Do Your Homework Before You Remodel

Thinking about doing a major home renovation, like a big addition? Picking the right remodeling firm for the project is a critical part of the process. But before you even go down that path, you need to do a little research. Or in some cases, a lot of research.

The fact is, larger projects often can’t proceed until you have certain information. Digging up that information can be time-consuming and will likely require a visit or two to your local planning and/or building departments.

This addition in Lexington allowed us to create an in-law apartment.


Here are key five considerations that you should explore well before you sign the contract with a remodeling firm:


  1. Surveys: A survey (a.k.a. a plot plan) shows the exact measurements of your property lines and all structures within. Most municipalities require the completion of a survey before they’ll issue a permit for an addition or a porch or deck project. And construction can’t begin until you have that permit in hand. Keep in mind that the process can take a couple months, so be sure to contact a surveyor sooner rather than later.


  1. Zoning: Every community has its own unique and everchanging zoning bylaws and loopholes. These regulations cover everything from what you’re allowed to build inside the house to setback issues (e.g. minimum distance from which the structure must be from a street, the property line, wetlands, etc.). If wetlands/conservation issues are involved, you’ll probably need to hire an engineer to look into the matter.


  1. Historic designation: Do you live in an officially designated historic home or historic district? If so, you may face certain limitations in terms of what changes are allowable. You may also need to go through extra steps to receive approval for your project. For example, the following clause applies to Arlington homes designated as historical: “If you are proposing exterior changes to your house that affect more than 25 percent of a front or side elevation, then the town by-law requires that the Historical Commission review your plans in a public hearing.”


  1. Electrical: Is your house wired for 200-amp service, or are you closer to the old standard of 60 amps? If you’re doing a major renovation, you’ll probably need 200 amps to handle the increased electrical demand — and getting up to that level can be a significant expense. Another important question: Do you have hardwired smoke detectors? If not, you’ll need to have them installed as part of your renovation.


  1. Hazardous materials: If you have asbestos or lead paint in your home, you should have it abated well before a remodeling project begins. If these or other hazardous materials are encountered mid-project, there’s a risk your municipality will shut down the project for several weeks.


The bottom line: By researching issues like these proactively, you can get your remodeling firm up to speed more quickly. As a result, they’ll be able to begin construction sooner and proceed with their work with the confidence than fewer unexpected issues will arise.


If you have questions about how to research any of these points, feel free to contact Custom for guidance.

House Addition
This addition includes a new living room, bathroom and laundry room.