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What To Expect During Construction


Don’t you wish real life remodeling and construction was as quick and painless as the 22 minute shows on TV? Me too. Unfortunately for all of us, we don’t live in that magical dreamland where all the hard parts get left on the editing room floor. I was inspired to write today’s post about what to expect during construction after a conversation with a potential client. I have something like this conversation with every client at the beginning of their project. Most of my clients have lived through remodeling before, but some sick form of PTSD blocks it from their memory and nostalgia takes over. I’m told this is a lot like the feeling mothers develop after giving birth? I want the process to be less of a shock when we start, so I like to remind clients what it’s going to be like. If you’ve never lived through construction before, this is a good primer of what to expect.





It’s day one of demolition. Months (or years!) of planning and designing have finally got you to the point where you can say goodbye to the room (or entire home) you’ve wanted to change since you moved in. You’re so excited! Then the contractors start swinging hammers and throwing things into dumpsters and your heart sinks. This is a totally normal reaction when seeing your home down to the studs and a complete mess. You’ll think “what have we done?!” or “the kitchen wasn’t that bad” or “we could have lived with it”. Don’t lose sight of the goal and where you’re going. It always gets worse before it gets better.





There will come a time when you absolutely hate having contractors in your home. They start showing up before 7am when you’re in your pajamas drinking coffee in the makeshift kitchen you set up in your living room. At first you’ll see it as a sign of progress, then you’ll really start get annoyed after a few weeks. You just want your home to be peaceful again.





New people all the time. Who’s that? The electrician? A plumber? There are so many tradespeople coming and going. At the minimum you should make sure your contractor knows who everyone is and what they’re doing.





Expect lots of meetings, emails, phone calls and text messages. Thousands of decisions will go into creating your dream home. Professionals like your designer, architect, and contractor can help relieve some of the pressure. Sometimes you’ll have to take a last minute call from the contractor, or meet the designer during your lunch. Set some boundaries for yourself and know when you need to take a break. Not everything is urgent and not every decision is an emergency that you have to jump on right away.





Oh, so much dust! Everywhere. On everything. No matter how much plastic is up. No, really. I can’t emphasize this enough. There’s no way to stop it. You’ll still be finding it for months after construction has finished. Did I mention the dust?





“I hope someone knows what’s going on,” you’ll say. And usually they do. Construction is a lot like surgery. A good surgeon (your contractor) knows what’s going on and tells you the plan before the first cut. But let’s just say they miss that discussion and you come in half-way through the procedure – it’s going to looking like a bloody mess. It’s not always a good idea to question the surgeon’s every move during a surgery if you don’t understand what’s happening yourself. Sometimes you need to trust the process and let things come together. If you’ve established a solid team (designer, architect, contractor) they’ll help to communicate with you and advocate in your best interest. We talked about When To Work With An Interior Designer in a past blog post and try to answer Frequently Asked Questions honestly.





Scratches, dings, dents, scuffs, smudges – OH MY! Despite the best efforts to protect things in your home, you should expect some damages. Remember, we’re all human and everyone makes mistakes. Things go wrong, errors are made. Very rarely is anything done to intentionally hurt someone. It can be hard to remove emotions from a problem, but if we stay focused on the goals and the solutions to problems we’ll get much further and faster. They happen during every job. Which leads to…





Eventually, there will come a time to fix all of the blemishes mentioned above. It’s usually going to be once work is getting close to finished and there are much fewer contractors and vendors in your home. Sometimes (okay…most times) there are multiple rounds of touchups and repairs. A roll of blue painter’s tape comes in handy to mark the location of any needed repairs.





When I work on client projects I keep my own running list of things that need attention from the contractor. I call these Punch Lists. When I know they need attention before the next phase of a project I bring it up to the contractor. Some aren’t important yet and need to wait, like a scratch in the paint that will get touched up much later. I also ask clients to keep their own list of items so we can compare and see where we overlap. It’s not a competition, but mine is usually much longer.





Start planning contingencies for what you’re going to do when the project goes over budget and over the construction timeline. Because it’s usually both. I encourage clients to set aside 5-10% of their total budget for extra costs that come up. There are some great resources available to help establish a project budget like The National Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report or local data like this guide for Remodeling Costs in the Los Angeles area.





Here’s something that I always recommend to clients. Try to plan some time off for yourself during the project. Maybe visit family, or take a vacation away from your home, or even a staycation in a nice hotel near your home. But do something that will help you renew your emotional bandwidth and recharge. Construction projects are exhausting, and you have to know when to step away and take care of yourself. Clients often feel like it’s an indulgence to take time for themselves like this since they’re spending so much money on the luxury of remodeling. Some time away will help you feel better and keep you in the right state of mind to keep your project on track.


So what did I miss? If you’ve lived through a construction and remodeling project I’d love to hear your own warnings of what to expect in the comments below.