100 Things to Know Before You Remodel

Men laying new hardwood flooring

Most homeowners have contemplated remodeling their home at some point. They need more space, more storage, more bedrooms or simply more style. If you’ve moved from the remodeling “What if?” to the “Let’s do this!” phase, read on. This remodeling guide will help you consider your alternatives and focus on what’s important.

Step 1: Your Vision/Scope of Project
Finding inspiration is the first, and probably most crucial, step to embarking on a remodeling project. Whether it’s a desire for more room, a better view, changing flow from room to room or you just want to update a tired layout—define your vision.
 

    1    Tell your story—imagine your life going forward. What will your needs be five years from now? Who will live in your house 10 years from now?

    2     Make a list of things you like about the spaces to be remodeled (inside or out) and what you dislike and want to change.

    3     Narrow it down: Refine your list of dislikes by highlighting things you absolutely need to change versus those you want to change. These will be your priorities.

    4     Define the scope of the project in writing so that you set boundaries. This helps keep the remodeling process from snowballing into more projects than you’re ready for.

    5     Start a project idea book and fill it with photos of rooms that catch your eye. Tear out and save or scan pages from magazines.

    6     Find inspiration in actual objects or artwork that appeals to you, whether because of their colors, shapes or textures. 

    7     Find your style online or in print: Check out Houzz.com, Pinterest.com and design/remodeling books. And to see our past issues, visit Issuu.com/AtlantaHomeImprovement

    8     Visit designer showrooms to help envision your new living space.

    9     Look for local home tours—for instance, Atlanta’s National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) sponsors a remodeled home tour every year. AtlantaRemodelingTour.com

    10     Research the possibilities of technology—how can the latest high-tech gizmos make your life easier? Can energy be saved with new appliances or building materials?

    11    Think about your timeline: When should your project start and end? Are there major holidays involved? When is your drop-dead completion date?

    12    If you want to remodel the outside of your house, consider your neighborhood. Will your new style blend well with that of neighboring homes? 

Step 2: Decide on a Budget
Everybody’s least-favorite aspect of a remodel is defining the budget. It’s vital, though, to consider a project’s cost from every angle. The more details about your desires that you convey to a contractor, the more he or she can help you control costs by offering you budget-friendly options.
 

    13    How long will you stay in the house? The longer you stay, the more time you will have to spread out the cost of remodeling.

    14    If you move out, will you sell or rent it? Fancy additions to a house make it easier to rent, but are hard to protect from damage.

    15    Know before you go—before approaching a bank for a loan, consider paying for an appraisal to arm you with information about your home’s value.

    16    Check out your neighborhood’s comparable home sales prices. Avoid over-investing in your home—don’t spend more money than you could recoup by selling.

    17    If you need a loan to finance a remodel, get your facts straight. Know what your fixed monthly expenses are and your gross annual income is.

    18    Lenders use a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) to decide what loans to approve. Your DTI is: Total monthly expenses plus estimated monthly loan payment. Divide that by your gross monthly income to get a percentage.

    19    If your DTI is higher than your bank’s limit (meaning no loan for you), you may be able to incorporate your existing debt into a home-improvement loan to lower your DTI.
    20    Calculate the size of your project. Square footage is an indicator of cost, but the building-material options you choose will greatly affect your budget, too.

    21    Kitchens and bathrooms are typically the most expensive rooms to remodel because they involve major plumbing, electrical and lighting issues as well as expensive appliances.

    22    Your home’s age and condition will affect the cost to remodel it. The older the home, the more it may require updating to meet building codes.

    23    Do you need structural changes to your home? Moving walls and adding square footage is more expensive than working within your home’s current configuration.

    24    You get what you pay for—features that require skilled craftsmen or customized products will cost more than prefabricated products.

    25    Will you need permits from the city for any parts of your remodel? Permits are expensive and time-consuming to get—larger projects almost always require them.

    26    Decide what you can afford to spend on a remodel, then hold 15 percent back as a reserve. Problems invariably arise—don’t be caught without a way to fix them.  

 

Step 3: Who Can Make It Happen?
How much help will you really need with your remodeling project? Are there aspects of the project you want to handle yourself (DIY paint or wallpaper, for instance)? This list of definitions and resources can help you decide what to take on and what to delegate to a professional.

    27    General contractor (GC): Manages the entire remodeling process. Controls the schedule, budget and work of subcontractors (and may do a portion of the work himself or herself).

    28    Architect: Licensed by the state and formally educated. Prepares construction drawings to convey the project’s scope and to apply for permits. Find one who specializes in remodeling.

    29    Designer: Should be certified and/or licensed. Offers guidance and can prepare drawings to define the project’s scope and get permits. Often specializes in specific types of remodels. 
    30    Design/build contractor: Provides design work and construction services all under one roof. Can perform the project from start to finish.

    31    Landscape architect: Must be certified and licensed. Provides design drawings (for both hardscape, like patios and outdoor kitchens, and softscape, like gardens and trees).

    32    Unlicensed landscape designer: Can provide landscape design drawings, but cannot be paid for them. Must be the one to install the design—can charge a fee for that service.

Step 4: Make the Choice
Don’t skip asking remodeling professionals for referrals prior to making a hiring decision. And don’t just ask for project photos—speak to past clients or research online to confirm your choice is a good one. These tips and resources can help you navigate your local choices for remodeling pros.

    33    Get a detailed design finalized before interviewing a contractor. That way, you can solicit bids and know each contractor is providing prices on the exact same items.

    34    In Georgia, a contractor must have a license to take on any project over $2,500. They must have worker’s comp as well as property damage and liability insurance, too.

    35    Go to PublicRecords.OnlineSearches.com/Georgia-Contractor-Licenses.htm to find out if a contractor is currently fully licensed.

    36    City building codes vary considerably and can change annually. A contractor specializing in your part of town is likely to be up to date on permitting.

    37    Beware of any contractor’s estimate that is substantially lower than others. This usually is a sign that project steps or materials are missing from the bid.

    38    Remodeling professionals should be able to educate you about issues like green remodeling, universal design, new products, building techniques and trends. Ask questions about your options.

    39    NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry): Certifies its members by screening and testing them. Contact information for its members, remodelers with at least two years’ experience, is listed on the NARI Atlanta website. NARIAtlanta.org

    40    NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association): Click on the “ProSearch” link on their home page and type in your zip code to search for a kitchen/bath professional in your area. NKBA.org

    41    ASID (American Society of Interior Designers): Professional members represent all sectors of the design world and are tested and formally educated. ASID.org

    42    UAC (The Georgia Urban Ag Council): Website is a good resource for ideas and a list of all types of professionals involved in landscaping. UrbanAgCouncil.com

    43    Houzz: Use this website to find project photos from design and construction experts. Great for finding inspiration and professionals in your area. Houzz.com

    44    ADAC (Atlanta Decorative Arts Center): Sixty showrooms of décor, floor and wall coverings, antiques, kitchens, bathrooms and home-theater products—open to design professionals only. Download a list of their design specialists at ADACAtlanta.com.

    45    Go to the Better Business Bureau’s website to ensure there are no complaints on record for a contractor that you are thinking about using.  BBB.org

    46    Friends and relatives: For large-scale projects, Jesse Morado, CR, NARI Atlanta executive director, recommends getting a referral from someone you have a personal connection with and browsing NARI’s selection of reputable and experienced contractors. NARIAtlanta.org

    47    Canvas your neighborhood to see who has or is undergoing a remodel. Don’t be afraid to knock on their door and ask how it’s going. 

Step 5: Working with a Professional
The remodeling professionals you choose will be at your house. A LOT. They’ll know what you look like before you’ve showered and they’ll know if your dog has nasty habits. Choosing someone you’re comfortable with is essential because issues that come up during the project will require good communication to resolve.

    48    A contract, signed by both parties, will outline project steps and who is responsible for each one. It can be single or multiple pages, depending on the project’s scope.

    49    The contract should name who is involved and specify the work to be done in exact phases. If possible, list product brands and names.

    50    What about changes? The contract should outline exactly how a change will be considered and decided upon. Usually a written change-order form is used.

    51    Not every project ends well. The contract needs to define how the parties can terminate the agreement if need be—like with mediation or arbitration. 

    52    The contract should talk about what will happen in the event of a natural disaster.

    53    Include a statement to protect yourself from subcontractors who might place a lien on the property if they aren’t paid. A contractor’s lien releases you from that liability.

    54    Don’t settle for the term “lifetime warranty.” A warranty should say how long it will last and what it does and does not cover.

    55    Agree how the contractor will be paid. The contract can outline a payment schedule with certain benchmarks, like “third payment paid after flooring is installed.”

    56    If you don’t understand the contract’s legal jargon, consult an attorney who specializes in building and remodeling law.

    57    Make a book: Have a designated place to keep all contracts, invoices, plans, specifications and change orders for easy, instant access.
    58    Scheduling: Be sure all parties involved know if and when you have events scheduled at the house. Plan for holiday breaks ahead of time.

    59    Tape off the work zone: Especially when kids and pets are part of the equation, make sure everyone knows what areas of the house are off limits to the little ones.

    60    Pet smart: Discuss how pets will be housed and handled during construction. A late-night chase to find Fido won’t be fun.

    61    Tell all: Let the contractor know how you like your communication—phone calls, texts or emails.

    62    Check in: Check your cell phone and email often during the day—you don’t want your lack of attention to be the reason your project is running late or over budget.

    63    Carefully consider any changes to the original plan of action. Asking the contractor, “While you’re at it, could you . . .” will risk blowing the budget with extra costs.

    64    Ask the contractor to review the floor plans with you thoroughly before work begins. 

    65    Some designers, architects or contractors offer computer-aided design renderings in 3D that help you visualize the new space.

    66    Ask when permit inspections will be required by the city. Failing an inspection can blow your schedule. Try to be on-site when the inspector is scheduled to come.

    67    Help out your favorite professionals by offering to have your home photographed for their portfolio or mention their business to a friend looking to have similar work done. 

 

Step 6: Selecting Materials/Products/Showrooms
These questions focus on how you will use your new and improved space. Go through each item carefully to research new-tech solutions, green building options and cost-cutting measures that could impact your remodel.

    68    Visit product showrooms to touch and feel your way through your remodel. Look at all of the different styles and colors of cabinetry and countertops because how they look together can make a big difference.

    69    Take a designer with you. Designers often have their ear to the ground and know where your money can be best spent. And they can access products you don’t even know about yet.

    70    Lighting: Will skylights be a good solution for the interior space? What about recessed lighting with dimmers? Where will lamps be placed?

    71    Where will the technology go? Be thinking about where you want electrical outlets, phone jacks or cable hook-ups.

    72    Not many homeowners claim to need less storage—if you’re among those who don’t have enough cabinets or drawers, now is the time to speak up.
    73    In kitchens and bathrooms, countertops make a big impact. Look for materials that fit your family—stain-proof for kids, beveled edges for style, for instance.

    74    Go to a showroom to see appliances and bath fixtures. Stand next to them and go through the motions. A washer that’s too deep to reach the bottom will be frustrating. And a faucet handle bar that looks great but won’t fit your bathroom’s dimensions, won’t serve you well.

    75    Go to GeorgiaPower.com to research how much energy appliances use. Consider buying an Energy Star-approved model to save money on your electric bill. EnergyStar.gov

    76    Knowledgeable staff in a flooring showroom can walk you (literally) through carpet and hard-floor options. Consider how carpet muffles noise and hardwood is easy to clean. 

Step 7: Logistics 
Avoid the pain of a remodeling project gone wrong by planning how the remodel will affect your family before and during the work. Being prepared for all of life’s uncertainties is impossible, but it doesn’t hurt to consider these tips to help you all thrive through the process.

    77    The process should begin with a big supply of patience. Uncontrollable things can cause “schedule creep”—back-ordered products, bad weather or structural problems, to name a few.

    78    Before work begins, ask your remodeler what inconveniences may occur. They will have tricks to share to help things flow smoothly.

    79    Construction vehicles and material deliveries will not just impact your household and driveway. Let your neighbors know what to expect to keep irritations to a minimum.

    80    Pack up your stuff. Buy cardboard “banker’s boxes” in multipacks at an office-supply store. They’re inexpensive and have handles and lids, making stacking easy.

    81    If space in your home is tight, consider storing your boxes and larger possessions in a local storage locker during the remodel. Many offer “buy three months, get one free.”

    82    Anticipate weather patterns during the season of your remodel. Have supplies on hand, like tarps for rain or portable heaters for warmth, if necessary.
    83    A dumpster in your yard is probably going to become part of daily life. Plan where it will go and when and how it will be dumped.

    84    Portable toilets are not a thing of beauty, but will be necessary to have on-site if you don’t want workers using your bathroom.

    85    Talk to your contractor about the comings and goings of the workers. When will they arrive and leave each day? 

    86    Notify your neighbors of the approximate length of time the remodel will take and let them know what to expect. This includes noise levels, daily traffic, and debris. 

    87    Discuss what will happen to grass, plants and trees near the remodel site. Steps can be taken to protect them from being flattened.

    88    Be realistic. If the remodel is extensive, it might be best to rent an apartment or extended-stay hotel room for some of the time to save stress on the family. 

Step 8: Finishing Touches 
Now comes the fun part. Making choices for decorating and furnishing your remodel is exciting, but can be overwhelming too. This is where a designer can step in to guide you through the process to save you time, money and stress.

    89    Hopefully, you’ve been working with a design professional to figure out your color scheme. Or try Sherwin-Williams’ ColorSnap® Visualizer—both online and via app—which lets you upload photos of a room to test color palettes.

    90    Choose colors for the space to fit how it will be used, not just seen. For instance, bright, primary colors in kids’ rooms cause excitement, while pastels are calming.

    91    To be environmentally sensitive, go for low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints so you don’t breathe in toxic fumes.

    92    Use the floor plan to plot out where furniture will go. Most plans are drawn to 1/8 scale: 1/8-inch on the plan equals 1 linear foot.

    93    Take the floor plan with you when you shop for furniture. Showrooms will be able to use the plan to guide you to appropriate furniture sizes.

    94    Order custom window treatments at least six weeks in advance. Showrooms are a great place to check out the latest fabrics and styles.
    95    Consider lighting early in the remodeling process. A blend of cove, soffit and valance lights create light for different purposes without exposing the fixtures.

    96    Multiple light sources are best in each room. Using only one lighting source means you’ll end up with lots of shadows.

    97    Spruce up the spaces in your home by adding colorful floral arrangements.

    98    To save energy, install motion detectors and timers on exterior lighting and air conditioning units.

    99    In living areas, choose a piece of artwork for a focal point, then install up-lighting or down-lighting to give the display drama.

    100    Add comfort to your home by filling it with cozy blankets, pillows and soft-to-the-touch rugs. 
 

No matter how you slice it, remodeling is a lot of work. But you can make a big impact on the process by carefully considering what your goals are and how to make them happen with a minimal effect on you and your family. 

Professionals who can help
Aquaguard  |  AquaGuard.net
Atlanta Stoneworks, Inc.  |  770-975-0075
Atlanta Teak Furniture  |  AtlantaTeak.com
Bekel Home + Design  |  BekelHome.com
Belgard  |  Belgard.com/AHI
Big Green Egg  |  BigGreenEgg.com
Biltmore Roofing  |  BiltmoreRoofing.com
B-Level Concrete   |  B-LevelSE.com
BSI  |  BuilderSpecialties.net
Cabinet and Stone City  |  CabinetStoneCity.com
Carolina Lumber  |  CarolinaLumber.com
Chattahoochee Shower Doors  |  ChattahoocheeGlass.com
CIC Floors  |  CICFloorsLLC.com
Classic Bars  |  ClassicBars.net
Cool Air Mechanical  |  770CoolAir.com
Cornerstone Furniture  |  GreatValueFurniture.com
CR HOME  |  CRHomeUSA.com
Davis Window and Door  |  DavisWin.com
DC Enclosures  |  DCEnclosures.com
Decks & More  |  DecksAndMore.biz
Dove Studio  |  DoveStudio.com
Drexler Shower Door  |  404-800-6469
Enhance Floors  |  EnhanceFloors.com
Equity Prime Mortgage  |  EquityPrime.com
European Kitchen & BathWorks  |  EuroKBW.com
Fern Valley  |  FernValley.com
Fieldstone Center  |  FieldstoneCenter.com
Howard Payne  |  HowardPayne.com
Jackson EMC  |  JacksonEMC.com
Jennifer’s Glassworks  |  JennifersGlassWorks.com
KMH Interiors  |  KMHInteriors.net
Mast Cabinetry  |  770-616-4423
Masterpiece Lighting  |  MasterpieceLighting.com
Mudjack  |  MudjackAtlanta.com
Myers  |  MyersCarpetAtlanta.com
NG Turf  |  NGTurf.com
N-Motion  |  AtlantaStoneAndTileCare.com
Nightvision  |  ILoveNightVision.com
Overhead Door  |  OverheadDoorAtlanta.com
Painting Plus  |  PaintingPlus.com
PDI  |  RelyOnPDI.com
ReStore  |  SuburbanAtlantaRestores.org
Southern Classic Flooring  |  SouthernClassicFlooring.com
Southern Landscape  |  SouthernLandscapeLightingSystems.com
Stone Center  |  StoneCenterAtlanta.com
Sugar Hill Outdoors  |  SugarHillOutdoors.com
Tightline  |  SidingAndWindowsAtlanta.com
Totally Dependable  |  TotallyDependable.com
Tremron  |  Tremron.com
UAC  |  UrbanAgCouncil.com
Viking  |  VikingRange.com
Wade Works  |  WadeWorksCreative.com

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