If you’ve been following along for a while you’ll know we completed a big renovation two summers ago. We built up AND out and, at its peak, only two rooms in the entire house were habitable.
In a perfect world we’d have stayed at a budget hotel or found a short-term let during the most chaotic periods. Unfortunately, our budget didn’t allow for such extravagances, so we had to cross our fingers and grit our teeth and figure out a way to co-exist with six very friendly, very noisy builders for five months.
Was it easy? No. Was it loud and messy? Yes. Did we come out it with some handy tips to pass on to other budget-conscious renovators? Also yes. Here’s what I learned:
Can you live in your house while you renovate?
• Pack up everything you don’t need or can live without for the next few months. Be brutal – one of the biggest issues I had at the peak of the work was the complete lack of any usable space. Eventually we were reduced to living and sleeping in two bedrooms, stuffed from floor to ceiling with everything we needed for the months ahead. Word of warning – do not let your child accidentally pack their favourite teddy, unless you want to deal with the separation anxiety for the next few months.
What we did was hire a storage unit for six months (search for companies in your local area, for example, Now Storage self storage in Reading) and essentially packed up the entire house. It was reassuring to know our belongings were safe and secure, and the day it all came back home it was like Christmas, being reunited with sentimental toys and photos and favourite clothes we hadn’t seen in months.
• Have an honest conversation with your builder about the best way live in your house while you renovate. Ours were amazing – so thoughtful and accommodating. They understood the needs of a young family, and left us with as much living space as possible for as long as possible, even moving the fridge into our lounge so we could keep our food chilled. They plumbed in our washing machine to sit alongside too, so for a period of time we had a rather nifty kitchen/laundry/lounge situation going on.
• If you work from home, make a list of nearby cafés where you can sit with a coffee and your laptop, and rotate them so you don’t overstay your welcome. This was my lifesaver during the most hectic part of the building work, when I had a deadline or just needed to escape the dust and noise.
• Accept that your diet will be less than ideal for a few months. At some point you’ll totally lose access to the kitchen, so stock up on decent microwave meals – we’d microwave ours in the lounge and eat them straight from the packet with plastic cutlery (it’s quite amazing what you accept as normal during a renovation) and keep a stash of fruits/cereal bars, etc, on hand for snacking.
When the budget allowed I’d pick the girls up from school, and take them out for an early dinner. Not only would the evening meal be sorted, but we’d arrive home after the workers had left and relish the relative peace and quiet.
• If your building work is taking place during winter, keep plenty of warm clothes and blankets to hand. There will be stages when your home has more open spaces than solid walls and other days when your power is turned off. Right at the point when our builders ‘broke through’ (when the old walls are torn down), Snowmaggedon hit.
We had two feet of snow and a back wall made of plywood sheets with gaps in between; it was so cold I had to sit in my sleeping bag during the day to keep warm.
• Ask your builders to warn you before the water is turned off so you either have the option to either get everyone showered in advance, or just to fill the kettle up first. Often, I’d fill the sink with warm soapy water too, in case I needed to wash something while the supply was off.
Stock up on biodegradable baby wipes for those times in between.
• Make your peace with dust – there will be A LOT of it. At first I tried to brush it up each evening, but it’s like trying to hold water in your hands – time consuming and ultimately futile.
It wasn’t the most pleasant thing ever, but we quickly got used to the fact our clothes were constantly stained with builder’s dust, our skin coated with the fine powder. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can adapt to a ‘new normal’.
Perhaps most importantly, allow yourself to lean in to the chaos. I chose to view it as an adventure – kind of like camping, but louder and messier. I’d remind myself that the end result would be worth every jackhammer blow, every pile of dust, every cramped, frustrating moment.
And it really was; we had a beautiful new family space to enjoy, and surviving the renovations even brought us closer in that weird way less-than-pleasant life events often do.
Can you live in your house while you renovate? Yes. It will be challenging, but it won’t be the hell on earth you imagine it to be (although there are definitely hellish moments).
It’s a short term inconvenience, for long-term gains. If we can do it, anyone can.