RENOVATION SANITY: How to Keep Smiling During Home Renovations

A number of years ago I spent part of an afternoon offering advice to a woman who was in the middle of a major and painful (to her) home renovation. It was her first major reno, and it was taking longer than she and her husband had planned. It was costing more than she (and especially he) expected, too. There was tension. And while we sat on the tailgate of my work truck in her driveway, figuring out the details behind the technical issues she called me for advice about, I realized how the root of renovation anxieties go beyond mere decisions about how to build. It’s also about how homeowners think about the process and what they expect it to look like. The difference between imagination and reality is often what leads to renovation anxiety, but it doesn’t have to.

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This is the scene at the woman’s stone house renovation project on the day we talked. To someone not used to major renovations, this might look like chaos. It’s actually a well-ordered project that’s proceeding as it should.

Start With a Trustworthy Contractor

In the end, we did figure out how to make several specific things happen on a technical level. I also offered her a way of seeing her building adventure that left her smiling more calmly than when I arrived. Major renovations – even the best ones – take you way beyond ordinary life, and perhaps a few insights into the process will help you, too.

Before I go on, let me mention how important it is to find good contractors and tradespeople to work with. Bad help is an avoidable source of trouble, but few homeowners take the time to do the homework necessary to avoid making a deal with a bad player. Click here to learn about finding a good contractor from amongst the bad.

Renovations are Controlled Chaos

Building is a lot like tobogganing down a snow-covered hill. When you start the process it’s never entirely possible to map out the exact course you’ll follow. Do your best, but expect deviations. Sometimes the renovation hill moves you more quickly than you’d like. Sometimes you get stuck in soft snow. Sometimes you fall off the toboggan. The pace of decision-making required can be fast and scary, or boring and frustrating. There’s a rhythm to every project, and as a homeowner, you’re never in complete control of the tempo. Neither is your contractor. Reality always has the upper hand. Learning to bend with reality is the first key to renovation sanity.

Theory Never Quite Meets Practice. Never

The higher your expectations, the greater the need to wrestle with compromise and flex in prudent directions during the building process. It took me years to learn this the hard way, so I know it’s not always easy.

For instance, the woman I helped with decisions on her reno lives in a big Canadian city, but her reno property is a classic stone building in a very rural community. Her vision included traditional, authentic materials throughout, and that’s something I’m partial to as well. But sometimes, in specific situations, modern materials make so much more sense that it’s really the only practical way to go. The trick is knowing how and when to use them.

“I didn’t come all the way to the country to bring MDF beadboard into my life”, she explained – a sentiment that I understand completely. But when you want some things that only MDF trim can provide – low cost, excellent paintability, and a wide range of available profiles – there may be reasons to look at things differently. The issue isn’t always what something is made of, but rather how it affects the overall feeling of your new space.

Renovation Success Sometimes Feels Like Disaster

If you’ve never lived through a big renovation, even the best-run projects sometimes feel like disasters when you’re in the middle of them. Construction and renovation is an ugly, loud, expensive and messy process. Personalities sometimes clash. Details you dreamed about may not be possible after all. Budgets inflate. Your struggle ultimately boils down to the difference between theory and practice – the difference between the home you see in your head and the home you’re able to create. The two never quite meet. Don’t expect them to.

Renovations often take longer than you expect, cost more than you initially thought, and involves more mental anguish than seems reasonable. Choose your contractor well, keep smiling, and by the time you get to the bottom of the tobogganing hill you’ll probably be thinking the whole renovation ride wasn’t so bad after all. At least I hope so. And here’s one more thing. It’s a little trick I know for emotional stability, especially when any part of life gets challenging (not just renos).

Will this article help you stay sane during a renovation? I hope so. Please consider helping me cover the cost of creating and publishing content like this. Click the “buy me a coffee” button below and it’ll take you to a fast, safe and simple way to make a contribution. Thank you!

– Steve Maxwell