8 Mistakes Homeowners Make When Renovating Their Homes

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Avoid compromises – Prevent costs spiralling – Start planning

To help you avoid renovation disaster, we’ve put together this handy guide which highlights some of the most common mistakes homeowners make when embarking on an extensive home renovation project.

1. Not Instructing an Architect

Many view architects as one expense too many, but if you’re a first-timer or planning a large renovation project having one on your side can be priceless. An experienced architect will be able to demonstrate the best ways to unlock the potential in your property, ensuring you get the most value out of your investment as well as having a good understanding of all the stages a renovation project needs to go through.

They will be able to advise on:

  • Planning options
  • Design ideas
  • Budget requirements
  • Building regulations
  • Putting your project out to tender
  • And much more…

As soon as you start planning your project, we highly recommend looking for an architect. Architects not only take away the stressful and time-consuming issues involved in project management, but also provide important pre-design services including site evaluation and helping you explore options you may not have considered.

The cost of engaging an architect can also outweigh the potential for expensive mistakes that cost more in the long run. By taking the time to get to know you and your family, your situation, needs, wants and aspirations, your project will be on time, of the highest quality, within budget and will deliver a design solution that responds to the needs of your family, at work, rest and play, for now, and the foreseeable future.

If you are looking to engage an architect, please refer to the RIBA website for advice on what to expect from your architect, and download our preparation checklist before meeting your architect.

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2. Rushing to Instruct an Architect

Conversely, it is important to establish how you like to live and use your home before you start discussions with an architect. Too many homeowners rush into making layout decisions and don’t pay enough attention to their lifestyle first.

This leads to constant layout changes which are far from ideal when you’re submitting a planning application and need to get it right first time. Plus, it can compromise the overall look which could leave you regretting your choices.

Rather than immediately thinking about adding space, clarify your needs to determine how the space can enhance your life and go from there. Your renovation project should be geared to giving you a better home, in terms of functionality, as well as adding value to your property.

3. Hiring a Builder Before Talking to an Architect

Builders shouldn’t design and architects shouldn’t build!

We would always recommend starting with a concept design/sketch first to allow you to envisage what your project will ultimately look like. Having a set of architect’s drawings in hand before instructing a builder will help to ensure your expectations of what you want the end product to look like are met and that they are the same as the builder’s!

Your architect will help you to decide as much as possible ahead of the physical build. The benefit of this is that the more you pin down, in advance, then the less chance of variance later. Where there is variance there is uncertainty and uncertainty can be costly.

Before hiring a builder, ask your architect to look over the cost of the building works, so you can clear up any issues before the builders start. Once you have a set of plans, you can then give them to a selection of builders to review and give you a quote.

An additional benefit of speaking to an architect first is that they should be able to recommend reliable builders who they have previous experience of working with. They can put you in touch with previous clients to get genuine feedback before you engage any contractors.

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4. Leaving Building Regulations to Chance

There is no point ignoring the requirements of the law when it comes to building rules and regulations, as you will eventually get caught out. Do not undertake any work without first checking the following:

  • Do you need planning permission?
  • Do you need Building Regulations approval?
  • Do you need to notify neighbours? Check the Party Wall Act.
  • Do you need to notify leaseholders or get permission from others?

The Building Regulations and the associated Approved Documents set out all the standards your property must comply with. Ignore them at your peril! It is essential that your renovation complies with all the various parts. We recommend putting together a Technical Design package with your architect to ensure nothing is left to chance.

The Building Regulations, Approved Documents are extensive and cover, amongst other things:

  • Structure
  • Fire Safety
  • Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture
  • Toxic substances
  • Sound
  • Ventilation
  • Hygiene
  • Drainage and waste disposal (often overlooked)
  • Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems
  • Protection from falling, collision and impact
  • Conservation of power and fuel
  • Access to and use of buildings
  • Electrical safety in dwellings
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5. Not Setting a Realistic Budget

It is all too simple to get carried away with renovations, but you must know your budget.

Assessing and understanding the costs involved at the outset, preparing for them and incorporating a contingency can be complicated. It’s easy to underestimate project costs and the necessary contingency funds, but it’s important to ensure you make adequate and realistic allowances for not only the costs, but also the time it will take to complete the project.

Costs will ALWAYS change as a project progresses, so set aside regular time to track these and recalculate if necessary.

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6. Letting Interior Design Become an Afterthought

The best renovations take a holistic approach to both the architecture and interior design.

Architects and interior designers should begin working together collaboratively as soon as a project starts—the earlier the better. Each professional brings a unique skillset and deep breadth of knowledge, which proves invaluable to a project in keeping it on scope, on budget, and on schedule.

Important areas of the home like the kitchen, bathroom, or furniture positioning, can become an afterthought later in the project which is a real shame because opportunities get missed. Interior designers work with the architect to maximise these opportunities before planning is approved, advising on colours, textures, lighting and finishes for interior spaces.

Working with an interior designer in collaboration with your architect will create functional environments that translate into beautiful spaces that reflect your lifestyle, personality and habits, and yield the best results, avoiding unnecessary extra costs later on in the process.

If you want to know more about the reality of a collaboration with an interior designer, read our Q&A with interior designer Nikki Rees.

7. Thinking You Are a Property Developer (when you are not!)

From not knowing your budget, getting carried away with renovations and underestimating the time a renovation project will take, to using poor tradesmen, following your heart not your head or committing to the wrong layout, there are many pitfalls when it comes to home renovation.

Many of us are tempted by the idea of buying a property, doing it up and selling it for a huge profit. Unfortunately, only a handful of wannabe property developers will ever get past their first investment and even less will create a successful career out of it. Impulsive decision-making, a lack of cashflow management, trying to cut corners and poor space planning can all lead to a disastrous home renovation!

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8. Not Considering the Fabric of the Building First

A ‘Fabric First’ approach to construction uses methods such as maximising airtightness, optimising insulation, eliminating thermal bridging, optimising solar gain, a balance of mechanical and natural ventilation and using the thermal mass of the building fabric. The aim is to maximise the performance of the components and materials that make up the building fabric rather than relying on post-construction additions such as energy saving mechanical technology.

Fabric efficiency standards are now part of the latest Building Regulations to ensure that building fabric is improved and to discourage the use of excessive and inappropriate low carbon or renewable trade-offs.

Whilst it is essential to get the fabric right, i.e. the components and materials that the building itself is made of, such as the walls, floors, roof, windows and doors, another consideration is the impact of energy saving options on the size of your project. For instance, insulation can make buildings bigger or reduce the square footage which will impact your planning application. Another example is overheating – to keep heat levels down you need to ensure that you install glass that filters infrared light with solar controlled glass, or that you add external shades or overhangs over south-facing windows.

Read our How to Improve the Fabric Efficiency of Your Home article for more information

It all comes down to this: if you work with qualified professionals to add comfort, space and value to your home, you’ll save yourself both stress and money.

At Malone Architecture, we can oversee your home renovation project for you, providing you with expert knowledge, project management, recommended contractors and ultimately, peace of mind.

Please get in touch, we look forward to discussing your exciting project!

We very much appreciated Keith’s help with our project. He had brilliant design ideas and was delightful to work with over the whole project, from planning to finding builders and dealing with all sorts of issues.

Alec & Deborah Latimer


Download our sustainable building design checklist





Download our preparation checklist before meeting your architect