Renovating? What you need to know

July 16, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

You are expecting a new baby and the house feels too small. Your kitchen and bathrooms look shabby and you want something more up-to-date. You need a home office. 

In all of these circumstances you may be tempted to sell your home and buy a new one that has the features your family needs. However, when you consider the costs of moving and what you can get for your money, you may decide that renovating makes more sense. 

But everyone knows someone who has experienced a renovation nightmare. The project that was supposed to take two months stretched to six. The $50,000 budget doubled. The contractor disappeared before finishing the job. 

The more planning and care that goes into the renovation in advance, the better your chances of having things turn out to your satisfaction. Here are some tips from the Canadian Consumer Handbook[1] that can help you hire the right people to do the right job properly.

  1. Scope of the project: Make a detailed list of what you want to accomplish. Any contractor you hire will base their quote on your specifications. If the scope of the project changes or you request extras, the renovation will cost more and take longer.
  2. Permits: Check with your municipal building inspection department to find out which permits you’ll need before you start work (this is not your contractor’s responsibility unless that is spelled out in your contract) and check which inspections you’ll have to arrange part-way through or when the project is finished.
  3. Find a contractor: Ask friends, relatives, neighbours and local business associations for recommendations. Talk to at least six prospects and interview three. All subcontractors or tradespeople like plumbers or electricians should be certified. Contact your local Better Business Bureau or business association to see whether any complaints have been filed against firms that you are thinking of hiring. Ask for and call references.
  4. Get quotes: Provide each supplier with the same specifications so you can compare apples to apples. Ask for a written estimate of all costs including labour, taxes and any extra charges. Paying cash “under the table” for a job is not a better deal. If you pay cash you have no warranty, no recourse for poor workmanship and the added risk of liability if an injury takes place on your property.

The Contract

Make sure you and your contractor have a written contract. Don’t sign it until you have fully reviewed it, are satisfied with all the terms and are sure that the contractor is capable of meeting your needs.

Ask the contractor to include a detailed description of the work to be done. Get him to list specific information about products, manufacturer, size and colour of materials and equipment to be installed.

It is a best practice to even include product numbers for items such as carpet, tile, countertops and hardwood floors etc.. The more details that are contained in the contract, the less room there is for error.

The contract should include the following information:

  • The type and amount of work to be done.
  • Who is to complete the work (including a list of any subcontractors and who is responsible for their payment and when).
  • Who is responsible for ordering and paying for materials.
  • Who is responsible for permits.
  • The total cost.
  • What percentage is the deposit  and whether it seems reasonable.
  • The start date and date of completion.
  • Who is responsible for clean-up afterwards.
  • The business and GST/HST number of the contractor.
  • The name and address of the contractor and your name and address.


For more information on what to do when hiring a contractor, visit the Get It In Writing website, run by the Canadian Home Builder’s Association.

Surviving your reno

Hiring the right contractor and nailing down the cost and the duration of the project can help facilitate a successful renovation, but don’t forget other practical considerations.

Can you still live in part of your house while the other part is being renovated? If not, you may have to factor in a short-term rental for your family. Will your neighbours be inconvenienced because workers are parked on your street day after day? Talk to them to be sure they understand what you are doing and ask for their patience.

Be prepared for surprises. If your current home is not compliant with building codes, unexpected structural work like rewiring the house or removing asbestos from the walls may be required. In these situations you will have to either come up with more money or re-think the scope of work you can afford.

Finally, take heart. A renovation is a little like having a baby. Once the project is finished and you have a beautiful home addition to show for it, the birth pangs will quickly be forgotten.

ALSO READ: Consumer Tip – Contractors, Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice and Attorney General

[1] Produced by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consumer Measures Committee

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