24 Jul 2014

6 Amazing Renovation Tips

The next time you venture into a renovation project, ask yourself what the purpose of renovation is, and what you are trying to achieve from it. Set out some guidelines to determine key criteria, so that your project goal is always in focus and your budget not blown out of proportion. Here are six vital key areas to stay aware of before you commence any project.

1. What is the PURPOSE of the renovation?

Ask yourself before you start any renovation project what you are trying to achieve. Are you renovating in order to be able to rent out the property – which then assume that the main goal is to maximize your profits? Or are you renovating a home you are currently living in, which could mean you would like to have minimal disruption to your daily life with a small renovation, or a full-blown fit-out exercise which will require you to move out during renovating works?

When renovating for the purpose of rental, you need to understand the ultimate goal behind the exercise. In this case, the goal is to maximize profits for as long as possible with minimal maintenance works needed. It is important to take note that regardless of what quality of finished equipment you place in the home, everything will slowly degrade over time. The key is to introduce items that degrade slowest, without high-cost implication.

If renovating for just for a facelift, try to reduce the impact of works. Avoid works that involves demolition, internal wiring and plumbing, as these involve higher budgets and also more disruptive works.

If renovating for one’s self, where the concept of “Anything Goes” comes to mind, you can entertain any number of ideas, but you always need to take a step back now and again to assess the other key criteria to ensure your project can stay on track.

2. What kind of BUDGET do you have?

Always set a budget regardless of what type of renovation you have in mind. If renovating for rental, work backwards by determining the medium and maximum rental rates you could get by the location. Remember that regardless of how much effort and beauty you place into a house, the market forces will ultimately prevail and determine the rental range. So avoid high expenses that may not have a significant impact on the rental, focusing instead on the things that are inexpensive but which gives you greater flexibility on what rental rate makes the exercise profitable.

Start with your material palette. Avoid expensive items such as marble and granite, which may offer an extensive visual appeal but would hamper you when matched against rental income. Look at alternatives such as marble effect ceramic tiles, which can still offer the ‘Marble’ look but at a fraction of the cost.

Next, think of the space. Every little bit of square footage can be additional income rate for you. Look at how best to extend the home without smashing the budget. Ideal areas to focus on would be public zones around the house, such as the living and dining rooms, including the dry kitchens. These are the key areas people focus upon when viewing a home for rent, and can sometimes be the decision maker in whether you secure the tenant or not.

Next, look at the landscape and introduce items such as a pond or water feature, and plenty of greenery. The one thing I realize is that the use of swimming pool can sometimes be overstated. Realistically, we will never be able to build a swimming pool to satisfy our aquatic needs, but we could build a pool to suit our leisurely needs. For example, instead of building a lap pool, which tends to be long and narrow and visually disjointed, consider the use of a plunge pool, where the pool is designed for people to cool down and congregate.

If you want to be more adventurous, introduce a Jacuzzi system or even a mechanical jet for stationary swimming. And always remember to spend on the landscape, as there is no better attraction to a house than a garden that is lush and vibrant.

And finally, avoid the frills and focus on the essentials. Try to avoid unnecessary costs that have little or no impact on the rent, such as the selection of bathroom accessories to lights and cabinetry. Refrain from be exploited by your emotions and impulses, and remember the ultimate goal, which is to maximize profits.

On the other hand, if you are renovating for your own personal needs, refrainment is thrown out the window. The mindset and criteria guidelines have all changed as it is then important to take note that what we put in we will have to live with. There are however different items to go through first when assigning a budget, as not everyone has limitless budget. The first item to look into is the structure of the home. Always spend on things we never look at, as while these are things we would never see, it is in the backbone in a long, everlasting, maintenance-free environment.

For example, ensure the wiring used for the lights and power points are all certified by the leading industry standards. This will prevent shorting later on, or burnt-out wires which would lead to escalating costs later on. Similarly, the type of pipes and internal connectors all have an adverse effect in the upkeep of the home. Avoid counterfeits and stick to the manufacturer’s recommended fixtures, as a dollar saved today will be a hundredfold later on to rectify.

Once you have assigned a budget for your backbone, the remaining balance can then be used for the aesthetics of the house. And the selection of such items will be determined by personal appreciation and use. I would however always think of the shelf-life of your selection, and to remember that what looks nice today may change within a year or even sooner.

3. What is the shelf-life of the various components?

In a weird way, there is satisfaction knowing that nothing last forever. Once you have accepted this, your expectation of what to buy is reduced, and you can then appreciate and use your things more. For example, do not assume that just because you don’t use something that it would never get spoilt; in the reality, the less we use an item, the more likely it will deteriorate over time. Consider cabinetry works – lack of maintenance would result in a high collection of dust and moisture in the cabinet, causing peeling, odor and discoloration. However, excessive use may cause accelerated wear and tear, so when building a cabinetry, it is not only important to preserve aesthetic but even more important to ensure the mechanisms are designed to ensure a long shelf-life.

Similarly, with the selection of finishes such as sanitary ware and fixtures, a good rule of thumb is to avoid coated items such as chrome and instead, select stainless steel items. While stainless steel may have a higher initial cost, its maintenance and replacement cost will offer higher benefits in the long run. In addition, consider the brand name items, as not everything is built equally. Not only do branded items offer a wide range of aesthetic selection, their items have gone through more vigorous quality control checks, which would translate into a longer shelf-life.

Also, what should you select when it comes to the mechanical and electrical items of the home? From experience, I find that different products work well at different stages of their product development. Do your own research and ask around about what works well and what doesn’t. but having said that, don’t expect everything to work without a hitch, as more often than not, you may encounter a situation where the product fails soon after you purchase it. Always remember that in every product line, there will be a small percentage of defects, and sometimes it is luck of the draw if you receive such defects. It is thus important to research the market to select a brand that has the least number of defect cases.

Similarly with lights, should you go for the more expensive, longer lasting LED’s, or stick to the conventional PLCE or halogens. While there is a substantial cost implication, which may create an impact on your assigned budget, it is important to understand how you will be using your lighting. People tend to think of lighting in terms of luminance, but it is better to think of lighting in terms of moods.

While LEDs do offer large benefits in cost savings in terms of shelf-life and energy consumption, the light emitted tends to be ‘hard’. For example, the shadow it creates are harder lines and when used to illuminate decorative items, the brilliance of the product is not the same when using a halogen fixture. Therefore, I find a balance of lighting is essential, but maintaining the PLCE lighting to create a soft ambience while replacing a localized lighting such as a wall-washers, tracks and spotlights LEDs makes sense, as the cost benefits outweigh the benefits of halogen lights.

4. Which is more important – time or cost?

The next criterion to keep in mind is the balance between time and cost. In a perfect world, we would like to have everything done quickly, on time and at low costs; but in reality, to speed up works would require more resources and hence more costs. So before you begin a project, ask yourself what is more important to you? Would the time saved be spent on much better things or do we have ample time that we don’t mind taking time to work on the house? Remember, the balance is a give and take, and should be a decision we maintain all the way to completion.

The worse scenario is to undertake a project with the intention of spending time and running around, only to falter during the midway point. Which by that time the project goes into a situation whereby no one wants to pick it up, and then it stalls, resulting in a project being placed in a limbo.

In project management, there are only two factors that affect costs, and these are resources and time. The more quickly we make decisions, the more quickly works can be executed and the faster you can get your home. When there is indecisiveness, time delays can affect the budget adversely, as whether work is being done or not, salaries are still being paid.

Likewise, a lack of resources affects how quickly works are executed. The amount of resources being pumped into a project is determined by the owner’s expectation on time and costs. So consideration of these criteria has major implications to how the project is run. On many occasions, a project is started off on the wrong foot with wrong time-cost assumptions, resulting in delayed or stalled projects; and the main cause is usually misinterpreted expectations. So be realistic when assigning.

5. How do you maximize functionality?


During every phase of the renovation, you will have to go back to the drawing board, whether it is to review the design or to review the costs. What happens next is to dig deep into our bag of techniques on how to achieve our design goals without compromising too much on the aesthetics.

So in a renovation project, look at the key items that would have major cost implications such as cabinetry works, lighting and soft furnishings. These are items that can be changed with little effect on the overall look, but can change how much you have to pay dramatically, depending on what materials are selected.

For example, when we design cabinets, there are two elements to it.  The first is the internal portion (or the functionality element of the cabinet) and the second is the external (or aesthetic finish). Internally, we should not compromise on the mechanism and fixtures, as the cabinets are meant to stand up to daily usage and load impact. Similarly the external finish can be value-engineered based on the cost criteria between PU paints, AC paints and laminate finish, to achieve the budget requirements. The key is to prepare a design where no matter what material is used, it stands out. The focus is thus not on the material but on the overall visual concept.

Other items such as soft furnishings can also have a huge impact on the renovation budget, so keep in mind what is essential and what are frills.

Focus on essential items first. If for rental, consider if the rental market requires a fully or semi-furnished unit, and identify your target market. More often than not, renters come with a container in tow and may not need your furnishings, which would then become unnecessary added costs, as storage for those items would be required. If for your own personal use, look at the type of furniture in the market, as sometimes it may be cheaper to customize your own furniture than to buy off the shelf.

Even for items such as curtains, weigh the difference between fully imported curtains versus readily available market products, as the cost implication can be substantial. Avoid limited edition items unless surplus quantities can be afforded, as replacement at a later stage may become an issue.

6. How to best to anticipate for the future?

And finally, renovate to suit your timeline. We have already highlighted that the most essential aspect of your renovation is to ensure the internal elements of the house are of utmost quality. The next stage then is to build depending on what your expectations are for the future, and to ensure such works are non-disruptive to the household.

For example, when building for the sake of rental and then personal use, identify which areas you want to renovate first, and which areas would be renovated at a later date. Allow the facilities to be readily available such as wiring works, plumbing, sewerage and drainage. By doing so, any future expansion would be dependent on your needs, and any works would have minimal impact as the core costs have already been captured in the first renovation phase. Without proper planning, any future expansion may result in additional demolition and modification works, resulting in unnecessary costs and a disruptive environment.

Another thing to consider is how you may want to expand the home later, in line with the growth of the family. As we start out in life there are the parents and then young children. But as the family grows, the need for space does also. So the question is how to best expand the house to suit the needs of a growing family. Therefore the next time we start to renovate, think of what the main purpose of the renovation is, as different uses involve different design criteria. Always assign a budget and allow the project to work within the limits of the budget. Never assign a budget with an expectation of something higher, as there is no moment as depressing as the inability to achieve the expectations in your mind.

Keep a realistic approach and maintain a tight timeline with each set task. And finally, keep in view that the ultimate goal is to complete the project. When renovating, ensure to map out the path of what we want to achieve, what we need to achieve it, by when we want to achieve it, and our expectations.