Planning for residential renovation tasks

Planning for residential renovation tasks

Think of your residential renovation in terms of four basic concerns: scope, schedule, cost, and quality. The smallest measurable item of a residential renovation is a task. A task is defined in terms of the project deliverable it accomplishes. A project deliverable is defined prior to implementation in terms of scope, schedule, cost and quality. In residential renovations it is far more likely that these concerns will exceed estimates when the task is actually completed.

Each of these concerns can be considered in terms of the resources that will be required to complete a task. Scope refers to the boundaries that define the edge of the task. What is part of the task deliverable and what is not included as task deliverable?

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The difference between what has been planned, or estimated, and what is actually required to complete the task deliverable, is considered the risk factor for the task – the percentage variance between what was estimated and what was predicted that could affect the estimate.

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Schedule refers to the timeline for the task. What is the earliest start date for the task? What is the latest start date? What is the earliest date the task can be completed by? What is the latest date the task can be completed by? How much time has been estimated to complete the task? How much time has been allocated to account for risk?

Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 10.03.18 AM.pngCost refers to the amount of money that needs to be budgeted for the task and the actual amount of money that has to be paid to complete the task. Cost is a consolidation of resource expenditures required to complete the task. In residential renovations, these resources can be organized in terms of project process and knowledge area. There are costs associated with initiating, planning, implementing, monitoring and controlling and closing a task. Every task involves project integration, scope definition, scheduling, resource management, quality management, human resources, communication, risk management, procurement and stakeholder involvement.

Costs are predicted using an estimate. The estimate can be structured for worst-case, best-case and moderate scenarios. In residential renovations, one particular area that can greatly affect task concerns is degree of technical difficulty. Technical difficulty in residential renovations is of particular concern because every task in a residential renovation is building new onto old, and, in many cases, matching new to old on more than one point of attachment.

Technical difficulty should be factored into every task and accounted as a risk factor.

In residential renovations, the cost of a task is normally calculated on a $1 labor + .30 materials = $1.30 ratio. ie. if a task is estimated to cost $100 for labor, the materials charge will be $30. In addition to these hard resource costs, there are additional costs that have to be factored in for every task. These are project management, site supervision, contingency, and contractor mark up. Taxes have to be collected on every invoice. These rates vary but can be calculated at 10% project management, 10% site supervision, 15% contingency, and 20% contractor mark up.

If the price of labor is calculated at $45 per hour (skilled carpenter) the cost breakdown for a typical task follows:



The featured image for this post shows the underside of our second floor toilet. As you can see the subfloor has been destroyed and we now know why the tiles are cracking around the toilet.

At present we are planning the layout and installation for beam structure to repair floor sag around the stairs. We need to do this before installing our laundry upstairs or else the working of the machine would eventually cause a cave-in.

Planning for scope, schedule, cost and quality on this deliverable is complicated by the technical difficulty of installing new beams between existing structure of the second floor and the main floor. We did plan for this rebuild and the structure in the basement was installed to support the new beam structure. However, the technical difficulty is a key factor in designing for this task.

In addition to installing new beam structure under an existing second floor, we also have to contend with the original heritage staircase. We must keep this staircase intact or we will be forced to build a new one to code, which would change the entire layout of the main floor and upstairs.

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To add to the difficulty, the wall that is at the centre of this new beam install is the mechanical wall for the household.

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This wall has to be preserved, and then the backing plywood has to be replaced as part of the entire installation.

In the instance of this task, investing in planning is our highest priority. Installation will be difficult but not impossible. However, if we do things out of order, it could seriously run up the cost of the task. We are forgiving schedule constraints in the interest of accomplishing all the scope we want to address and control and monitor costs while getting a high quality finish.


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.

A super tough day

A super tough day

The electrical inspector came today. Ugh. I do not do well with inspections. They are too much like writing exams. And I hate writing exams. I hate the feeling that someone has authority over me, that I am an object in their dominion and they have the power to decide my fate.

You have to understand, the inspector was a nice enough person, very thorough, and not to be swayed from his mission to ensure the electrical permit was fulfilled to the letter.

However, it was the day after another super tough day, and when he said there was a problem with our ad hoc electrical arrangements for the upstairs, a zone we were not prepared to have inspected, I pretty much had a melt down.

Very luckily, Matt had his wits about him and was able to gather the needed information from the electrical inspector and communicate deficiencies to our electrician. The electrician will be back on Monday. Later that day, the electrician told me this inspector had been giving him a hard time, and they were yet to get a Vancouver wiring job passed on first inspection. *sigh*

All this drama played out after I got home from my month end banking, an errand comprised of drawing money off my credit card to pay our mortgage and make a payment on our account with the contractor. Not the best feeling in the world.

Both Matt and I have been struck, over and over again, at how difficult the renovation process is, and how needlessly stressful it is. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we worked to prepare for the renovation, to select our contractor, to plan the construction, to work out the design.

But, by far, the role the City plays in the renovation is one that is very difficult to predict or plan, and it is the City that can send costs over threshold, with no consideration for the position it puts the hardworking, conscientious homeowner.

The fact is that old houses need to be fixed up or they will be torn down. Renovating an old house is a perilous journey, not for the faint of heart. Homeowners that are ignorant of the critical elements of the renovation will find their costs skyrocketing with little to show for it.

We do not want to lose this house because we decided to repair it. We are proud of the work we have done on this house. But, wow. Sometimes the only way to cope is to cry, complain, and storm off in a huff. When that time comes, try not to attack the people that are there to help you. Realize it is a system that is difficult for the most seasoned veterans to navigate. As newby homeowners and neophyte renovators, that is the best advice I have.

Soooo tired

I woke up this morning with Skipper barking like a mad dog as some imagined interloper. My body aches, my hands and arms burn with fatigue. But I must get up and get to work. I am going to roll on that primer this morning. There is no time to pause for complaints or exhaustion. We must get to final inspection, we must re-mortgage. None of this can happen is I don’t get to work.