Q&A: Renovate all at once, or in steps?

TollduringQuestion: We want to do several upgrades to our house, including the kitchen, the master bathroom and a new deck. Should we have them all done at the same time, or would it be easier on my family to have them done one at a time?

My answer: I've seen projects tackled both ways. Many homeowners who undertake a massive, all-encompassing remodel say it was the right thing to do, although others who tackle projects one at a time report they actually enjoy the experience.

If you like the process of remodeling, of working with contractors and craftsmen, of tweaking each project to perfection, and you approach it like a hobby, you might like to take it one adventure at a time. I call these people serial remodelers.

But I suspect most people want to plow through, get it done, get the workers out of there and get the dust cleaned up. (What I'm trying to show by this photo of a San Fernando Valley remodel in progress is how messy and dusty a project can be.)

However, if you've never had remodeling work done to your home, you might be ill-equipped to handle three large projects at once. Try having one small project done so you can experience the chaos (and dust!) that ensues.

Maybe you could have a skylight or a bay window installed or some doors replaced. After you get a taste of it, you might decide to go forward with the next project. Or if you get migraines, you might choose to move to a rental down the street and get the whole job done at once. More than one family I've interviewed has said they will "never again" live in the house during a major kitchen remodel.

For a contractor's perspective, I asked Alon Toker, president of Mega Builders in Chatsworth, what advice he would give.

Click here for the contractor's answer
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Contractor’s answer: Certainly a more comprehensive project would take a toll on a family, whether the family remains in place or finds temporary housing elsewhere. After all, moving out is also stressful.

Still, I think you should opt to get it all done in a single swoop, or you could lose momentum. In my experience, no one is less likely to undertake a remodeling project than someone who has just completed one.

It makes financial sense as well. Generally speaking, it is more cost effective to bundle all your project’s objectives into a single undertaking.

Here’s why: A construction project progresses trade by trade, from the “rough” stages to the “finish” work. For example, tile work should go in before the last coat of paint but after the cabinets are in. The electrician will wire the open walls during the rough stage and return toward the project’s completion to install light fixtures and trim.

Breaking up a home-remodeling project by room or by any other arbitrary criteria undermines this natural and efficient progression. As a result, crews will work on rough items and then do finish work only to return to address additional rough items in a different location of the house. Total project time and cost will increase as a result.

Given travel time, daily setup and breakdown times (bringing materials from the truck, collecting tools, daily cleanup of the job site), the one-at-a-time process creates waste. This also means higher time-related costs, such as for supervision, overhead and temporary facilities.

I suggest you get all the pain out of the way and enjoy your new and improved home.

4 Comments on Q&A: Renovate all at once, or in steps?

  1. Franklin Murphy

    We added an outdoor room/ porch, with roof, columns and a fireplace -all overlooking the pool and lake. It looks great. We also did crown molding in all rooms, replaced the ceiling in the living room, installed Pergo flooring in all the bedrooms, put in some interior, decorative columns and lighting. THE PROJECT SEEMED TO TAKE FOREVER. At one point, we lived in one room of the house. WHAT A MESS IT WAS. AND DEALING WITH THE CONTRACTORS…? My advice: Buy a new home with the things you want. Forget remodeling.

  2. becoming-home

    Thanks Kathy,
    Right back at you, I’ve enjoyed exploring your past posts. Interesting stories and you are also a very talented writer which makes it such easy reading!
    Our reno is coming along.. I suppose it is a short time in the scheme of these things, but I must say it feels like forever ago that we started, with all the energy and naivety of people who have never been through a rennovation …unlike the battle-worn and weary pair we feel like now 😉

  3. Kathy Price-Robinson

    Becoming Home, thanks for posting. I just checked out your blog at:
    and I must say your remodel is turning out beautifully! And in such a short time. Congratulations!

  4. becoming-home

    We’re doing it all at once but we haven’t moved in yet and we have my parents’ house to stay at during the reno, so that’s a unique situation. The only danger of this approach is the “while we’re at it syndrome!”