We are 5 months into our 7 month home renovation. Yes, we're ready and anxious to get back into our own house. We're pleased with how things are going and happy to be on schedule and mostly on budget.

It is pretty amazing how many different people and companies it takes to build a house. We counted up all the people and companies who have worked on the house over the last five months. We stopped counting at 250. No wonder every time I go over there I find a dozen people working, most of whom don't even seem to know each other! Just consider the people working on the outside of the house. You have the general contractor's crew doing the framing, you have the siding folks, the stone folks, the soffit folks, the rain gutter folks, the roofers, the electricians, the painters, the concrete dudes, the window makers/installers, the front door makers/installers, and the garage door makers/installers. Inside is even more complex. No wonder it costs so much money! Look how many people we're providing work for!

Be Your Own GC? Are You Kidding?

Having been through most of this project, I am flabbergasted that anybody ever chooses to be their own general contractor. We are overwhelmed just picking out door handles and faucets and choosing siding patterns and light switch placements. I cannot possibly imagine having to coordinate this 250 piece orchestra at all, much less while holding down a job or two and trying to raise some kids. Imagine how much better someone who has done it dozens of times is going to do it than you are. Imagine how much mistakes from your ignorance will cost you in time and money! Imagine how much more willing subcontractors are to provide a discount, do the little extras, complete the task properly, and prioritize your project over their other jobs when their work is being checked by a competent general contractor who is likely to bring them large quantities of additional future work.

The Critical Pathway

Our contractor likes to talk about “the critical pathway.” This pathway includes all the essential items that must be hit in the right order to stay on schedule. Think of it like the rate-limiting step from your days in chemistry lab. Some things simply have to be completed before other things can be done, and when you are coordinating the work schedules of 250 other people, staying on the pathway is very important if you ever want to finish. The framing must be done before the wiring and HVAC ducting and gas, water, and sewer lines. The windows and insulation have to be put in before you turn on the heat so the concrete cures properly. Speakers and can lights before drywall. Chandeliers after drywall. The drywall has to be done before you can paint. Cabinets must be built and installed before countertops are put in. Doors have to be put in before door handles are installed. You want to install appliances before the new front door so it doesn't get scratched up. Tile and hardwood before paint and paint before carpet. You have to cover the hardwood and tile once installed to prevent damage to it from the other work. Tubs before tile before cabinets, before toilets before sinks before faucets. Now our project is obviously a large one, but I didn't even know what the proper order would be for the remodel of a single room.

All at Once, or Piece by Piece?

Selling a home renovation to somebody has got to be a pretty funny job. What tips someone into finally buying it varies by the person. My contractor claims it was the fire pole that finally tipped me into getting Katie the kitchen she wants. Maybe he's right. My biggest hesitation to doing the job wasn't even the money (although it took a few months to get over the sticker shock). It was the hassle of either living through it or moving out and then back in. It would have been impossible to get everything done that we wanted done in the time frame we wanted it done in if we had stayed in the house. Luckily, we had a neighbor who rented a nearby house to us at a very fair price. This helped us to minimize the disruption to the lives of our children and allowed us to stay close by to observe what was going on. I suspect most people would not have that option.

The workers are enjoying the view

So how do you decide whether to do a big project all at once or piece by piece? Let's say you want to remodel your kitchen and bathrooms and build on an addition. You can either do the project bit by bit while living in the house, or you can move out and pound it all out at once. Let's go over the Pros/Cons of both approaches.

Pros of the Piece by Piece Model

  • Easier to pay cash as you go, delaying each step until you have the money
  • You can get started sooner
  • You learn from the prior projects and avoid making the same mistakes
  • Easier to personally contribute to or manage a smaller project
  • You get to enjoy the experience of something new in the house multiple times
  • You save the money you would spend moving and renting if you moved out
  • You save the time and hassle of moving and setting up a new household
  • You only pay utilities for one location
  • Less decision fatigue

Pros of the All at Once Model

  • The total project is done sooner
  • If borrowing to pay for it, you only need to get one loan
  • You don't have to live through the noise, temperature variations, and smells of construction
  • Less risk of getting hurt while living in a construction zone
  • Less risk of theft from workers (none of your stuff is in the house while they're working)
  • Less risk of theft from non-workers (harder to secure a house well with walls, doors, and windows missing)
  • Less moving stuff from room to room
  • No cooking all summer using only the microwave in the garage and the grill out back
  • No trips to the laundromat
  • More privacy
  • You gain efficiencies and cost savings (less time and money to drywall or carpet three rooms at once than one room at a time three times over years)
  • You don't have to redo anything or remove something that was already done
  • You don't bang up walls or floors or doors or paint from the first project while doing the second one
  • More uniform finished look
  • Better contractors and subcontractors who preferentially take larger jobs for their own efficiency

Overall, we're definitely glad we went for the all at once model and are looking forward to getting back home soon.

What do you think? What was your renovation like? Have you tried to be your own GC? What happened? Have you lived through a big renovation? Did you wish you had moved out? Comment below!