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Resources for Renovating
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Resources for Renovating

By John Thomas

Broadly speaking, there are two phases to renovating. Phase One is the pre-construction phase, which includes Design, Specification writing, and Estimating. And Phase Two is the construction phase, which includes General Contracting and the actual building

Here are a few good resources to help figure things out: a brochure, a computer program, a web-site, and a book.

The Brochure is really pre-Preconstruction. It’s succinct, gives a good overview of what to expect, and is a good place to start if you’re planning to renovate. A renovation of any substantial size is a complex but mostly predictable process both in planning and in execution. That’s why the brochure from the Ontario Renovators’ Council is called Standard Renovation Process, and not, for example, Renovation Practice. (The emphasis is on the fact that there is an inherent logic to the steps that have to be followed and logistics are the essence of the process It’s not so much knowing how many nails should be in a sheet of plywood, although that’s important; it’s knowing that the plumber should precede the electrician in the rough-ins, and that the electrical inspection should be called in good time to allow insulating and insulation inspection, so that you can get the drywaller in on his scheduled start date.) The brochure describes not how to do each step of the process – that would be a book – but what the process is and how you can get a handle on it, from estimating to disputes. There is a particularly good sample contract included.

Having read the brochure, you’re ready for Phase One. Preconstruction. Many people who call for renovations have a general idea of what they want, and want to know how much will it cost. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to give anything more than a ballpark price without a Drawing and a Specification. The drawing should provide as many views as necessary to communicate the ideas accurately, and the Specification should describe in accurate detail the job scope, what is and isn’t included. Only then is it possible to give a realistic cost estimate. Because "ballparks" are based on vague assumptions, they can be, and sometimes are off by 50-100%.


Computer Program. One of the first things people do is try to sketch out their ideas on paper. Computers are potentially good for this, but many of the drawing programs are either beyond the talents of normal mortals or inadequate to the task. Far and away, the best and easiest program (I’ve tried most of them) in the homeowner category is 3-D Home Architect. About $80. This is a really easy and intuitive program that actually works. You draw in 2-D just as you normally would and the program pops up into 3-D with a click. Awesome. It gives interior perspectives (very helpful for those of us who "can’t picture it") and places furniture, and cabinets. It can automatically wire your room virtually to Code, and has a plan-check feature to point out boo-boos you may have made. Its companion program, the professional version, is called Chief Architect.


Web-Site: There are many, of course. But the one I have found most helpful, and interesting both for the homeowner and the professional is the Remodeling Magazine Online ( Americans call renovating, remodeling. This site is updated daily, has walk-throughs of renovations, book reviews, design and construction advice, chat groups where you can talk to your peers on the banal or sublime. (There was recently a discussion among renovation contractors about their favourite books. Walden, etc. Mind-boggling.). It’s a great spot for ideas or links to other resources.


Book. The Bible of the homeowner who is doing his/her own construction or just wants to know how it’s done is or should be Canadian Wood-Frame House Construction from the CMHC. This is a soft-cover loose-leaf book with excellent drawings and clear writing that follows the construction phase from layout to finishing and has new sections on Healthy Housing and recycling. It is not the building code, but virtually incorporates everything in the code, without your having to wade through confusing sections and sub-sections. It has general commonsense advice and specific measurements and tolerances you’ll need to build.


John Thomas is Renovation Chair of the Greater Kingston Home Builder’s Association and President of Thomas & Co., a local Renovations firm. Call 547-6063, or visit the construction site at
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