Five basics of home remodeling

Posted September 13

Part of the work for this remodel was to update the exterior of the house. Updating a home is a common home remodeling goal. (Deseret Photo)

There are so many moving parts and issues to consider when remodeling a home that today we want to summarize five of the most important items to consider when tackling a home remodel.

A home’s style

The place to begin a redesign is to determine your existing home’s dominant style. This is not always easy. Some homes have a purity of style that makes it easy to identify. A true bungalow, colonial, Tudor, Cape Cod cottage, or mid-century ranch are quite simple to spot. A classic Victorian in the Avenues stands out.

However, most houses may not be a classic version of one of the above, or possibly have various architectural elements from several different styles. Less classically designed homes fall into a few catch-all categories known as "traditional," "transitional" or perhaps "modern" or "contemporary."

Step back across the street and really look at your house. Look at its shape and size. Consider the pitch of the existing roof, the placement of the windows, and how you enter. Do you like the basic shape, form and function of your home or do you want some changes?

After you have studied the "bones" of your home, consider the exterior materials. Do they need an update, either for looks or for ease of maintenance? Are there some parts you like and some you want to replace?

Basically, you are deciding if you want to work with the existing style and features of the house, or if you want to do a complete "façademy" and change the style altogether. I am sure you can guess which approach will be more expensive. Remember that changing the style completely usually means having to reframe the roof (not just new shingles) and replacing all the windows.

What works and what doesn't

You can apply the same design-style analysis to the interior of your home, room by room. But perhaps more important is to analyze your home to determine what works and what doesn’t in terms of the way your house functions and how you and your family have to live in it.

Some clients are very clear about this and even come to us with suggestions of what they need. Others can enumerate problems, but are at a loss for solutions. Some clients just know there are issues with their house and know they need help!

An architect is trained to solve problems, but it is useful if you as the homeowner can help identify what isn’t working about your house and why. Together, the architect and homeowner can come up with solutions.

Create a master plan

The best home remodels and the best experience with the process stem from working from a master plan. Many homeowners don’t have the ability or the funds to move out of their house for a complete remodel. Many times, the homeowners do the project in phases. For example, this year they may remodel the basement and next year they remodel the kitchen.

Having a master plan helps you know the construction sequence of what to remodel in what order, and puts purpose behind each project. When a homeowner has a master plan, you know what to work on next in order to move toward your goal. You aren’t changing your ideas in the middle, costing time and money by having to redo your redo.

Create a budget

A master plan goes hand-in-hand with a budget to make sure the investment you make in your home is wise and justified. It also assures that the money won’t be used up far before the project is completed. Next to the purchase of your home, a significant remodeling project may well be the largest expenditure your family will ever make.

Once a master plan is finalized, a cost estimate should be created. This is a process that is usually well beyond the skill of the average homeowner, and often out of the league of the architect as well. Architects have broad ideas of costs, but it takes someone with current contact with the construction industry to create a valid, itemized budget for a project. Therefore, we value the presence of a general contractor on a design team from almost the beginning of a project.

A budget at this stage is not a bid; not enough information is yet available. A competent contractor with experience in residential remodeling, however, can use his expertise and knowledge to create a reasonable allowance for each item that will need to be addressed in the construction process — for excavation, framing, windows, cabinets, etc.

This budget becomes a valuable tool for homeowners as they make final selections on all the items that must be specified. If you decide you must have that $10,000 Wolf range (and the allowance was $2,000), you had better be prepared to increase the bottom line or make adjustments in other selections to make up the difference.

Your budget should contain a contingency of 5 percent to 10 percent of the construction cost to give you peace of mind during the construction phase. Spending every penny we have leads to stress in remodeling, as in all other walks of life.

Design smarter, not bigger

It is not unusual for the budget estimate made on a master plan to come in higher than the client’s actual budget. It is then time for a process called "value engineering." This means the size of the project or the finishes have to be reduced in order to get the two in line. (We have never had the opposite situation where the budget came in far below the project shown in the master plan and we had to try to spend more!) The goal is to get the plan and the budget aligned before moving into the costly process of creating engineered construction drawings.

A basic design tenet in our office is to design better, not bigger. Most of the space issues in homes will not be solved by merely adding a big box addition to the back, side, or top of the house. Reconfiguring the existing space or moving functions within the house can dramatically impact the way a house flows and functions, with no addition at all.

If additional space is required, we often suggest small bump-out additions to add three feet here or two feet there, which will change the function of the space. A small addition can make a huge difference with functionality. Even when we go with a larger addition, the design mantra of “Bigger is not always better” always comes into play.

With these five basics of home remodeling, you, too, can confidently tackle the challenge of remodeling. Be patient, as it will take more time than you think. Be frugal, as it will take more money than you think. Finally, be wise and assemble a team of professionals who will help you through, as it will be more complicated than you think. The result can be worth the time, money and stress as you finally have a home that supports the lifestyle of your family.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs. To learn more, visit or contact


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all