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Home Remodeling & Renovation Project Management Tips


Project managing your own home can result in savings of up to 20 percent but can also end up costing you more than if you contracted out. Before considering taking on the management of your home remodeling or renovation project you should have some basic experience in project management, people management and scheduling.

With that in mind, the following tips will help avoid common pitfalls.

  1. Planning - Plan and schedule your project realistically. Schedule subcontractors far enough apart to provide for inspection and repair work if needed. Duties such as gathering bids and proposals, lining up subcontractors, working with financial institutions, and developing detailed work schedules can take a lot of time. There are 30 - 40 different subcontractors required and with three or four bids for each subcontractor, you need to plan sufficient time to do this properly.
  2. Conditions - Consider climatic conditions when you schedule construction
  3. Materials Supply - Get commitments from suppliers on delivery dates and ask to be informed days in advance if they expect delays. Make sure you have back up suppliers or optional materials in mind. Find out from suppliers the lead time required for ordering. Order custom-made items as early in the process as possible.
  4. Labor - Get referrals. An experienced contractor knows who to trust and who not to trust. You don’t. So get each subcontractor to provide a list of referrals and investigate them. Include the Better Business Bureau, your local Builder's Association, and various trade associations.
  5. Contingency - Add in contingency time for unexpected delays due to weather, labor, and delivery problems.
  6. Costs – plan the amount and availability with enough wriggle room. Take into account bank holidays and processing time, and plan 15% contingency for overruns.
  7. Communication - learn and use the terms commonly used among contractors. Get to know your subcontractors and treat them with respect. Make sure they know you pay the bills and expect them to provide quality workmanship, at the scheduled time, and at the price agreed.
  8. Professionalism - act like a builder in a professional manner to gain the trust and respect of subcontractors and to avoid mistakes. Make sure they know you are the boss and all appropriate project decisions come through you.
  9. Quality Control - an experienced contractor will be able to judge the quality of workmanship being done by the subcontractors. Checking past work of builders can identify in advance which ones are used to working at the extremes of the quality scale. If you're not sure about your ability to recognize quality, start seeking knowledge and information wherever you can, or engage a Construction Consultant to manage this aspect.
  10. Disputes - if an unexpected situation or dispute arises, which it will, be fair, but tough. Have ready access to information and protect yourself against liens and any injury liabilities. Always plan for alternatives if work is not being performed as agreed.
  11. Systems - use management systems to keep good records – this includes both building records and financial records.
  12. Indemnity - keep the project insured – this includes destruction of property and injury to those working on the project or others who enter the project site. Make sure you have the proper warning signs and perimeter safety in place. Ensure that your subcontractor agreements make them responsible for safety and insurance of their area of work.
  13. Work Environment - provide amenities for contractors and subcontractors. Designate areas for storage of materials, rubbish, and hazardous work. Be considerate of climatic conditions and wherever possible schedule internal project activities on days that are not desirable for outdoor work. Provide good heating, ventilation, and facilities for bathrooms and breaks. A treat of hot/cold cold drinks and snacks at the end of key stages shows your appreciation.
  14. Contingencies - have plans to manage bad weather, material delivery delays, material unavailability, labor disputes, inspection failures, and conflict. All of these things add to the time and budget overrun. Always have alternative plans. Using incentives for prompt delivery or work completion usually keeps contingencies to a minimum. This is a favourite contracting tactic of Donald Trump – he contracts the work at around 75-80% of its value, with the balance paid if the work is completed to satisfaction, on time. This avoids the trouble of having to seek remedy for penalty payments when problems arise.


Construction Absolutes

Managing any project is about understanding the priorities. Home remodeling and renovation projects are no exception; this is where an understanding of construction is necessary. The absolutes in construction projects are:

FOUNDATIONS - Foundation must be right the first time. Do not accept foundations that are incorrect, even if redoing the formwork means delays. Every other aspect of the project builds upon these foundations. So ALWAYS inspect the formwork and placement of services to the specification BEFORE the concrete is poured. Be there when the foundation is laid and get a sign off from an independent inspector, irrespective of whether this is part of normal inspection.

FRAMING - CHECK framing is correct in both position and timber grade. Many leaky home owners will attest to the damage a rotting house can do to their health and wealth.

SERVICES - INSPECT plumbing and electrical BEFORE lining the walls. Make sure these utilities are tested for correct operation as well as correct position. This is the time to make changes and replace faulty materials.

Double check key areas. You will save you time and money down the road.


Project Management Absolutes

MANAGE TO THE PLAN - Manage timelines and changes to the plan every step. It’s amazing how quickly small delays here and there add up to big delays.

Timing is everything with scheduling of jobs is the predominant function of the project manager. Stick to the Work – Inspection – Work cycle and create a "critical path" timeline - timing of various tasks usually overlap so creating a clear timeline of interdependencies and completion date for each function is critical.

Don’t be tempted to start cutting corners on design or quality when things start dragging behind the timeline. Instead, look for alternative materials and added labor if these factors are causing delays. It may cost a bit more in materials or time, but overall the cost will be less that prolonged delay.

INSPECT, INSPECT, INSPECT - Inspect before you pay – money talks. Always have an independent inspector review the subcontractor's work before making payment. Once they have the money, your negotiating power has weakened.

RECORD KEEPING - Keep good records: contracts, specification plans and changes, purchasing documents, labor timesheets, compliance records are all equally important and you need a good system to ensure they are filed correctly and are accessible if and when required.


Common Changes

It’s good to know what changes commonly occur during a remodeling and renovation project. These are more common during this type of project that a new dwelling as unexpected surprises arise once walls start being stripped back or knocked down.

Rotten timber – damp is not always evident in warm climates and well ventilated houses. But this needs to be replaced before the project continues.

Non compliance of existing services – stripping of wall linings can reveal plumbing and wiring that no longer complies to building codes. This can be an expensive surprise. It often pays with older homes to have all these amenity services inspected PRIOR to planning.

Unexpected load bearing components – walls are either load bearing or non loading bearning. The latter can be removed without impact to the rest of the structure, but load bearing structures will need to be propped and alternative bearing structure put in place. Any experienced builder will have a pretty good idea before building which are which, but surprises can happen. There have been some shoddy builders around that have done things in some rather unusual ways.

Materials unavailable – even with the best of intentions, sometimes supply just dries up due to unforeseen circumstances. Have back up suppliers and alternative materials in mind.

Labor unavailable – subcontractors are humans with all the personal frailties of accidents, illness and personal circumstances that prevent them from working to plan.
Industrial Unrest – if your country have labor unions, expect trouble so watch the news carefully if anything is in the wind. Make sure you Contract allows for penalties, where legally able.

Oversight – project managers are human also and can make mistakes like overlooking scheduling of materials or labor, not checking deliveries correctly or just not being aware that something is incorrect. Doublecheck everything and if you are short on knowledge in certain areas either learn it or sub someone in who does know.



Manage timelines even BEFORE the project starts
I got caught out badly on the rebuild of my leaky house. I had agreed with a builder that he would schedule my project into his work plan for 18 months in advance [that was the market delay at the time]. Nine months before the due start date, I went offshore for 6 months, and so contacted the builder 3 months ahead of the planned start time to get the Contracts underway. Only then did he bother to tell me that he had so much work around his base location that they no longer were doing work outside a 10km perimeter. This put my project back 3 years, as I had to then get the time to go through the whole selection process again; the market was even further behind; and building standards changed significantly requiring a redesign of the work to be done. Very unprofessional of the builder and very frustrating and expensive for me.


In cases of error – make sure the resolution is CLEAR AND AGREED.
Sometimes you just have to be onsite, especially during foundation work. During an extension project I noticed that the foundations of a retaining wall did not appear to resemble the design on the plan. I immediately contacted the builder and agreed to meet him before work the next day. I pointed it out to the builder, who duly agreed that he had not checked on the subcontractor the day before and that it was incorrect. Expecting that the foundation would be corrected when I arrived home from work that day, I instead found a completed block wall. The builder, although conceding that an error had been made, decided that he thought it would look fine anyway and continued with the plan. Duh! Who cares what he thinks! The specification plan is there for a reason and it should be followed. Always make it clear to a builder that you are open to suggestions for changes but that the decisions are yours and yours alone. That bit of wall bugs me every time I look at it. I am still debating getting it torn down and replaced when I do my next project. [NB: The contractor was ‘supposedly’ managing the project]



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