As homes start to age and become old & outdated, many homeowners start thinking about a home renovation. Some people look around their home to decide which room or project to start on. Others decide that undertaking a whole house remodel makes the most sense so everything they want to renovate gets done at one time. A full home remodel is a great option to turn an outdated house into a beautiful, modern one, but it comes with some significant expenses and potential challenges that need to be considered in advance.
Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable general contractors, we speak to homeowners every day about planning for a full residential remodel – here are some considerations, ideas, and tips to get you started.
When embarking on a whole house remodel, the first thing to do is start with some goal setting, research, budgeting, and a checklist of your desires. If possible, you should have an overarching goal you’re trying to achieve with your renovation project which can guide your decisions.
For example, maybe your goal is just to update the style of the home or perhaps you want to open up a cramped kitchen. Alternatively, you may want to convert a space to a different use, add another bathroom, create a more open/inviting living space, etc.
It’s a good idea to start by creating a ‘wish list’ that details all the areas/items in your home you’d like to renovate, in order of their priority. If you’re planning on doing a gut remodel, that’s very different than a full house remodel where you leave the walls and house systems in place.
This list should become your guide in deciding which items are within your total budget and which items will have to wait. This checklist should include the rooms you want to remodel, as well as the home systems that you want to be replaced. (ie. floors, windows, etc).
Developing a Project Scope
Once you have a checklist of your wishes, you can start to hone it down into a realistic plan based on your priorities. You can look at each item of your whole house remodel list and analyze it in a few different ways.
First of all, is this renovation item going to add to the long-term value of your home? Second, is this item a short-term solution that your family may not need in a few years? Will this improvement add to the overall functionality of the home? Are you leaving out replacing older home systems, like electrical or plumbing?
Finally, keep in mind the ‘main’ reason and goal for your whole house remodel. Asking yourself these types of questions will help you narrow down your wish list into a real project scope.
Design & Vision
If you’re working with a designer, that person can help guide you on the best way to design the layout and plan for your remodel. If not, you’ll have to be your own guide and start looking for images, styles, and designs online that represent the layout and look you’re trying to achieve. You can look at sites like Pinterest and start a board of images that represent the style that you want for your full home remodel.
If you’re changing the layout of your home or removing walls, you’ll need the services of an architect to help you develop plans for the revised layout. Having this preliminary plan, your style ‘board’, a scope of work, and a budget will allow you to start intelligently meeting with contractors to discuss costs, process, and timing.
Whole House Remodel Costs & Budgets
$100-300 per square foot (in Los Angeles and Southern California)
Full house remodels can be difficult to estimate because the total remodel cost will largely depend on what’s included. Every home is unique and requires a specific scope to accomplish the desired remodel. Therefore, the only way to get a true, realistic estimate is to invite several contractors to bid on the job (and potentially have an architect design the plans).
One way to create a rough budget for a full residential remodel in Los Angeles is to separate it into its major components.
You start with the most expensive parts, which are likely the kitchen and bathrooms, assuming these are all included in the remodel. Based on the costs for each of these components, you can add these up to establish your overall budget.
Then, you might add in the following elements, depending on which are included in your remodel: flooring, windows, interior/exterior paint, doors, windows, landscape/exterior, any systems such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC, roofing, etc. In order to determine the costs of each item, you can either do some research online or speak to contractors or others that are experienced with renovations (like designers and architects).
Unfortunately, the hardest part to budget for is the structural elements, assuming you are doing any reconfiguration of your space by adding or removing walls. The remodel cost of this will depend on your unique situation and the structural engineer’s design, which could include structural support, beams, foundation reinforcement, shear walls, etc.
Because this is just too difficult for the layperson to budget, your best bet is to get multiple contractor estimates. Make sure each contractor breaks down his bid into all the various elements so you can evenly compare these structural costs ‘apples-to-apples’.
Regardless of how you determine the rough costs of your whole house remodel, always ensure you include a ‘padding’ or contingency in your budget of 10-25%. Almost always, there will be unforeseen circumstances, changes, added scope items, etc.
Additionally, make sure you’re considering the eventual sale of your home when you’re undertaking a full house remodel. Make sure you’re creating a layout & design that will appeal to the average buyer. Specifically, try to determine if your investment in the remodel is something that future buyers will desire and be willing to pay for when you go to sell. You can check the Remodeling Impact Report published by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for some general ideas and guidance.
Hiring an Architect or Designer
Most architects and designers are very familiar and experienced with working on whole house remodel projects. The challenge for many Los Angeles homeowners is to find the right professional for them who matches both their design/style aesthetic and their budgetary requirements. You will want to be upfront with any prospective architects & designers about both your budget for their fee and your total budget for the whole house remodel.
Based on these criteria, an architect or designer will tell you whether they are a good fit for you or not. For example, If you want to spend $100k for a renovation, but the architect you’re considering is accustomed to doing remodels starting at $500k, they will likely not be a good fit for you.
Additionally, make sure you start speaking to at least one contractor early in the process about your full house remodel costs and budget. Since a contractor works with clients on similar projects all the time, they have a very good sense of costs and budgets. Most renovation contractors can give you a rough sense of the correct budget just based on seeing your space and having a rough scope of work.
This will help you decide exactly what you can afford before you hire an architect to draw your plans. Alternatively, if you have a designer or architect create a preliminary plan for you, make sure to show it to a contractor to get their opinion on cost/budget and any ideas on plan changes that could save you money.
What is the Whole House Remodel Process?
Before a contractor starts the work, there are a few important things that need to be considered and decided on. Depending on whether you are doing a gut remodel or a smaller scope full renovation, you will need to decide if you can live in the home throughout the remodeling process. Some people choose to move out and rent an AirB&B or short-term apartment, just so they don’t have to live through the commotion of the construction process.
Moving out also allows the construction to proceed faster because the contractor’s crew can work in all areas of the home simultaneously. Others feel more comfortable in their own homes, even if it means living through the discomfort of living without the use of portions of the home like a kitchen or some of the bathrooms/bedrooms, etc.
You’ll also need to prepare any of the rooms that are being remodeled by emptying them of their contents. If you’re doing a kitchen, for example, all the contents in your cabinets will need to be stored in a different place, and the same goes for your fridge. As for larger furniture that needs to be removed from other rooms, you’ll need to find space to store that in your garage or shed. If you don’t have the room for it, another option is to rent a portable storage container that can be set in your driveway to accommodate your belongings during the whole home renovation.
This is the very first step that initiates the home remodel process and can usually be completed reasonably quickly (several days). Most contractors want to complete as much of the demo as possible right at the beginning, so they don’t have to bring this crew back a second time. The contractor will likely bring a large truck or park a roll-off dumpster in front of the home so they can dispose of all the demolition debris right away.
This portion of the job can be rather dusty, so it’s important that the contractor seals off demolition areas with plastic so most of the dust doesn’t drift to other portions of the home. If any family members have allergies or are sensitive to dust, you might consider running a portable Hepa-filter during the demolition process.
If your full house remodel includes removing, relocating, or adding walls, this portion will be the next step. Framing includes building walls, adding any structural elements necessary for removing walls, as well as creating openings for any new doors and windows.
For full home remodels that include changes to the floorplan, this stage will give the homeowner their first feel of the new space. Often this is most drastic when a closed floorplan is being converted to an open floorplan layout.
Now that some of the drywall has been removed and the walls are “open”, the contractor will want to work on the items inside the walls including plumbing, electrical, gas, and HVAC.
In some major whole house remodel projects, the homeowner may require the contractor to replace or upgrade an entire home system like the wiring, the plumbing lines, or the furnace/ducts. In other cases, this portion of the job will be more minor and include relocating some systems to accommodate the new layout/design or provide additional outlets, lights, or plumbing locations.
During this period, you’ll notice the contractor is bringing in multiple sub-contractors, who are specialists in their respective trades. This is a good time for the homeowner to start ‘reviewing’ the work on a regular basis to ensure things look right and nothing is being missed. Oftentimes, the homeowner will notice something they want to correct, be it a wall without enough electrical outlets or a light in the wrong location, etc.
After all work is complete inside the walls, the contractor can install any necessary insulation and start ‘closing-up’ by installing new drywall onto the open framing. In a gut remodel, this stage will take quite a bit of time, as the entire home’s walls and ceiling needs new drywall.
The process starts with drywall nailing and continues with the crew taping the drywall at all the seams, applying drywall compound (mudding), allowing it to dry, sanding it to smooth any imperfections, and adding any texture required by the homeowner. The homeowners should be prepared for this stage of the project to also be very dusty and they (homeowner and contractor) should prepare accordingly.
After the walls are all covered with drywall, it’s time to paint the entire home. Depending on the type and color of paint you select for your whole house remodel, this process could take up to three coats of paint to achieve a nice, finished look.
This process can go quick if you select a single color for the entire home. Conversely, if you want different colors in every room, this requires quite a bit more preparation and time. Obviously, during this stage, the home will have a strong paint odor, so make sure the contractor maintains positive ventilation to reduce this impact.
Some contractors like to wait until the end of a full home remodel to install the flooring to prevent any knicks or scratches during the project. Others like to install it earlier and cover it with cardboard or a similar material to protect it from damages. Simple flooring materials like carpet can be installed in a single day.
Laminate or wood flooring could require a few days. While tile floors, especially large areas, could easily take a week or more.
Cabinets & Countertops
Because most full home remodels include the kitchen and baths, the next step will be to install kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities along with the countertops for both of these. However, this component could also include closet cabinetry or other wood built-in cabinetry and shelving.
Large amounts of kitchen cabinets, like those necessary for a kitchen, can take a long time to manufacture, so it’s important that the client decides on the design & color early in the remodeling process so that these can be ordered months ahead of their installation date. Custom countertops also need to be fabricated, but the lead time is not as long.
Tile & Fixtures
Next on the list of tasks in a whole house remodel is the tilework as well as the installation of various fixtures. Your remodeling contractor needs to install plumbing fixtures like bathtubs, faucets, and shower hardware, as well as electrical fixtures such as outlets, switches, and light fixtures.
Most home remodels will require tile installation in areas such as the shower, tub, and kitchen backsplash. Installing tile is a slow process that requires a tradesman who specializes in this skill.
Appliances & Finish Work
The final major step in the full residential remodel is to hook up and install the major appliances in the kitchen as well as the washer/dryer. Also, this is the time for the contractor to install any necessary wood trim like baseboard, casing around the doors & windows, stairway railings, etc.
Touch-ups and Punch List
Now that you’re at the end of the full house remodel, the contractor will come through and repair any items that don’t look right, adjust cabinetry, caulk around any gaps, touch up any scuffed paint, etc. This is also your opportunity to carefully review all the work and create your own checklist or “punch list” of areas that need some repair.
Whole House Remodel Financing
Homeowners have multiple ways to finance their full home remodel. Obviously, they can pay for it from their own savings. Or they can finance this construction by taking out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), cash-out-refi, construction loan, or using a home renovation loan which is often a very quick process, but comes with a higher interest rate, from a company like Lightstream or SoFi.
Check out this full list of renovation financing options with their pros and cons.
Tips For a Whole House Remodel
- Most major problems and surprises arise during the first 20-30% of the project when the contractor is opening up the walls. That’s the period in the whole house remodel when they are most likely to find major issues like rot, termite damage, foundation cracks, or old/worn electrical and plumbing systems. Be prepared to incur some extra costs (10-20% of your budget) during this period. The rest of the project should come with fewer surprises.
- Make sure to understand your contractor’s favored method of communication and be in touch regularly. Check the work on a regular basis. If you see an issue, let the contractor know right away because that’s the best and easiest time to make the repair.
- Understand that delays are inevitable (but don’t be a pushover) and your project could take 10-30% longer than expected. Set the expectation with your contractor that you expect workers at the house every weekday. There are legitimate reasons for delays due to emergencies or material problems. But, if the contractor’s crews stop showing up on a regular basis, you can assume there is a bigger issue you need to address.
- Make as many decisions and material selections/purchases as early as possible in your full house remodel. Procrastinating on material choices will almost always lead to delays because there is usually a lead time to have them shipped and delivered. Additionally, if you don’t give your contractor explicit direction because you haven’t made up your mind about something, it will usually lead to extra costs to make that change later in the project
- Although it’s more fun and exciting to improve the aesthetic of the home by renovating visible areas, don’t neglect the ‘less visible’ major systems of the home that could cause major headaches later if you don’t address them now.
- Consider noise and energy efficiency in your whole home remodel. If you want to keep exterior noise to a minimum, consider changing your windows. Check out whether replacing your insulation, old water heater, and HVAC system can create ongoing efficiency and cost savings. Consider a solar system for some or all your electrical needs.
- At the completion of the project, if you not sure whether the contractor’s quality is up to your standards, consider hiring a home inspector to inspect the work, including areas that aren’t visible to you like the attic and crawlspace, etc.
- Run a filter or your furnace fan once the project is complete to remove any dust & debris particles left in the air. Consider hiring a professional to clean your HVAC ducts and vents. Finally, make sure to change your furnace filter.
Finding the Right Contractor for your Whole House Remodel
Here are a few tips about finding the right contractor for your full home remodel in Los Angeles. It’s best to search for only local, licensed General Contractors. Other contractors are not qualified or equipped to do this sort of construction, and using an unlicensed contractor or handyman is not a good choice.
With any contractor you contact, confirm they have experience with whole-house remodels. You want to hire a contractor who has completed full residential remodels in Los Angeles, and therefore knows the regulations and potential issues that may arise.
There are several other criteria you should consider when selecting a contractor. Check each one for a valid contractor’s license on the Contractors State License Board website to confirm it is active, there are no derogatory actions, and it has Workers Compensation insurance (if the GC has their own employees). Also, confirm they are insured and get a copy of their insurance certificates.
Ask your contractor to provide you at least three references you can call. Lastly, check their reviews online on Google, Yelp, or other sites. If you want more tips, check out my blog on how to find the best general contractor in Los Angeles.
When it comes to planning and coordinating a whole house remodel, you shouldn’t have to go it alone – GreatBuildz can help simplify your renovation experience.
GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened general contractors and provides project support from start to finish.
Call now (818.317.3567) to chat with a real person about your next renovation project or visit our website for more information: www.greatbuildz.com