In Stephen King’s chilling miniseries, Rose Red, a deeply disturbed woman believes that if she just keeps remodeling and expanding her home, she will live forever. Each eerie episode is filled with mysterious construction site accidents, ominous sounds coming from within the walls, and restless spirits haunting meandering passageways. It is quite possibly King’s most terrifying creation ever because … it’s a home renovation job that never ends! That is absolutely horrifying!
We all want our homes to be majestic, welcoming masterpieces with updated kitchens featuring gleaming stainless steel appliances and granite covered islands, bathrooms with his-and-her sinks and those toilets that do everything, and just the right color on the walls of our gorgeous but oh-so-inviting living rooms. But getting there can be more than a little scary. In fact, of the 41 items listed in the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, changing your home’s appearance is listed somewhat below going to jail and slightly above committing a crime.
Popular television home remodeling programs portray as lighthearted fun major projects that apparently can be completed before the homeowners get back from lunch, but anyone who has actually lived through a renovation knows that in real life, that process is hellish.
But you can make it all just a bit less foreboding. Here are some tips on keeping both your sanity and your relationships intact while making your abode more beautiful.
Do You Stay, or Do You Go?
It has been said that cleaning the house while your kids are home is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. That is pretty much how contractors feel about working on your home while you and your family remain. Having residents there every day means that the workspace needs to be kept cleaner, restrictions on both noise and language will be necessary, and the work can potentially get bogged down because the client will be right there, constantly checking in, providing input, and possibly making changes throughout the entire operation. But that last concern is precisely why many experts suggest that if you want first-rate results with as few bumps along the way as possible, you should prepare yourself for a lot of dust, a lot of noise, and a lot of upheaval, and absolutely stay in your home throughout the project.
Studies show that more things go haywire when the homeowners are gone. Questions that only the client can answer frequently arise, and if the client is not right there to answer them, then delays will likely occur. And if mistakes are happening, such as the painters using the wrong color on your living room walls, you will be right there to catch them. Otherwise you may be surrounded by the Enduring Bronze paint that your spouse originally wanted instead of the Pale Periwinkle tint he reluctantly agreed was better.
Plus, contractors are rarely working on one project at a time, and the in-residence family down the street will always come first because they will be there to monitor the number of days and hours their workmen are actually on the job and will likely complain if they feel they are being shortchanged. And if they are also serving homemade cookies? Then your project might go all the way to the bottom of your contractor’s priority list.
If you move your family out, you will miss the excitement of witnessing your dream designs coming to life, and you will likely be adding to the overall cost of the project. Your options are to either find and pay for a hotel room or rental home close to work and school, or camp out at a friend or relative’s house, the latter of which comes with its own nonmonetary costs. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,” and the long term stress of trying to accommodate your family’s needs with those of another may send you running back to your dusty, noisy, work-in-progress home.
So as uncomfortable as living through a remodel can be, it is best to put on your big boy hard hat, stay put, and make enough cookies for the entire crew.
Keeping Your Marriage Securely Hammered Together
The very first thing a renovation crew does when beginning a project is to hammer down a wall. It is terrifying. Now you are really committed to the remodel (or you have to live without a wall), and you can only hope you make it through the next few weeks without your committed relationship crumbling. Because suddenly, your home life is in turmoil.
Used to cuddling in the morning with your spouse? Enjoying a quiet cup of coffee before work? Having private conversations in your home that actually stay private?
Forget about it!
And it isn’t just the noise, the dust (So. Much. Dust.) and the invasion of workmen storming through the house every day that can send a wrecking ball straight through the middle of even the most solid of marriages. Budget concerns, arguments over decor details, and a million different little decisions to be made can all add up to a whole lot of marital friction.
So it is not surprising that a recent study showed 50 percent of couples reported that their home renovation project caused a significant strain on their marriage, and 12 percent actually considered divorcing as a direct result of that project.
To avoid becoming just another remodeling statistic, you need to discuss everything about the renovation, including what you both hope to achieve, long before that first wall is torn down. Your husband may think Enduring Bronze paint looks like a caramel café au lait with just a hint of nutmeg, while you think it more closely resembles that repulsive olive-brown thing your cat once dragged in from the street. But unless you discuss it, someone is going to be surprised and upset when the living room is instead painted a cheerful Pale Periwinkle. Even though everyone knows Pale Periwinkle is a much, much better color for the living room. Just saying.
Before you even get to the paint colors, however, you need to start with a conversation about a realistic budget. Make sure you both know what you can and cannot afford, and then stay united. A time will come when the contractor pulls one of you aside to suggest upgrading the light fixtures. Do not, I repeat do not, make any spur of the moment decisions. All changes to the project need to be discussed with your spouse.
This includes what to throw out to make room for your new decor. It may seem like the perfect time to discard that ugly brown massage chair that has no business being in the new living room, but doing so without discussing it first may just be the straw that breaks your husband’s back … and he will not even have his massage chair to give him some relief.
After the finances are hammered out, make sure that the responsibility of overseeing the project does not lie on the shoulders of one person. Construction progress will need monitoring, schedules will need coordinating, and workmen will need to be paid. If one partner is doing all those chores, in addition to living their all-ready-in-progress life, they will most likely feel resentful. On the other hand, if one person insists on doing everything, the other may feel pushed out of the project, completely sidelined, and also resentful.
Communication is the key, from the very first sketches until the last bit of Pale Periwinkle paint is dry. Otherwise, one of you might end up “accidentally” sealed in the crawl space and spend eternity muttering through the walls, “Enduring Bronze was better and I miss my chair!”
Going into a renovation project without a clear vision of exactly what you want to do and how much it will cost is the perfect beginning for a real horror story. Get out your planners, sit down with your spouse and contractor, and do not get up again until everything is spelled out and signed. Serve those homemade cookies if it helps.
Of course, some changes to your timeline and budget may be unavoidable, such as delayed shipments, inclement weather, or forced quarantines. But often homeowners make small modifications to the original design, and while that is perfectly acceptable — and most contractors are prepared for these changes — experts advise you make these revisions early on and keep them to a minimum. If you decide that the black and red square bathroom tiles you selected will in fact make you feel like a pawn in someone else’s giant game of chess, it is easier to switch to the less intimidating Sun Burst tile in your opening gambit before any tiles have been ordered. And waiting until the bathroom floor chess set has been installed before making the switch is just a bad move, a rookie mistake, which can be quite costly.
So, in order to avoid it all becoming a Rose Red forever project, make those modification decisions as soon as possible.
Give Yourself Space
Any remodeling project comes with a great deal of organized chaos, so you and your family will need a place in your home that is separated from the dust and disruption. Have your contractor seal off an area where you can set up a computer, small refrigerator, microwave, and television, put in a few chairs, and create your own family-only fort in the midst of your castle.
Remember that it is still your home, and it is okay to insist that, unless it is absolutely necessary, the work is done around your family’s schedule. If your sanity requires that the workmen do “quiet work” during your toddler’s naptime, then make that part of the timetable you set up with your contractor. It might mean that the project takes a little longer, but given the choice between a few extra days of hammering versus the daily tantrums of a 2-year-old who did not get a proper nap, most parents will opt for more hammer time.
Insist upon basic necessities. If all of your bathrooms are being remodeled, they should be done one at a time, insuring that at least one working commode is always available. The workmen frequently set up their own portable outhouse during the course of construction, but you do not want to have to trudge out there in the middle of the night should the need arise.
Opaque curtains are a must in the bathrooms throughout the process, even if it is located on the second floor. You do not want to find yourself waving to the handyman on top of his ladder while you are sitting on the throne of your castle.
Workmen Will Become an Intricate Part of Life
Even if they are not waving at you through the bathroom window, it will eventually feel like the workmen tromping through your house actually live with you. Privacy is at a premium during the renovation, and if you can hear them, they can hear you.
Is your son having trouble with his math homework? They will know it.
Fighting with your spouse over the living room wall colors? They will know it.
Crying in the bathroom because you agreed to keep your husband’s ugly massage chair? They will know it.
Hopefully they will be discreet enough not to let on that they know it, but they will know it. So save sensitive conversations for hours when the workmen have dispersed.
Keep everything professional, but remember that the people working in your home deserve your respect and appreciation. Bringing them the occasional slushy or plate of Oreos can make the experience more pleasant for everyone.
Don’t Forget About Your Neighbors
Unless you live next door to the kindly Wilson W. Wilson from “Home Improvement” who freely gives sage advice about your remodeling woes without ever showing his face, don’t forget that your neighbors might not feel as “hidey ho” happy about your renovation as you are. That noise and dust carries, so if you do not want to be banned from the next neighborhood block party, show them some consideration.
Tell your neighbors about the prospective project, inform them of the remodeling dates, and make sure your workmen keep to a reasonable schedule. Not everyone wants to be woken up at 6:15 in the morning to the sound of a nail gun welding construction worker installing your new portico. Encourage the use of power tools midday when it will be less disruptive to the whole neighborhood.
Pets and toddlers have one thing in common: if there is a single fallen nail anywhere, they will find it and they will try to eat it. Having children and animals in the house during a construction project means extra vigilance on your part.
Pets should be kept in a kennel or housed elsewhere for the duration of the project. Sharp, dangerous objects will likely be lying about, and if curiosity gets the better of them, your little ones or animals could be seriously injured. Also, doors and windows will constantly be opening and closing, and it is not your contractor’s job to make sure that your furry friend does not slip outside.
Or worse. The internet abounds with frightening tales of pets getting sealed up in small spaces during a renovation project. The mewing coming from the inside of your walls will most likely haunt you forever, and your project will take that much longer — and be more expensive — due to the ensuing rescue efforts involved in freeing a cat who now has one less life.
Unfortunately, keeping your small children in a kennel or boarding them at the vet is frowned upon, so keep a close eye on your wee ones. Wires, bricks, and fallen nails make your house look like one big, exciting jungle gym-playhouse combination. Use a gate to keep them in the “safe room,” and try to plan a lot of excursions elsewhere.
If your children are older, arrange for the construction project to proceed during school months or plan plenty of out-of-the-house activities during holidays. Even older children (and husbands) find power tools irresistible.
If Your Name isn’t Bob Villa, Don’t Do It Yourself
Please remember that binge watching home improvement shows does not actually make you a professional builder. And now is not the time to put into action what you learned from that five minute “Hanging Your Own Drywall” YouTube video.
Almost invariably, work done by homeowners in an attempt to save money ends up costing more because the job usually needs to be redone by professionals. And even if you are bursting with pride over your own hung drywall, the painter who has to deal with your handiwork may be less enthralled.
Shoddy bits of construction work do not improve with age. Extensive repairs may eventually be needed, and, should you ever decide to sell your house, a home inspector will sniff out your substandard work quicker than you can say “Dream Home Make Over.”
So unless you are an actual professional, just don’t. Save your wannabe-a-carpenter phase for your son’s Cub Scout Pinewood Derby Day.
Something Will Go Wrong
No matter how well you have planned your project, how carefully you have mapped out your timetable, and how prepared you are with each and every detail, something will go wrong along the way, and timeline delays will happen.
And that is okay. A good contractor is not the one who does flawless, trouble-free work. That person does not exist no matter what those television super-hero renovators might want you to believe. A good contractor and crew are those who run into problems and are able to successfully navigate them while still bringing in a great looking remodeled home.
So roll with it. It could be worse. You could have lost the paint war and be forced to live forever with Enduring Bronze colored walls. And that would just be scary!