people lack the necessary skills and technical drawing ability to do so - and would lean towards hiring a professional (that's where architects come in).

*Note: building permits only review things in relation to the building code. I know that sounds silly to read, but consider that the building code only really cares about life safety, fire safety, and barrier-free accessibility. It doesn't care about the colour of your cabinets, or the type of toilet you want installed, or the finish of your countertops. There is a big difference between a drawing package issued for "permit", vs a drawing package issued for "construction".

At this point, we start to dive into the construction and hiring of a builder. The process moves away from purely design and into the execution and construction of a vision. It's still a process, and we'll cover that in another post.


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