The most important first step in a remodel is a good plan. Planning is necessary to maintain control – control of your design, time and budget.  A plan will help you to organize resources and activities efficiency and effectively to achieve your remodel goals.

The planning process (1) establishes your remodel goals, (2) identify activities to achieve the goals, (3) resources activities and (4) implements, directs and monitors all steps in their proper sequence.

One might think the planning phase is too much effort.  It is effort, but time well spent.  Often remodels can become unmanageable.  The remodel projects can grow beyond your technical abilities, exceed your financial constraints or become too time consuming.  The right plan can help you manage all these obstacles.

1. Establish Your Remodel Goals

We recently remodeled an entire house – every room.  Yes, I developed a detained plan and we used it to manage our project.  Like everything in life, things do change.  I could adjust the plan and access the impact or time and budget.  This knowledge allowed us the opportunity to make other changes in the plan to accommodate the impact or at the very least recognize the impact and move on.

First things first – set your remodel goals.  It could be a completely new kitchen, remodeling a guest bathroom or tearing down a wall to create an open living space.  Make sure you goal is clear, that it sets boundaries and establishes expectations.  Now write it down.  Your objective is to eliminate or at a minimal reduce scope creep.  What do I mean by scope creep?  Let’s say you want to remodel your kitchen but during the process you decide to paint the dining room – that’s scope creep.  You went beyond the boundaries of your remodel project.  You ask yourself, why not?  If time and costs are not a factor, I agree why not.  But you just added potentially days of effort and several hundred dollars to you remodel project.  When you look back and wonder why your project had cost over runs, scope creep may be to blame. 

2. Identify Major Remodel Activities

Once you have a clearly defined remodel goal, its time to determine the activities required to meet the goals.  Let’s say it’s a kitchen remodel.  Brainstorm the modifications you will be making:

  • Demo the Kitchen
  • Replace the Cabinets
  • Replace the Appliances
  • Install New Flooring
  • Update Lighting
  • Paint
  • Install Counter tops and backsplash
  • Perhaps Replace a Window(s)
  • Update Electrical Wiring
  • Update Plumbing

Once you begin considering the major activities necessary, it is possible you will discover efforts you hadn’t considered.  There are always unknown or unforeseen conditions you will have to address during your remodel.  For example, why did I mention electrical wiring?  Do you have enough plugs available in your kitchen, is it well lite or do you need to add under counter lights, do you have a water line to the refrigerator for an icemaker, are you relocating any appliance or your perhaps your sink?  Any of the decisions will impact your major activities.  Your goals should be specific enough to ensure your plan is complete.  Now that you have brainstormed activities, it is possible you need to further define your remodel goals. 

The new goal statement for the kitchen remodel, may now be remodel the kitchen so it has a more efficient layout by relocating the stove and refrigerator to provide additional counter space.  This change in your goal will most likely require the addition of electrical and plumbing activities in your plan.  Ensure your remodel goals are specific.

Now that you have your major activities identified. It’s time to dig deeper.  What does it actually take to achieve that major activity?  Let’s look at Replace the cabinets as an example.  Will the cabinet layout change, where will you buy the cabinets, is it going to be a do it yourself installation?  For discussion purposes, let’s make it a do it yourself project.  Consider the following as tasks performed to replacing kitchen cabinets:

  • Develop the kitchen floor plan to include the cabinets and appliances
  • Order Cabinets – this includes price and product comparison shopping which can be extremely time consuming.  Remember to build into your plan the delivery time, this may also impact where you make your purchase. 
  • Prepare the space for cabinet installation – this may include painting, repairing drywall, additional wiring and/or plumbing
  • Install cabinets

3. Resource Your Remodel Plan

This step identifies the supplies and tools, products and individuals (I will use Steve and I as the project DIYers) necessary to accomplish the tasks. You might be seeing that this step-in planning will also help you establish the budget.  Yes, money is a resource. Once again, let’s do an example – Replace the Cabinets.

I know this looks like a lot of work and it is.  It’s so time consuming to start a task and discover you don’t have the proper tools to do the job and must stop and make a run to the hardware store.  This is time well spent up front rather than adding frustration to the project as you scramble to find the tools and supplies.  I always stage the work area ahead of the task to ensure we have everything we need before we start.  This is something I can personally do and not take up Steve’s time.  Also, if you are planning the project, you may not have all the supplies and tools needed to perform the task and these costs must be considered. 

You might be thinking; our project is not this complicated.  If so, your plan will also be less complicated, but still necessary.  Regardless, planning is necessary if you intend to manage a timeline and/or a budget.   You can now see how easily it is for us to determine a budget at this point.  You know all the supplies, tools and products necessary to achieve your remodel goal after you complete this phase of the plan.  Let’s take the supplies and tools and product lists to generate a budget.  Remember money is a resource, an important resource.

Budgeting for a project is critical, so let’s take it seriously.  You can see above that I listed each supply, tool and product necessary to achieve the task.  Next identify what you already own, then price what’s missing.  I do our estimate based using Lowe’s website since it’s our go to place to shop for home projects and remodels.  You can also just google and get a list of comparison prices to estimate.  With the internet at our disposal, its relatively easy to develop an estimated cost.

What is contingency?  This is how I manage a risk to our budget.  I build in a budget contingency of 10%.  This way I’m never surprised by going over budget.  Sometimes, I can be under budget, if I find something on sale, borrow a tool or take advantage of Steve’s military discount.  It’s always best to be prepared financially and building in the contingency provides some financial security.

4. Manage your Remodel

What comes first, this is kind of like “who’s on first”.  Your plan needs to be sequenced.  Not only within a major activity, but across major activities.  A simple example is, you can’t install the cabinets until you demo the kitchen and prepare the space for cabinet installation.  It’s really about identifying what comes first.   

If we go back to our original list of major activities, we can sequence those items.  Ask yourself what must happen before I can ___________?

Can you replace the cabinets before you know what appliances you are buying?  No.  What size refrigerator are you buying, what about the stove, these appliances are set within the cabinet space.  It is necessary to know the appliance size before you can develop your cabinet layout.  Can you install cabinets before you run electricity? No.  Electric wiring is placed behind the drywall and cabinets are hung after drywall is installed.  Let’s look at our list modified with the proper sequence.

  • Demo the Kitchen
  • Perhaps Replace a Window(s)
  • Update Electrical Wiring
  • Update Lighting
  • Update Plumbing
  • Install New Flooring
  • Replace the Appliances
  • Paint
  • Replace Cabinets
  • Install Counter tops and Backsplash

It is also important to sequence the tasks within a major activity.  Once your activities and tasks are sequence you can do a project timeline estimate. 

My husband helps me develop the plans by identifying supplies and tools necessary to complete a task as well as reviewing the tasks required to complete a major activity.  We often work together estimating the task times as well.  Just as in developing a budget, give yourself adequate time to accomplish a task. 

You will often discover an additional task during the project that you did not anticipate but building some extra time into your plan for the unexpected will help you manage your project deadlines.

Monitor you progress against the plan.  I recommend tracking your actual time to accomplish a major activity.  It is not necessary to track task time frames, this would be too time consuming and could impact your actual remodel timeline.  Simple record when you begin an activity and when you finish. 

Not only can you monitor your time you can manage your budget against the plan.  Keep your receipts and perhaps weekly record your actual costs.  There is no need to be surprised by the cost, when you track against your budget as you progress.  Your completed plan will look like the one below. 

Establishing a solid plan will help you manage your project, timelines and budget.  It is always best to set reasonable expectations to reduce frustration.  Knowing what’s ahead of you and how much you expect to spend makes under taking a remodel project more realistic. 

6 thoughts on “5 Steps to Planning Your Remodel Project

  1. Great article with so much detail! We just did a full house remodel as well but we hired much of it out. There is much more planning involved that people often realize, and you did a fantastic job of explaining the process!

    1. Lori, Thank you, We have remodeled two homes. The first one, room by room; which is easier. The last home the entire home inside and out. My husband and I do the work ourselves. We did hire out a few projects, but even then we planned the projects, purchased the materials and managed the jobs. While it is a lot more work, it is certainly a lot cheaper. Living Grand, Catherine

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