You’ve decided you’re going to stretch your retirement funds and enjoy your life more by remaining in your own home for as long as you can. This is “aging in place”, and you’ll find a quick search of the internet will yield abundant results for this term. In fact, there are even designers who have earned the “CAPS” designation, or certified aging in place specialist. Not surprisingly, you’ll find that they have design ideas that you probably hadn’t thought about- it’s not all ramps and grab bars. These design ideas aren’t all complex either; some are as simple as removing rugs that might slip and cause a fall. Others are more complicated, requiring relocating walls, plumbing and electrical wiring. A quick remodel is all you need, right?
If you’ve remodeled before, you know what it’s like. For those of you who haven’t, let me tell you what it’s like.
A good tradesman who is familiar with the area can probably tell you how a home was built. An experienced one will not only know today’s building codes, methods and standards, but those of previous eras as well. The trick is to have enough experience that you can look at the structure and decide how you would have built it yourself. No matter how talented the tradesman, with remodels you just never know what you’re going to find when you cut open a wall, floor or ceiling. There may be a drain pipe in the wall that has been leaking since the day it was installed causing rot and mildew that will need to be repaired. Sometimes the wall you planned to move by two feet was where all the electrical wiring went from the first floor to the second, or turns out to support the roof. You may also discover that the house has already been remodeled by a previous incompetent tradesman. Shortcuts save money and don’t look bad at all when concealed by sheet rock, but are expensive and difficult to fix; that’s why they were taken in the first place.
Depending upon the age of your home, hazardous materials may be disturbed during the remodel. Asbestos and lead paint are two that are probably most common. Other hazards can be less obvious, like dead rodents or their droppings being added to the dust that is everywhere with any remodeling project. Abating lead and asbestos can significantly increase the costs of your project and complicate changes.
With a remodel, you’re going to have a difficult time avoiding going over budget and behind schedule. Where do you stop the brand new plumbing and connect it to the old galvanized pipes that are full of rust? Do you connect the brand new electrical wiring to the existing overloaded fuse panel, or to the circuit breaker box which is full of obsolete breakers and code violations? Where do you stop the new flooring? Do you make the door hardware, electrical trim and paint match only the walls you have remodeled, or do you change them in the whole room? Do you upgrade your ductwork while you have the roof removed, or do you add extra insulation to the walls while they’re open? You can plan, but only so you have something to change later.
Your remodel will go through stages: demolition, installation, and trim. There will be noise, dust, construction workers in your home, materials staged in your garage, workman’s trucks blocking the driveway and a plastic toilet in your front yard. There will be interruptions to your water, your electricity or your ability to lock up your home. Your burglar alarm might develop problems it never had before. You’ll be heating or cooling the neighborhood, and someone will dump all their used furniture and appliances in the dumpster that’s ruining your front yard or filling your driveway. Of course this will mean that all the debris that were supposed to go in the dumpster will need to be staged in your back yard until there’s room for it in the dumpster.
Eventually the project will be complete, and life will begin to return to normal. Of course, there will still be plenty of dust, and it might take until next season for the front lawn to look good again. If your neighbors are still talking to you, you can show them the improvements. Then you’ll start eyeing the next room, and your spouse will start eyeing the yellow pages for a divorce lawyer.
The real trick to a successful remodel is to get the most benefit for the least cost. These costs include the joys of remodeling as described above as well as the money you pay your contractor. Unless you’re ready for the financial and emotional strain of a full blown remodel (which you aren’t, you just think you are), start with something small and simple. I’m biased towards home automation as a simple remodel with minimum dust, noise and disruption with maximum benefit- including security, comfort and energy savings. In fact, a well designed automation system can simplify future remodel projects by allowing you to remotely control access to and monitor your home. When workers know they’re on camera, they tend to spend less time talking on their cell phone!
Plan your work, so that you’re not painting a wall you’re going to tear down in six months. Get rid of all the clutter you can, even if it means putting it in storage. Move out for the remodel, but don’t go on vacation where you aren’t able to be contacted- unless you trust your contractor to make expensive decisions for you! Decide where pets, valuables, and fragile items will go during the remodel. Keep a diary of all the activities, conversations, and payments. Take photographs or video of the project as it progresses. Don’t be afraid to ask about something that doesn’t look right as soon as it doesn’t look right. Perhaps the most important part of prudent remodeling is to deal with a licensed contractor and to know the laws you must both comply with.
As always, I’ll let my readers know that my employer offers home automation systems, including GrandCare Systems and Home Automation Incorporated systems.