Managing a residential renovation

Managing a residential renovation

We are still working slowly to carefully carry out demolition tasks for our project. At present these tasks are focused around the stairs to the second floor. Our heritage house is typical in that the second floor has sagged perceptibly around the stairs and old chimney chase. As we clear away the lathe and plaster and examine the structure, we can see why.

Our engineer looked at these stairs and commented, “There isn’t any logical reason these stairs should be standing, but there is evidence of their structural integrity because they are still standing after 100 years. Don’t touch those stairs.” We are heeding his advice.

In the meantime, we are preparing to install new beam structure in the framing around the stairs and chimney chase. This beam structure will replace framing that was getting so bad we had plaster falling off the walls during a recent windstorm.

I have been actively applying professional project management practice standards and frameworks to this renovation. We have already accomplished far more for less money than we did during Phase 1 or the aborted Front Porch Repair. However, I am noticing how questions and decisions play a key role in controlling project progress.

I would say managing for questions, answers and decisions is probably the single biggest challenge for managing residential renovations, particularly on heritage homes. Further, I would say renovating heritage homes should be a specific sub-set of residential renovations, at least in the City of Vancouver, where there is a civic interest in saving heritage buildings at almost any cost.

With regards to questions, answers and decisions, there are several challenges to acquiring clear, actionable information:

  1. Developing questions – clear, concise, explanatory
  2. Getting answers – ensure they actually answer the questions
  3. Making decisions – confirming decision content prior to taking action

One of the issues I have identified is terminology. When we are discussing a particular wall or structural component, having clear identifiers to ensure everyone is talking about the same thing. For example, we are installing 8 beams to provide support for our second floor. In the engineering drawings, the beams are identified by their dimensions but not by location. To discuss individual beam specifics I had to assign a unique identifier to each beam and then convince the project team to use this as identifying terminology.

Another issue that has come up is parsing questions into specific topics. One email, one topic (which might have several related questions). Each question email has its own subject line (no recycling emails with old subject lines).

Residential renovations often have an extended timeline and it can be very difficult to track communications. In particular, something that seemed insignificant at the time it was being discussed can become essential information later. Was it properly archived for retrieval? Where are those notes?

Tracking communications is also difficult because they do not take place as a constant stream but rather occur in short bursts with long periods of quiet. Without a system for managing the communications it is very easy to have the information dispersed and difficult to consolidate (field notes, project notebooks, emails, hard copy documents). Making these communications searchable by tags and categories will greatly ease management tasks later when it is time to consolidate project information.

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