Heritage Restoration, Inc.

7 Common Mistakes Homeowners Can Make

Some recent emails have prompted me to revisit how to get work done on you house.


Buildings need maintenance.  People want change.  That’s how it starts at least.  I recently wrote about picking a contractor, although that is just one part of a successful project.  It is a lot of work to prepare and execute a project, but it is well worth the effort since it can save you from paying twice for the same job.  People seem to have trust issues with the construction industry, but it does not have to be that way.  Take the guesswork out.  Plan.  Understand.  Be realistic.  The key to avoiding mistakes or costly overruns by exhaustive planning as well as professional, organized execution.


1.  Understand Building Needs

Complete a thorough building investigation prior to development of a scope of work or receiving quotes from contractors.  An independent report can benefit homeowners and perspective bidders alike.

  • Complete a Building Assessment
  • Balance Need vs. Want
  • Develop a common scope for fair bidding.

2. Pre-Construction Budgets


Pre-Construction budgets enable the homeowner to know how much they have to spend.  A budget may be shared during the pre-bid phase can help contractors understand how to limit renovations or develop suggestions to help keep costs down.

  • Do your research.  Look at trade magazines, on-line resources, etc, to assist in knowing how much a project may cost.  Do not rely on contractor bids alone.
  • Include 15-20% contingency above the disclosed budget for unforeseen items.


3.  Choosing a Contractor

See the January 29th Column for the full version:

  • Trust
  • Qualifications to complete the work at hand.
  • Communication, organization and structure.
  • Reference check.
  • Registration and Licensing.
  • Ability to develop the right budget, including what is known, and what is not.
  • Make no assumptions in scope.
  • Get involved in the process.

4.  Over Improvement

All buildings are different, even when the look the same.  Every building has a unique environment, building technique and reaction to years of weathering, use and alterations.  While the goal may be to improve the efficiency and operation of a building, some buildings may not react well to major changes.  Be sure options to alter a building are properly vetted and consider all complications and long-term effects.



5. Improper Retrofits

Like Over Improvement, improper retrofits are a common cause of future headaches.  Retrofitting existing buildings with new elements can change the way a building ages or the way a building “sits”.  Again, verify changes with several professionals and ensure all contingencies, current and future, are considered.



6. Invest in Quality Skills and Materials

Why do buildings last?  Most historic buildings still exist today from good craftsmanship and the use of high quality materials.  Buildings built poorly or used low quality materials are no longer here, or will always have significant issues.  Materials costs may be only about 20% of the total project cost, so upgrading to quality materials may reflect little of the overall project costs.  Select a contractor where their qualifications, professionalism and quality of work are considered in par with cost.  It is much cheaper to do a project once.


7.  It Does Not Have To Be You

Part One. “I am not qualified to do this”.   A registered and insured professional comes with a mandated 1-year warrantee.  Experience takes time, some say 4 years, 10,000 hours, or a lifetime.  Work completed by a homeowner should consider not only the skills involved, but must be realistic in the time it takes to complete it.  If you require additional skills, ask the contractor to give you a lesson, or attend local workshop to hone your skills.


Part Two.  “It Does Not Have To Be Me”.  Understanding a building’s life cycle, new or old, is vital.  A building has several aspects to a lifecycle, and there are projects that can be differed to another time.  Don’t do it on the cheap just to get it done.  Do it right or not at all.  Sometimes technology or techniques improve, making future work more efficient than today’s options. Or making something functional is better than replacement.

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