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Hawaii Home + Remodeling – May 2009
by Joanne Romero. photos by David Croxford

Go from mess to success without losing your head.

It may be impossible to take all the stress out of your remodeling process. But you can reduce it with the right planning and preparation. Start with these tips:

1. Get comfortable with your contractor

You are going to see and talk to this person every day, so pick a contractor you’re comfortable with. “Trust your contractor,” says Brett Kappelle, of Barker Kappelle Construction LLC.  “Express your ideas at the beginning and make sure your contractor will do the best he can to accommodate them.”

To avoid confusion, designate one family member as the go-to person. Review your job contract and make sure you and the contractor agree on a timeline. What will be done and by what time? What else should you include on the schedule? Payments. What is due and when?

Set days and hours for work to be conducted. Are you comfortable with workers coming in at 7 a.m. on a Saturday? Do you mind if they’re still there at dinnertime? Let your preferences be known before work begins.

Lay down ground rules. Let workers know which telephone, if any, they can use. If they are going to be playing a radio, set volume limitations. Specify an area for parking. If it’s a small job, involving one or two workers, designate a restroom for their use.

2. Decide: Shack up or stay home

On average, a complete renovation takes about four months, once construction has begun. Think about the scope of your remodel and whether it’s realistic to stay in your home and still live comfortably, or whether you should pack up and move in with family or friends.

If you are going on vacation, that might be an opportune time to get remodel work done. Vacating the house can help speed up the process.

If you’re not going on vacation, you might want to find an alternate place to stay, if necessary.

Remember that power and/or water may be shut off from time to time. Talk to your contractor about when this might happen, and work with him to make sure it’s at times when you don’t need it. If power and water are going to be shut off for extended periods of time, you might want to make other living arrangements.

3. Anticipate setbacks

Materials may not arrive on time. It happens. If a worker is sick for one day, it can completely throw off a construction schedule, so build some padding days into your timeline. “Owners should prepare themselves well in advance for inconveniences and slow days,” says Kappelle.

When fixtures or materials arrive, check them. Once something is hung or installed, it may be too late to send it back without substantially delaying construction.

4. Cook without a kitchen

Doing a kitchen remodel doesn’t mean you have to eat out every night. Set up a temporary kitchen instead. Move your refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker and slow cooker to an unobtrusive area, such as a laundry room or garage. Get a hot plate, if necessary.

Don’t want to wash dishes in the bathroom? Have a contractor help you install a temporary utility sink. But remember to address it before the construction begins. Waiting until mid-renovation may slow things down.

Finally, take your cooking outdoors. Grilling outside or having a picnic can be fun and will give you a chance to escape the remodel without feeling restricted.

5. Move it all out

Pack everything as if you were moving. Move furniture and collectibles out of areas where workers will be working as well as temporary high-traffic spots. Make arrangements with a storage facility to house these items until your project is completed. Companies that offer month-to-month storage plans are great for this.

6. Make a plan for pets

Pets are just like members of the family, but don’t expect workers to keep them contained. Establish a safe place for the pets to be out of the way: a fenced area in the backyard, away from the noise of construction that is also safe from the sun..

If you’re not at home during construction hours, kenneling may be your best option. Workers have got to go in and out of the house all the time. Doors get left open, and pets can run away if you don’t secure them on a daily basis.

7. Deal with the dust

Remodeling, by nature, includes plenty of debris and dust. Some steps of a remodel create more dust than others—tearing down drywall, for instance, is often a big culprit.

But whose responsibility is it to clean? The cleanup is the contractor’s responsibility if it’s work-related debris. Don’t anticipate that the job site will be spotless every day, but do talk to your contractor about what is expected. Preventing a mess in the rest of the house is also a concern. Talk to your contractor about putting up dust barriers to seal work areas and areas adjacent to them.

Where does the dirt and dust go? Contractors also handle that. Often they will bring in a dumpster or a dump truck to haul away job-site debris. But don’t just assume they will do so; discuss waste with your contractor before it is created. And don’t forget about basic trash, such as lunch bags, drink bottles, etc. Are you OK with basic trash lying around overnight? If not, clarify with the contractor beforehand.


DO: Avoid confusion. Keep a notebook of questions, answers and agreements throughout the renovation to refer back to when you need to jog your (or someone else’s) memory.

DO: Keep workers comfortable, if you can. Have an extra coffee maker? Offer it to them for temporary use during construction. Long-term relationships are often forged during remodels.

DON’T: Bring up problems or concerns to workers or subcontractors. The project manager or contractor should address all your questions and ideas for changes.

DO: Be prepared. If you need reliable power for a medical reason, such as a breathing machine, purchase a small generator to ensure safety in an unpredictable outage.

DO: Keep plenty of water, bottled or in jugs, on-hand for when water may be turned off.

DO: Minimize a room’s time in transition. Talk to your contractor about waiting until most materials arrive before starting a job.

DO: Think ahead. If you’re planning on installing a beverage refrigerator in your new space, get it in advance and use it in your temporary kitchen.

DO: Move a big piece of furniture out of a room to help see the room’s potential. You might discover you don’t need that oversized armoire in your newly remodeled dining room after all!

DO: Consider ways of reusing what’s torn down in your remodel or donating materials to people who can use them. Try, or Re-use Hawaii.

Maintain a place to put your feet up.

If you’re not moving out during your renovation, make sure to preserve at least one part of your home as a work-free zone. Keep it free of signs of the remodel. Don’t use it as a place to store things temporarily until construction is done. This should be a place where you can get away and forget about the renovation. It might even be a good place to keep your pet when you’re not at home.

Better yet, vacate with a real vacation.

Smooth Remodel? Check!

Before your renovation begins, consult this cheat sheet. Check off each item and stress less.

• Choose a trustworthy contractor.
• Designate one family member as the go-to person.
• Lay down job-site ground rules.
• Set a timeline.
• Decide if you should stay or go.
• Create a temporary kitchen.
• Establish a confined area for pets.
• Pack up as if you were moving.
• Determine a plan for cleanup.
• Anticipate delays and problems before they happen.

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