A house renovation remains a viable and popular way to work your way up the property ladder. Of course this type of project is not only a good way to increase your bank balance, sometimes, buying a wreck to renovate is the only way to afford a house of the size and style you want in a certain area.

House renovation projects are also ideal for those after a property with plenty of character and original features.

Due to the nature of old houses, no house renovation project is the same, but there are certain stages that all renovators will come across and having a good idea of what to expect when and the best order to carry out house renovation work will help the project run smoothly.

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1. Assess the Current Condition of Your House Renovation

It is possible to get a good idea of the condition of a house before you have actually completed on the purchase. Employ the services of a chartered surveyor to carry out a building report. This report should flag up any areas of concern and forewarn you of any essential repairs needed — allowing you to get a better idea of what you will be spending on the project.

A surveyor will recommend further investigations are carried out if they suspect or detect:

  • infestation
  • subsidence or heave
  • damp
  • drainage problems

A building report will ascertain the construction methods that have been used in the house (sometimes these vary if the house has been extended over the years.) This information can then be used in the house renovation to check that any new materials and techniques used are appropriate — this knowledge allows you to plan more effectively.

Another pre-house renovation essential is to get a measured survey. This will give you a precise scale drawing of the layout of the existing building. If you plan on making a planning application as part of your house renovation, this is likely to be required.

You can find a surveyor via the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

2. Make the House Watertight

Occasionally house renovations will have stood empty for many years, in which case signs of deterioration will be obvious — broken windows, a defective roof, rot and damp being amongst the most common problems.

But occupied renovation projects can suffer from the same problems — deceased estates and those that have been generally unloved over the years will both often show signs of neglect and your priority needs to be to stop this deterioration before it gets any worse — boarding up windows and doors and covering leaking roofs quickly.

At this stage it is important to take out suitable buildings and public liability insurance cover to protect against accidental damage through fire, storm or flood etc, or legal action from a trespasser who suffers injury.

House Renovation and Insurance

It’s crucial that you get the right kind of insurance before you start any renovation work.

To help renovators secure peace of mind, Homebuilding & Renovating has partnered with Self Build Zone to provide bespoke insurance solutions at market-leading rates.

Get a quote now to protect your renovation

3. Check Your Eligibility for Grants and Tax Concessions

Whilst going through your budget, don’t forget to check whether you are eligible for any grants that might apply to the house renovation work you are carrying out. It is important that you apply for grants before starting work. Check with your local council and also at national level from Central Government via National Heritage.

In terms of VAT concessions, reduced rates may be offered on residential buildings that have been empty for two or more years. You can find more on this in VAT Notice 708

4. Check Which Consents Apply to Your House Renovation

Listed cottage with render

If your property is listed you will require listed building consent before work begins. Image: Jeremy Phillips.

There are several consents and approvals you will need to consider before starting work on your house renovation, including:

To avoid delays associated with gaining these various consents, it is wise to begin your schedule of works with those projects that do not require planning consent.

Remember, even those jobs that require building regulations approval can be started following 24 hours’ notice of the intention to comply, made to the local authority building control department.

If you are building near the boundary you need to check whether or not this work is affected by the Party Wall Act. It is also wise to get your solicitor to check your title deeds or lease, for any restrictions to development of the property.

(MORE: Building Regulations)

5. Check for Structural Stability

Structural problems in house renovations have to be identified as early on in the project as possible — not only are they dangerous, particularly if you are living on site, but they will cause further damage to more sound areas of the house too.

In the case of subsidence, underpinning, or piling work to the existing foundations, might be suggested as an option. Should lateral spread in the walls and roof be identified, steel ties might be needed. In extremely unstable house renovations, the insertion of steel props, beams or scaffold will prevent further collapse.

Do You Have Water and Power?

It may also be necessary to make sure that there is a supply of water – if there was one it may have been disconnected – and electricity for power tools, possibly using a temporary meter box depending upon the condition of any existing wiring.

6. Demolition Work Begins

Demolition underway

When demolishing sections of a period property, aim to salvage any sound building materials — can can either reuse them or sell them to a reclamation yard

Once the structure is stable, demolition work can begin and any areas of your house renovation which need to be stripped away can be removed. Waste can be removed in skips. Private individuals can get rid of most waste for free at local authority tips, although asbestos will need to be dealt with separately.

A house renovation often involves certain elements which can be salvaged and reused. These items should be removed and stored somewhere safe, or sold on to a salvage yard.

Sometimes it is possible to sell the salvage rights of large-scale demolition projects in which case some of the removal work may be undertaken by the reclamation yard — saving time and effort and potentially raising some cash, too.

(MORE: How to get rid of rubble)

7. Checking for Damp in House Renovations

It is more common than not to find signs of a damp problem in renovation projects — active, historical or both.

Any building more than 80 years old is likely to have solid walls (as opposed to modern cavity walls) and such buildings often suffer from damp problems. Very often the damp will have been caused by inappropriate modern alterations such as:

  • replacing lime with cement in pointing or render
  • painting using modern impermeable products
  • replacing suspended timber floors with concrete
  • reducing or covering up ventilation
  • changing external ground levels against the building
Farmhouse living room with inglenook

Signs of damp are to be expected in period properties, as are timber infestations in old beams — both are easy to rectify once the cause has been established. Image: Simon Maxwell

There are several types of damp, although the most common two are rising damp and penetrating damp. It is wise to get an expert opinion on what type of damp you are dealing with in your house renovation — each will need to be treated differently.

Rising damp solutions include:

  • improving ground drainage around the property
  • lowering the external ground level
  • improving ventilation
  • even just getting the heating back on

Penetrating damp problems in walls and ceilings can usually be resolved by repairing the building’s fabric, such as:

  • repointing brickwork with lime mortar
  • repairing lime render or missing hung tiles
  • fixing the roof
  • repairing lead flashings and valleys, guttering and doors and windows

Avoid invasive solutions that will damage the building’s fabric and replace like with like wherever possible and practical.

This is also the right time in a house renovation to treat any signs of infestation such as rot and woodworm.

Many conservationists frown upon spraying chemicals in buildings to treat rot and woodworm, as these problems should resolve themselves in a few months once damp problems are fixed and the building is heated. However, not everyone is willing to wait or take any risks, and lenders often insist on chemical treatments as a condition of their loan.

8. Check Drains and Service Connections

Now is the time to check that the existing drains are in working order. Locate the inspection chambers (manholes) and pour different colour food dye down the loos and sinks to find out what is connected to where and whether any drains have collapsed and need digging up.

If carrying out a house extension, you may have to relocate drains anyway and now is the time to find out. If there is no mains drainage connection, inspect the condition of any existing septic tank and soakaways.

9. Site Access Planning

If your project is located on a site with restricted access it is a good idea to plan ahead and get any large items or machinery in for landscaping on to the plot, before access is further obstructed by new building work and stored materials.

10. Building Work Gets Underway

Renovation project in progress

Once building work begins, keep the site tidy and, if living in the house, try to seal off a couple of areas to escape to at the end of the day. Image: Jeremy Phillips

The bulk of the building work, such as extension work, can now begin. All new work must comply with the Building Regulations. As of January 2006, new building regulations applications for extensions have to include proposals to upgrade the thermal performance of the existing part of the house.

If living in the house renovation, seal off the occupied spaces at the same time as protecting any parts of the existing building that could be damaged during the main construction stage of the project, especially in listed buildings.

11. Make Your House Renovation Weathertight

Roof construction

With the new roof in place and felted, the house can be made weathertight. Image: Jeremy Phillips

Once the roof structure has been built, felted and battened, the entire structure should be made weathertight to keep out the elements and to secure the building.

Whilst the scaffold, is up check that any chimney stacks and pots are stable and clear, put on bird guards, and to repair lead flashings around the chimneys, in valleys, on hips, dormers and any abutments.

If any new parts of the roof intersect with the old, it is always preferable to match the existing/original roof covering either by buying reclaimed tiles/slates or by replacing one plane of the roof at the back and using the salvaged tiles/slates at the front.

Doors and windows can also now be installed and glazed. Where doors and windows are not yet on site, the openings should be covered in plastic sheets or even better — boarded up.

Period leaded light windows

New doors and windows can be installed and glazed once the roof is on — the quicker the building can be made weathertight, the better. Image: Darren Chung

12. Make Good External Details

Whilst the scaffold is still up, replace, repair and fix all guttering, and fix brackets for the downpipes.

The is also the ideal time to carry out external decoration of external joinery such as fascias and soffits, barge boards and windows, render and timber siding.

13. Connect Drains

Once the scaffold is down, it is time to connect up the external drains to the sewer or septic tank. Some prefer to undertake this work at the groundworks stage, but this leaves the drains vulnerable to damage during building work — especially if they are exposed in the trenches around the building before backfilling.

Landscaping work to form the drive, paths, beds and lawns can be undertaken at almost any point in the project, providing it can be protected from damage by the building work. Most people wait until they are ready to move in.

Do not lay the final drive finish until all heavy vehicles and skips have finally left site.

14. First Fix Internal Work

Once the house renovation has a roof on, internal works can begin.

Internal stud wall frames can be built, flooring grade chipboard or floorboards can be fixed to joists, and ceiling joists can be added where required.

Door linings can now be fitted ready for the plasterers to work to (these are added later for dry-lining), and window reveals and cills can also be inserted.

Electrician fitting a socket

When the house is weathertight, internal works such as first fix wiring and carpentry can begin. Image: Jeremy Phillips

Once the first fix carpentry (including new staircases) is complete, new first fix wiring and plumbing work can be undertaken, including soil pipes and drainage connections.

At this stage everything that will later be concealed by plaster needs to be installed, such as:

  • ventilation ducts
  • hot water cylinder
  • extract ducts
  • wiring for central heating controls
  • alarms
  • speakers or any other home automation equipment.

Will Your House Renovation Need Rewiring?

Unless your house renovation has seen any recent modernisation work, there is a good chance a complete rewire will be required — an electrician will be able to tell you straight away, but tell-tale signs include Bakelite switches and old fabric covered flex.

Building Regulations now require all wiring to meet the current regulations and electricians will insist on this in order to be able to certify their work.

15. Plastering Walls and Screeding Floors

Plastering in progress

Plastering is a messy job so cover up any joinery that has been put into place — the plasterers will need access to water too. Image: Jeremy Phillips

With first fix complete it is time to plaster, apply plasterboard/dry-lining to ceilings and any stud walls (tacking), and to repair any damaged plasterwork/mouldings.

In an older building, avoid using modern metal angle beads around arises, unless you want crisp clean lines: instead use timber beads.

Make sure you protect the stairs and any other vulnerable features while the plasterers are in, as it is a messy job.

New floor screeds for the ground floor will be laid at this point, usually after plastering to help keep it clean, but some like to screed and then plaster in order to create a neater joint between plaster and floor.

If you are laying underfloor heating, the pipes or cable elements will usually be laid after plastering, so that the manifolds can be fixed in place, but before screeding so that the pipes and elements are covered.

16. Drying Out Time

Before bringing in any timber products (such as flooring etc.), the plaster and any new screed needs to be allowed to thoroughly dry out.

Depending on the time of year this will take from two to six weeks — the longer it can be left, the less the danger of moisture causing problems with second fix joinery and especially wooden floors.

If time is of the essence, go for drylining instead of hard plaster and for suspended timber floors instead of concrete.

17. Lay Fixed Flooring

New kitchen with stone flooring and roof lantern

Hard flooring, such as flagstones, tiles and wooden floors, are best laid before the kitchens and bathrooms or any other fitted furniture. Image: Tile Mountain

Whilst some people choose to lay fixed flooring such as flagstones, ceramic tiles and solid wooden floors after fitting the kitchen, sanitary ware and built-in furniture, there are several reasons why this is not a good idea.

Laying these floors from edge to edge of each room beforehand avoids many problems later in terms of uneven edges and also leaves flexibility to change these items in further down the line.

Hard floor such as this will need to be laid before skirting and architrave can be fixed in place, as it will need to run underneath.

18. Second Fix Work

You have reached the point in your house renovation to:

  • Connect the consumer unit and fit all light fittings, sockets, switches, phone and TV points and the extractor hood
  • Hang all doors and fix skirting, architrave, spindles and handrails
  • Install the bathroom fittings and connect the taps
  • Install the boiler and controls, and fit radiators
  • Fit the kitchen and complete any fitted furniture
  • Box in any pipes or soil stacks ready for the decorators
  • It is also time for the plumber and electrician to commission the heating system

19. Decorating and Finishing Your House Renovation

New bathroom with glass shower enclosure

With tiling complete, shower enclosures can be fitted, along with soft floor coverings, such as vinyl. Image: Simon Maxwell

Painting and staining should only begin once all second fix work and preparation is complete to ensure the building is clean and dust free — otherwise it will be impossible to get a good finish.

Kitchen and bathroom wall tiling can now be carried out.

Shower enclosures and doors can be fitted once tiling is complete. Finally, once decorating is complete, any soft floor coverings, such as vinyl and carpet can be laid and the white goods such as the oven, hob, fridge and washing machine can be fitted.

20. Moving Into Your House Renovation

The building is ready to move into, but before doing so it is a good idea to have a final clean throughout.

It is also time to fix curtains and blinds.

21. Snagging

Small problems will inevitably crop up over the ensuing months.

Fix these problems as they arise, or, if you used tradesmen, ask them back, although expect to have to pay them for defects that are not their fault, such as plaster cracks.

If you used a main contractor, you may have held back a retention of 2.5-5% on the final payment. This sum is released once they have returned and resolved any defects.

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