How To Remodel a House in Chicago

From Chicago’s historic structures to standalone houses, here’s an overview on getting started on a house remodel

how to remodel a house in chicago

Reimagining a house in Chicago can be a rewarding experience that modernizes your home’s interior adding years of life to the structure. Whether you’re upgrading a contemporary house to match your lifestyle, or the flow of your historic house needs updating, we can guide you on how to remodel a house in Chicago.  

Putting together the right team of professionals will ensure your project is built with the experience, safety measures, and skills required to complete your remodel. Here’s a look at the process and important tips to aid your project planning.

Preplanning and architectural research

Renovating houses in Chicago offers a diverse range of architectural styles, each with its own unique charm and characteristics. Each type presents distinct opportunities and considerations for a renovation.

First steps for a realistic budget

Before you start, you’ll want to establish a budget that encompasses the entire process. Begin by forming two comprehensive lists: one outlining your “must-haves” and the other your “nice-to-haves.” This categorizes what are essential requirements and what are preferences. You can remove items from your preferences to avoid going over your budgetary limits.

In addition, it is important to allocate funds not just for materials, labor, and permits but for a contingency plan to address any unforeseen complications. We recommend setting aside a contingency fund equal to 10-15% of your initial budget. This will provide a safety net for unexpected expenses and ensure that your project remains on track.

Standalone houses

Detached houses are often easier to remodel because they have more space and flexibility for renovations. Homeowners have various design options to customize their interiors and exteriors according to personal preferences.

There may or may not be a neighborhood HOA but stop and start times may come into play to avoid disrupting the neighbors with loud noises. If you live in a restricted use neighborhood like a subdivision, you may need to get approvals from a homeowner’s association or architectural committee. To find out what entities may hold sway over your improvements, get a copy of your deed and plat map. Any restrictions placed on your property will be noted on your registered deed.

Historic structures in Oak Park, Lincoln Park, and the Gold Coast

Many Chicago neighborhoods are dotted with older architecture still using antiquated technology. Modern remodels of historic structures often include energy-efficient window and door upgrades, and replacing wood trim with PVC or extruded foam for low maintenance. 

  • Queen Anne-style homes will likely have a large porch, dormer windows, and a very steep roof. Remodeling this particular architectural style can involve intricate wooden exterior trim. Therefore, remodelers often replace the wooden trim with molded PVC trim to reduce maintenance.

  • Prairie School design originated in the Arts and Crafts movement and is recognizable by its horizontal lines, open floor plans, and use of local materials. The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright worked in Oak Park, essentially creating the Prairie School design. Prairie School homes are often considered historic landmarks, especially if Frank Lloyd Wright helped design them. Be sure and check with the Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation Division before starting any remodeling projects. 

  • Colonial Revival homes are a combination of Federal and Georgian styles, with two levels, intersecting roofs, and plenty of shutters. Colonial Revival style homes never go out of style, so most home remodelers try to retain as much of the original design as possible.

Townhouses and row houses

Remodeling townhouses and row houses in Chicago can be a bit more involved than remodeling a standalone house. Because each unit may share a roof, walls, and foundation with its neighbor, these remodeling projects must include strict adherence to egress and fire suppression building codes.

Townhouses and row houses line the streets of established communities like Lincoln Park, Logan Square, and Bucktown. Many were built during the Gilded Age with Victorian and Italian design influences, and may differ in appearance to its neighbor in color, size, and shape.

Generally, you will have more design control with a townhouse remodel compared to a row house. Unlike townhouses, row houses are generally very uniform in size, color, and number of floors. Row house remodeling is usually confined to interior improvements, as the exterior facing the street is shared between homes. These type of buildings often include shared fire escapes and breezeways.

Bungalows

Bungalows, a popular housing style in Chicago, often feature cozy layouts and distinctive architectural details. Renovating bungalows requires careful attention to preserving their historical charm while bringing in modern amenities and functionality. The Chicago Bungalow Association offers advice for maintaining and updating bungalows. They’re dedicated to preserving these and other vintage homes in their communities.

Budgeting for a house remodel

Before you begin planning or looking for a contractor, be sure that you begin with a realistic budget. The main factors that contribute to home remodeling costs in Chicago are: scope, finish level, and the type of service(s) needed. The cost of your remodel is often determined by the square footage of the project, with most services calculated accordingly. In Chicago, the cost per square foot starts around $105. Costs increase when bathrooms and kitchens are added to the scope. 

The size of your home also influences your budget, especially if extensive demolition or repair work is needed. Furthermore, the level of finish you choose, whether it’s budget-friendly or high-end, will have an impact on the final cost. Upgrading with existing plumbing may eliminate the need for additional changes. However, for larger-scale projects that involve opening walls or obtaining permits, the expertise of architects, electricians, and plumbers may be necessary.

If you need help honing in on a realistic budget before meeting with Sweeten contractors, we’d be happy to jump on a call and walk you through it.

Who is your renovation team?

The team you put together to execute your renovation is very important. You’ll want the team who can maximize what you have to work with and within your budget. For all projects, you’ll need a general contractor to oversee and perform the construction work. Hire a GC directly if your project involves minimal structural changes, electrical, or plumbing alterations. You should also have a clear idea of the style and materials you want to use.

If your renovation is more complex and requires detailed plans and design expertise, hire an architect or interior designer. They can assist in creating architectural drawings, incorporating your vision, and ensuring a cohesive design.

A design-build firm combines the services of both design and contractors with the benefit of coordination between design and construction.

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Do I need permits and plan approvals?

The Chicago Department Of Buildings will be your first stop for permit application. The DoB will determine which permit your project will require based on the information you provide. Generally, if your project is a rip-and-replace project, which is a direct replacement of materials, you can apply for the Easy Permit Program.

Plan approvals

In Chicago, the plan approval process typically involves obtaining permits from the city, submitting detailed plans and documents, and complying with specific requirements and guidelines. The approval process may include reviews by the homeowner’s associations and condo design approval boards, the Department of Buildings, or the Historic Preservation Commission, depending on the nature of the remodel and the location of the house.

In Chicago, you generally need to apply for plan approval for a house remodel before you can begin any construction or renovation work. Some specific instances include:

  • Structural changes such as removing or adding walls
  • Any changes to the plumbing or electrical systems such as relocating fixtures, adding new or updating the systems
  • Modifying or removing any load-bearing walls that support the weight of the structure
  • Making changes to the exterior façade or adding or modifying windows and doors

Permits

Do you have a good handle on your scope? If you’re planning structural changes, electrical or plumbing work, or exterior modifications, you’ll need permits. For the permit application, the Chicago Department of Buildings may request architectural drawings, construction plans, and other supporting materials. An architect, engineer, and contractor will be able to help you with documents and the process.

The DoB conducts these reviews to ensure each renovation project is in compliance with building codes, zoning regulations, and other requirements. Also, the processing time for approvals vary so you’ll want to build in the appropriate amount of time.  

On the other hand, if there are no changes to structure, electrical, plumbing, or HVAC, your project may qualify for the Easy Permit Program. This allows your project to skip over the plan review step of the permitting process. The qualified scope will be limited, but your permit application will move forward faster.

During construction, on-site inspections by the DoB take place at various stages during construction. Most often, they happen when inspecting electrical and plumbing work before the drywall goes up as well as during the final inspection.

It’s important to have an experienced renovation team that is up-to-date with Chicago building codes and regulations. If noncompliance is discovered, it can result in fines, work being halted, or possibly post-renovation property devaluation. Find vetted contracting firms working in Chicago’s local neighborhoods by posting your project. Our contractors will guide you through the permit process and complete the work within compliance.

How long does a house remodel take?

The duration of a house remodel can widely range depending on various factors, most commonly the scope of work, size of the project, level of complexity, and unforeseen circumstances. 

In general, for a house remodel with no structural, electrical, or plumbing changes, the project can be completed within a few weeks to a couple of months. This timeframe allows for tasks such as cosmetic updates, painting, flooring replacement, cabinet refacing, and fixture upgrades.

However, if there’s an overhaul of the kitchen or the bathroom is gut remodeled in the scope, more extensive work is usually involved.  Depending on the complexity of the project, the need for structural changes and the availability of materials, the timeframe can span from several weeks to a few months.

For a comprehensive whole-house remodel that involves renovating multiple rooms or the entire house, expect it to take several months to a year. The type of work includes major structural changes, such as adding or removing walls, rewiring electrical systems, or upgrading plumbing.

The duration of the project can be affected by materials delivery, weather conditions, and unexpected issues during the renovation. Your contractor will work with you to create a timeline and schedule for your specific scope of work so you’ll have a better understanding.

Tips for surviving a house remodel in Chicago

Going through a house remodel can be an exciting but challenging experience. Here are some tips to help you stay steps ahead.

Plan ahead

Have a renovation plan and timeline to stay organized and avoid unexpected delays or issues. Take time to plan out the timing for permits, material selection, and contractor availability.

Set expectations

Understand that a house remodel can be disruptive and may require temporary adjustments to your living arrangements. Prepare yourself and your family for potential noise, dust, and limited access to certain areas of the house. Setting realistic expectations will help you stay patient and focused on the end result.

In renovating their industrial loft in Logan Square, Sweeten homeowners, Leah and Brian, said, “It’s a journey.” During the remodel, Brian found joy in the process: “I geeked out during the whole home renovation, seeing how everything was taken down and put back together.”

Hire reliable professionals

Research and interview multiple contractors in Chicago, architects, and designers to find the right fit for your project. Maintain open and frequent communication with your team. 

Prepare for contingencies

It’s common for unexpected issues or changes to arise during a remodel. Set aside a contingency fund of 10-15% to keep the project from halting.

Take breaks and practice self-care

One way to reduce the stress of remodeling is to step away from the construction zone when needed. Find activities that help you relax and maintain a positive mindset throughout the process.

Protect your valuables

Before the remodeling work begins, remove or protect any valuable or fragile items to prevent damage. Cover furniture and belongings from dust and debris during construction.

Create an organizational system

Keep track of important documents, receipts, and contracts. This will help you stay organized and easily access information when needed.

Celebrate your progress

Remember to celebrate each milestone and the progress made throughout the remodel. Acknowledge the hard work and positive changes happening in your home.

Sweeten homeowners in Lakeview East renovated their three-flat condo in a historic greystone and understood the passing of milestones: “We’ve renovated before, and we know: The wrong contractor can add unnecessary stress, delays, and cost. The right contractor can make the process relatively painless.”

The first step for starting your house remodeling project

Find the right contractor to take your vision from paper to real life by posting your project. We will match you with a short list of vetted contractors who are aligned specifically to your scope, location, and budget. Our service is free to homeowners and provides you with advice and support from start through to project completion.

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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