Timeline of restoration/renovations to old house

onthelakeMarch 22, 2009

Background: 1904 house that we are hoping to start work on this summer to make our year-round home. Planning (as in clean out, demo, careful removal of interior wood paneling (so we can put it back up) and subcontractor estimates and scheduling to commence in the spring, with the work (described below) to commence Sept 1 and be completed by the end of November.

We've been looked at as insane by a few people for thinking that in Sept-Nov we (contractors and DIY) can: reroof, insulate exterior walls and attic, install propane gas, install radiant floor heating, re-do kitchen (from new floor to new ceiling), re-finish existing bath, and install new, small, bath (on same wall as existing bath).

I realize there are many variables to a time estimate, but here are our given: we hope to start that 3 months with most of the needed demo done, it's a fairly small house, and when we say move-in, we don't mean perfect (as in, the kitchen should have a finished floor, a ceiling, all the electric hookups and appliances in place, but we don't mind spending the winter re-attaching old cabinets and installing wood countertops.)So, given your experiences, are we not in touch with reality or have some of our friends been jaded by their own gut-renovations in the country's most corrupt city (note: not where our new/old house is located, with much thanks)?

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It seems unlikely to me compared to how long its taken friends of mine to get things done, but maybe in these economic times you'll be one of your contractors only customers, that makes a difference cuz sometimes they try to juggle a lot all at once. I have a friend living in the basement of her new very small house that was supposed to be completed in December.
Good luck

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 11:42AM
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Overly optimistic is how I would put it. Remember that while you're doing this stuff other things in your life still need attention and will drain your time and energies. Even with contractors things NEVER go without some bumps.
One item delayed or backed ordered can mess up and entire weeks worth of projects.
Without seeing what it is you are doing and just from the list assuming everything has already been ripped to the studs I'd guess you have at least 6 months if not more work to get done and that's if you have it well planned and coordinated with a contractor who is willing to work on time and a full day every day.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 2:02PM
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The kitchen alone will probably take that long - or longer.

I'd probably count on more like 4 months. There are always delays - either in or out of the control of your contractor - especially once they get into the walls of an old home. There are always surprises. (we were shocked to find the entire upstairs had no subfloor - just boards over joists. For example.) Our job got held up an entire month because of issues with the furnace - nothing else could proceed until the house was climatized.

Our reno is on month 5.5, promised as 3.5, and we still have about another month and a half before our occupancy permit (note: NOT until it's done. just until we can live there legally.) We've been very lucky in not having to wait for any subs except the insulator - one good thing about the state of the economy for us is that we call a sub, he can come the next day. :-/

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 2:20PM
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I agree it's optimistic, particularly with the kitchen. The other thing is, is it logical and practical to have so much torn up at once. This presents a bigger scheduling problem, as it's more efficient to have the electrician work in several areas, but will they all be ready on time...this can lead to delays and all those 2-3 day delays really add up. Also, I'm a big fan of doing the major work before you move in, but leaving some things so you can live with the house awhile. Yes, do the kitchen, insulation, heating, etc. first, but can you wait on the existing bathroom (may want to at least rough in the new one before moving in). I think you'll get frustrated by all the work and decisions going on all over the house. I would pare down the list.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 7:54PM
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I think it can be done, because I am mentally calculating similar work we did/had done on this house and they all fit well within that timeframe. IF......big if..........it can get orchestrated so that the help comes on time, and the materials are on hand. No surprises type thing.

For us the re-roofing took about four days with a full crew. The kitchen renovation took the longest at I'd say two months. When natural gas lines came through, we had the trenches dug, pipes installed, connected and inspected in about a week.....and we have acreage and ran it to our greenhouse range at the same time. In another house we had wall insulation blown in taking one day and the DH and I lay the batted type in the attic the next. We have spent up to two weeks on a bath. None of this stuff was going on all at the same time.

The caveat to all this is we personally knew all but one of the tradesmen we hired for these jobs and worked alongside or with them on some of the projects. We scheduled in tight for inspections, because we had a good handle on completion dates, and we are not newbies to doing this sort of thing. God, experience helps.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 9:27PM
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You know that old saying about expensive stuff ... if you have to ask how much it is, then you can't afford it.

That's what I thought as I read your post, regarding the feasability of your proposed timeline.

To me this sounds like a lot of work to get done in a fairly short, finite, time span, GC'd by a non-professional without long-standing (and on-going) relationships with all the inter-locking subs and trades. Your project probably doesn't come with the promise of additonal jobs for them over many years so you won't have the leverage a good GC would have to make the necessary, but impossible, things happen to keep such a complicated project on schedule.

Is the end date a hope, or a hard date with a CO issued and move in readiness? If you could stand to have it carry on into the winter, then it would be more do-able, I think.

The complications will come in integrating all the various tradesmen. For example, you're getting a new roof, but before the roof goes on it would be better to know exactly where the vent stacks for the new furnace and the new bath and kitchen are located. Yes, you can add them later, but you've a better chance at a no-leak roof if they're up before the roof guys get there.

You're putting in radiant floor heating (love it BTW), but that means every single tradesman has to know where those lines are, or one gets punctured. Kitchens and baths are notorious for needing sustained, cooperative layers of tradesman. GC's will know which crews get along, which can be counted on to work the extra hour or two in order to prep for the next guy, etc.

Do you have to do all this at once? (Regular readers here will know where I'm headed and can skip ahead....) I think old house renovations are best done after you've been in the house for some time. The ideas you have now, especially if you're not working with an experienced old-house minded architect, are surely not going to be as good as what the house will tell you is needed after you've been there for some time.

The other reaon to slow things down is that old houses are (in my opinion) must vulnerable to to regrettable owner-caused (though entirely well-meant) damage when they renovated at the beginning of the ownership.

Take, just for example, your plan to install radiant floor heating. If you have more than one story, that means you'll be pulling the ceiling of the first floor for access. What the heck you say, you're already planning on pulling the plaster in the walls for insulation. Okay, but I didn't hear you say you'd need to have the walls replastered. Perhaps you think it doesn't matter: sheet rock, even skim-coated sheetrock, vs old plaster, same difference, right? Um, no. Plaster is a lovely-to-live-with amenity that many people just casually disregard, not realizing how intergral it is to their buildings. And you won't know this until you've owned and lived with an old house for awhile and studied the unique concerns that old houses raise for thoughtful, respectful, owners.

And of course, there's the money. I would plan on having at least 75% more cash on hand than the wildest estimates you have if you go ahead with this amibitious plan to get it all done by a date-certain. All old house projects have the virtual certainty that more funds will be necessary than you planned (or hoped), but combined with a tight deadline, sometime the only thing that will get you there is extra fees for overtime, express shipping, replacement materials, more expensive solutions, etc. With old houses, there's always a dynamic, usually reciprocal, relationship between time and money: more of one, less of another. Sometimes, more of both. Almost never less of both, alas.

And, if you start out with modest experience, tight funds and a very amibitious deadline, you're only setting yourself up for misery and stress. (Read some of the "I hate my house" threads as cautionary tales.)

But as discouraging as I know I must sound, I don't want to discourage you from using this resource. Please consider this an invitation to keep coming back for help and encouragement. Welcome to the company of old-house afficionadas.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 3:00AM
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Thanks to everyone for the reality checks. Our original reason for being so optimistic was watching sister-in-law and her husband put basically an entire house on top of the existing in less than 3 months. But having thought through it more now, I recognize that new construction is a different ballgame, and they were not working with the intricacies of an old, old home.

Our move-in date is a hope/dream--I have a weakness when it comes to celebrating Christmas is lovely locations. But it is not firm. Already (based on further thought and your comments here) we have pushed up our start date by 2 months. That still might not do the trick, but a little more time seems not just a good idea, but a necessary one.

Some points in our favor, from your comments, have helped encourage us as to the overall project. The house has been in the family for nearly 30 years. So, my in laws, although they've not done a great job of keeping it up in recent years, know its insides and outsides well. My husband and I both come from families who bought diamonds in the rough and we each grew up in those 100-200 year old homes. So our families can offer the wisdom of their experience and we enter this adventure with at least a passive understanding of what it means to have an old home. And the home is in a tight-knit community which my husband and his family have been a part of, including existing relationships with at least some tradespeople (roofing, plumbing and electric at least).

As we formulate our plans, we will surely come back here to learn from your collective wisdom. Already we're paring down what NEEDS to be done first. (Although, really, if you saw the bathroom...blech, if it was original to the house would be one thing, but until the early 60s they used an outhouse!) But insulation, heat and a new kitchen are still at the top of the list, along with a new roof to protect it all. And we also recognize that we will have to get heating people in to get a clearer idea of what is possible in the space. (These are really maintenance issues more than anything; so little has been maintained in this house for so many years and it is not winterized.) Where we both lose and win is that the entire interior of the house is covered not in plaster (oh, how I love those walls, which I grew up with--rounded corners!) but solid wood paneling. As a summer lake house, it is more cabin than house in much of its construction.

Thanks again everyone. And no worries about sounding discouraging--I'll be back! I try to pride myself on being able to accept honest and well-informed criticism. I've also been known to fly in the face of conventional wisdom on occasion, though. That works out for me sometimes, and not so much others. Let's hope for the best with this lake house!


    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 8:33AM
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Old houses are most vulnerable to regrettable owner-caused (though entirely well-meant) damage when they are renovated at the beginning of the ownership.

I'm mostly lurking here until I actually own my old house, but this is something I am going to print out and tape onto the refrigerator when I get there.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 9:12AM
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GrayWings--Yes, that comment was very helpful for me too. I know now to at least listen closer to my in-laws since they have collected their ideas over 30 years of owning the house. (As opposed to playing petulant child when they bring up an idea.) And I might get bonus family points for that while I'm at it!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 9:45AM
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One other thing that needs to be pointed out. Most vacation type homes are usually out a ways from town and easy shopping. So if you forget or need something or simply need to exchange it for a larger/smaller size you need to add in that commute time to all your projects. It adds up fast and from experience I can tell you lumber yards and such put deliveries for the outskirts of town at the bottom of the list.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 2:52PM
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Luckily (or perhaps not--more crowds on the lake are less fun) this was a vacation spot at the turn of the last century, less so this past one. There is a Home Depot and assorted other dull-and-depressing-but-sometimes-useful shopping centers close by.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 2:58PM
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I'm 6 years in to a 2 year restoration.

My advice, when working on an old house it take your time & really think things through. I personally, would never start work on an old house immediately after moving in. You need to get to know an old house & let it tell you what it needs. If I had made the cnages I wanted to on the day I moved into my house, I'd be a sad sack now. Once it has been ripped apart, no amount of tears can bring it back.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2009 at 4:58PM
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In my family, my father lives in the summer home that my great grandfather build from scrap wood at the lumber yard that used the logs that he brought downriver as a logger in the Adirondacks. I can't offer advice from his experience, I'm not quite sure how he insulated the place, but it's decently warm in the chilly winter. So, it can be done and probably much more prettilly than my bachelor father did.

We are new to our old home, and are doing many more things than people would caution. I just wanted to point out that often, in older homes, there are certain things that you HAVE to do right away. Waiting will make the home fall around you. This has been the case for us and for many on this forum. I think that the best advice is wait when you can, but when you can't keep as much original as you can, and when you can't do that, donate your original things to a salvage place so the history of your house can live on. Ideally, you'll save photos to go with the house so that if you do take out something original, an owner down the road can put it back.

A note on timeline, as most have said, it will probably take longer than you originally planned. As you are thinking, I'd say do what you need to do to move in first, and then add on other things later. I'd also say go ahead with the bathroom, but maybe look into what a bath looked like when the house was built, which can be lots of fun.

Sounds like a great house Onthelake- I hope you keep us updated! With my past, yours will be a huge pleasure for me to read.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 8:43AM
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"I'm 6 years in to a 2 year restoration."

We're 5 years in to a 2 year restoration, looking at another 5....

I'd agree it's best to not rush into renovations/restorations. However we didn't have many options - the house was not livable when we bought it, but we could only handle paying rent + mortgage for so long. We do have some regrets and things we'd have done differently if we could have taken more time at the beginning.

I've seen flippers do up houses in our neighborhood in a few months, but I've also seen the outcome :(.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Money Pit

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 10:26PM
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I have to agree with the timeline of restoration being too optimistic, and I can only say that because I was in your shoes at one time and learned the hard way.

A 'three month' kitchen remodel turned into eating out for a year because we didn't have a kitchen. And yes, we hired fully competent contractors. I loved our contractor, but boy he could talk the bark off a tree. And we opted to buy instead of build because we heard of nightmares about the timelines builders give you...what a laugh.

We may not have had a kitchen, but at least we had a roof over our head, right? LOL

My biggest regret is hiring a contractor with sub-contractors. In the future, I will hire each individual contractor myself.

Good luck with all your home projects.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 1:19AM
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