Philosophy Makes Home Building and Renovation Projects Better

renovation steve maxwell canada's handiest manTwo summers ago I spent an afternoon offering advice to a woman who was in the middle of a major and painful renovation. It was her first one, and it was taking longer than she and her husband had planned. It was costing more than she (and especially he) expected. And while we sat on the tailgate of a work truck in her driveway, figuring out the details behind the technical issue she called me about, I realized how the root of renovation anxieties go beyond mere decisions about how to build.

In the end, we did figure out how to make several specific things happen, but 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 – are way beyond ordinary life, and perhaps a few insights into the process will help you, too.

Controlled Chaos

Building is a lot like tobogganing down a hill. When you slide down the hill, it’s never possible to map out an exact course. Sometimes the renovation hill moves you more quickly than you’d like, sometimes you get stuck in soft snow. 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. Learning to bend a little is the first key to sanity.

Theory Never Quite Meets Practice

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 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 build 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.

Success Can Feel Like Disaster

Even the best-run projects sometimes feel like disasters when you’re in the middle of them. Construction 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.

Renovations often take longer than you expect, costs 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 hill you’ll probably be thinking the whole renovation ride wasn’t so bad after all.

Posted on January 26th, 2012

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