Home renovations are not for the faint-of-heart

New Year, New You-Must-of-Been-Crazy

Many of us do some last minute fluff before the holidays so everything will be oh-so-right for friends, family and—maybe particularly—mother-in-laws. But some of us defer new projects until after the new year. Nothing like the cold light of January—and the absence of holiday cheer and gear—to highlight what needs attention.

It’s lovely to start thinking about a new project. They rarely spring from nowhere. Generally, they’ve been marinating for a while. “If we just had a little more space here.” “One more bathroom would make all the difference.” “Heavens, how I hate this floor.” In fact, I’ve said exactly these words and envisioned their corrections for the last four years. Which is how I’ve found myself in my current situation.

I said a long time ago, as I was driving my children to their after school and summer activities, “Nothing bad is happening.” Having the resources to add a bedroom and a bath to my house, a project that is underway right now, is fortunate. I refuse to complain about it. But it is, sometimes, tiresome.

Not always, of course. Parts of the to-do list are delightful. Pick out tile. Yay! Order faucets and fixtures. Hooray! Stumble across the exactly-right antique frame for the mirror. Hallelujah! However, there are less joyous discoveries and decisions to be made.

On my current project there were some surprises in the existing plumbing. Bother. Determining the extent meant taking out the ceiling, wall and—well—the everything of the second floor bath. Blech. (It’s not really tragic. That bath was planned to be phase two of the project, now it’s phase 1.2.)

Currently the boys and I are all using the first floor bath. We were all sharing the second floor bath, so it’s not that different except that we are getting a little more exercise. We’ve also discovered that the water pressure in the shower on the first floor is divine. “Gravity does great things for water pressure,” a friend reminded me. It had never occurred to me before, but I won’t ever forget it.

Once the second floor bath was a shell and we had all transitioned to the first floor, the plumber determined that the best way to handle the situation in the attic was to run the new plumbing to the basement. This meant running pipe through a closet in the family room on the first floor. The first floor being the only floor that was undisturbed. So, in essence, the third floor project, which was going to be so easy and contained, has spread to each floor of the house.

My contractor delivers each update with a seriousness that makes me think something horrific is coming and then, really, it’s just more mess. And money. But we are both committed to doing the right thing. We are both committed to good work and treating the house with respect. We are just hoping we don’t both end up committed.

Renovation Words to Live By


Renovating is a mess. There’s no way around it. You can’t control old plumbing or construction or city ordinances, but you can control your state of mind.

Planning I did not go into this project willy-nilly. I did a fair amount of research before I started. I researched home values in my area and the costs of materials and labor. I went back through tear sheets and trolled websites to get a firm idea of what I wanted. Then I added up the costs and estimates and weighed them against a resale that I have no interest in and decided to move forward. The plan made sense for the way I live and the investment in the house. That’s a good place to start.

Patience As it turns out, good contractors are not sitting around waiting for charming clients and their projects. I didn’t have to wait a long time for my contractor, but I did have to wait. The first thing he asked was, “When do you think you want it finished?” They know what we pretend not to know. Everything is a little more complicated and takes a little longer than people think it will. But if you want it done correctly, you have to trust the process. Don’t get too wrapped up in timelines, especially holiday/graduation/wedding timelines. You’re just going to make yourself crazy.

Perspective Remember the “Know when to say, when” campaign? Well, those are words to live by. Taking on a renovation means dozens of decisions. There will be something that you must have. I have been exponentially consumed with the quality and look of the new windows. I wouldn’t compromise. But when I told the contractor about the 8” black and white hex encaustic tile, he looked up from under his eyebrows and said, “Patricia, we can do it, but are you sure the third floor is worth it?” He’s right. It’s not. I’ll save it for later.