Tool time.

Definitely not zen...

The CRUNCH:
Tool time.

CRUNCH deets:
It’s been a pipe dream for months, or, er, years. But finally (finally!) the time has come. We’re talking major renovation, baby. You love wearing that tool belt as much as your better half, but between looking after the kiddos and the thought of, ya know, burning down the house, well… there’s no shame in admitting you need backup. As in professional help. So… where to begin?

The Fix:
Don’t watch the clock.

Fix deets:
We’ve been packing our bags for a while now. Not because we’re headed anywhere fun or exotic, nothing as exciting as that, but because a project we started over a year ago and ramped up five months ago has now officially begun. Woot! Our basement that once looked something like this:

09Jul2013a

Has turned into this:09Jul2013b

With the hope it’ll one day resemble a 3D version of this:09Jul2013c

Here’s the gist of what we’ve learned so far:

  • It’s never too early to start. One of us was hugely pregnant last spring, and the other one had just landed a new job, so a renovation was definitely not at the top of our priority list. But we knew that if we wanted to stay in this house for the long haul, we’d eventually have to tackle the basement. With its super-low ceiling height and only one shower in the house… need I say more? So we started collecting contractor referrals and hashing out ideas, knowing it’d be a loooong time before we could act on anything. When the time came, we knew exactly who to call and exactly what we wanted… well, sort of.
  • Patience really is a virtue. Just because we were ready to take the plunge doesn’t mean our contractor of choice was. We called him in February only to discover that he was about to have major surgery. No prob though, we weren’t in a huge rush and figured that by calling him in winter our basement would be donezo by the following winter… right?!
  • Ask questions. And did we mention patience is a virtue? When our contractor finally stopped by post-recovery, he wanted drawings done up before he could even begin to put together a quote. If we’d been a little more inquisitive during our first conversation, we’d have had a month-long headstart. Whoops.
  • Don’t be afraid to draw on resources. Hiring someone to do our drawings would have cost almost as much as our bathroom budget. We know our way around a tape measure, my Dad’s CAD-savvy and was willing to help out, and a friend of ours is a licensed Engineer with a lot of experience. We both studied Engineering at school, so it’s nice to put our combined decade of University to good use (especially since we’ve pretty much retired our iron rings). Ernie did the calcs and the detailed design, calling on our friend as needed, and it took only two trips to city hall to get the permits. We were turned away the first time because we needed a better land survey, and luckily our (non-crotchety) neighbour had a copy he didn’t mind sharing. Another neighbour’s an architect and was willing to hash out a few ideas with us so… we definitely owe a few favours.
  • Shop around. Once we had our pre-permit drawings, our contractor returned a few times to review/assess/crush our dreams. He was convinced we wouldn’t be able to relocate our furnace, and that was a critical element of our design. So we got a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And even a fifth. Five quotes later and it was easy to pick the winner. Only problem was, he could do the first phase of the project but didn’t have time to take on the finishing work. Doh.
  • Adapt. Our busy contractor came highly recommended from a super reliable source, invited us to a site where he was in the middle of almost the exact same job, and gave us the best price. So it was a no brainer. At the end of his shift we’ll have a concrete dungeon but at least it’ll have eight foot ceilings (yay!), the furnace exactly where we want it (out of the way), and something we never even imagined would be possible: no columns.
  • Do what you can. We were quoted around five thou for demolition. Our contractor’s too booked to do the demo, but he’s also an honest guy and told us it wasn’t worth paying anyone else for that portion of the project. Between wielding our own crowbars and all the people we called on for help along the way, we’ve already saved close to ten grand. Not too shabby.
  • Save your sanity. We had A LOT of stuff to relocate. So we Goodwilled/tossed as much as possible, maxed out all the storage space in our house/garage/deck, and created a wall of bins in the dining room for everything else. It’s tight, but at least it’s relatively out of the way. And even though at times it feels like a bomb’s exploded, holding onto any little corner of zen goes a long way. For me, zen means making our bed, keeping the kitchen table completely clear of clutter, and closing my eyes to almost everything else.

Remember this:
Even a minor renovation can be stressful, so a major one… major stress. But if you take the time to do your homework, ask around, and remember to breathe, it’ll help. Also won’t hurt if you can avoid a week when you’d planned to kick that caffeine addiction/finally unwrap the P90X DVD’s/potty train.

Email us if you have tips you want to share or are an equally small-footed gal and can’t find any steel-toed boots!

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