Taking on a renovation project is one of the best ways to create your dream home. Costs are typically lower than building from scratch, and you have the scope to tailor the design to your needs. That said, it is not without its challenges, and taking time to prepare before you start your renovation is essential.
‘There’s a logical order in which renovation works should be tackled,’ says expert renovator Michael Holmes. ‘Stray from it and you may end up having to undo completed work to tackle basic repairs and improvements that should have been addressed at the beginning.’
Here are the steps to follow…
1. Be prepared
Use recommendations from family and friends to help find an architect, builder and, if needed, a project manager.
‘You have to feel comfortable and confident in the skills of everyone working on your site,’ says Michael Holmes. ‘If you’re buying a renovation project, it’s worth taking an expert, such as a builder or architect, with you on a viewing to get an idea of costs, which you can then reflect in the offer you make.’
Property developer and TV presenter Sarah Beeny says it’s crucial to decide exactly how much you have to spend. ‘Rule number one is make a budget and stick to it,’ she says. Sarah advises calculating how much money you will need before taking on a renovation. Work out costs for each room, factoring in everything from structural work, such as underpinning, to finishing touches, then add it all up to see if you can afford it. You’ll also need a contingency of about 10 per cent of the budget for unforeseen costs, too.
2. Assess the building’s condition and stabilise it
The first stage of any renovation project is to get a detailed assessment of the current condition of the property. ‘It’s really important to know what problems you are up against,’ says Hugo Tugman, founder of Architect Your Home. ‘Invest in a measured survey of the building to give you accurate plans, and a condition survey that will report on issues such as damp, infestation or subsidence.’
Any building left empty for more than a few months will inevitably start to deteriorate. While you finalise your plans, ensure the building is weather tight by covering up missing doors, windows and sections of roof. You may also need to put urgent temporary structural stabilisation in place; this might mean steel ties to stop lateral spread in walls or a roof, or scaffolding to prevent further collapse.
To find experts to conduct the surveys, consult the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
3. Create a great design
It’s worth taking your time to perfect the design and ensure the finished property will meet your needs. Think about how the changes will work with the original building – do you want any extensions to blend in with the existing property? Do you want to restore its original appearance, or dramatically transform it? ‘Ask yourself what you are hoping to achieve, then consult with an architectural designer to look at all of the possibilities,’ says Hugo.
Sarah Beeny advises thinking carefully about room placement. ‘Focus on introducing natural light, which has the power to transform and uplift any space,’ she says. ‘Wherever possible, arrange rooms so you spend the majority of your time where the light is. It’s also worth considering the view – a good one can go a long way.’
4. Apply for any consents
Once you have your plans, you must identify which aspects of your proposed renovation require statutory consent.
‘Make sure that you understand the different consents that you will need to address,’ advises Hugo Tugman. ‘Do you have permission to use the building as a dwelling, or will you need consent for a material change of use? Is it a listed building, is it in a Conservation Area, do you even need planning permission? Even if you don’t, you will almost certainly have to comply with building regulations and you might need a Party Wall agreement with neighbours. An architect can guide you through this minefield.’
If you want to start work immediately, check with your local authority and take on projects that are classed as permitted development (PD), such as converting an existing garage or roof space. If you do need statutory consents for all or part of your proposed works, factor in the amount of time required to determine the application. Planning decisions are supposed to take eight weeks and a full building regulations application five to six weeks.
5. Knock down what you don’t need and clear the site
‘Making the site safe and secure is your next priority, followed by any clearance or demolition work,’ says Michael Holmes. ‘Health and safety is the responsibility of the building owner, so a risk assessment and method statement for demolition, which includes dealing with hazardous waste, is essential. A hazardous waste survey is also necessary to look for asbestos and other risks. Contractors will need site insurance. If you are project managing yourself, arrange all-risk site cover, including public and employers’ liability insurance.’
‘It’s important not to rush into demolition,’ says Hugo Tugman. ‘I’ve seen people fall foul of listed building consent by stripping out internal fabric they thought was unimportant only to find they have undertaken a criminal act. Take care that services such as gas and electricity are safely capped off before work starts.’ And salvage any valuable materials to reuse or sell online. A salvage yard may agree to pay for old materials and include removal as part of the deal.
6. Start major building renovation work
Any major building work can now take place, as the existing structure is stable and any hidden problems should already have been uncovered. Measures should be taken to protect any parts of the building that could be vulnerable to damage during the main construction stage, especially in listed buildings.
‘This part of the renovation usually starts with any groundworks, such as foundations and drainage,’ says Hugo Tugman. ‘Any new or modified structures, like extensions and conversions, can then be completed, walls, floors, roofs constructed, and openings for doors and windows formed.’
Damp-proof measures and new insulation will be incorporated at this stage and any existing damp issues can be sorted out. Always get an independent expert to take a look at any damp and advise on the right solution. Impermeable waterproofing may be ideal for modern homes, but can do more harm than good in a solid-walled period property. Often, the problem can be solved using non-invasive methods, such as improving ground drainage and ventilation or even just getting the heating back on.
7. Make the building weather tight
‘It’s important to swiftly get your property sufficiently weather tight because so many subsequent stages, such as plastering, electrics and joinery, need a dry building,’ says Michael Holmes.
‘Getting the roof coverings on, with all of the associated flashings and weather seals, is vital,’ adds Hugo Tugman. ‘Fitting doors and windows is also a huge step forward. Wrap them in temporary protection as the work continues.’ While the scaffold is up, it is a good idea to check chimney stacks and pots are stable and clear, and to replace or repair lead flashings, guttering, fascias, soffits, render and cladding.
8. Begin first fix
If you’re changing the internal layout of the property, this is the stage where stud walls will be built and staircases, door linings, window reveals and sills installed, ready for the plasterers to work up to.
Once this is completed, pipes and cables for hot and cold water, gas, electrics, phones, internet, and waste drainage will be installed into the floors, walls and ceilings. ‘Cables will be left sticking out in the right places for lights and power points, while pipes will be set in the right positions for basins, baths and toilets, which will all be fitted later,’ explains Hugo Tugman. Underfloor heating is also an important first fix item and care must be taken to avoid damaging the pipes before the floors are laid over them.
9. Line the ceilings and lay the floor
The ceilings will now be boarded, bringing the cables through into position as per the lighting plan. Walls can be lined with plasterboard and floorboards or screed laid.
‘Walls and ceilings can then be plastered, and for the first time you’ll start to get a sense of the size of the rooms,’ says Hugo. Plaster and screed needs to dry out, which can take from two to six weeks. The longer it can be left, the less danger of moisture causing problems with second fix joinery and wooden floors.
‘I basically rebuilt the house’
When Sue Gilbert bought this two-bedroom Victorian terraced house in Winchmore Hill, north London, it was in a state of disrepair
It had a dated layout, with two reception rooms, a galley kitchen and outside WC downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. Undeterred, Sue, who works as a project manager, called on the services of Kilmstar builders, who she’s used previously, to renovate the space.
The house was completely stripped out, a new roof and staircase added, the wall between the two reception rooms demolished, and the first-floor layout reconfigured. A new boiler, electrics, log burner and radiators were installed before the house was replastered and a kitchen and bathroom added. Sue also replaced the front door, and changed the plastic windows for wooden sashes.
‘Basically, I completely rebuilt the house – the outside shell is as it was but everything else is new,’ she says. ‘When I think back to how it was when I first looked at it, it’s quite a transformation. It’s a delight to live in.’
£80,000 for renovations, plus £30,000 for fixtures and fittings.
10. Move on to second fix
‘The second fix can be a very exciting stage, but can also be the most frustrating as it often seems to take an eternity,’ says Hugo Tugman. ‘This is where many of the items you will interact with in the house get installed. Kitchens, appliances and worktops, sanitaryware and taps in the bathrooms, lighting in the ceilings and power points in the walls will be fitted into position, connecting to the cables and pipes that were brought into the right places at the first fix stage.’ The boiler and heating system will also be activated.
11. End with the décor, flooring and tiling
‘Where we had heavy and rough work at the earlier stages, now we have lighter, more precise work where care needs to be taken not to damage finishes and to install items level, straight and in-line,’ says Hugo Tugman. Staircases, skirting boards and wardrobes can be put in, floor finishes can be laid, tiles can be applied, and the decorating work can begin.
‘You can save money on expensive floor finishes by not installing it underneath kitchen units and islands, but it can prove a false economy if you later decide to change the layout,’ warns Michael Holmes. ‘Either way, skirting boards are always best fitted after hard floor finishes.’
The style of décor you choose depends on whether this is a home for life or a project you plan to sell on in a few years. ‘I find it is best to stick to a quality, classic design over passing interior trends – less is definitely more,’ says Sarah Beeny. ‘Think longevity when choosing a design. If you’re creating your own home, luxury items can always be addressed at a later date, so look at creating a strong canvas to build upon over the coming years.’