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When your home becomes a building site

Getting the builders in may be a necessary step on the way to your dream home, but it’s never an easy one. Find out how best to cope with the upheaval of a renovation.

Renovating a property into your dream home is a hugely satisfying achievement. But however strong your vision, there will be bumps in the road and times when, with the house full of brick dust, acrow props, builders and an increasingly fractious family, you might wonder if it’s all worth it.

The good news is that it most definitely is. After all, this is your dream home, but how do you cope with and survive the upheaval?

Moving out

Most people don’t have the money or the available accommodation to do this, but if you can, it makes everyone’s lives easier, and the project will probably be finished more quickly. According to Kelley Malcher, a specialist at Surrey building firm Refresh Renovations, staying put might make the build more expensive. “Living on-site can add 10% – 15% on to the total cost because builders will need to spend time in the morning and evening setting up and putting away equipment, cleaning up every day and making sure that hot water and power are always available to the client. Keeping the site safe can take time, which then slows down the whole project.”

Downsizing

Of course it’s not always practical to move out, and there are advantages to staying put, including being on hand to answer queries. “If you have to stay, set up home in a single room,” advises Fiona McPhillips, serial renovator and author of Make The Home You Love. “This room will be your bedroom, living room and kitchen so make sure the zones are clearly defined. But know this: everything will always be covered in dust.”

Sort out the insurance

Before your first contractor starts, check your home insurance – because it is possible it won’t cover an extension or renovation, and failure to notify your insurer of your planned works might invalidate your existing policy. “There’s no guarantee your builder will be insured,” says David Snell, author of Building Your Own Home. “But even if they have cover, you need to ensure you have a sufficient policy yourself to cover liability and, for example, any goods you’ve bought independently for the build.”

“Responsible builders will always follow health and safety rules, but as this is your home you need to make sure all family members know the no-go areas”

Lindsey Davis, associate editor, Realhomes.com

Talk candidly with your home insurance provider about extension and renovation insurance. If your renovation involves most of the house, you may be better off seeking a specialist provider of self-build insurance.

Plan your power

“Major renovations mean changes to electrics and possibly plumbing, so plan how you will eat, wash and heat your home,” says Malcher. “If your bathroom is out of action, can the builder set up temporary water somewhere so you can have a wash? And if the work is to your kitchen, is there somewhere you can temporarily site your washing machine? You don’t want to be at the launderette every five minutes.”

It sounds trivial, but in these connected times, family members of all ages will also need wifi. Speak to the contractors and, if necessary, your internet provider, to see how this can be managed.

Food for thought

With the power often off and no clean space for food preparation or consumption, it can be tempting to eat out or order a takeaway every day – but this becomes an unnecessary expense you might not have factored into the renovation. “At the very least,” says Malcher, “see if there’s somewhere you can rig up a microwave, fridge and kettle. If the build is likely to disrupt over months, consider setting up a temporary kitchen, perhaps a portable oven with a hob and even a temporary water supply.”

Become a health and safety officer

“On a building site, everything is a potential hazard, and your home will become the same, especially if you have young children for whom everything is an exciting playground,” says Lindsey Davis, associate editor at Realhomes.com. “Responsible builders will always follow health and safety rules, but as this is your home, you need to make sure your family members, young and old, know the no-go areas.”

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Create a bolthole

You need somewhere to escape. “If you stay on-site, you’re living through every detail of the renovation,” says Malcher. “It’s helpful to have a tranquil area where you can escape – even if it’s just a quiet room with a couple of chairs and a TV, or an Xbox, or somewhere to read – anything that gets your mind away from the chaos around you. It’s not running away; it’s recharging.”

Put it away

Even a one-room extension will disrupt the way you live, and not just because of the noise and dust. You’ll have to move furniture somewhere and, although it’s an added cost, it might be worth putting it into storage. This will protect your valued items but also give you more “living” space while the project is ongoing. “Label all your boxes clearly in case you suddenly need something you thought you could do without,” says Malcher.

“You may, of course, come to realise that some things you don’t actually need at all, and so they might never return. Alternatively, while your home is in disarray, it might be a good time to board the loft, giving you more storage space.”

Keep all your new purchases together

“Your home will be chaotic enough,” warns Davis, “without you having to negotiate all the obstacles of new fixtures and fittings that have been dumped in the middle of the site while waiting to be installed. Experienced renovators keep all of these new items together – and if the project goes on for a few months, being able to see them all in one place stops you buying the same item twice.”

Speaking of which, ordering major fixtures and fittings can mean a long lead time – and not having, say, a bathtub on the day the plumber is booked to fit it makes a slow process even slower. Order everything as far in advance as possible.

Know what you’re in for

“It will take longer than you planned, be more stressful than you imagined and cost more than you can afford,” says McPhillips. “Know that there will be delays, that there will be days you can’t see a way out, and that your personal relationships will become strained – it’s tough on everyone living in such dusty chaos. No one is ever prepared, but just recognising how hard it will be before you start will help you cope.

“But hang in there. The project will finish, you will have your dream home – and it is always worth it!”

Updated: 11 February 2020