If you're thinking about tackling the daunting task of home renovation, odds are you're looking at it one of two ways.

You're either someone who's done this before, and has it all figured out… or you're looking at it from the point of view of a first-timer.

Most big projects are like this, really. Whether it was learning to drive a car, buy a house, travel to another country… all of these things can seem very imposing to someone who has never done them before.

Home renovation is no different. But it can be done beautifully, even by first-timers, assuming you know what to avoid.

The trick is knowing what you don't know, and then getting advice to help you fill in the gaps.

First, we need to get to the bottom of a question.

Ask yourself: is this renovation, or remodel? And what's the goal of the project?

Maybe you just bought a new place (congratulations, if that's that case!) and you're just looking for a little do-it-yourself advice so you can touch up a room or two…

Or maybe you have a more serious project. Something like a kitchen or a bathroom remodel, involving both electrical work and plumbing.

Or maybe, just maybe, your renovation to-do list is looking so mind-blowingly impossible that you're seriously questioning whether or not you have to tear the whole building down and start again.

Whether you're just sprucing up the place, looking to fix it up so you can sell it, or adding on multiple rooms, there are a few things that any responsible homeowner will want to do before jumping straight in to the home renovation process.

First off, let's get clear on what exactly we're doing here.


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Contractors usually mean different things by the terms “renovating” and “remodeling”.

Very simply, a renovation means that you are “renewing” the state of the home. Renovation is typically a matter of repairing the home so that it's in the best possible shape.

Leaky pipes get fixed, ugly faucets and cabinets get replaced, and maybe that scary-looking electrical wiring in the garage gets redone by a professional.

A remodel, on the other hand, means that you are “changing the structure” of the thing. Remodels can apply to more than just buildings… when we talk about remodeling a company, for instance, it usually involves restructuring different departments.

Now when it comes to fixing up your home, these to things can often go hand in hand. Sometimes renovation will involve making structural changes.

For instance, if you're trying to make the kitchen look new so you can sell the house, you may discover damage that requires that a wall needs to be completely knocked out.

The difference is in what the purpose of the operation is.

Renovation = make the home look new, functional, and in good repair.

Remodel = change the layout of the home, add entire rooms, or change the purpose of a room

If your home renovation is mainly about cleaning, this will typically involve work that may be labor intensive but will be superficial in nature. Repainting, maybe some cosmetic repairs, replacing some wood work, that sort of thing.

If the renovation demands repair work, this will make it somewhat more challenging. An example of this might be replacing the old pipes that lead into your guest bathroom.

Lastly, we have the type of home renovation known as rebuilding. Sometimes you plan for this, and some times you don't.

Let's say you hire someone to fix the pipes, and unfortunately, you discover water damage so extensive that the wall is compromised (we hope this doesn't happen!) The whole wall needs to go… and now you're in rebuilding territory, where major pieces of the body of the house itself are being replaced.

blue color being painted on the wall using a roller

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construction of a three storey establishment with the help of a heavy lifting equipment

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We're assuming our prior two examples are the two types of project you're looking at, and that you're not actually thinking of completely starting over. But just in case you are considering completely starting over and rebuilding the house from the ground up, there are a few things to know.

If you decide to build new, this will easily be the most expensive option. The main reason to do this is if you plan on staying on this particular property for a significant period of time, and there is no way to “make things work” with the structure that currently exists.

It will take time, it will definitely require permits, and if this is your primary residence, you'll need a place to stay while the construction takes place.

If that's what you're looking to do, we recommend you look at some resources that deal with this large undertaking

But let's say that you aren't looking to do anything that drastic. You want to renovate? Great!

The first take is to figure out exactly why…


a spacious open living room furnished with television, sofa and table

Stop! Don't grab your power saw just yet!

Before you do anything, you need to know why you're renovating.

Are you trying to solve a specific problem ASAP and then get on with your life? Or do you want to completely change the look of a room (or set of rooms?)

And who is the home renovation for? Are you going to be the one living there? Or are you aiming to sell the house after sprucing it up?

Knowing why you're doing this will help you develop a solid vision for what you want out of a home renovation.

The main reasons are:


Maybe you purchased your home because the price was right, and you saw potential… but that was a few years ago now, and it still doesn't feel like it's living up to your initial vision. This is an important reason to fix it the way you want it.

If you're planning on selling the house, that's one thing. But if this is meant to be your home, then it should feel like it.


This is another issue that gets put at the top of the list. You spend a large amount of time in your home, so it should be somewhere that's safe. Faulty wiring and wobbly staircases or balconies shouldn't be ignored.

a man fixing the electrical wiring

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a beautiful two-story home for sale

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In this case, your own personal tastes take a back seat to what will sell, and what the person buying it is looking for. Sometimes a renovation project can even take place as part of the house selling.


Maybe you want to lower your energy bills, or maybe you just want to do your part in saving resources. Either way, the purpose here is to lessen your environmental impact (and maybe save some $ while doing it!)

installed solar panel

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Sometimes, pieces of a home fall into disrepair. And the owners stop inviting folks over out of embarrassment or frustration that it's not as stylish or welcoming as they want it to be. If this is you, a renovation can change all that.


Home renovation often accompanies the arrival of a baby in the family, especially if it's a first child. Transforming that spare room into a nursery may require more than a simple coat of paint.

stuffed toys inside a woven bassinet basket

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old couple happily looking at each other

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Or maybe it's time to change that room back again. Junior is off and doing well as an adult, and now it's time to change the room back to being that library or hobby room that you'd always dreamed about having.

Whatever your reason for looking at making changes to your home, you want to know that reason exactly before you start. Keep it in mind throughout the process.

This way, you make sure that the project doesn't balloon into a massive enterprise that you didn't want. And you also can keep the renovation on target (and on budget!).

So once you're satisfied with your “why”, let's move on to the next step…


a man sketching several establishment on a white long paper

Once you know the reason for your project, it's time to list the actual “to-do” list of home renovation.

In this case, we want to ask “what room (or rooms) do I want to renovate?” and “what kind of renovation am I doing here?”

Keep in mind that a home is a kind of ecosystem. Two rooms can share one wall, pipes, and electrical wiring. In many cases, what happens to one room will affect another. So if you're doing anything that involves one room, consider the effect that will have on the one adjacent to it.

Very often, people will do a remodel and a renovation together. If you're completely remodeling the kitchen, it only makes sense to update the fixtures and give it a fresh coat of paint while you're at it. Joint remodels/renovations account for many of the large projects that get done.

The most common places people remodel or renovate:


Kitchen remodels are at the top of the list for remodels. Part of this is that there can be so many reasons for it. Maybe you love cooking but the layout isn't the best for you. Maybe it's part of making room for new appliances. Maybe the color just needs to go.

Or maybe you want to knock out a wall between the kitchen and the dining room and replace it with an island (this is a common one). Whatever the reason, this is a big project and usually requires some help.

a man installing the white small kitchen backsplash on

Image CC0 by Charles via Unsplash


bathroom with his and her sink and bathtub

Bathroom remodels are close second to kitchens, some years they're a little more popular. Because a bathroom has to serve multiple functions, partial renovations are often in play here as well.


man painting the entryway

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This is often the result of watching too many home renovation shows on TV. It can't be helped. Sooner or later, once you've seen all the amazing possibilities, you won't be able to stop yourself from imagining all the updates you could make as well.

Photo from Canva

  • Altering the structure, either interior or exterior, may require a permit to comply with building codes.
  • Replacing or updating hardwood floors will cause fumes, and will require that you sleep elsewhere until it is safe.
  • Due to plumbing and electrical considerations, assume kitchen and bathroom remodels will take two months (more, if it is a large project).

There are a lot of options!

So, once you have decided on the “where” and “what” of your project, it's time to plan out the rest of it.

Next up: nailing down the rest of your essentials.


a nice house with garage and small front lawn

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This means deciding on a budget, deciding on materials, and deciding who is doing what (how much of this are you doing yourself, and how much is being done by contractors?).


When looking at home renovation projects, some people go straight to imagining the finished product. They become attached to a particular vision, and then start spending whatever it takes to achieve it.

While you will want to figure out the project's cost eventually, here is a better way to start.

Ask Yourself: What can I afford to spend on home renovation?

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Look at it as a financial question first. How much can you afford? If your ideal project is going to cost more than that, is it better to save up for a few months? Or are there areas where you can spend less?

When budgeting, remember the following:

  • You're going to need to set aside money for whatever permits are required (based on your project).
  • You're going to need to get an estimate from a contractor if you're hiring one.
  • You'll want to figure out your materials and get a good sense of what those will run you.
  • You're going to need to set aside money for a hotel or time away if there are going to be fumes from your renovation (this can happen if you're redoing the floors, for instance).
  • You're also going to want to have an emergency fund in case things turn out to be costlier than anticipated (always! 20% of the total is a good amount to shoot for).
  • If you have any friends who have done a similar renovation, ask them about their experience.
  • While it's smart to find ways to cut costs, you should never hire the cheapest contractor simply because of price.
  • Once you get started, you should also make sure to check in with a contractor to make sure things are staying on budget.
  • And lastly, don't cut corners on safety.


wood planks, two hammers and some nails

Figure out what kind of materials you love to work with most. Glass? Wood? If you already know your budget and your personal style, spend a little time doing some window shopping, and don't be afraid to talk to the people at the local hardware store. Sure, they might try to up-sell you, but most of them will genuinely want to help you with good advice.

When it comes to choosing materials, one of the biggest mistakes people make is chasing trends. Ultimately, choose the style you love, but remember that some things may be out of fashion in a few years (this is something to keep in mind if you're planning to sell the home down the road.)


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Are you hiring a contractor? Doing it yourself? Some blend of the two?

We'll explore this last question in more depth a little later. There is a lot to consider… but it's good to work out the answers to all three of these questions before you start in on the heavy lifting.


two people counting coins

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If you're going for an actual remodel, you're going to spend more than you would for a simple touch-up.

Each project and each home is going to be different, depending on the area of the home, the length of the project, scale of the work, and the style of the home itself.

But for a very quick idea of what you'll want to think about budgeting for a remodel, these were the average numbers a couple years ago for different room of the house:

  • Garage Remodel: $11,000
  • Kitchen Remodel: $20,000
  • Basement Remodel: $19,000
  • Bathroom: $9,000
  • Attic: $49,000
  • Multiple Rooms: $36,000


scientist working on a machine

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) from USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes a home renovation can uncover a hazard you didn't previously know was there. Mold, lead paint, asbestos or mercury all must be dealt with, even if it's not what you originally had in mind when you started thinking about a new color scheme for your bathroom.

Smart Moves

  • Ladder: If you’re working high up, make sure to be cautious and let people know to watch out for you.

  • Electricity: Make sure that switches are off and that an electrician inspects the home before renovation.

  • Tools: Make sure all tools are safely stowed.

  • Permits: Each city or community will have their own set of permits you need. Even if you’re doing it all yourself, the building must be up to code, especially with wiring, windows, doors, or anything structural.

If this happens, first of all, it's better to know that it's here than to be unaware indefinitely. If you have a newer home, it's unlikely you'll run into any of these, but just in case you do, you want to know what precautions to take.


Nowadays, asbestos is almost never uncovered except when people do remodeling work on older homes. People have known the dangers for decades, and newer homes don't use it at all. Still, asbestos exposure kills some 12,000 to 15,000 people annually in the U.S., usually by causing a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer.

Before the 1970's, asbestos was used to protect homes from fire. But as people became aware of the danger, laws were put in place to prevent its use.

Asbestos can turn up in many different places. You may know that it was often an ingredient in older “popcorn” style ceilings. But can also show up in tiles, insulation, or drywall. Because asbestos is not identifiable simply by looking at it, you may need to call in a professional who can test for it.

a box of asbestos as displayed on the Mineralogical and Mining Museum of Thetford Mines

Image by remundo [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. banned asbestos for home use in 1977, so if you're dealing with a more recent home, you should be fine. But if you're knocking down the walls in a home that was built before the late 1970's, it's a good idea to get a test.


a liquid mercury with indicated atomic mass, atomic number, name and symbol

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Mercury is a rare problem nowadays, but its presence can be particularly hazardous. It used to be used in various household devices such as radiators, before people realized it was poisonous.

Unlike asbestos, if you're looking at mercury, you'll probably be able to tell. It's metal, and it's liquid at room temperatures.


old and peeling paint which may contain lead

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Another whose dangers are well known now, lead paint is not used in home building any more. But for homes built before 1978, the paint may have elements of lead that are dangerous, especially for developing children.

Like asbestos, you will not know simply by looking at it. But if you are renovating a home from before the late 1970's, testing can quickly determine if there is a danger.


One of the challenges with mold is that it can creep up without being detected. By the time it's apparent, it's already going to be a pain (and pricy) to remove.

Mold typically gets into the walls of a house because of a plumbing issue that isn't discovered soon enough. Although it can be a relatively minor problem, getting a professional test can often set you back several hundred dollars.

There are home kits for cheaper, but they are (unsurprisingly) less accurate. Mold can lead to breathing problems, so you think you're staring at a bunch of mold in your home, it is better to know that it's there, and to deal with it quickly.

mold infestation inside the house after a hurricane

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two construction workers holding and looking at the plans

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Buying a home is a big expense. And so is taking care of it. If you were renting before, you suddenly find all of the maintenance work falling on your shoulders (and paying for it now coming out of your wallet).

If you hire someone to do a remodels or renovation, you're not only spending the cost of the materials, but of the labor. And labor often proves to be the biggest expense. So there is an immediate appeal to taking on some or all tasks yourself.

We're not saying you shouldn't be the one to fix up your home… but the fact is, when it comes to home renovation, people tend to overestimate their abilities. A general rule is that you should be absolutely sure that you can do the job yourself.

If you wind up getting halfway through a project and run into a problem you can't solve on your own, the total cost (in money and time) could be higher than if you had just called someone to begin with.

Here are the main reasons NOT to do it yourself:


If the process itself puts your life or health on the line, consider whether that's a risk you want to take. Especially if you haven't done it before!


a person about to plug in another device on the extension cable

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Sometimes the repair itself isn't dangerous. Sometimes the danger simply comes if it's done incorrectly. Make sure that you have training if you are working on a project that could burn down your home, for instance.


Sometimes everything is perfectly safe, but it's not advisable. If you're in the middle of an ambitious remodel or rebuild, make sure to seek outside help.


Lastly, sometimes the project is something you could do. If you spent all day on it.

But it might also be one of those things that would take a pro just 30 minutes. Maybe you are technically saving money by fixing that electrical outlet yourself… but at the cost of how much time?

Ask yourself: “Is the $15 or $20 I save in labor for this particular project is worth multiple hours of my time?”

Roofing, plumbing, and electrical wiring are all good examples of when to call a pro.


  • Keep work area ventilated
  • Change out air filters
  • Remove trash promptly (clutter is dangerous)
  • Put tools away
  • Clean liquid and dust spills quickly (easy to slip)
  • Remove pets and children from work area
  • Wear all proper safety clothing 


a house cleaned for a home renovation

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As good as it is to study up on what you should do, the real no-no scenarios happen when you take shortcuts in these areas.

These are among the most common mistakes. Normally, we say it's best to learn things by doing. But in this case? Not so much.

How To Completely Mess Up Your Home Renovation

  • Go With the Cheapest Contractor - Sure, they bid low, but will they really do the best job?
  • Mis-Measure Cabinets - Being wrong by an inch or two can completely throw your floor plan off. Measure again and again.
  • Underbudget - Always assume it will cost more by 20%.
  • Ignore Permit Laws - Aside from the obvious, if you try to sell a home and it's discovered you skipped on the permits, you could lose tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Chase Trends - It looks great now, but in twenty years?
  • Don't Order Extra Flooring - You will need extra. This is true of most materials, but especially here.


a wooden door frame and a steel ladder which will be used for home renovation

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Unless you have professional training, it's highly advisable to hire a contractor for the following types of work:

  • Structural Repair Work
  • Historical Restoration
  • Post-Disaster Restoration
  • Roofing Work
  • Electrical Work
  • Plumbing Work
  • Anything Requiring a Permit

We get it. In the U.S.A., we like to be independent. We like doing things for ourselves. But this can lead to an assumption that we've got it figured out more than we actually do.

Let's see if we can find someone who does this for a living.


Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to get a recommendation. If you know anyone who has done a home renovation or remodel lately, see how they liked their contractor.


One advantage of the internet is that it's easy to look at lots of information, side by side. You can find reviews and get an idea of someone's price range without even having to pick up the phone (at first).

The National Association of the Remodel​​ing Industry is a resource for both professionals and consumers. If you fall into the latter category, see what you can find.


If you're going with a contractor you don't know much about, try looking to see if they have any reviews online, or any disputes with customers or reports with the Better Business Bureau.

One bad review doesn't necessarily indicate that your contractor is inept or a scammer, but if they have a pattern of these reviews, run for the hills…

a woman feeling something's not right and another woman standing beside her to listen



Once you have a list of your top picks, you will want to discuss your plans, the blueprints, materials, and budget expectations with a contractor.

When the contractors give you bids, request a breakdown that includes materials, labor, and expenses. Make sure you make your final decision on more than just price.


It's called “contractor” for a reason. And yet nearly three out of four remodeling projects don't use a written agreement.

Paperwork is boring, but play it safe. Any contractor who is worth anything should be able to sign a written contract outlining the major details of project schedule, payment schedule, liability, and the materials used in the project.

Renovation Reminders

  • Ditch the Carpet - Try a hardwood floor or laminate instead
  • Use Natural Light - Light tubes can save you a wiring headache
  • Protect Your Treasures - Pack away anything valuable
  • Do You Know Anyone?- If you have more work, your subcontractor may have the best referral
  • Think Long-Term - Remember how much each item will cost 5, 10, or 20 years down the road
  • Think Big Picture- Remember how each change will affect the other rooms in your home
  • Think Short-Term, Too - Dust? Fumes? How will the renovation impact your health or belongings?
  • Stay Involved - Visit the job site regularly so things don't get misinterpreted or go over budget (or both)


a construction worker happily jumping while holding up a rolled paper

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It's a lot of work!

Home renovation can be one of the most stressful things a person can do. A lot goes into it. Planning, patience, finance, manual labor, disrupted sleep. But keep these in mind, and the renovation process doesn't need to be a nightmare.

And when you're basking in the glory of your perfect kitchen or your cozy living space... you'll realize that doing it the right way was worth every penny.

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