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  • Virginia Tolles

Renovations Aren't as Easy as They Seem on TV

Updated: Jul 18


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A friend and her husband are remodeling their kitchen. It is proving to be no easy task, for it turns out that the house, which was built in the early 1940s, is constructed of cinder blocks. Possibly, that was due to the shortage of lumber during World War II. In any case, that is slowing the project immeasurably.


To begin, trenches must be drilled through the cinder blocks in order to re-route wiring. The wiring must be moved to accommodate the new base cabinets. It seems that the old, stick-built cabinets were too low to accommodate a built-in dishwasher, and the new factory-built ones are taller than the wall sockets. The problems don't end there!


It seems that the floor is not level. As a result, the level base cabinets would be higher at the low side of the room than my friend's stove! She can't lower the cabinets, nor can she raise the stove. Essentially, her only option is to move the stove to another wall. Now, she must buy a cabinet to fit between the stove and the existing refrigerator, as well as cabinets to fill in where the stove was going to be. Can you see the dollars mounting?


Such is the nature of renovation projects. The older the property, the more it becomes the nature of renovation projects. Back in the day, for example, 2x4s really were 2 inches by 4 inches. Today, they are 1-3/4 inches by 3-3/4 inches. That can make a very big difference when working within existing structures. In my friend's case, framing for a new window had to be done using 2x6s! The larger the lumber, the higher the cost.


So, before you decide to rip out those 1950s cabinets, do a little thinking outside the box. If the cabinets are sturdy -- as those stick-built ones invariably were -- consider refacing them with more stylish doors and trim mouldings. If you really must rip it all out and start over, follow a few cost-saving and time-saving steps:


* Get a set of plans for the house from the jurisdiction that approved the plans when the house was built. They will tell you exactly how the house was built and with what materials.

* Bring in a licensed and bonded contractor to check for such things as sloping floors, clogged or galvanized pipes, wiring and electrical panels that are not up to code, and other issues that will affect time and costs.

* Know up front that hidden problems will come to light. Plan for them mentally, emotionally, and financially.


Follow these tips, and you will know what you are dealing with and how much money to budget from the outset. There is nothing more heartbreaking than a very expensive, unexpected surprise.


UPDATE: Remember the tip about hiring a contractor? That proved to be the answer to my friends' prayers. He knew an easy way to level the floor. Now, the stove can stay where my friends want it, and the renovation continues according to plan.


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Read about the lumber shortage in World War II: https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4333&context=etd

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