Gut Renovations Challenges: Prep for a Smoother Remodel

by Lee Wallender

Know how to handle gut renovation challenges for a smoother project process—and beautiful results

open living room

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

A gut renovation involves layers of costs, design, timing, and permits. This kind of renovation may at first seem mysterious and full of uncertainties. Ultimately, having the right contractor who knows how to handle any unexpected gut renovation challenges is key to a successful remodel.

Below, Sweeten outlines hidden gut renovation challenges during a remodel. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Plan for hidden problems under floors and walls

Gutting the house often reveals unpleasantries, like black mold, termite activity, rotting studs, and joists or foundation issues. The best way to handle these is through discovery and repair, which will prevent problems from worsening as time goes on. Perform this due diligence with your contractor so they can provide a more accurate cost estimate and work schedule.

Clearly communicate about timing & scheduling

Surprise: homeowners and contractors are often on the same page with timing and scheduling. It may be surprising to hear that most contractors want to move your project along at a brisk yet efficient pace! Along with subcontractors and tradesmen, your project is likely one of many projects they are working on.

Having healthy communication with your contractor will keep the project moving along.  Homeowners should feel comfortable asking practical questions and raising various issues.

Also, provide timely responses to a contractor’s questions by text, phone, or email. This is vital, since no legitimate contractor will undertake tasks that you have not ordered and signed off on. (Also, it will help the project stay on pace!)

Before starting any work, you and the contractor will develop a timeline for the project. While building and renovation schedules always have some built-in flexibility, the goal should be to stick to that schedule as much as possible.

Controlling the budget

You want your home’s gut renovation to cost as close to the estimate as possible. Once a contract has been accepted and signed, most contractors also want to bring the project in at cost (or close to it).

Homeowners undertaking serious gut remodels should build in an extra cash reserve for issues that come up along the way. Add in an additional 10 to 15 percent above the expected budget for a non-gut remodel, and add more than 15% for a gut remodel.

All of these “extra cost” issues are addressed in an orderly way via the change order: regular adjustments to the original contract that accommodate extra work, and which are signed by both you and the contractor.

Architects & Designers need extra time

If you plan on working with an architect or designer, be sure there is sufficient lead time for your design team to do their work. The bulk of the design team’s work comes before any physical remodel work happens. A solid design plan must come before the first piece of drywall or plaster is removed from the home.

Handle hazardous materials safely

Fortunately, consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of home renovation waste. This is good, as hazardous materials found during the project must be properly dealt with! These materials include:

  • Walls painted with lead-based paint
  • Asbestos insulation packed around pipes, in tile mastic, or in loose-fill insulation
  • Black mold, which can impact respiratory functions

No hazardous waste case is totally unsolvable. However, you’ll need qualified subcontractors to help, and they must be added to the overall plan for cost and timing. Sometimes, a hazardous material can stay in place if left undisturbed, or if it is contained.

Permits, codes, and approvals

Nearly every gut home renovation needs some type of permit or approval by a legal entity.

If you live in a condo, alterations may need to be approved by the board. For owners of houses controlled by a housing association (HOA), interior improvements typically do not need to be approved by the HOA (but exterior improvements do!)

Owners of condos and single-family detached houses under an HOA must seek approval and permits from their local permit agency. It covers a wide range of activities for a gut renovation.

Removing a load-bearing wall, electrical and plumbing work, and major HVAC work are examples of sub-projects that likely will require a permit. Owners of properties in dense metro areas usually need to secure permits for trash dumpsters parked on the street.

Contractors perform a valuable service when it comes time to arrange, or pull, the permits. The contractor or representative will manage this whole process. This includes making visits to the permit office and meeting with inspectors at the building site.

Neighbors and the neighborhood

Simpler updates like window replacements, flooring installation, or interior painting are often unnoticed by neighbors. But gut home renovations, especially those involving the entire house, can draw attention. A trash dumpster on the street or multiple tradesmen vans parked by your home hint to others that major work is happening.

Neighbor relations are best handled by the homeowner before the project begins. Take the time to inform your neighbors of the upcoming work. Speak to your contractor about how they handle noise ordinances or illegal parking.

Hopefully, being aware of the type of bumps you may encounter will be helpful in smoothing the path forward. The right contractor will be a partner in guiding you during this renovation process.

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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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