Renovating a house is an exciting prospect. It’s made all the more ambitious when the property in question is your pre-existing home. While a lot of people see renovation projects as a means of turning a profit, they can also be a fantastic way to breathe new life into your home.
But how exactly do you undertake a task which on the surface seems so herculean? If you have no background in construction, interior design or planning regulations, the role of renovator is made all the more challenging.
This guide will look to provide anyone who doesn’t know where to start with a rough structure for how to tackle the project. We’ll be breaking the renovation of a house down into four key stages:
- The assessment stage
- The planning stage
- The regulation stage
- The construction stage
The key to a successful home makeover is mastering each of these aspects. Let’s look at what you can do to make sure your project turns out exactly as you would like.
The assessment stage – Assessing structural quality
It might seem as though the planning stage is where you’d naturally start any project. However, it’s hard to know what you can and can’t plan for your home if you’re unaware of its structural integrity.
This might also highlight any flaws with your home which you hadn’t already noticed. As such, anything which you later discover can be added to your proposed renovation plans.
In truth, it’s best to turn to a professional surveyor, so that they can come in and fully assess the house. This will usually cost you anywhere in the region of £500-£1500. While that might sound like a large expense, it’s worth it for the peace of mind of knowing what does, or doesn’t, need fixing in your home.
That said, if you don’t want to pay that much, there are ways to assess different parts of your house yourself. It’s just a case of knowing what to look for.
Common areas which need assessing include things like:
- Wiring. It’s not uncommon for older houses to need a complete rewiring. The influx of modern technology has changed the capacity levels required for electrics in a home, making some fuse boxes, round pin plugs and even light switches a little outdated.
A quick way to tell if a house has had a recent revamp is by looking at the cabling which has been used throughout. If you notice anything which isn’t PVC-insulated (coloured grey or white), you’ll probably need to rewire the property.
- Method of construction. How the building was built will have a huge say in the types of material you’ll need to kick off your renovations. Houses created after the First World War tend to have a lot of cavities – this means they’ll be a lot cheaper to fix up.
Older buildings are often constructed with lime mortar, rather than cement. That means repairs need to be done to them on a like-for-like basis. These older buildings also tend to be lacking in foundations. This will limit you when it comes to building extensions, or adding additional storeys. The older walls might not be able to support the weight.
- Walls. Often, the condition of a wall is something you can assess by inspecting it with a keen eye. Check things like the joints and stone quoins. Do any of them look cracked or worn down? If so, they might need replacing.
Also check external features like bargeboards, finials and soffits. These are usually aesthetic features at most, but could be an important aspect of your redesign.
If you notice a crack in a wall, you’ll most often just need to plaster it. However, if you think it looks a little more serious, you might want to test for structural movement. You can do that by inspecting the bricks beneath the crack to see if they’re unstable.
- Plumbing. If you want to check all the drains in your home are working, you can do so by pouring coloured food dye down all the toilets in your house. Simply lift the inspection chamber and make sure every outlet is flowing freely.
It’s generally advised, if you’re changing the wiring of a house, to also change the plumbing. You’ll need to lift the floorboard away to do either, so it makes sense to kill two birds with one stone and do both at once.
- Windows. It’s always wise to be cautious about replacing windows. In some instances, the originals are an integral part of a house’s character, and could even see its value decrease if they’re replaced with contrasting modern designs.
However, the opposite can also be true if the windows aren’t a built-in feature. In some instances, original timber windows can also be restored rather than replaced.
Once you have a full understanding of what it is you need to restore in your home, you can factor it into the actual planning of your property. By having a full understanding of your home, you’ll know what is and isn’t a viable part of your renovation.
The planning stage – Designing your new home
This is the “fun” part of any makeover. Working out what you want to do with your home is both exciting and incredibly daunting. And even when you do have a great idea, it can be difficult to know how to start bringing your creation to life.
During the planning stage, it’s important to follow these steps:
- List your ideas. What do you actually want to do with your home? You can break this down according to the room or area of the house you want to focus on. Taking a kitchen as an example, you might want to:
- Install new switches and electric appliance connections
- Install a new kitchen top
- Update the plumbing in the room
- Strip and repaint the doors
- Sand and refinish the floorboards
Go through every room in the house and do the same. By the end, you should have a list of every change you want to make.
- Prioritise, order and group. Naturally, some elements of your renovation will have to be done before others. You wouldn’t want to lay a new floor, only to then rip it up and tackle the wiring or plumbing.
As such you need to prioritise the jobs which need doing. You can break them down into whatever category you like (such as “primary”, “secondary” etc.). From there, order each group according to what needs to be done first, second, third and so on.
This should leave you with an exact list of roles which need doing, and when. If you notice anything which overlaps (for example more than one room might need to have the flooring sanded down), you can group these tasks together into one big expense.
Create a detailed plan. Once you know what you have laid out for your home in terms of an overhaul, you can start thinking about what steps you want to take when it comes to the more intricate layout of your property.
This is where the aforementioned “fun” kicks in. You can craft your living space to look however you’d like. Start thinking about colour schemes, and what items of furniture would look good.
But it’s not just aesthetics. You’ll also have to consider the exact dimensions of a room. Work out what can fit and where.
If needs be, you may want to call a designer in at this stage. They’ll be able to look over your house, and make a calculated decision about what kind of aesthetic changes could be made.
The regulation stage – Getting planning permission
Unfortunately, you can’t just go out and start building your dream extension. You’ll firstly need to get the consent of your local authority. This process is called applying for planning permission.
And while there are certain home renovations which you can do without the need for planning permission, it’s always wise to assume any larger extensions or additions to your home are going to need the go-ahead of your council.
You’ll need to complete the application process online. If you’re granted permission, you can expect it to last for three years. From that point onwards, the right to build will automatically expire, and you’ll have to start the whole process again.
Your application should include:
- Five copies of your application forms
- The signed ownership certificate
- A site plan, explaining in detail every change you want to make
- A design and access statement
- The fee you’ll need to pay as part of your application
There are a number of factors which go into deciding whether or not you’ll be granted permission for your build. Some of the most important are things like:
- A loss of privacy for your neighbours
- Highway safety
- Noise and light pollution
- The layout and density of the building
- Impact on the local ecosystem
- Disabled access
- Previous planning decisions on the same spot
Often, the local authority will take the consideration of neighbours into account. Those living around the proposed construction are the ones who’ll have to deal with it most regularly, so their views are taken seriously – assuming they have clear evidence of how the build will negatively impact them.
If they decide to appeal against the plans, the application will be put in front of a committee of local councillors. A majority vote will take place (with all available facts present) to decide whether the plans will be given the green light or not.
If you are granted permission, but then want to change your plans at a later date, you may need to apply for a second time.
The construction stage – Turning to a professional
While you may feel confident carrying out some basic home repairs yourself, larger projects will probably rely on turning to professional contractors.
It can be hard to know who to turn to in such situations. After all, you’re putting the condition of your home in the hands of strangers. That’s why it’s important to know the kinds of things you need to look for when hiring a tradesman.
Some of the most important factors to consider are:
- Recommendations by other tradesmen. If you’re looking for a specific service (such as plumbing or construction) it might be worth asking for recommendations from other tradesmen you’ve worked with in the past.
For example, if you need work done on extending a conservatory, but don’t need to fix the electrics in the area, you could ask an electrician you’ve used in the past if they know any contractors who could carry out the work.
- Good reviews. In the digital age, it’s a lot easier to find open and honest reviews of what a company is really like. You can often use comparison sites, or even just type in the name of the company you want to assess followed by the word “reviews” on a search engine.
But it’s not all about online feedback. Sometimes word of mouth is enough to go by, as well as the recommendations of a designer (if you’ve hired one). They’ll have worked with plenty of tradesmen in the past, so will have a good idea of who is and isn’t capable of doing the job professionally.
- Asbestos training. Ideally, the company you turn to should have a strong understanding of HSE asbestos training. With a lot of buildings being constructed with the use of this potentially deadly material prior to the 1990s, it’s a common risk during renovation projects.
When walls containing asbestos are drilled into, the dust which is produced can sometimes contain enough hazardous particles to be toxic to a human. It’s for this reason extreme diligence and care is needed when dealing with older properties.
Managing your own home renovation is far from simple, but it is possible. If you follow the advice laid out in this blog, you’ll find the process a lot easier to stay on top of.