Billdr’s guide to a full home renovation

Taking your home down to the studs for a top to bottom renovation is a big endeavour. It’s often stressful, expensive, and time consuming. That’s why it’s important to partner with an experienced contractor who will work with you to understand your goals, respect your budget, and be able to work within an agreed upon timeline. It goes without saying, for a full house renovation you also need an excellent project manager to coordinate all the moving parts. With the right team, tackling a major project like a full house renovation will be more manageable and ultimately enjoyable.

In this guide, we’ll outline the main steps to a full house renovation, including:

  • Identifying your house goals
  • Determining your project scope
  • Planning your project timeline
  • Permit and insurance requirements
  • Planning your budget
  • Financing options
  • Identifying and working with your renovation team

How to plan a full house renovation

The success of any project is defined by how closely the end result meets your objectives. That’s why it’s a good idea to clearly identify your goals before embarking on any home renovation. Examples may include:

  • Increasing the value of your property
  • Reducing energy costs
  • Making the home more comfortable to live in 
  • Adapting your home to life changes

Once you know what you’re looking to accomplish, Billdr and its team of vetted contractors can help define a work plan. For instance, to reduce energy costs, you’ll need to address your heating and ventilation setup as well as your home’s insulation. To make room for a new baby, you will need to determine if it’s possible to alter your home’s existing footprint or if you need to extend your home. It’s likely you’ll have overlapping objectives that can be addressed in similar ways. 

The scope of your home renovation

Within the range of what you can do during a home renovation, there are minor, standard and major renovations.

Minor includes:

  • Refreshing the paint
  • Replacing the doors 
  • Replacing/upgrading electrical outlets

Standard includes: 

  • Re-doing your floors, including subfloor
  • Renovating and/or relocating your kitchen or bathroom
  • Replacing windows and doors
  • Partial modification of electrical and plumbing systems

Major includes: 

  • Home extension
  • Transformation of a multi-unit dwelling into a single-family home
  • Complete modification of electrical and plumbing systems
  • Upgrading insulation
  • Altering load-bearing elements
  • Replacing the exterior envelope of a home

Minor renovations and many standard ones don’t require an architect, structural engineer, or technologist. Major renovations almost always require at least one of these professionals. Your Billdr project manager can suggest the right professional based on your scope and goals.

How soon should I start planning my renovation? 

If you need plans drawn up by an architect, technologist, designer or engineer and approved by your city, give yourself a minimum of 4 to 6 months before starting construction. When you’re starting a major renovation that involves your whole house or several rooms, it’s best not to rush.  

With a lot of moving parts, good planning and preparation is key to success. Involving a Billdr Project Manager at the onset can ensure less surprises down the road. From providing an initial budget estimate to helping define the project scope, Billdr can provide a better understanding of what to expect throughout the renovation process.

It’s highly recommended that you live in your home before renovating. This will give you a good sense of how you use the space and where your home falls short. If you’re buying an old house that needs a lot of work and is unlivable, that might not be possible or desirable. In that case, try to get into the house at different times during the day to evaluate the natural light, how the home temperature feels when it’s colder, etc. Living in your house prior to renovation, even for a little bit, however, will empower you to make more confident decisions about what you need and what to get done.

Do I need a building permit for my renovation?

While different cities have different requirements, if you are setting out to do a whole house renovation with architect and/or engineer plans, then it’s very likely you will need a permit. It’s also likely that you’ll need a permit for any exterior changes like siding and new windows. 

Factor the time to obtain permits into your renovation schedule. There are times during the year when the permit bureaus are busier than others, for instance leading up to the summer months. You can call your permit bureau to see what their average time delays are for issuing permits. 

If your house is deemed historical or in an area with homogeneity rules, the permit process might take longer than average. Even if you’re working with an architect, it’s a good idea to find out what restrictions might be in place in your area. That way you can focus on making changes that are likely to be approved. 

Do I need insurance for my renovation? 

Any reputable contractor will have property, liability and workers compensation policies in place. All Billdr contractors for instance have at least $2-million of liability insurance. It’s also vital you inform your homeowners insurance that you are renovating and provide them with details regarding the scope of your renovation. Your insurer will let you know about any additional costs to cover liability during construction. You should also let them know if you will be moving out of the house during the renovation to see whether that impacts your policy. 

When do I need to hire a general contractor? 

If your project requires professional plans and a permit, it’s best to wait until the plans are drawn up and submitted to the city before getting quotes from a general contractor. Billdr however can provide you with a high-level estimate at this stage to give you a ballpark idea of what to expect. Once the plans are final, Billdr will provide a more detailed estimate and get 2~3 quotes from general contractors within their network.   

How to establish a budget for your home renovation 

The average whole house renovation for a 3 bedroom, 1500 square foot detached house in Canada and the U.S.A is $300,000. That being said, this price can vary depending on the scope of work, the cost of materials and your general market. In areas where home prices are higher, renovation/construction costs tend to also be higher than in cities with lower home prices. 

In recent years, labour shortages have also impacted prices. While this level of uncertainty might be discouraging, it’s important to be informed about all the factors that can affect the cost of your home renovation. Billdr provides you with a detailed estimate based on the scope of the project before submitting it to its network of qualified contractors for their bids. That way you have a clear idea of what your project will cost from the get go. 

Want to Know How Much Your Home Renovations Will Cost? Take Our Quick Quiz

By answering a few simple questions, you'll know how much to budget for your renovations

Financing your home renovation 

Depending on where your home is located and what the renovation is there are several incentives and rebates you can look into. Normally they will have incentives for energy efficiency, for new builds, for heritage buildings, for new homeowners and for low income families.  

When building the budget for your renovations, don’t forget about these rebates — they can make a significant difference in terms of the bottom line. 

If you have a traditional bank mortgage for your home, then there are programs in place to help you pay for your renovation. With low interest rates, refinancing can be an attractive option. Many banks also allow you to combine your mortgage with a home equity line of credit. This means you can borrow a certain percentage over and above the market price of your home. As you pay off your mortgage, you have more money available to borrow under this scheme. 

There are also home equity lines of credits that aren’t bundled with your mortgage and allow you to simply borrow a certain percentage of your home’s market value. Finally, you can also inquire about home equity loans where your bank will hand over a one-time lump sum as high as 80 per cent of your home’s value. It’s a good idea to speak with your lender if you require additional help to finance your renovation before meeting with architects and contractors so you can get a clear picture of your situation and see if you have wiggle room in the eventuality that costs run over budget, which is often the case. 

If you are able to finance your renovation completely in cash, that’s great! There are still ways to help spread out payments on certain things like materials. Certain big box and/or hardware stores will have credit cards that allow you to buy now and pay in a year or 19 months without any interest. When you need to pay for construction materials, professional fees, permits and contractor fees in real-time, knowing that you can divest some expenses later on can be a big relief. 

How to communicate with your contractor during the renovation

Good communication skills are the hallmark of a great contractor. During a renovation, even one that’s meticulously planned, there will be unplanned occurrences. Your contractor through your Billdr project manager should document every change to the plan in writing. If the homeowner decides to add to the scope, that should be well-documented as well in order to avoid any disputes down the line. 

While communication between contractor and homeowner is important, it’s also important not to overwhelm the contractor or vice-versa. In other words, exchanging multiple text messages or email per day with your contractor might not be the most helpful. Establish with your contractor which method works best for all parties and make sure to get everything in writing. Depending on your selected package, your Billdr project manager will be in the loop for all communications and will conduct weekly site visits to make sure everything is running smoothly. Any emergencies that impact the scope of your Billdr-managed renovation are communicated right away. 

Unless you are a serial renovator, a major renovation is only a once or twice in a lifetime affair. It’s normal to have questions and concerns. With the right support system in place and a realistic mindset, you will come out the other side relieved that you decided to take the plunge and ready to enjoy your new space. 

Billdr’s tips

  • If you are undertaking major renovations requiring architectural plans, plan ahead because the time required to approve the project to the City can be long.
  • For medium and large projects, it is essential to document everything: Billdr supports you throughout the process until the project is delivered.

Check out one of our most recent projects: A double-storey home extension

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