“When going through a home renovation, add a little more money to your budget because there is always a surprise or a new design idea,” says Michelle Murphy, founder and principal designer of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina–based interior design firm Demi Ryan. She recently revamped her family’s home in Durham, North Carolina and found it took twice as long as originally planned. Murphy’s family bought their home for its school district and neighborhood, but knew from the get-go it needed tweaking. Their original three-month remodel plan ended up taking twice as long—mostly because they eventually opted to gut renovate their entire house.
Another tip from Murphy is to get multiple bids from contractors before signing anything. “You do not have to choose the first person you meet with because your friend loved working with them. You need to gel and love working with them because they will become your bestie for the next year.” (Or even longer.)
Renovations can stir up all manner of dust and debris that you may not want in your hair—literally. “My first piece of advice for living through a renovation is to break the project up into phases by rooms or areas,” says Nashville, Tennessee designer Elizabeth Burch. Adds Murphy: “Try to section off the area being renovated, so that your family can live comfortably in one area. As sections of the renovations are completed, you can flip to the completed side. It may take longer, but saving your sanity is well worth it!” (Consider protecting spaces with plastic walls, such as ZipWall Dust Barrier Systems, which can be set up in just minutes and are used everywhere from hospitals to schools.)
Burch also says that even if you’re not planning on fully moving out of your home, “be away during the demo phase and let the dust settle before you return. Set boundaries and working hours with the general contractor and subcontractors to maintain some sense of your normal routines.” And don’t forget to store valuable and meaningful items away from the fray, lest they get broken or lost during the shuffle.
You know yourself and your family best. If you think you will find a renovation to be a major headache or are concerned about potential toxins and/or noise, it may be worth moving to a long-term hotel suite with kitchen and laundry facilities or even a short-term rental like an Airbnb while your project is completed.
“Living through a renovation project adds a layer of stress,” says Murphy. “Try to plan vacations during your renovation, see if you can work from a different location, and always have a backup plan and exit strategy. It is always best to move out if possible.”
Stephen Vanze of Washington, DC architecture firm BarnesVanze Architects put it even more firmly: “Move out. You will save money, time, and aggravation. Imagine if you were a surgeon and your patient’s spouse stood with you in the operating room. It would take longer and probably not be as successful. Leave and let the pros do what they do.” Bonus: If you make yourself scarce, you’ll get to have an Oprah-worthy reveal when it’s finished and ready for you to see (cue happy tears).
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