renovation builder greenlaneEven a good renovation project that has been meticulously planned, with detailed drawings, accurate quotes, and a carefully considered building strategy can incur variations.

No matter how well prepared you and your builder are, plans can change. Any change to the original plan is a variation and can complicate the project by increasing the overall cost, delaying the completion date, or requiring a change to the council consent.

Contrary to popular belief, variations most often originate from the homeowner – in fact, research conducted by MyHome Renovations found around 70% of all changes to renovation plans come at the request of the home owner. The remaining 30% come about due to unknown issues with the existing house or requests for extra work from the council. Although many variations are made for good reason, some are unnecessary and could be avoided with forethought and planning.

Here’s some common variations – and how to avoid them:


Costs and complications

After years of experience in the renovation field, the team at MyHome Renovations have a pretty good idea of the cost of variations. Our data shows that on average, changes to original plans add up to around 10% of the total cost of the project. Those costs come from extra materials and products, added labour for installation and paying an architect or designer to alter plans.

We advise homeowners to set aside a contingency fund of 10-15% of the total cost of the build before the project starts. It’s a win-win – if the unexpected happens, you’re covered; if everything goes smoothly, you have some extra cash set aside at the end of the project for whatever you want.


DIY disasters

Many variations are done at the request of the homeowner. Sometimes this is the result of over-optimistic planning – owners will plan to finish parts of the build themselves, often finishing touches like painting work or building a deck – then run out of time as the deadline approaches.

This type of variation leads to extra expense and time for you and the build team as subcontractors need to be arranged last minute.

That’s not to say that owners shouldn’t DIY some parts of the build, just that it’s important to be realistic. Don’t take on a key task if it’s something you’ve never done before, or if you’re busy with your job and your family.


Changing your mind

Many variations are the result of owners changing their mind as they see their new kitchen, bathroom, or lounge come to life. Many homeowners struggle to visualise changes from a plan, and can dislike the results once work is underway.

These types of variations can include changing the layout of a kitchen once cabinetry has been built, adding powerpoints or extra lighting after the electrical work has been completed, and changing fittings after original choices have been installed.

This type of variation can be surprisingly expensive, particularly if it involves subcontractors and/or suppliers. Kitchen manufacturers often have long lead times, which makes changes to cabinets or bench tops very time consuming. Extra plumbing work requires another visit from the plumber, and often a second council inspection, and extra electrical work can be similar. Even changing fittings such as door handles can be expensive, as you may not be able to get a refund on the original choices, and the builder will likely need to install the new ones, doubling the labour cost.

Avoiding change-of-mind variations isn’t always possible, but you can minimise the likelihood by carefully thinking your renovation through before you start. Think about how you use your current kitchen and what your ideal layout would look like, think about your appliances and how many power points you’ll need. Consider natural light sources and how much lighting you’ll need, and really take the time to look at your fitting options – don’t just choose the cheapest or most convenient tap or showerhead.


Unexpected upgrades

Some variations are the result of issues with the existing building that weren’t uncovered or known at the planning stage. Most builders will do a thorough inspection before the build starts, but issues like rot, asbestos, unsafe wiring, or framing that isn’t up to code can be hidden until revealed when the build starts. These issues can add significant time and expense that unfortunately won’t be covered in the original price.

If rot is in the house framing, flooring or piles, these elements will need to be replaced, which can be pricey. Often, homeowners are completely unaware of rot in their home, as it is covered by the wall linings, cladding, or window frames.

The building code can cause issues, as builders are required to bring parts of the house up to code to get sign-off from the council. Houses built before the introduction of the code in the early 1990s may have undersized window or door lintels, insufficient insulation, unsafe wiring, or plumbing that doesn’t meet standards. If these problems are discovered during the build, the building team will need to make changes to meet the code, which will usually increase the overall cost.

Roofing structure can be another common problem. Older houses can seem structurally sound, but the roof framing is sagging or weak due to undersized framing and/or lack of adequate support. If the existing roof framing isn’t strong enough to support the new roof, it will obviously need to be fixed by way of new braces or completely replaced.  Framing that has sagged over time will need to be addressed to ensure a good finish to your roof.


Outside issues

The house isn’t the only thing that can cause problems. The land under and around the house can be problematic as well.

Rock is one of the most common problems for builders – particularly in volcanic Auckland. If underground rock is discovered where new foundations are due to be built, the project may be delayed, as excavation work will need to be done. And, as you might imagine, this work is not cheap.

Drainage can be similarly time consuming. Often, older houses don’t have drainage that meets current standards, which will mean it needs to be upgraded during the build. In some cases, this can be very complicated, as the council can require the installation of storm-water holding tanks for larger projects.


One variation can lead to others…

No matter how seemingly simple a variation, it has the potential to cause significant delays and increased costs. It’s the flow-on effect – one small change to a kitchen layout may lead to weeks of waiting for a new bench top, which means the plumber can’t install the sink and the tiler can’t finish their job, which delays the entire project for a month and adds to project management costs.

That’s why it’s best to avoid variations as much as possible. Although some things – like rock in the ground or old wiring – can’t be avoided, many variations can be. In our experience, the homeowners who plan carefully, think through their options, and don’t rush into a renovation project, end up with the fewest variations and their budget intact.

Of course, it’s also important to work with a reputable building company specifically experienced in renovations, who will do their due diligence and work hard to pick up on problems with the existing house before the project starts.

So if you’re preparing for a renovation project, take it slow. Think hard about what you’re trying to achieve, engage the right experts and listen to their advice – remember that you’ll be living in your house for many years to come so it’s worth doing right.


Want to get the ball rolling on your renovation?  Talk to the team at MyHome Renovations today.

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