Written by:
Nate Rempel, Partner | Alair Red Deer
[email protected]

We have all heard the horror stories. The HGTV budget overruns and unrealistic timelines given — things on TV are not always as they appear.

As contractors who pride ourselves on meeting deadlines, hitting our budgets, and having the highest of standards when it comes to quality, we know what it takes to pull off a renovation on any scale. The first step though, is figuring out if a renovation is right for you and what some of the considerations are that you need to take when you’re on the hunt for a fixer upper, or if you’re debating about updating the home you are currently in!

So, why renovate?

It is my opinion that most of the population are in two camps of thinking: “who would EVER want to renovate…” and the other camp being the ones who are crazy enough or understand the reasons behind a renovation and all of the potential upsides.

These are a few reasons we have people come to us that are up for the challenge:

  1. Shag Carpet Walls. It’s amazing how 30-40 years go by in a home and all of a sudden you realize shag carpet on your walls is no longer a thing. Okay, maybe it’s not always that dramatic, but styles and trends really do shift over time. Golden Oak cabinets were all the rage in the 90’s and 2000’s. Now, most of the renovation calls we get are people asking us to get rid of these outdated trends! Cosmetic upgrades are absolutely the most common cause for the renovation bug.
  2. Growing Families. When you find a home you love and start to build memories in it, obviously that tends to create an attachment to the home. Maybe when you moved in, you did not plan on having a family. Or maybe you blinked and your family grew more than you had planned or expected! Now you have a home you love, but it doesn’t fit your growing family needs. Re-arranging the layout, converting a portion of the walk-in closet into a nursery, or adding square footage to accommodate these changes are calls we get all the time. The flip side to this is, once the chaos subsides and you are empty nesters, you get to take that walk-in closet back AND the bedroom next to it for the ensuite with a huge custom tile shower of your dreams.
  3. Right Lot… Wrong House. City lots have gotten significantly smaller over the past couple decades. This is a massive draw for people to want to live in the older, mature neighbourhoods of a city. With the 40 year old Elm trees and big, private backyards, you just don’t get that in most new developments. The only issue is, it also comes with a 40 year old house. Now this is only a problem if you are opposed to the idea of renovating. If you aren’t, then this is an opportunity! An opportunity to remodel the existing home. Make it like new. Make it yours. AND get the lot of your dreams.
  4. Calling all Investors. Nobody wants to do the dirty work. If you are willing to put in a little bit of elbow grease (or pay someone to do it), there can be great returns on that investment. People have made themselves very wealthy through various residential real estate ventures. Many of those did it through building equity into a house in a good location that needed some TLC. Some look at an old house as a lot of work. Some look at it as potential dollar signs.

So maybe you understand WHY you might want to renovate. Now what?

One of the first questions we ask early in the process is “how do you live in your home?” What are the family dynamics. Do you like to entertain? WHERE do you entertain? Living room? Basement? Kitchen? Do you prefer the kids rooms near yours? Or do you want the teenagers to have their own space (and give you yours?!?)

We start to build a “Wants and Needs” list. Starting with the “Needs” for example, you love to entertain in the kitchen. Everyone always ends up gathering around this space regardless of how many snacks you put on the living room coffee table. The problem is, the kitchen is tiny!

Well, now we’re going to run through our construction-minded checklists.

Let’s say we need to remove a wall to open the space up. Is the wall load-bearing? Are there any major plumbing or mechanical systems that run through the wall that we need to consider? If so, where is the alternate path? Even if we remove the wall, will there be space to accommodate the new larger island and still fit a dining table? Once the NEED is understood and a plan is in place, we look at the WANT. The wants are typically the aesthetic details and finishes. This is what people love getting excited about (and so do we). We just know how much easier it is to look at the WANTS after your NEEDS have an action plan.

If you are doing a little dreaming on your own before you get a trusted advisor (contractor) involved, what are some of the most common obstacles or constraints to look for? Here are a couple of the typical suspects:

Structural or load-bearing walls/points. As fun as the idea of waltzing into a space with a sledge hammer and just “OPENING IT UP” is, we should consider a couple things first: Is this wall holding up the roof? Here is a fantastic link to a video which can help identify these bearing points. How to Identify and Remove a Load Bearing Wall | Ask This Old House – YouTube

Plumbing and Mechanical Locations. Depending on the scope of the renovation, this may be more or less difficult. The biggest reason plumbing can be a pain to move is accessibility. To move plumbing or add a location, you need access to it. This can mean opening up basement ceiling drywall and coring through floor joists and studs, which often just requires an extra level of creativity. A qualified contractor or plumber can also help.

Asbestos. A combination of health concerns and budget restrictions can make asbestos a bit of a nag on your Pinterest dreams. Asbestos is a material that was used as a strengthening compound in a handful of building materials from 1920-1990. It was incredibly strong, but unfortunately is not good for the human body. Especially when it is airborne. Something to think about when looking to “open it up”. Here is a video on suspect areas in your home to look for asbestos. Where to Find Asbestos in your Home or Building – YouTube

Make sure you get these areas sampled by a professional before you get started with your sledgehammer.

The bottom line is renovations aren’t necessarily taking the easy route, but the potential upsides are endless. These considerations are a great starting point when starting down the renovation path. Finding the right fit as far as a professional team is next. Finding the right contractor is a bit like courting a new partner. You are essentially going to be in a relationship with this person or team potentially for months! You need to make sure you can trust them and that your goals are aligned. Make sure they are transparent and that they take the time up front to understand your needs as well as the risks that can come with them. If you spend right amount of time to find the right team for your project, your success rate potential goes up exponentially.

Now you are off to reap all the renovation rewards.