Home renovations

Undertaking a renovation project can take time and effort. However, the more planning you do before starting the project, the better your chances of being happy with the work in the end.

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Types of home renovations

Lifestyle renovations help you meet your changing needs, like building a sunroom for pleasure, or converting unused attic space into a guest bedroom.

Retrofit projects focus on your home's shell or mechanical systems, like upgrading your insulation, replacing your furnace or putting on new siding.

Maintenance and repair renovations help keep your house comfortable and in good working order, like caulking windows or reshingling your roof.

Planning your home renovation

Take steps to prepare well for your home renovation:

  • Understand your own abilities and the amount of time that you can spend on the project. This will help you decide what kind of professional help you should look for, ranging from a general contractor who will take charge of the project from beginning to end, to a one-person, local construction company.
  • Write a detailed list of the things that you want to achieve. If you change your mind midway through the project, the costs will also change.
  • Verify with your municipal building inspection department to find out which permits you'll need before you start work—this is not your contractor's responsibility unless that is spelled out in your contract.
  • Check which inspections you'll have to arrange part way through or when the project is finished.
  • Contact your insurance company to discuss any extra insurance coverage required for the renovation that may add to your final cost.

Visit the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Planning, Design, and Budget page for tools to help plan your home renovation.

Choosing a contractor for your renovation

It's a good idea to meet at least three potential contractors and compare their quotes for the work.

You should ask potential contractors about:

  • similar projects they have handled
  • the time required for the job
  • the stages of progress
  • permit and inspection requirements
  • whether any subcontractors will be involved
  • any liability insurance or worker's compensation that may be required
  • a list of suppliers who specialize in renovation work

Most tradespeople need to be certified (e.g., plumbers, electricians, etc.).

  • Make sure the person or company you hire is certified.
  • Ask for references from recent clients and check them.
  • Check with your local Better Business Bureau or business association to see whether any complaints have been filed against any firm that you are thinking of hiring.
  • Consult with the Canadian Home Builders' Association is your area.
    • They follow RenoMark, a renovator and trade contractor program that requires members to agree to, and abide by, a renovation-specific Code of Conduct, provide a warranty on their work and always provide clients with a proper contract.

Review all the quotes carefully. Make sure potential contractors provide estimates using the same specifications so that they can be compared effectively. Check that the estimates include:

  • all costs, including labour and extra charges
  • applicable taxes
  • an outline your project
  • at least a partial cost breakdown

For more information on hiring a contractor, visit the Get It in Writing! website.

Home renovation contract

Once you choose the contractor, don't sign a contract until you have fully reviewed it, are satisfied with all the terms and are sure they can meet your needs. The more details that are contained in the contract, the less room there is for error.

The contract should include the following information:

  • the type and amount of work to be done
  • who is to complete the work (including a list of any subcontractors and who is responsible for their payment and when)
  • who is responsible for ordering and paying for materials
  • who is responsible for permits
  • the total cost of the project
  • a payment schedule
  • percentage of deposit required
  • how and when the remainder will be paid
  • taxes
  • the start date and date of completion
  • who is responsible for the clean-up afterwards
  • the Business or GST/HST number of the contractor
  • the name and address of the contractor and your name and address

Get the contractor to list specific information about products, manufacturers, size and colour of materials and equipment to be installed. It's a best practice to include product numbers for items such as carpeting, tile, countertops and hardwood floors, for example.

Never allow work to proceed until you have fully reviewed, understood, agreed to and signed the contract.

Contract for major home renovation projects

On major projects, it is a best practice to break down the work into phases. If additional jobs are added along the way, make sure the original contract is clearly amended. Include a list of the sections of work to be done and their completion dates.

Keep the number of payments to a minimum and check on construction liens legislation in your province or territory. The law may require you to hold back a percentage of the payment until the date when the major work is finished. You'll be asked to sign a completion certificate. Don't sign it until the work is finished and you're satisfied with it. Check with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office to see what is required where you live.

Visit the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contracts page for more tips and information on signing contracts.

Eco-friendly considerations for home renovations

Heating can count for more than half the energy cost of running your house. According to CMHC, more than 17 percent of the energy consumed in Canada is used in this way. Making energy-saving renovations can offer big savings in the long run.

If you wish to include eco-friendly products in your home renovation, make sure to include this request in your plan, and inform potential contractors.

Visit the CMHC Developing Sustainable Housing page for information on energy-efficient home renovations.

Don't risk your home to save money on renovations

For most Canadians, their home is their single-biggest investment. Paying cash to get a lower price for a renovation job is not a better deal—it can be disastrous if something goes wrong. If you pay cash in exchange for a cheaper, tax-free price, you have no warranty and no recourse for poor workmanship. You'll face the added risk of liability if an accident or an injury takes place on your property. If there's an incident and you have no contract, your homeowners' insurance may not protect you.

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