Putting pen to paper on a renovation

 Many renovations will involve only superficial changes to a home. Changing the colour of a wall, maybe replacing the cabinets, fixtures or flooring can all be accomplished without too much trouble. However, there are times when much more drastic renovations are required in order to get the most out of a home. Whether it involves knocking out some walls, adding a porch or even another storey, these changes are well beyond the scope of what any DIY renovator can accomplish.

Look beyond what is there
Quite often, the scope of renovations is limited by the existing walls within a structure. However, thinking beyond the constraints of existing walls can be quite difficult, unless the renovator has the opportunity to view a similar property that has already been renovated in a similar fashion. Opening up a space can change the entire feel of a home, moving it from a collection of small and somewhat dark rooms to an open and well lit space. When renovation moves beyond a quick lick of paint, it may well be worthwhile to engage the services of an architect.

A steep learning curve
Although a DIY renovator may well have some good ideas, the execution may leave much to be desired. There is also a steep learning curve involved, as renovation can often not be separated from other factors such as structural integrity or planning laws.

“If you would like ideas that might never occur to you, get information regarding functionality, building science or planning laws I suggest that you call a professional and save the learning curve,” says Wil Seward, managing director of Chalmers Gibbs Architects.

Many older properties have small spaces broken up into separate rooms. This does not go will with the current trend to open spaces with an easy flow between kitchen, living room and dining room. Removing walls or at least partially removing them can change the entire feel of a home, taking it from dingy and closed in to spacious and airy. Even though the floor space has not changed, the open flow tricks the eye into believing that there is much more space available.

Planning prevents problems
However, opening up a space involves a lot more than merely swinging a sledgehammer.

“The problems in a renovation are often encountered in the building phase – the combined advice of a creative architect and knowledgeable builder can often save money and capitalise on conditions that might otherwise become stumbling blocks for the well intentioned do-it-yourselfer,” says Seward.

When planning a renovation it is very important to consult the original plans of the property in order to see whether a wall is load bearing or not. If indeed a wall is load bearing, special measures have to be taken to reinforce the structure should the renovation involve the partial removal of the wall.

It may also be necessary to relocate power and water connections, which will require the input of a professional.

It is therefore advisable to get expert advice before setting your heart on any aspect of the renovation, as it might not be possible to do what you originally intended.

Don’t set plans in stone
Before going to a professional, it helps to have a flexible idea of what you want to achieve with a renovation.

“A clear idea of general goals for the project, maximum budget and any other constraints such as time or aesthetic preferences is always helpful,” says Seward.

“However, if you try to solve all the problems before your designer has had a chance to analyse the problem you may not use their professional abilities to full advantage. Often clients will tell a designer exactly what they want without a full understanding of the possibilities and end up with an unsatisfactory result. Allow your architect some flexibility to show you the possibilities at first and if necessary add constraints if the solutions are off the mark,” he adds.

Advice to fit the budget
Many renovators may feel that the scope of their renovation does not justify the cost of consulting an architect. However, depending on the scope of the project and the amount of advice required, consulting an architect does not have to cost as much as some renovators may fear.

“The advice of a professional can vary from a few hours consulting to a full service at 5 – 10% of construction cost,” says Seward.

Find the perfect partner
Yet finding the right architect for your project might not be as straight forward as finding someone with good references.

“This is a personal decision and if you are unsure it may be worthwhile to interview several consultants as well as builders to find a team you can trust,” according to Seward.

Although this may not seem very important initially, even small disagreements can bloom over the course of a project.

“The design and construction process can be demanding for all concerned and often requires a period of up to several years start to finish. Over that time patience as well as good advice will be necessary,” Seward advises.

All the stresses of the building process aside, a home is something extremely personal, which makes it easy for emotion to rule over reason when it comes to the planning abd building process.

“Building a home is often a very personal experience, so it is essential to have a good relationship with your architect and builder to help you through the many decisions necessary,” according to Seward.