What’s it like living in a renovation?

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When you think of renovating, you don't often think of how many different approaches to renovating there are. At the extreme, a house will remain vacant and get completely gutted and then a big team of contractors gets sent in to do the whole job.

However when we did our 1930s house renovation we didn't have the luxury of being able to rent or stay in another property when the main parts of the renovation were being done. You might be reading this being in exactly the same situation. For budget (and sanity!) reasons, our approach to renovating our 1930s house was to take it slow and steady, working in phases.

Here we explore just a few of the things that you can expect if you’re choosing to live in your property whilst it’s being renovated.

1. The noise is real

You might want to say goodbye to some of those video call meetings or at least have an alternative planned.


During our bathroom renovation it was at a time when I was spending a lot of time working from home (coincidentally because my work office was also being renovated). It felt like the world was being renovated and I was getting in the way! Two full days of hammer drilling forced me, my laptop and an extension lead to the bottom of our garden…

I got it easy though in comparison, Fi had to deal with much worse WFH during our entire kitchen renovation which went on for months. Needless to say, ear plugs/defenders are a must.

2. Be ready for questions to be thrown at you

One of the reasons our renovation course exists is to get a first time renovator answers to questions that they didn’t even know they needed answering. When you’re living in a renovation, you’ll be on hand to give answers to questions, and the more answers you have pre-prepared the better.

“How high do you want it?”

3. The distractions are relentless

If you have contractors in the house, you might think you’re simply able to close the door on all that noise and get on with your daily business, that assumption would be very wrong.

Actually the interruptions are incessant, you become a tea maker (you can try and you use the line “help yourself to tea”), you become a soundboard for issues (especially when it means more cost) and you can pretty much become part of the team.

Being desk monkeys, the one thing we always noticed is that all of this kerfuffle makes it much harder to get into a ‘flow state’, this pretty much goes away whilst you have contractors in. Even if your contractor is quite independent, there’s always something in the back of your mind that doesn’t allow you to fully relax.

5. You’re able to drive the process

Something that we encourage within our renovation course is the concept that with the right process and preparation you can drive this yourself - and this is much easier when you are around 24/7.

There are of course larger projects that might need some external project management help with, especially those where the whole house is being renovated all at once. But you still hold the keys (and wallet) to the renovation project and the decision making process.

The best part of living in a renovation is being able to spot things that are about to go wrong, preventing costly mistakes. It’s also about being a motivating force and creating a constant feedback loop with your contractors.

Although it’s easy to start seeing contractors as invincible working machines, you’ve got to show ‘em love as they’ll get motivated by compliments - if you think they’ve done a good job, then let them know! Who knows, your encouragement might also get your job done faster…


4. You have to think on your feet

During a standard renovation day with a contractor in your home, you’ll possibly have a few issues that are thrown your way which mean that your initial plan doesn’t quite work. These issues vary in severity from minor inconvenience to horrifically costly/compromising. As soon as you start unpicking the walls, floors and ceilings things are uncovered that could mean that you need to solve a new problem. 

Any good contractor is there to solve the problem for you by firstly coming up with solutions, but ultimately you are the decision maker and you are going to need to think on the fly about things like affordability, the finish, and different supplies (to those that were originally planned).

Coming to the table with solutions yourself is also welcomed.

6. You have to serve up a shit sandwich

As we teach our students in our renovation course, when things aren’t going well, you’re going to be around to tell them. This can be stressful, especially when you’re working with strong personalities that are sometimes found in the trades.

The best way you can manage the situation is by learning the classic s*it sandwich. Start by finding something you did like, give them a positive, then give them the bad news, and finally finish off by a finding another thing you love to give them a pep up after you just knocked their confidence 😬.

7. Let’s play house jenga

You are going to get sick of moving your shit around. You better get used to it pretty quickly because it’s going to be your life for the foreseeable. Piles of clothes on beds, piles of junk, piles of boxes, piles of piles of stuff on top of piles. Much of your time will be spent hunting around for something within a pile of something. We prioritised boarding our loft so that we could have more space to store piles of stuff. 😃


8. The dust, oh, the dust

When you start a renovation, you begin by sweeping, vacuuming and wiping down in an attempt to keep on top of the madness and regain your sanity. There comes a point where you realise that this is futile. The best thing you can do is have a couple of rooms as your “clean zones” and a strict no shoes policy.

9. You need a break by renovating in phases

It can be tempting to go hell for leather to “get it done”, especially if you have a large budget. If you’re planning on living in your renovation though, we encourage you to explore a slightly different mindset, especially if budgets are tight. 

If you renovate in the same way as we did, over a few years, life will come in periods of madness then calm. We really enjoyed being able to really think hard about what we wanted, we even planned in holidays to ensure we retain some level of normality. And finally we decided to take a year off from renovating to go on a trip of a lifetime to South America.

Apparently, renovating can lead to wanting to spend time with these furry people in Peru:


Some final pearls of wisdom!

Living in a renovation can seem scary, but when you have no choice then it’s important to focus on the positives. Our community find that having a step-by-step process and a bunch of friendly folk all doing the same thing brings motivation, encouragement and most of all structure, when it literally feels like the walls are falling down around you.

We hope to see you on one of our next enrolments of our How to Renovate a house online course! Start with our free 3 day email series A Survivor’s Guide to Renovating for tons of tips on how to renovate the right way:

👉 Tips on budgeting, getting trustworthy contractors & delivering on time

👉 A step by step method to follow

👉 Confidence to do things right; don't regret wasting money!