Living on site while renovating: 22 top tips

Decided to stay put while work to your house is carried out? You’ll need to know all about the ups and downs of living on site while renovating

home renovation by getty images
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're planning a major home renovation and thinking about living on site while the work's done, it's important to make sure you know what to expect. Staying in the home you are working on has several advantages including saving money, you are always nearby for builders' queries and it also means the property is more secure than if it is left vacant. In fact, as your home insurance can be invalidated if you leave the property empty for longer than 30 days, it pays to stay put unless you make arrangements with your insurer first.

We won't lie and say living on site is easy, but understanding what's involved will mentally prepare you and hopefully give you some renovation survival tips along the way. We've come up with a list of the good the bad and the ugly, as advised by the people who've been there and done it.

Looking for more renovation advice? Our guide to renovating a house tells you everything you need to know. 

1. The dust gets everywhere (and we mean everywhere)

This is especially during the destruction phase of a house renovation. You’ll try hard to remember what things look like under the layer of mud and dust, but as soon as you wipe surfaces down, they’re covered again. 

Getting used to a dirty place is one of the first lessons learnt – no amount of vacuuming, cleaning or sweeping is going to cut it. If you are knocking through though – to go open plan for example – make sure you keep all other doors shut during the work and use plastic sheeting to close off the space elsewhere. This will at least contain the dust... kind of.

2. Lie-ins are a thing of the past

Whether it’s the stress of the task at hand waking you up before dawn, the builders arriving as the cockerel crows or the incessant sound of digging, drilling and lorries coming and going, you can be sure that sleeping in is one luxury that you won’t enjoy for the duration of your project. What’s that about early risers being the most productive?

3. So is a good night’s sleep

A house with no heating, no internal doors, half-built walls and very few home comforts makes for a challenging sleeping environment. Add to that the constant worry that you’ve forgotten to ring the plumber/electrician/surveyor, you’ve chosen the wrong shade of grey for the bedrooms, or wondering whether the kitchen units you’ve ordered are really perfect, and you’ve got the perfect formula for becoming a near-insomniac.

However, you will reach a stage in your renovation where exhaustion hits and you’ll sleep like a baby through even the loudest of drilling.

4. You’ll develop the patience of a saint

Living on a building site, plus children, plus partner, plus many other bodies coming and going every day can feel very crowded.

There will be times when a quiet (dust-free) room will be all you wish for, but you’ll grin and bear all requests from the trades on site, every stress-induced tiff with a loved one and possible tantrums from younger family members who just want to play, and get on with it – one day at a time.

5. Everything becomes a possible playground

Speaking of kids, if you have them, they’ll find a way to play on or with just about anything on site.

While safety is, of course, a primary concern (find out your health and safety responsibilities) when it comes to exposed wires, heavy machinery and unstable structures, a mound of dirt, pile of leftover bricks or discarded bathtub can provide hours of fun. Aim to have one room that is safe for the kids to play in while you chat with the builder or sweep up after the carpenter.

6. You’ll become chief health and safety officer

If you do have children on site, you’ll need eyes in the back and every side of your head to make sure they’re safe. Plus, you’ll be forever asking family members to wear protective clothing and remember their hard hats, especially during the early destruction phase of a project.

7. You could rival Olympic hurdle jumpers

Navigating your way around a site full of deliveries is no mean feat. Climbing across a new WC, around a stack of new fixtures and fittings, over semi-constructed walls will become a perfectly natural way to enter the house.

This is why experienced renovators tend to have at least one room that acts as a storage area for items that are yet to be fitted. What's more, keeping everything in one place is a sure way to prevent buying duplicates.

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8. You'll need wall planners, diaries and lists galore

A benefit of living on site is that you’ll be there to keep track of the build progress, know what each trade is doing and be there to accept deliveries or make decisions on any changes or unexpected issues. 

Effectively, you can become the project manager, saving money on hiring a professional to do so, and your collection of timetables, payment plans and delivery schedules will be your most-prized possession for the duration.

Have a read of our guide for tips on project managing your renovation. Or if you have nailed your project management skills, treat yourself to a beautiful new wall planner.

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9. You can never have too many teabags (or sugar)

A stereotype of builders and trades that’s so often true – they love a cuppa. Invest in catering-sized packs of tea bags and even an extra kettle to keep their favourite beverage flowing.

They’ll thank you by cracking on with the work at hand, keeping the renovation going at a good pace.

10. One thing will take way longer than expected

Thought everything would go exactly to plan? Think again. There will always be one part of a renovation that throws up unexpected challenges and seems to drag on beyond what you thought you could handle. 

Hang in there, though. With a clear plan of how to bring this part of the project to completion and faith in the trades you’ve hired to help, you’ll get there in the end.

11. The builders will seem like part of the family

There when you wake up, all day and when the family comes home from work or school, your contractors will seem like they live on site too.

Having a good, professional relationship with the people you’ve hired to construct your new home is essential to project success and the build completing to schedule, so the quicker you get used to their constant presence, the better.

Our guide to hiring a reliable builder is a must-read. 

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12. Evening and weekends – what are they again?

No matter how much you try to relax, there will always be something that needs doing. Whether it’s decorating, stripping floorboards or ordering more materials, a renovation project will take up all your free time. Remember to try and take some time away, though, for your sanity’s sake.

13. You’ll be master of the camping stove

Sunday dinner made on a small, portable stove and in a microwave? Done. There’s a good chance you’ll become a professional at cooking family meals with as little equipment as possible, but the tenacity to give proper meals a go will earn you Masterchef status in your household.

Here is our pick of the best microwave ovens so if you are going to be living off ready meals, at least you can do it really, really well.

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14. Cold nights? Easy

If Ranulph Fiennes can handle losing his fingertips to the cold, you can endure days and nights spent on a freezing (and sometimes wet) building site.

Whether you’re living on site in summer or winter, the unpredictable British weather will most likely mean you’ll suffer some pretty chilly times. Be prepared with a stove, lots of layers and sheer determination.

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15. Outerwear makes great loungewear

Because of the aforementioned cold and wet, you may as well say goodbye to comfortable, soft pyjamas and dressing gowns and hello to thick jumpers, trousers, waterproofs and wellies. While, hopefully, these parts of living on site will be short, have plenty of warm and waterproof garments ready for when you need them.

Tarpaulin and umbrellas will come in handy too while your site is made weathertight – especially if you’re having a significant extension built, or bringing an old building back to a shell before modernising.

16. You’ll experience open-plan living like never before

Just as the weather can come in, creating a not-so-great indoor outdoor link, another side effect of a renovation project is the lack of room distinction before the final layout starts to take shape.

With walls knocked down and partially rebuilt, no internal doors or room dividers, as well as setting up a living space or kitchen anywhere you can find room, privacy will be totally non existent.

17. Your friends and family will think you’re mad

Those closest to you will not understand the level of upheaval living on a renovation site will cause and the emotional rollercoaster that comes with it. You’ll tell them all about your project and they’ll nod and listen, but they’ll never know what you’re going through unless they’ve done it themselves.

18. No guests allowed

Contractors and your family on site is cramped enough, so there’s no way you’ll invite visitors for tea. You will, however, willingly accept any invitation to dinner at a friend’s – anything as long as you’re not hosting.

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19. Progress will be slower

If you live elsewhere during a renovation, the builders can work on all areas of the property. But, if you live on site, they’ll work around the areas being used as temporary living spaces, meaning the timeframe from start to completion may be slightly longer. However, by staying put, you’ll save money on renting elsewhere or paying two mortgages.

20. You know each part of your renovation inside out

A great plus of living on site – you’ll know and appreciate how each room has been put together and be best informed of how each element of the design works, why it’s there and how it was constructed. Not only will the house truly feel like ‘yours’, you’ll be well equipped to know how to maintain the design and fix any minor damage in the future.

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21. Each milestone will bring such joy

Your new kitchen has been fitted and you’re seeing it for the first time – who’d have thought this would make you so happy? 

Similarly, each time a part of the project comes together and begins to look like an actual living space, you’ll feel a sense of pride like no other.

22. You’ll appreciate the finished renovation more than ever

You’ve gone through months of cold and wet weather, frayed tempers, stress, feeling unsettled and the ups and downs of renovating, but once that final finishing touch is installed and your house becomes a home, you’ll breathe a deep sigh of relief and realise that it was all worth it.

You’ll appreciate every inch of the structure and know the effort that’s gone into achieving the end result. You’ll soon be inviting guests around to tell them all about how proud you are – all visitors welcome, finally.

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