Is It Time For A Change?

Getting Started
“Measure twice, cut once.” Anyone about to decorate, renovate, or build should give this carpenters’ credo a broad interpretation—”Plan ahead.” Before you actually begin a project, whether large or small, you should be sure you understand what is involved, and know how it will be accomplished. You’ll probably start with a dream that seems perfectly clear — say, a freshly decorated living room—but you’ll quickly realize that many questions must be answered before you begin. You’ll see too that the answer to one question may affect the answer to another, so take your time and think things through.

Defining Your Goals

What is the desired result of your decorating project? The answer may seem so obvious—you want the room to look wonderful and work well—but the question is not as simple as it seems.

  • Why are you undertaking this project? Is it because you don’t like the way the room looks, or because it no longer works well, or both? Has there been a change in your life circumstances that affects the way you use your home? Marriage, children, an empty nest, a parent coming to live with you, a change in your health, the need or desire to work from your home?
  • Does the room need a cosmetic update, or a complete redo? If cosmetic, how extensive? Do you simply hate the wall covering, or do you want to replace all your furnishings? Can you work within existing walls, or do you need to make structural changes? Will you need building permits or a zoning variance?
  • How is your future tied to this house? Do you plan to live there a long time? Is the house an investment? What are the economic ramifications of your decorating or home improvement project? Will this project increase the value of the house, or price it out of its neighborhood? Will you be able to get the investment back should you decide to sell? Are you trying to fix up the home so that you can sell it in the near future? If this is not your long-term home, you may want to consider how other people will feel about the aesthetic choices you make—the bright carpeting you love may strike a potential buyer as prohibitively expensive to replace.

In decorating, the “how” goes hand-in-hand with the “why” and “what.” You’ll want to be sure you are able to follow through with your goals so those dreams turn into reality.

  • Can you do the designing or planning yourself, or will you need or want outside help? Do you envision wanting materials or furnishings that are only available through designers or contractors?
  • Will you be doing the work yourself? Do you really have the necessary skills? The tools? The time? If the job is extensive, are you prepared to coordinate subcontractors for the parts you cannot do?
  • Where will you live while the work is under way? Are you prepared to live with the mess or inconvenience? These questions are particularly important if you are remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, and the answers will affect your costs — if you are moving into a rental or eating out for weeks on end, calculate these expenses.

Making A Budget

“How much will it cost?” may be your first question, but “How much do you want to spend?” is just as important. To make a budget, list all the materials you’ll need, the services (labor) you’ll be using, and any permits required. Then list the cost of each item, including any shipping charges or taxes. Add these figures to find the total cost; to be safe, add 15 to 20 percent as a contingency figure.

Making a budget is not a one-step process. You can’t begin without having some idea of your goals and game plan, because you can’t list the cost for items you don’t know about. At the same time, you can’t have a final plan until you know if it is within your budget. Follow the steps below to calculate the potential cost of your project, then evaluate and revise your choices as necessary.

  • To begin your budget, you’ll have to learn the prices of potential materials. So go shopping. Visit showrooms, home centers, the lumberyard, or whichever vendor is appropriate. Get catalogs—many appliance and cabinet manufacturers have 800 numbers, and showrooms will often photocopy information for you.
  • Include the small details such as hardware and bathroom fixture controls, which can be costly and add up when used in multiples.
  • Include the hidden components—nails, glue, electrical wire.
  • Do your math—calculate how much of everything you’ll need.
  • Talk to professionals to get a general idea of costs for the job you have in mind. They won’t be able to give you a firm bid until you have your plans in hand, but they can advise you of usual costs.

Because of the mechanics, fixtures, and appliances involved, kitchens and baths are usually the most expensive rooms to renovate. The illustrations above show the typical allocation of funds for remodeling either space. Bear in mind that, whatever the room, structural changes have a significant impact on the total budget for the project.

Consider also that you often get what you pay for, and invest in the best quality that you can afford—particularly if it is something that is not easy to change later.

You will probably revise your goals and plans several times before you arrive at a workable budget. The more informed you are about the available options, the more easily you will be able to select the ones that are right for you—in terms of both their cost and quality.