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Renovation Headaches

By Jim Sulski

Summary: Renovating your home often involves unexpected problems. Preparing to face these common difficulties will make your home renovation less painful.

Although it was cozy and warm, the 80-year-old two-story home had little in the way of modern conveniences. It also needed lots of sprucing up.

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Its owners decided upon a major renovation for the home, and contacted an architect to help them plan out the project. In addition to prepping the couple about the headaches that come with a major renovation, the architect also stressed there might be a few surprises along the way.

In short, with any renovation, there are problems you can expect, and there are problems you can't expect.

When you start pulling things apart, that's when you are going to truly know what you're getting into with a home renovation, say the experts.

For example, there are a number of renovation hassles that homeowners can almost count on.

The big challenges usually show up in the mechanical systems and the windows. The mechanical systems especially are substantial investments in a renovation and can take up as much as a third of a project's overall costs.

One challenge may be updating and modifying plumbing systems. With a renovation, plumbing lines usually need to be replaced and made longer because homeowners want to reconfigure their existing bathrooms and add new bathrooms.

In addition, hot water pipes particularly have a problem with corroding on the inside, lowering water pressure throughout the house. That's very common with older houses. As a result, you can sort of predict that you'll be changing many of the water supply lines.

Depending on the municipality where the home is located, the homeowner may also be required to upgrade the incoming water service. You usually have to upgrade the incoming water service pipe from three-quarters inches to an inch pipe and occasionally a two-inch pipe. In many towns, homeowners are also required to add on a water meter.

Electrical is another area where problems can show up. Electrical system headaches relate to a much greater number of appliances now used by a family. In many older homes, you may find only one outlet per room. So you have to upgrade the number of electrical outlets and at the same time, you may need to add receptacle boxes for new lighting.

The existing system may also be reconfigured to include hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. An older home may also be on a fuse box system, which usually needs to be upgraded to a 200 amp circuit breaker box.

Updating or replacing a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system can also present headaches, although expected headaches. As far as heating, many older homes have a hot water boiler system that feeds into a radiator system. If a homeowner wants to stay with that radiator system because of the even heat that the system produces, they may have to decide on a new way to distribute that heat, such as an in-floor radiant system.

If the homeowner wants to add central air conditioning, that adds a new series of headaches. You can't tie in a central air conditioner, which requires a forced air system, to a hot water system. You actually have to construct two separate systems, and create ductwork for the forced air system. That can be a substantial investment.

Windows are another area in which problems can show up. The technology of new windows is much different now from existing windows. For example, there are no storm windows with double and triple pane vinyl-clad windows that also don't need to be painted.

The headaches come in the decision on whether to put new windows in an addition only - or all through the existing house. With new construction, adding new windows is simple because you can build the frame to perfectly fit the new window. With existing construction, you might have to change the size of the window openings to make the new windows fit.

With any renovation, homeowners should also be prepared to wrestle with any number of unforeseen problems.

In fact, most architects advise their clients to set aside a contingency fund of 15 percent to deal with such unexpected headaches - such as structural and framing problems after opening up walls and removing floorboards or the discovery of a buried heating oil tanks.

© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. April 25, 2005.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher. 

2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.




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