Complete Guide to Managing a Home Renovation

Experts break down renovation essentials and offer smart tips on renovating right

Credit: Flickr / Juhan Sonin

A smart reno can increase your property value

Home renovations can increase property value, reduce energy bills and improve comfort and esthetic, but they’re not always easy to manage. Here’s how to ensure your reno goes smoothly

Your house is more than just a living space; it can also be a rewarding long-term investment. Renovations provide the perfect opportunity to implement changes that will enhance resale value, reduce bills and improve the comfort of your daily life

Yes, overhauling your home can seem a daunting task, whether you’re spicing up a room or redesigning the entire structure, which is why we’ve gathered the most vital information you need to ensure a smooth and successful renovation. 

Renovation is a Smart Investment

Your home’s resale value depends on several factors, including the price of comparable homes in the neighbourhood, location and its overall condition.

Though well-planned renovations can dramatically increase the value of some homes, avoid renovating with only resale in mind: it’s impossible to know what buyers are looking for or if the market will change by the time you’re ready to sell. Instead, focus on keeping your home in good condition rather than following trends or blowing your budget on esthetics. 

(IMAGE: Flickr / jetfuel)

Setting Your Renovation Priorities and Budget

The decision to renovate might seem simple enough, whether it involves finishing the basement so the kids have a dedicated playroom or upgrading an older home to improve its energy efficiency. But the key to a successful outcome involves doing some heavy lifting upfront and determining which projects to tackle first. 

The Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association (GVHBA) recommends dividing your reno to-do list into three categories: 

  1. Urgent: This includes repairs that are essential for health and safety (e.g. replacing faulty wiring or fixing a leaky roof).

  2. Discretionary: Renovations that enhance your home’s esthetic and comfort fall into this category (e.g. upgrading to energy-efficient appliances or installing skylights). 

  3. Wish List: This is the spot for that backyard koi pond or fitness room. 

Now, determine what can realistically fit into your budget. Items in the first category take priority; work your way down, being honest about what you can afford and what can wait.

Include a healthy contingency fund. If you run into problems or go over budget, you don’t want to be scrambling for funds or have to leave a project half-finished.

hiring a contractor
(IMAGE: Flickr / wordjunky)

Hiring Help

When hiring any professional, whether a plumber, interior designer or general contractor, always ask for references and be sure to check the Better Business Bureau to ensure the business is in good standing.

Talk to previous clients about their experiences and overall satisfaction with the company or individual. Find out how long the company has been in business, who its clients are, and if its past projects match your own vision.

Renovation Contractors 

A professional renovator provides years of experience, a network of suppliers and subcontractors, and insight into legal regulations, cost estimates and scheduling. Your renovator will also give you technical advice and product suggestions. 

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. have put together a comprehensive website with information on hiring a contractor. 

To find a contractor, check out the following resources:

3D architectural design
3D rendering of kitchen design by architect Carl Oldenburg. (IMAGE: Flickr / Johan Sonin)


Whether you’re adding an extension onto the back of your home, finding a way to squeeze a pantry into your kitchen or eyeing a complete overhaul, an architect can help you translate your vision into realistic 3-D plans. An architect’s expertise also extends to building materials and construction methods and knowledge of zoning, bylaws and more. 

The Architectural Institute of British Columbia has a helpful Ask an Architect Advisory Service.

Interior Designers 

Interior designers assist with colour selection, spatial planning and lighting plan design, and many other helpful services.

Your designer will help you plan a cohesive, personalized design concept, and can save time and money by cutting down on costly mistakes or delays. Interview several designers; show them a folder with your design ideas, including magazine clippings and product brochures. Look for someone whose style is similar to yours, and who you feel you can collaborate with for the duration of the project.

The Interior Designers Institute of British Columbia can refer you to an interior designer suited to your type of project.

Prefer to do it yourself? Here are some of the tools you’ll need.

Get the Most Out of Your Home Improvements

Kitchens and bathrooms tend to be the most-used rooms in the house – and the most in need of renovations.

Plus, says Doug Wittal, vice-president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA), “You’ll always get your money back from a kitchen or bathroom renovation.”

kitchen renovation
Kitchen renovation with new cabinets and countertops. Appliances still need to be installed. (IMAGE: Flickr / nickytheblade)

Interior designer and owner of The Sky’s the Limit Design Group, Ines Hanl, offers these tips for getting the most out of your kitchen and bathroom renovations:


Outdated fixtures, inadequate layout and unreliable appliances are homeowners’ top complaints when it comes to their kitchens, but before you start remodelling, look at the bigger picture. “It’s important to look at your daily activities to ensure that your kitchen is tailored to your lifestyle,” says Hanl.

Her tips:

  • Appliance choice affects layout. For example, a compact refrigerator might necessitate more pantry space.

  • Keep your current and future lifestyle in mind. Do you have small children? You might install a low counter so they can take part in food prep. If you enjoy playing host, consider opening up the space so party guests can mingle. 

  • Don’t feel chained to the work triangle. The most efficient kitchens include well-laid out work spaces, including a clean-up zone, food storage area, breakfast nook and hot food prep station.


“Most homeowners don’t realize that bathrooms are the most complex rooms to renovate,” says Hanl. Bathroom renos require a bevy of professionals (plumbers, carpenters, electricians and cabinetmakers, among others) working in a small space.

bathroom renovation
Bathroom renovation after new tiles and grout. (IMAGE: Flickr / Johan Sonin)

To keep the project running smoothly, Hanl recommends presenting the professionals with a detailed plan for your new bathroom. Her suggestions:

  • Consider heated floors. But don’t skimp on additional heating for the rest of the room, since moisture dissipates faster in warm temperatures; a strong fan will also help clear the air.

  • Consider installing a floor-to-ceiling waterproofing system. It prevents water from escaping the shower and also combats mould.

  • Pinpoint the details. Do you want an infinity or square shower drain? Will your sink faucet be wall-mounted or countertop? What sort of lighting do you require?

  • Add some contingency to your budget if you’re changing the plumbing. If your bathroom is on an upper floor, the ceiling of the room below may have to be opened up.

Setting a Renovation Budget

How much will your reno cost? Well, that depends on a range of factors. Brent Repin, principal of BDR Artisan Construction Inc. explains that total project budgets are broken down into two critical categories:

1. Soft Costs: Pre-construction phase – design and budget development
Soft costs include professional and permit fees (e.g. architecture, survey, interior design, engineering, construction management), and typically account for 25 to 30 per cent of the project budget. 

2. Hard Costs: Construction phase
This includes labour and materials, which typically account for 70 to 75 per cent of the project budget.

How to Calculate Construction Costs 

Repin says that condo and house renos cost roughly the same in price in terms of square footage, but condo renovations typically take longer because of strata regulations and access issues.

Bathrooms and kitchens: Basic renovations start at $400/sq ft. After that, keep a running tally of costs for fixtures and additions. 

Other rooms: A good starting point for calculating the cost of rooms aside from the kitchen and bathroom is $200/sq ft. Again, keep track of add-ons to approximate the overall cost.

Government Grant and Home Improvement Rebates

Renovations can be costly, but in B.C. homeowners can apply for provincial and federal government grants and rebates that will take care of at least part of their home-improvement bill. 

Efficiency Incentive Program
Under LiveSmart BC, this program offers home energy grants and rebates that are in effect until March 31, 2011. To qualify, homeowners need a home energy audit before and after their home improvement work.

EcoEnergy Retrofit Program
Under the federal government’s ecoaction initiative, this program, which will be administered until March 31, 2011, provides financial assistance to encourage owners of existing low-rise properties to make energy-saving retrofits.

Solar BC Rebates
B.C. homeowners who install solar hot water systems can qualify for $2,000 in rebates, plus additional rebates for installation of low-flow toilets. 

Power Smart Incentives and Rebates
BC Hydro’s program includes rebates for light fixtures, windows and home electronics.

Switch ’n’ Shrink

This Terasen Gas incentive gives homeowners a $1,000 rebate for switching to Energy Star® natural gas heating systems. Other rebates and incentives are available for installation of an EnerChoice fireplace, and storage tank and furnace upgrades.

Financial Assistance

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC) offers financial assistance to low-income homeowners, persons with a disability, homeowners in rural areas and seniors seeking home adaptations. 

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.