Home Improvement

Life in a Construction Zone: 5 Things to Expect When You Renovate Your Home

  • expect-when-renovating

    expect-when-renovating  (powerofforever)

  • Home before remodeling

    Home before remodeling

  • Remodeling mess

    Remodeling mess

At some point in the middle of HGTV's "Fixer Upper" marathon you probably decided you hate your kitchen, and the dining room, the master bedroom, and maybe even both of your bathrooms. Perhaps you should renovate. After all, you've seen the show, so you pretty much know how this works. Right?

But before you go nuts with the sledgehammer, heed our words of caution: In real life, there is no commercial break, no ever-present experts guiding you every step of the way, and no triumphant reveal at the end.

Yes, a major renovation can do wonders for your house (and might even boost your resale value by a lot). But if you decide to remodel, you're going to have to live through it, and that might not be so awesome.

To find out if our revamping dreams are worth it, we tracked down some homeowners who've been there. With major remodeling jobs under their belts, they told us what it's really like when things start getting real.

1. Your day-to-day life will be uprooted

The construction team might not work around the clock, but nonetheless, a home renovation is a 24/7 deal. You'll hear the sounds of hammering and sawing by day, and deal with roped-off rooms and sawdust by night. And you may find yourself locked out of major rooms for days or weeks on end.

"Not having a washing machine or dryer for about eight weeks was quite a challenge," says Erica Harriss, a Carbondale, IL, homeowner who started her major remodel earlier this year. "At one point, I did wash some clothes in our upstairs bathtub."

Harriss, whose remodeling work covered most of her home, found herself blocked from the kitchen as well. Luckily, the family was able to use a minifridge and bar area in the basement as a temp kitchen. But if you don't have anywhere else to hide out in, you'll have to make other arrangements or get creative.

"When your kitchen is completely gutted, you eat out a lot," says Tracy Abriola, a Philadelphia homeowner who's been through three major remodels. "It's also helpful to set up a toaster oven somewhere in the house and have a supply of paper goods for when you do end up eating in."

The disruption to your life might not be limited to the areas with all the appliances. Planning on renovating the master bath? You'll have to find somewhere else to sleep.

"There's just too much mess with a bathroom reno, and since bathrooms are small, a lot of the tools, fixtures, etc. end up being stored in the nice big conveniently attached bedroom," Abriola says.

2. It's really messy

And then there's the mess.

"The worst part about living through a remodel, for me, is the battle with the dust and dirt. I'm a bit of a clean freak, so it's difficult to see everything get covered in dust," Abriola says.

Even if your contractor is beyond careful (warning: sometimes they won't be), covering floors and setting up tarps won't be enough to keep the place clean. Those microscopic particles will become airborne, and they will attach to everything.

"We've found that storing clothing in sealed plastic storage containers far away from the work area is helpful," Abriola says. "You also need to be prepared to wipe down everything after construction, including walls, slats of blinds, underneath tabletops. Basically, just everywhere."

3. You'll get stressed out

Even if you did hire a pro and aren't doing any of the heavy lifting, you won't be completely free of anxiety. You'll worry about timelines and how much everything is going to cost. And don't forget about this: Your contractor is there to do the work, but you still have to make all the decisions -- from something as major as hardwood vs. tile to as seemingly minor as warm vs. cool white lights. And decision-making can be stressful.

"At one point, I remember being so overwhelmed with making decisions that I just had to take a step back for a few days," Harriss says.

4. Renovation can cost more than you think

You'll get an estimate before work begins, and a reputable contractor will do his best to stick as close to that figure as possible. But you should always be prepared for the worst when it comes to financing a renovation project.

Abriola calls it "the snowball effect." Once the project starts, you find something new you want done, or you change your mind, or you see something finished and don't like it as much as you thought you would.

"We just renovated the master bath in our vacation home. We had planned to put one of the outlets in the backsplash, but after we chose glass tile decided we didn't want an outlet cut in -- we wanted it outside the backsplash," Abriola recalls. "So guess what? The electricians had to come back out. Cha-ching!"

To keep from being financially overwhelmed, make sure you have a cushion beyond the remodeling estimate.

5. You'll learn a lot about yourself

Living through a remodel does have some advantages over getting a made-for-TV reveal. For one, you actually get to see the project come together.

"The best part of the experience was the week the flooring and the cabinets were installed. That was the week I felt like my vision was really getting pulled together," Harriss says. "Seeing the transformation was very exciting,"

And you'll likely gain a lot of self-understanding, too -- especially after your stint of forced living in cramped and unusual spaces.

"This has been a great lesson in making do with what you have," Harriss says. "We've been creative with our space and learning what is a want versus a need."

But, then again, "It really isn't for the faint of heart," Abriola says.