When you build a new home, or undertake a drastic renovation of an existing one, you will need somewhere warm, safe and dry to rest your head each night. Although moving off the site and living in alternative accommodation while you build might be the best idea, it isn’t always feasible. So what should you do if you are forced to live among the rubble of your project?

Good organisation, realistic expectations of timescales and a sound understanding of what you are letting yourselves in for all help to minimise the stress of living on site.

1. Plan Ahead

Take time to think about cooking facilities, heating, your space requirements, bathroom facilities and the like so that the whole process runs smoothly. It is easy to just jump into on-site living hoping things will just work out, but this is a sure-fire way to increase stress levels.

It is also more important than ever to have detailed schedule of works when you are living on site. If you are living in a half built home, working out at which stages during the build you might be without water or power is crucial, as is taking into consideration how you will cope from a heat point of view in the winter months.

2. Have a Retreat

Although you may begin the on-site living experience feeling excited about the prospect of ‘being at one with nature’, this is a feeling that soon subsides when bad weather hits or long delays crop up.

It is important that there is one space that feels like a retreat from the chaos of the building site. If you plan on remaining in a house during renovation or extension, this might mean sectioning off one area of the house from dust and debris for the majority of the project — even having just one room that can be kept clean, tidy and cosy will make all the difference.

If you are building a new home and living in an existing building or caravan on the same site, try and maintain some order around the immediate area of your current ‘home’. This will mean ensuring you have a safe place to park the car and unload the kids/shopping, and making sure your route on site is not blocked by deliveries or other vehicles.

3. Think Outside the Box

If you are building or renovating a house that includes a garage, consider fitting this out as temporary accommodation.

Another popular option is to build a garden room in which to live during your building project. Many are delivered in kit form and after the build can later become an office or teenagers’ den.

If you have any existing outbuildings then it makes sense to explore the possibility of converting these into a temporary home — or at the very least to use them for storing your belongings.

4. Ensure You Have Water and Power

Living on site means you must have your basic needs catered for. Plan your service connections in advance — this means water, electricity and/or gas, waste water and a telephone or internet connection.

5. Put Site Safety First

If you are living on site with children, you will need to be extra vigilant about keeping the site safe. Set out no-go zones. Why not invest in a few junior hi-vis vests and hard hats too? Kids love dressing up — even if it is a ruse to keep them safe.

6. Have a Back-up Plan

Having close family and friends nearby who you can stay with for a night or two while a roof gets put in place, or in particularly bad weather, can be a lifesaver, as can a nearby café or hotel (we were regulars in the local supermarket’s café during our renovation!)

7. Remember On Site Storage

You will need to store all your belongings while the house takes shape. Using outbuildings or a garage can be an option, but you will also need somewhere to store tools and building materials.

Self-storage companies offer a cheaper and more convenient option for those wanting easy access to their belongings than arranging for a removals company to store your things in a warehouse.

Containers range in size (usually from 25 square feet up to 200 square feet) and rates vary so get a few quotes beforehand.

8. Get the Right Insurance

Just because your contractor has Public Liability Insurance, it does not mean you are covered. It won’t cover your property in the event of an accident, fire, flood etc. Nor does it cover stolen property or damage to neighbouring properties. Even in the case of contractors with Contractors All Risks Cover, check out what you are covered for and when this cover ends.

If you are converting, renovating or extending, the existing structure will need to be correctly insured. Most home policies actually exclude alterations and renovations as standard.

Advise your home insurer of the works you are carrying out and see what they can offer, but you will probably need a Site Insurance Policy — a specialist product designed for projects such as this. Alternatively, you might want to consider a 10 Year Structural Warranty.

The kitchen extension with exposed wires and pipes

Trailing wires, acroprops, half-build walls and uneven floor levels all make onsite living a hazardous business

Consider a Caravan

Static caravans allow you to be close to your build whilst keeping your own space, raise capital through the sale of your house, avoid rental fees, and are reasonably child and pet friendly. You do need to have enough space to keep one on site and will have clear it with the planning authority — there is usually no problem providing the caravan remains only during the build. Additionally, you need to think out the access for either an articulated lorry or crane to deliver the caravan, and how you will connect it to the services.

Static caravans are available from a few hundred pounds to £30,000 — generally, you get what you pay for and they need not be cold and running with condensation if you choose carefully. If you plan to be in the caravan for some time, invest in central heating.

Covering the house in dust sheets and exposed brickwork and wires

Living with the mess of walls coming down is disruptive but necessary. When the dust clears you can see the spaces emerge

On Site Living — What to Expect

  • It will be cold — really cold. A lack of fitted windows, doors, proper floors, heating and the like mean that renovation projects are cold. Be prepared with electric heaters and aim to get any work that is likely to reduce the inside temperature further finished during the summer months.
  •  It will be wet. If you are extending or re-roofing then there will be a period of time when the house will not be weathertight.
  •  You can’t have guests. There is no inviting friends over — not even for dinner. People will offer to pop round and you will quickly put them off for fear of revealing the state in which you are living.
  •  Dust and mud gets everywhere. However much you vacuum and clean, and however hard you try to cover things up, dust will sneak in. And if it rains, the dust and dirt turns to mud.
  •  Progress is slower. There are practicalities involved when living on site. You need somewhere to cook, wash up, sleep and sit. Work has to be carried out a way that allows you to still do these things.
  • No water or power. Try to time these episodes so they don’t clash with freezing cold weather.
hallway renovation

Living in a renovation project means fitting day-to-day life around the mess and disruption

Reasons to Live On Site

1. You will save money

The rent you would be paying on temporary accommodation can be used as part of your renovation budget.

2. You learn how the house works

You will see where the house lacks in natural light, which spaces you use most, where you need more storage, natural circulation routes etc — things you could never have known from looking at floorplans alone.

3. You can oversee building work

You can quickly answer builders’ questions, make decisions on the spot and take in deliveries.

4. You can keep things moving

Lulls in activity are less likely to be tolerated when you are living on site.

5. You will learn new skills

There are few things more satisfying than sitting back and admiring a DIY job done well.

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