Renovation hell!

A guide to surviving a renovation.

If you're lucky and you have a friend or family's place to stay or you can afford to do a short term rental somewhere, it will help a lot. But if you can't move out, prepare yourself for some very uncomfortable times.

Renovations are messy and disruptive and if you chose to live in the condo during the reno, you have my sympathy! If your condo has 2 or more bedrooms and 2 or more bathrooms, it's much easier, but in truth, even with more room to escape to, it's still not comfortable and if you're a couple it will test the relationship.

The biggest headache but also the most important advice to surviving a renovation is having a full clean at the end of each day. Cleaning takes up valuable time and if you're paying the workers to do it, it's time that would otherwise be spent renovating. But without a good clean the condo is unlivable because dust gets everywhere even if you're able to isolate areas behind doors and plastic.  Planning ahead is crucial. Here's a list of things that may help to make it easier on your relationship.

The basics

  • Be certain your insurance is up to date before renovating. Hopefully nothing happens but things can go very wrong and cause damage to your neighbour's units. If you will not be living in the condo during the renovation, you will need to inform your insurer to update your policy. 

  • Most stratas have a standard request to renovate form. Sometimes it is called an alteration agreement. The form is usually available through the property management company. Strata councils require you to submit a full list of your renovation plans. If you only plan to paint and change light fixtures, it's not necessary to submit a request but for most other things, you need permission. New flooring. Adding a washer/dryer. Changing out the tub, tiles, faucets in the bathroom. New kitchen.  Removing popcorn (textured ceiling). Removing a wall to make an open plan kitchen/dining/livingroom all require permission. Try to submit your renovation request many months in advance of when you hope to do the work. I have learned that giving the strata a very detailed list of the work, the tradespeople, and quoting the bylaws around renovations really helps to speed up the process and gives you a better chance of full approval. At the very least, it prevents a lot of back and forth with questions from council. Stratas can not deny permission to renovate if the requests are reasonable and within the bylaws.

  • Removing structural walls is something that a strata may not approve, but if you have a structural engineer involved, (and you must!)  it can be easier to get approval. 

  • Some stratas do not allow individual units to add their own laundry machines. Make sure you know the rules around this before purchasing. Other stratas only allow the all-in-one washer/dryer combos that do not have external venting. 


  • Try to find your tradespeople through word of mouth referrals. Unfortunately, tradespeople are not always the most reliable, and they tend to carry several jobs at once. If your job is not as important as another one, progress on your place can be delayed or worse, abandoned. 

  • Have all of your tradespeople lined up well in advance (general contractor, plumber, electrician, tile and floor layer, etc.) Make sure they are licensed and insured and carry WCB coverage. The last thing you want is to have a someone without insurance to cut through a water line and cause a flood in the suites below you. 

  • Make certain that your tradespeople are aware of the bylaws around times to work and disposal of renovation materials. Be sure they do not track messes into any common areas and if they do make sure they clean up. Typically a renovator will put some sort of protection down on the floor outside your front door.  

  • Do not pay any tradespeople up front for the whole job. Even paying 50% up front is a bad idea. If they are purchasing materials for you, then you can arrange to pay for the materials only.

  • Have a contract with the tradespeople that describes how they will be paid, how long the job will take and what happens when there are cost and time overruns. If you are hiring your tradesperson to get materials, expect that they will tack on a percentage to the cost of materials. 

The materials

  • If you are putting in new flooring, adhere to strata bylaws around sound insulation. Keep a sample of the insulation and the receipt and packaging that states its sound insulating rating, take photos of the insulation before it is covered with flooring. This will protect you if your neioghbours below begin to complain that they can hear you walking on the floors. Be ok with the idea that you may be asked to lay rugs over the floor in high traffic areas. When you live in a condo, you always need to be considerate of the neighbours below you if you have wood or laminate flooring. It's good to not wear shoes in the condo to help keep the noise down. 

Structural changes. Removing walls.

  • If you are doing any structural changes that require an engineer and permits, organize these well in advance. There are some municipalities in the lower mainland that are backlogged by months. 

  • If you are not using a general contractor, and you plan to do any structural changes, reconsider hiring one. The permit process is very complicated and the paperwork can be very intense. 

Renovating while not living in your condo

  • If you can renovate before you move in, it's the most ideal situation, but it is expensive to carry two places at once and waiting for approval from council and/or city permits can extend the period you need to wait and therefore the additional costs. I once tried to have a council approve my renovation request before we took possession of the condo, in order to hit the ground running on the day we took possession. Unfortunately, the council was not able to do this as they were concerned that if they did not approve the request, there was a chance that I would back out of the offer. It made perfect sense, but it was still frustrating having to wait for approval until after we'd taken possession which took several weeks.  

Your belongings 

  • If you have a lot of furniture that is going to get in the way or get damaged, hire a Pod to store your belongings. These services are terrific as they deliver to the unit to the curb, you fill it, they take it away, and return it to the curb when you're ready. If you can, MOVE OUT during the renovation! It will save you a lot of frustration and it allows the renovation to progress more quickly. There are furnished rentals available. Plan for the renovation to take longer than the time quoted. Unexpected delays always happen.Plan for the renovation to cost more than you budgeted. Unexpected costs always creep in. Do not pay in full until the job is 100% complete. Make sure you do a final inspection of deficiencies and only pay the bill when the deficiencies are complete. Pay your bills on time! If the work was done well, make sure you show your appreciation and don't make them wait for payment. 

While this list will never be a surefire way to avoid stress on your relationship during a renovation, hopefully it will help a bit. 


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