- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 24 Jan 2019
See also: Self-build home: project plan.
The term ‘renovation’ refers to the process of returning something to a good state of repair. In the construction industry, renovation refers to the process of improving or modernising an old, damaged or defective building. This is as opposed to 'retrofitting' which is providing something with a component or feature not originally fitted, or 'refurbishment' which is a process of improvement by cleaning, decorating, or re-equipping.
According to Approved document L of the building regulations, 'major renovation' means '...the renovation of a building where more than 25% of the surface area of the building envelope undergoes renovation'.
It is common for people to purchase run-down properties, often houses, and renovating them as a means of increasing their value. Typically, renovation work is categorised as ‘cosmetic’ or ‘structural’.
Structural renovation might include:
- Loft conversions.
- Construction of a basement.
- Redesign of floor plans.
- Re-wiring, re-plumbing, and so on.
Cosmetic renovation might include:
- Painting and other forms of decoration and minor repairs.
- Updating fixtures and fittings.
- Light landscaping
 Renovation process
Online search engines are the easiest way of finding suitable properties, although it should be borne in mind that agents may not be aware of the true potential of some properties.
Properties may also be found by word of mouth, or simply by keeping your eyes open when passing buildings.
Very often, renovation projects are sold at auction, go to sealed bids, or are settled on best or final offers. Understanding these processes is integral to becoming the successful bidder.
For more information, see Bidding for renovation works.
If the renovation is to be more cosmetic, high street lenders may be the best option in terms of acquiring a loan. If more structural work is required, i.e. to make the property habitable, then financing may require a specialist lender. There are several lenders that offer renovation-specific mortgages with only small cash deposits required. They are often stage payment mortgages meaning that funds are released at various milestones during the project delivery.
- Surveys and valuation fees.
- Property acquisition costs (including stamp duty land tax).
- Finance costs.
- Legal costs.
- Travel costs.
- Security and storage.
- Reconnection to utilities.
- Professional fees such as project managers, structural engineers, architects, and so on.
- Building regulations approval.
- Planning permission.
- Furniture, fittings and equipment.
- Contingency fund in case of unexpected circumstances.
It is important to get a detailed assessment of the condition of the building. A chartered surveyor can be commissioned to provide a building report identifying essential repairs or further investigation that is needed. This will also help identify the type of construction used throughout the structure which can provide a steer in terms of appropriate redesign and construction techniques.
A building will start deteriorating if it is left empty for more than a few months. This can rapidly accelerate if damp gets inside due to broken windows, slipped tiles, and so on. An empty property may also be susceptible to vandalism, trespassing and theft.
It is important therefore that a property is secured and made weathertight before work begins. Metal shutters can be rented, or sheets of plywood used to board up windows and doors. Waterproof sheets can be used to secure missing or damaged roof sections.
While some aspects of the project, such as a garage or loft conversion may fall within the allowances made under Permitted Development Rights, it is necessary to consider which aspects of the proposed renovation might require planning permission. In addition, building regulations approval may be required for anything other than minor cosmetic works. Other permissions may also be required, such as listed building consent, conservation area consent, landlord approval, party wall act agreement, and so on.
The earlier that applications are submitted the better, as they can take several months to be processed.
 Initial construction works
The initial works might include:
- Securing the site.
- Identifying areas for materials and plant storage.
- Identifying available options if the site has restricted access.
- Checking existing drains and other service connections.
- Ensuring there is a water and electricity supply.
- Identifying any work required to stabilise the structure, such as underpinning, piling or foundation stabilisation.
- Making the building weather-tight.
- Demolition work required to strip the structure back as required.
- Identifying and solving any problems with damp. For more information, see Damp in buildings.
- Treatment of any infestations.
Structural work can begin once the existing building is stable. All structural work must comply with the Building Regulations. It is important to ensure the existing building is protected from damage during the works using plastic sheets, boards, and so on.
Things that may later be concealed by plaster will need to be installed at this stage, such as:
- Ventilation and extract ducts.
- Wiring for power, lighting, central heating controls, alarms, aerials, speakers, phone and data, and so on.
- Plumbing for water supply, heating, drainage, and so on.
- Fitting light fittings, sockets, switches, phones, TV points, and so on.
- Hanging doors.
- Fixing skirting, architraves, spindles and handrails.
- Installing bathroom fittings.
- Installing boiler and controls, and fitting radiators.
- Fitting kitchens and any fitted furniture.
- Preparing surfaces for decorating.
Painting, staining, varnishing and so on begins once second fix work and preparation is complete. To achieve a good finish it is important that the surfaces are thoroughly smooth and clean in advance. Tiling of bathrooms and kitchens should also be done at this stage, as well as any soft floor coverings such as vinyl and carpet.
 Common pitfalls of renovation
Renovation projects can face a number of common pitfalls.
The aim when looking for a property to renovate is to find one that isn’t in a condition that will require very serious work, or even rebuilding. It can be wise to commission a survey before making a bid, as this can highlight defects and structural issues that could make the investment more risky than expected. If it is an old building, it is important to check whether it is listed, or in a conservation area as this can limit the changes that can be made.
It can also be wasteful to purchase a property that is already in reasonable condition, as renovation works may involve removing items that still have life left in them, whilst only marginally increasing the value of the property at significant cost.
 Poor cost control
It is prudent to keep a contingency sum of 10-20% of the remaining spend in case of emergencies (not just as a general 'slush fund').
In older properties it can be better to ‘make do and mend’ rather than spending on costly replacements.
Budgets are often over optimistic, as developers are keen to get on with the work. This can prove risky, as renovation is generally less predictable than new build, with many ‘hidden costs’ not being accounted for in the original budget.
Generally costs go up, whilst actual returns do not match expectations.
Renovators can sometimes focus on the more cosmetic aspects of the project, whilst neglecting the more important structural issues that could end up being very costly.
 Spending over the ‘market ceiling’
There is a ‘market ceiling’ that applies to every location which dictates the maximum amount buyers are prepared to spend, regardless of the special features that can be added to a renovation project. It is important not to get carried away and fit features that exceed those expectations. Conversely, it is important not to spend money on misguided works that actually reduce the value of the property.
Renovation works are often taken on by people with little or no experience of the construction industry. Whilst it may seem to be a cost saving not to obtain professional advice or project management services, this can prove to be an expensive mistake in the long run.
 Renovation in relation to a thermal element
|the provision of a new layer in the thermal element (other than where that new layer is provided solely as a means of repair to a flat roof) or the replacement of an existing layer, but excludes decorative finishes, and 'renovate' shall be construed accordingly.|
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Alterations to existing buildings.
- Avoiding planning permission pitfalls.
- Basements in buildings.
- Bidding for renovation works.
- Building an extension.
- Building regulations.
- Conservation of the historic environment.
- Façade retention.
- How to build a garage.
- How to build a porch.
- International Existing Building Code (IEBC).
- Licence to alter.
- Loft conversion.
- Making good.
- Permitted development.
- Planning permission.
- Remedial works.
- Renovation v refurbishment v retrofit.
- Self-build home: project plan.
 External references
- Homebuilding - Complete guide to renovating a house
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