What is a Scope of Work in Home Remodeling?

How to create and use a scope of work when undertaking a home remodeling project

kitchen with white waterfall island

(Above) Sweeten homeowner Bellamy + Zak’s renovation. Photos by Kate Glicksberg.

Why is the scope of work important?

“Scope of work” or “scope” is construction lingo for the list of work that needs to be done in a remodeling project. When a contractor asks for your project scope, they’re really asking, “What are all the things you need me to do?” Sweeten breaks it all down below.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

What is the scope of work?

Early in your planning, like when you first post your project on the Sweeten platform or start talking to general contractors, your scope will likely be vague. For example, “I want to renovate the master bathroom, including retiling and replacing cabinets and fixtures.”

Later, when it comes time to ask general contractors for estimates, you’ll work with them to fill in the details. These important details make up the scope of work! The details will cover the exact work that needs to be done, including materials and fixture specifics, and plans drawn for any changes to the layout, pipes, or wiring (see “Renovation scope of work example” below). 

All the specifics need to be in writing by the time you ask for a contract. Once you’ve signed, additional changes to the scope of work are considered “change orders,” and will bring additional costs.

Finessing your budget and scope of work

Often, you won’t be able to move from a general to specific scope until you know the cost of all the options. We suggest making a list of everything you want, divided into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Your general contractor can help you decide on a specific scope that fits your budget, including as many “nice-to-haves” as possible. 

My scope exceeds my budget. Now what?

If your contractor makes an estimate that exceeds your budget, it’s time to negotiate. Please don’t just ask for a discount. General contractors operate on very low margins; you’d be asking them to lose money. Instead, ask questions about how to adjust the scope to fit your budget. You might get some surprising and imaginative ideas. Sweeten general contractors are often wizards at this kind of creative problem-solving to make potential clients happy. 

A remodeling rule-of-thumb: The more rigid your budget, the more flexible your scope should be. 

If a scope of work isn’t possible

Occasionally a general contractor will tell you that something in your scope is impossible. This can be disappointing—but we promise, they’re not just being difficult. Sometimes there will be structural reasons that something can’t be done. Other times there will be strict national or local building codes that have to be obeyed. 

Pro tip: Always ask why something in the scope can’t be done. You might start a conversation with your contractor that leads to ideas that are just as satisfying as the original.

Prep scopes before the estimate

You might want to consider more than one scope. For example, one version might be a kitchen remodel that includes changing the floor plan and opening a wall. Another version could be a simple rip-and-replace of the existing cabinets and finishes. 

It’s fine to present these alternate versions to your general contractor, as long as you do so before asking them to create any estimates. And you should keep it to just two variations. Beyond two, your contractor might ask for an additional deposit—because drawing up detailed estimates is time-consuming work.

Example of a scope of work in construction

  • Replace toilet
  • Replace vanity cabinet
  • Change out sink
  • Retile floor
  • Relocate shower—see plans
  • Install cement board
  • Tile shower/tub surround
  • Replace light fixture
  • Add outlets—see plans
  • Paint walls and ceiling

The scope of work, in summary

Start with a general scope, with your must-haves and nice-to-haves. Moving on to your final, detailed scope requires negotiating many variables. Your Sweeten general contractor can be a valuable resource in this process. Be sure to communicate clearly, ask questions, and give as much information as possible before requesting a bid. And remember: the details in a contract finalize your scope. Any additions to the scope after you’ve signed the contract will be considered a change order, which might push you over budget.

Are you remodeling with Sweeten?

You can email our renovation specialists with questions about your scope of work at any time at [email protected]

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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