A thought on home renovation - Challenges involved

Tomorrow HIO is starting a home renovation project in Thodupuzha, Kerala. The existing structure is more than 25 years old. A schedule presentation to the client is what triggered this article. I thank the client and the architect for the opportunity and the trust. We were explaining the challenges involved in such a project and why we will not be able to finalise a budget and timeline. I thought I should share it with people so that they know what they are getting into.

Why it is impossible to accurately determine the budget and schedule?

Challenge no 1 - Non availability of existing building's structural drawings.

We hail from a culture which does not believe in a) following a standard or code b)Preserving anything for future use. I had previously written about the good practice of saving drawings after the construction of a house or any structure for that matter for future reference and takeoff.

In most of the cases, we are going completely blind. We don't know the reinforcement nor the quality of the concrete used for neither the structure nor the foundation.

How will a technical team ever determine, for example, whether adding a slab or extension to the roof will cause damage to the existing old structure? This is only an example. But, how will a costing team ever determine

Challenge no 2 - Bathroom renovation works

In most of the renovation cases, extensive renovation of the bathrooms is involved.

[On a lighter note, the discontent with the bathrooms is what starts the thought of a renovation work. I have had an experience where a client called for a friendly advise on adding an attached bathroom to one of the bedrooms, finally resulted in a full-on renovation of the entire house costing almost INR 70 Lakhs against a set budget of INR 55 Lakhs.]

The upper floor bathrooms are generally raised, which was the old method of toilet construction. In many cases, there are Indian toilet which are on their way out of the market today.

Whatever be the choice of the materials, it all results in an extensive work on drainage and supply lines. In most cases, there are leaks too, which would have damaged the underlying slab too, to a certain extent.

For a new home construction, the general thumb rule with today's cost is INR 1 Lakh per bathroom. However, when I say to a client that the assumption that renovation would cost much lesser because "most things" are already existing is flawed, the client feels as if I am trying to pull a wool.

The fact is that the breakage of slab for drainage lines rework, breakage of wall for rework on supply lines (which are mostly GI pipes, which was the practice those days) would cost a lot more.

In most cases, the entire plumbing system including the diverter from the water tank will have to be reworked.

Challenge no 3 - Ideas of client changing

This is another challenge.

Though this is a universal challenge in cost and time determination of every home projects, I think it affects a renovation project more than a greenfield construction.

I think, as the execution team, we have to respect the client's decision and desires and should be able to accommodate these changes. What can be done from our side is to determine the impact of the changes as accurately as possible and communicate to the client before the said work is undertaken. I have had challenges such as changing of the entire window and extension of window sizes after even plastering of the wall was done. It is not the client's fault. I think, from a client's standpoint, because they are anyway spending so much of time, cost and effort, they have the right to not settle for anything less.

My point is that the changes of client's ideas will always be there till the end of a renovation project, and determining a budget at the beginning without having an allowance for changes, would not be ideal.

Challenge no 4 - Foundation costs determination

Joining of a new foundation system to an existing foundation system is a challenging task.

What complicates the matters is, we have no idea what the underlying foundation is, neither do we know how much the existing foundation has settled.

This can only be found out after we dig around the existing foundation and determine the foundation type and have some assumptions around the footings and arrive at a safe method statement for the new foundation. Hence, even if we have a budget at the beginning of the project, the chances are that they will be inaccurate.


The underlying fact is, we will only be able to use as AGILE project management method with changes happening with every development. A very high line budget can be given though, but from my experience, this budget scares the client away. I guess the unethical way to do a renovation work would be to promise an unrealistic timeline without understanding the structural challenges or the engineering methods needed to resolve them, and an unrealistically low budget to win the project, and later on keep adding to both.

I love renovation projects precisely because of such challenges. Engineering and client management teams are to be on their toes. I think, winning the trust of the client after properly educating them, is the most important aspect as far as such a project is concerned.

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