Now that Laura and I have renovated each of the bathrooms in our townhouse, we’ve joined an esteemed group:
Lambs. Led to slaughter.
Whoops! Did I just say that? That was my inside voice. I meant to say: homeowners who have completed a major renovation project.
I’m trying my hardest to be diplomatic here, but the best I can say about our bathroom renovation was that it was an experience. One that ultimately took double the money and quadruple the time we expected. Good times. Remember my recent post about getting your big-ticket decisions right? This was a big-ticket decision we got wrong.
The important question now is: what did we learn from this project gone awry, and how can we use that knowledge in the future? Laura and I did a post-mortem on our bathroom renovation project, we went over our mistakes, and we came up with a list of rules, questions and meta-questions to think through before our next home repair project (and we may have another big one if we decide to fix our home’s flawed HVAC system).
A warning: These aren't recommendations on tile, toilets or countertops. Not at all. They are generalized meta-rules to help think through what can (and will!) go wrong with any construction or renovation project. Once Laura and I had written them out, we realized our rules might be useful to CK readers planning their own major home projects.
With any luck, a few readers out there might be able to learn vicariously from our experience and avoid the complications we faced. I hope so.
Six Lessons and Takeaways From Our Bathroom Renovation Project
1) Assume all renovation projects will have scope creep: they’ll grow to be bigger and more involved than you think. When you start your next one, tell yourself, "You have already bitten off more than you can chew… you just don't know it yet." Try and manage the initial scope of the next project with this in mind.
2) All projects will have cost overruns. Budget for them. And then budget for them again. And again. They will be bigger than you expect them to be.
2a) All projects have time overruns. See above.
3) Always ask more questions and get more information before proceeding. Repeat this mantra: "I do not know enough, what more can I learn? "I do not know enough, what more can I learn? "I do not know enough, what more can I learn?"
4) The contractor we hire is not on our team, he is on the other team. The contractor is not our friend, the contractor is a businessperson who happens to be paid to be nice to us. We are the clients: we will be nice too, but “being nice” cannot interfere with being firm, clear and direct when articulating our expectations on a job.
5) Ask the following meta-questions at the start of any major project or undertaking:
a) How humble am I being about knowing how this project will go?
b) What am I getting wrong that I haven't thought about yet?
c) What assumptions have I made that may not be rational or reasonable?
d) What extra measures can I take to protect myself from the risks of a) b) and c), now that I’m more mindful of them?
Note: Keep an eye on what’s embedded in question 5: With this question, notice that you actually can't know the answers, really. The point is to let the question answer itself by encouraging you to think about things you haven’t yet thought about.
Finally, ask this question after the project is done:
6) Did we enjoy this project? Why or why not? What aspects of the project did we assume would bring happiness--that actually didn't? How did our assumptions differ from reality, and what does this suggest for future major projects?
Readers, I want to know: what have you learned from your past renovation projects or major home projects? What ideas or rules would YOU share?
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