Renovation: Your Step-by-Step Planner

Renovating an older house can be a great way to work your way up the property ladder. Run-down properties are often a bargain and provide the maximum potential for profit.

Renovations can be risky, especially for first-timers, so it is good to know where you should start and what elements you should prioritise as you move forward with the project.

Follow the steps below for the perfect plan of attack.

Skip to:

  • Current condition assessment   
  • Stop further decay                   
  • Grants/Tax concessions
  • Statutory consents
  • Structural stability
  • Demolition work
  • Dealing with damp
  • Drains
  • Site access
  • Major building work
  • Weathertight
  • Exterior
  • External works
  • First fix
  • Plastering
  • Drying out
  • Fixed flooring
  • Second fix
  • Decorating
  • Final clean
  • Snagging

1. Assess the Building’s Condition

The first port of call is to get a thorough assessment of the building’s current condition. You’ll need a chartered surveyor to undertake a building report which will identify any essential repairs needed. They will also recommend further investigation in the case of:

  • infestation
  • subsidence or heave
  • damp
  • drainage problems

Those renovating their existing home should still consider commissioning a survey or getting in specialists to look into any areas of concern.

The building report will reveal the type of construction used across different parts of the house. This will affect the type and extent of any alterations that can be made and the materials and techniques that are appropriate.

It is also essential to get a measured survey of the building. This is an exact scale drawing of the layout of the building as it is, and is likely to be needed as part of any planning applications.

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

This 1960s home has undergone a substantial renovation to improve its energy efficiency

2. Prevent Further Decay

Any building left empty for more than a few months will start to deteriorate. This may begin with minor dilapidation but if damp gets inside the building through broken windows or slipped tiles, the rate of decay will accelerate rapidly.

An empty property is also a target for vandalism and theft by trespassers.

Protecting the Building

This will usually include securing the site and buildings to prevent trespass, and if at all possible, to make the building weathertight. You can board up windows and doors either with sheets of ply, or in more susceptible areas, by using metal shutters (which are available for rent).

If the roof is missing or damaged, it may be covered in waterproof sheets, or in some instances an entirely enclosed scaffold, although the latter is an expensive option.

It is also necessary to take out adequate 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.

Is your Renovation Properly Insured?

An existing home insurance policy may not cover any works undertaken as part of a renovation or extension project, so it’s imperative that you get the right kind of insurance before you start.

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 for Any Grants or Tax Concessions

There are grants available in some instances for restoration and home improvement work, either at a local level via local councils or at national level from Central Government via National Heritage.

There are also VAT concessions such as a reduced rate for dwellings empty for three years or more. It is essential to apply for grants before starting any work to avoid disqualification.

4. Identify Where You Need Consent

As soon as possible, you should identify which works are likely to need statutory consent, like:

  • planning permission
  • building regulations approval
  • listed building consent

Sometimes applications can take several months and this may influence your decision on which works to undertake.

If you want to start work immediately, it will be best to take on projects that do not require planning consent. Even works 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 should also check whether or not your 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.

Homeowner Helen Flavell introduced a Shaker-style kitchen as part of the extensive renovation and extension or her 16th century cottage 

5. Ensure Structural Stability

The next task is to ensure that the building is structurally stable.

This might mean underpinning, or piling work to improve or stabilise any existing foundations, steel ties to stop lateral spread in walls or a roof, or the insertion or steel props, beams or scaffold to 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

Once the structure is stable, it is time to undertake any demolition work and to strip the building back to the part that is to be kept. Waste can be removed by skips, or private individuals can get rid of waste for free at local authority tips.

Anything that can be salvaged and reused should be removed and stored somewhere safe, or sold on to a salvage yard if not required for the project.

If demolition works are extensive, it might be possible to sell the salvage rights 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.

7. Solving Damp

Any building more than 80 years old is likely to have solid walls (as opposed to modern cavity walls).

Such buildings often suffer from damp problems, although in many cases the problems are the result of 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 ventilation
  • changing external ground levels against the building

If there are signs of rising damp, get at least two expert independent opinions, first to ensure that it really is rising damp – there should be signs of hygroscopic salts – and to find a suitable solution.

Often the problem can be solved using non-invasive methods such as:

  • improving ground drainage around the property
  • lowering the external ground level
  • improving ventilation
  • and 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 stage to treat the building if there are signs of infestation.

Many conservationists do not like 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.

The answer is to take a pragmatic approach.

Find out more about diagnosing and dealing with damp 

A tired Spanish-style chalet home is now a New England-style wonder thanks, in part, to the introduction of weatherboard cladding and steep gables to the property’s exterior

8. Check Drains/Service Connections

At this stage it is a good idea to check that the existing drains are in working order. Find the inspection chambers (manholes) and get someone to 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 you are extending, you may have to relocate drains anyway and now is the time to find out. If there is no mains drainage connection, it is also a good idea to inspect the condition of any existing septic tank and soakaways.

9. Plan Site Access

Where a site has restricted access it is a good idea to plan ahead and get any large items or machinery in for landscaping, before access is further obstructed by new building work and stored materials.

10. Major Building Work

Any major building work, such as extensions, can now take place. 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.

Measures should be taken to protect any parts of the existing building that could be vulnerable to damage during the main construction stage of the project, especially in listed buildings.

This previously dark and dated renovated Victorian house is a prime example of what can be achieved on a DIY basis and on a tight budget 

11. Make Weathertight

Once the roof structure is complete and felted and battened, the structure should be made weathertight to keep out the elements and to secure the building.

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.

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

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.

Read more about repairing roofs

12. Shift Focus to the Exterior

Before the scaffold comes down it is time to replace, repair and fix all guttering, and to fix brackets for the downpipes.

It is also an opportunity to undertake any external decoration or staining of external joinery such as fascias and soffits, barge boards and windows, render and timber siding.

13. External Works

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 can start as soon as the roof is covered.

Start to build carcassing for any internal stud walls, add flooring grade chipboard or floorboards to joists, fix ceiling joists where required, build in door linings ready for the plasterers to work to (these are added later for dry-lining), window reveals and cills.

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

Don’t forget to get any large items such as the hot water cylinder into the attic whilst there is still access. At this stage everything that will later be concealed by plaster needs to be installed, such as:

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

Do I Need to Rewire the Property?

In an older property it is a good idea to consider rewiring the entire property and to budget for this, as the 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.

This listed cottage has been made suitable for modern living thanks to a sensitive renovation and extension project

15. Plastering Out/Screed Floors

With first fix complete it is time to re-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 can get everywhere.

Any 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 second to create a neat 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. Leave the Building to Dry Out

Before bringing in any timber products, 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

Opinions differ on whether to lay fixed flooring such as flagstones, ceramic tiles and solid wooden floors before kitchen and other fitted furniture and sanitaryware.

H&R’s view is that it is best to lay the floors from edge to edge of each room and to fix kitchen units, fitted furniture and sanitaryware on top as it avoids many problems later and leaves flexibility for the future.

This sort of flooring will certainly need to be laid before skirting and architrave can be fixed in place, as it will need to run underneath.

18. Second Fix

Time 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/Tiling/Wooden Floors/Carpets

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.

It is also time to get the tiling done in the kitchen and bathrooms, having left space for this behind sinks.

Depending on design, any 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. Final Clean/Move in

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 with the work 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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