The Nightmare Remodel: How it goes wrong and how to make it go right

Today begins a new series on nightmare remodeling. Later on, I'll compile these posting into a book. Your comments are welcome!

After writing about remodeling for 20 years, here's what occurs to me: one group of people know exactly what causes remodels to turn into nightmares. Those people are the ones who are involved heavily and often in homes and remodeling — people like contractors, subcontractors, landlords, craftspeople, and home remodeling writers like myself.

There is also a bigger group of people who know very little about remodeling, and those people are called homeowners. The problem is that homeowners are typically running the show. And that makes sense, as they are footing the bill. But here you have the most unknowing party driving the action. Obviously, there will be needless mistakes made; that's what novices do, make mistakes.

The purpose of this series is to transfer some of the knowledge from those of us who see remodeling pitfalls on a daily basis to those of you who will do only one or two or a few remodels in a lifetime. With our experience and knowledge, and with your desire and money and effort, there's no reason every remodel can't be a stunning success.

Agree or disagree?

6 Comments on The Nightmare Remodel: How it goes wrong and how to make it go right

  1. Kenneth Crutcher

    There is a great way to prevent the nighmare remodel.
    “Hire a Design Professional”
    Most home remodelers don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. Planning is what architects and designers DO. Contractors and builders follow the plan.

  2. Doug

    What I would like to know is, as a new homeowner who knew next to nothing about remodelling, and who hired a well-regarded licensed contractor who has been in the nusiness for many years and has excellent referrals, and was not cheap by any means, have been able to catch numerous mistakes they have made including:
    1. improper flashing of windows
    2. failure to use proper insulation for cathedral ceiling
    3. failure to properly level patio surrounding new add-on so water flows away from structure
    and more.
    Before the advent of the internet there is no way I would have been able to catch these mistakes. Now I’m not only able to catch them, I can give the contractor technical docs, videos, instructions from the manufacturer on how to do it properly.
    Why do I, the homeowner have to find the mistakes because the contractor has been doing it the same way throughout the years and is unable or unwilling to keep up with the latest building best practices?

  3. Peggy Deras, CKD, CID

    This is always a timely subject. But especially now when so many builders are out of work and doing remodeling work as a fallback. Experienced remodelers are much better suited to working with homeowners who are living in the home.
    Interestingly, I am currently working with a client who was so traumatized by a 1979 remodel, that went bad, that she has lived with an unfinished kitchen to this day.
    We professionals on the project are trying our very best to see that there is no repeat performance.
    My point: Contractor selection is often the last thing homeowners do before they embark on a remodeling project, but it is the MOST IMPORTANT element to carefully consider.
    After all, they are going to be literally LIVING with their contractor and workers for the duration of the project. Enduring stress and dirt and deprivation.
    Be sure the contractor you choose is one to whom you will happily give a set of housekeys, and gratefully invite to the wine and cheese party when it’s all over. Trust is the most important part of the relationship between a remodeling contractor and homeowner, and the first question you should ask yourself when interviewing.
    Do I trust this person?
    On my web site there is an article on interviewing and selecting a remodeling contractor that may be of interest to readers.
    Here’s a link:

  4. Ignacio Arribas

    It’s possible. Indeed, not only possible to have a great remodeling experience, but from my perspective, it is the only way to do it.
    My wife and I have remodeled our house in stages during the past 20+ years. Every one of our remodeling projects have been perfect, mostly on time, and always on budget. We have been so happy with our remodeling experiences, and our marriage survived them, that we wrote a book about how to make home remodeling a great and positive experience.
    Ignacio Arribas
    Author, The Happy Remodelers

  5. Kathy Price-Robinson

    Laurie, that was wonderfully stated. If you feel like sending me one or two of these “don’t let this happen to you” images (to, along with a little background on the project, I’d love to post them. If only people knew what we know about the gamble and danger of hiring marginal contractors, they would never do that again.

  6. Laurie

    I completely agree. My company gets the calls all the time from agitated homeowners asking for us to come out and fix construction blunders. I can tell from the type of phone call that a homeowner has a) either just fired their contractor or b) the homeowner is getting nervous with a job going south and looking to replace the contractor or c) a d.i.y. is in over his head.
    I have a file on my computer titled “Don’t let this happen to you” with several photos of jobs we were called over to look at and quote the repair/replacement of work performed without a permit, or by non-qualified, non-licensed contractors.
    I am always amazed at how much it costs to do things correctly, but relatively speaking quality is priceless compared to how much more it costs to rip out and repair inferior work. I will never understand why people are willing to gamble.
    I always say: “Buy on price, buy twice”.