Before you start your reno
Here are the broad strokes to consider before you even think about getting out the sledgehammer.
The old saying “by failing to plan, you’re planning to fail” couldn’t be more true when you’re rolling down the road to a renovation.
That said, sometimes the planning phase can feel like it stretches on longer than a piece of continuous spouting, but the time taken during this phase will pay off with time – and money – saved later.
Staying in or moving out?
While your renovation may be months – or even years away – decide whether you’ll keep living in your home during the building work. Can you, your family and pets put up with the construction debris, cold and likely a less secure home?
Moving out to less dusty digs is an added expense, but it saves the stress of living with mess. It also means your contractors can work faster. If it’s a major job, such as adding another storey, it might be sensible and safer to move out while work is under way.
Your living arrangements can be a factor in how the renovation will progress. For example, maybe you do the kitchen first, then you can move back in. Or you do the bathrooms one at a time, allowing you to keep living at home.
In many ways, the planning phase is the most fun as you pore over magazines and internet sites, crowdsource ideas from friends and dream of your beautifully remodelled home. It’s exciting to dream about your finished renovation.
Here’s how to start your planning:
- Decide the scope of your project and start planning room by room.
- Gather ideas from design books, magazines, websites and brochures and organise them into folders, perhaps by room.
- Ask friends for their ideas and experiences – ask what went wrong as well as what went right.
- Work out a budget to decide what fits and what doesn’t – some of your wants and needs may have to wait, so decide your priorities.
Future-proof your home
Assuming you intend to live in your renovated home for some years, think about how you might use your house in the future. Are you planning a family? Or will you be moving into your twilight years? Plan now so you can live comfortably later. An accessible home is also an attractive selling point.
Start making decisions
Once you’ve settled on the general scope and basic idea of your renovations, start deciding who’s going to help you bring your vision to life. Take your time to choose the right person or people, as the success of your project largely depends on their skill – and you will likely have to live with the results.
Start by deciding the following:
- Will you hire a designer? That might be an architect or an architectural designer to help you nail down the exact scope of the project and draw up plans. Or do you have the skills to do it yourself? If you do hire a designer, they can also have answers to the questions below.
- Which tradespeople will you need? Even simple jobs can involve numerous tradespeople. For example, just replacing a hand basin and vanity could involve a plumber, builder, plasterer, painter, tiler, electrician, and floor layer.
- Who will manage the work? Someone must make sure things run smoothly on site (check “The Building Process” on pXX for more on project management).
Drawing up designs
The size and complexity of your job will likely determine whether you need a designer to draw up plans.
If you’re moving walls around, adding rooms or having a new kitchen put in – and certainly for bigger projects – it’s wise to enlist an architect, architectural designer or architectural draughtsperson (the difference between the three is explained on pXX). Not only do they have the expertise to maximise floor space, and the flow and aspect of the rooms for the best sunlight and energy efficiency, they can also advise on materials and special design features.
Their plans will make the job easier for your builder to ensure everything fits – and that all the lines are straight. Properly drawn plans also help during the consenting process, as a building consent will almost certainly be required to ensure what’s built or altered is safe. Depending on what you’re doing, a resource consent may also be mandatory.
As the owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure the necessary consents are obtained, but having a designer involved should make this process smoother.
Will you need an engineer?
Some renovations require a chartered professional engineer. This is certainly so if you’re extending up or removing structural elements such as walls, and/or if you live in an extreme weather or high earthquake-risk area.
It’s an extra cost, but an engineer will make sure everything in your build is solid and stable.
An engineer is particularly useful if:
- There are concerns about the earth’s stability or compactness. A geo-technical engineer can do testing and help design foundations that can overcome stability issues.
- There are difficult or unusual details in the design, or weather extremes call for certain designs or materials. An engineer can find efficiencies or suggest ways to adjust the design to ensure stability. Your designer will tell you if engineers are needed and what they’re likely to cost.
Harnessing the sun
Many renovations on older houses are done to re-orient the house towards the sun’s light and warmth, and most modern builds are designed to optimise passive heating and cooling. Generally, this is done by designing the home to suit its climate, focusing on the following:
- Good house orientation – positioning to allow for sunlight to warm and/or breezes to cool.
- Shading elements – such as wide eaves that increase shade and weather protection.
- Window placement and size – allows sunlight and heat to get in where it’s needed, and shut out where it’s not.
- Ventilation – uses window joinery to allow ventilation, such as security catches so windows can stay open a little.
- Insulation – especially natural insulation (such as wool) reduces heat flow both in and out of the building, helping to heat and cool.
- Thermal mass – using heavy building materials (such as concrete or stone) with the right insulation to soak up direct sunlight in the colder months and release it during the night.
Choosing a designer
Signing up the right designer is crucial. Take your time to find someone with great credentials and reviews, and does work you admire. Also make sure they are someone you can get along with as, frankly, renovations are rarely complication-free and you must be able to communicate with them well through any stressful times.
What type of designer?
The choice of designer – architect, architectural designer, draughtsperson – may come down to your budget. However, you will be relying on this person to understand Building Code requirements and ensuring the right construction materials and methods are used, so your renovation stays upright and weathertight.
While a cheaper designer may appeal, don’t base your choice wholly on price. Weigh up their experience, qualifications, and portfolio before making your choice. You’ll be living with their decisions for years to come so make sure you’re confident in their ability.
Finding your designer
Once you’ve decided which type of designer you want, it’s time to find the person. Choosing a licensed practitioner gives you the assurance they have the qualifications, skills and experience to do the job you want in a way that meets government-backed national standards.
These four organisations can help you find the right designer for you and your project:
- New Zealand Registered Architects Board – nzrab.nz – a statutory entity that registers, monitors and disciplines architects.
- New Zealand Institute of Architects – nzia.co.nz – a professional organisation for architects.
- Architectural Designers of New Zealand – adnz.org.nz – a professional organisation for architectural designers, as well as architects.
- Design Association of New Zealand – danz.co.nz – a multi-discipline design association of people interested and practising in all aspects of design.
Research and reviews
To find your designer, get busy on the internet, Pinterest and search designers’ websites and scroll through their portfolios. You’ll inevitably fall down many a design rabbit hole, but it’s not time wasted as you’ll come away with inspiration for your plans, if not the name of person who’s to bring those ideas to fruition.
Talk to your friends that have had a recent reno – who did they use, and would they recommend them? What was great about them? What wasn’t, perhaps, so great?
If you have an idea of who you would like to work with – perhaps a designer whose work has caught your eye – ask around to find someone who’s used them. Ask what were they like to work with, as you must be able to communicate your ideas to them and be sure they will listen.
Designers are very aesthetic people who often have a definite idea of what “look” or style they like. There’s no point going with someone whose aesthetic is vastly different to yours and may try to push you in a direction you won’t want to live with.
Designers – what’s the difference?
- Architects: Most architects have a university architectural degree. They must be registered with the New Zealand Registered Architects Board (NZRAB) and hold a NZRAB practising certificate. Architects are expert across the design and management of all stages of the building process.
- Architectural designer: They have probably studied at a university or polytechnic and are specifically trained in the technical aspects of design and detailing. They are also well versed in all aspects of design and construction, but they can’t call themselves architects. However, they can be just as good at all aspects of design and tend to be a little easier on the budget.
- Architectural draughtsperson: They usually have technical institute training and can be a good low-cost option for drawing up plans for smaller projects, such as re-doing a laundry. They will be cheaper than an architect or architectural designer but you may not get the same design flair.
What designers cost
How much you’ll pay depends on the type of designer you hire, what services you need them for and the size of your project. However, budgeting between six to 15 percent of your job’s total cost is a good rule of thumb.
Designers usually charge in these three ways:
- Hourly – although charging that way can become expensive if the job is big.
- A percentage of the total building cost – charging this way is common and is generally good for the homeowner, too (that’s because the design costs stay in proportion to the total cost of the house, and give you a better idea how much the designer is likely to cost). Costs generally start from one-and-a-half percent, for initial sketch plans, up to about 15 percent, for full design and administration services.
- Fixed fees calculated on an hourly rate – this is where the total hours are estimated ahead of time and charged at a fixed amount. You may have to renegotiate if these hours blow out.
Contracting your designer
When deciding what kind of designer you want, think about what you want them to do and what services do you want them to provide?
Just designs? Or full service?
A designer, especially an architect, can do far more than simply supply drawings. In fact, most architects and some architectural designers prefer to be engaged for a “full service”.
This means they manage the whole process for you, including selecting the builder and subcontractors, and monitoring construction. Some architects also like to be consulted on interior design to ensure it suits their vision.
A full service does cost more money, but it’s worth it if you don’t have the skills or the time to supervise the build closely. The architect will make sure the builders construct everything as drawn, use the correct materials, and stick to the consent. This attention to detail ensures everything is of a high standard and – importantly – reduces sign-off issues and the chances of something going wrong in the first place.
Briefing your designer
With the contract signed, the detailed design work begins. You may have already had some extensive talks with your designer, but the next stage is to offer a full briefing covering exactly what you want.
In this briefing, include the following:
- Share your ideas and vision – firm up your ideas - what do you have in mind?
- Be flexible – give the designer room to offer their ideas (remember, that’s their job) so they can help you decide what’s both functional and will look good.
- Have a good fix on your budget – and be prepared to look for savings, which may be reducing the size of the renovation or swapping expensive materials for something more budget friendly.
Discuss the services you want from your designer, such as:
- help with the positioning of any house extensions on the site
- design, from initial sketches through to final plans
- budget control and looking for savings
- project management of the building process, including selecting the builder and various subcontractors
- getting building consents and liaising with the council over completion and sign off
- interior design and selecting your furnishings and new appliances
- landscaping design and management.
Agree it all in writing
Once you’ve agreed on your services and expectations, have the terms of the agreement down in writing no matter the size of the job. Both the New Zealand Institute of Architects and Architectural Designers of New Zealand have standard contracts, which are very detailed and likely to cover every situation.
The contract must cover the full scope of the designer’s involvement in your project. Read over the contract thoroughly and check back with the designer (or a lawyer) if you don’t understand anything. Make sure the contract includes clauses about what happens if any disputes arise – this may be something you don’t want to think about now, but disputes do happen.
This contract will cover your designer’s work only, and you will sign a separate contract with your builder.
With the contract signed, your designer will start getting to grips with the ins and outs of your project. They’ll scope out inside your home and will take a close look outside where you may extend.
You may already have the certificate of title, boundaries, drainage plans and any town zoning or planning details since. That said, your designer should check this all off for you so long as it’s included in the services contract.
They will then likely take photographs and – if necessary – have the site surveyed to show up any contours and to confirm boundaries. The last thing you want is to extend further than you’re allowed to go.
Your designer, especially if they’re an architect, will know about the latest materials and design innovation.
You might already have a good idea about this from all your browsing, but designers do this for a living, every day. They should know about the latest in materials and what will suit your site, style and building type.
They will also know how to design in a way that’s recommended for the materials you and they choose. For example, a particular roofing material may have to be installed at a certain pitch or to fit a certain design, and your designer must know to follow that recommendation.
Again, you may have already made your decisions back in the early stages, but this is the time to nut those materials down, and agree with your designer if they will work for your site and build or not.