Degree of Difficulty: Four Hammers out of Five

If you could look over my shoulder as I read my email from homeowners, you’d probably shake your head just like I do sometimes. Not a week goes by that I don’t have to offer up a grim autopsy report to a hurting homeowner who has hired a professional for a home improvement project. All too often the problem can be traced to poor planning early in the process.

Some homeowners, you may be one, do take the time to think things through before the job is bid. The bottom line is you’ll be much happier, you’ll get the best bid prices and you’ll avoid costly change orders if you just take the time to plan well as you march through the design phase of your upcoming job. You need great plans no matter if it’s a simple kitchen remodel, a room addition or a brand-new home.

Step One

Planning a job is work. It’s not something you hope works out. You have to be actively involved and you need to pull on past experience to ensure things will go well. For starters, use your existing home as the baseline for what you are going to do. Your tight spots need to be identified. Closets that are too small and rooms that are too tight all need to be put on a list so those mistakes never happen again.

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Step Two

For example, imagine you’re remodeling your kitchen. Stop and make a list of all the things that are wrong in your current kitchen. Where are the traffic jams? Where do you wish you had more counter space? Where is there poor lighting? This list of defects is the foundation of coming up with a new kitchen that will be a joy to be in and will produce minimal frustration.

Step Three

Resolve to pick out every item you intend to use in your job as the plans are being formulated. It’s vital you know the sizes of all appliances, fixtures, windows and even doors. Something as simple as cabinet hardware needs to be considered because the knobs or pulls you want may not work with the cabinet door design you select. You’ll discover quickly what items are custom ordered and take months to get.

Step Four

If your new job requires new windows, be sure you have a grasp of how much glass area is really going to show. The rough opening the carpenter builds for the window may seem huge, but by the time the window is in place, and depending if the window has internal vertical dividers, you may be shocked at how little glass or natural light will enter the room. All too often I hear complaints from homeowners about windows being too small.

Step Five

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Are you building a new home? Now is the time to rough in basement bathrooms for future use. It often takes a plumber just a few hours to put in the pipes before concrete is poured. Be sure you put a floor drain in the mechanical room where water heaters and boilers are located. If there’s a leak, the water stays in that room and doesn’t migrate to the rest of the lower level.

Step Six

Plan for future electric needs. If you feel you’ll need extra electric in remote parts of the house and you’re building a new home, now’s the time to install a blank conduit or two or three from the main panel to remote parts of the house where you may need cables. This simple task could save you thousands of dollars in the future.

Step Seven

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Perhaps you’re building a room addition or a new home. You need to take graph paper and make tiny colored cutouts of the exact furniture you’ll be using in each room. Place the pieces of paper on the large scale graph paper so they represent the final furniture layout. Provide for enough space between pieces. Doing this you’ll get the room sizes just right and not too small.

Step Eight

Don’t skimp on your deck or patio! Decks built just 10 or 12 feet away from a house wall are too narrow for even a 4-foot diameter table and chairs. Do the same exercise with the paper cutouts and use current room sizes in your home to validate what you come up with. Look at how spacious or cramped your current dining room is when it’s filled with people at the table. Is there enough room for people to comfortably get in and out of chairs? If so, this is how big your deck or patio needs to be.

Summary: Remember, planning is everything. If you fail to take the time to do it before the job, then you’ll pay double or triple to correct your mistakes later.