In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be living in The Pink House while it was being renovated; we’d be chilling in a large, fully-furnished, dust-free - hell, this is an ideal world; let’s throw in a swimming pool, grotto and a kitten farm too - mansion across the road until the very last lick of paint had been applied.
Sadly, none of this was an option (not even the kitten farm!) as this renovation has taken our every last penny (as renovations tend to do), meaning extra cash for rental accommodation is out of the question. In fact we ran out of budget even earlier than expected, so the 2nd floor bathroom extension will have to wait until another year.
And so, like many others, we have no choice but to live in (the top half of) our home as the builders get busy, while trying to maintain some semblance of work/school/life normality. And not complaining because #firstworldproblems.
The works, which started in July, are scheduled to last until Christmas (reno cliché much?!) and we will be living upstairs the vast majority of the time. But to be honest so far it really hasn’t been too bad, partly because I learned from previous experience of renovating with kids in our Edinburgh house. And partly because we took our time with the planning stage of the renovation to minimise disruption and find a contractor who understood our set-up.
So I thought I’d share my experiences by way of 10 tips for making family living on a building site as bearable as possible:
Hire a considerate building contractor that understands the need for your house to be as family-friendly as possible. Ask questions like: ‘will you tidy up at the end of each day?’; ‘what will you do to minimise dust in other parts of the house’ and ‘do you work at weekends?’.
Try to time the messiest work so it coincides with school holidays. We started the project on the day the schools broke up for summer and headed straight for my parents’ place in Edinburgh for the first – and most disruptive – 5 weeks of the work when they were bashing down the walls. By the time we returned in late August the worst bit was over and the house is slowly becoming more habitable. And by some miracle me and my mum were still on speaking terms.
If you want to utilise the summer holidays to spend time away from the house make sure your builders work during August. Most of the companies we interviewed ran on a skeleton staff during that month, meaning they don’t make the most of the time when you can be away. We hired our fab contractor, Andrew Penny, partly because they promised they wouldn’t be slacking over the summer.
As you’ll be living in fewer rooms than usual, space is a premium, so work out what you can clear out – either permanently or temporarily – to maximise the square footage you have. As well as doing a massive charity shop clear out, we freecycled our old spare bed (that I was planning to replace at some point anyway) and turned the spare room into a temporary sitting/dining room.
Even the best dustproofing won’t stop a layer of the stuff getting on everything. Wrap up anything that would be damaged by dust, and if you can, hire a cleaner to come every couple of weeks to stay on top of things.
If your person-to-bathroom ratio is much higher than usual (our is now 4:1 in a teensy bathroom), get those pre-school bathroom rituals started earlier to avoid a last-minute rush. It’s also worth being extra loyal to your local café for when the plumber has turned the water off and a toilet is required – the builders’ portaloo is best avoided unless you’re seriously desperate.
The TV/Playstation/iPad is likely to be used more than usual while your home is compromised. Don’t beat yourself up about it – you can always ban the electronic devices for a month when your house is finished if it makes you feel better. Or, you know, a day. Or never.
Take the opportunity to check out those parks/soft play centres/museums/cafes you’ve always meant to try. Our builders finish by 5pm every day so after-school activities mean you won’t return until after the banging/sawing/excavating has stopped. Or invite your little Johnny over to someone else’s house for a playdate. You can always return the favour when your house is finished if it makes you feel better. Or, you know, don’t.
Introduce your kids to your builders. Your children will feel more relaxed about having people in their home if they become their mates, and hopefully the renovation team will be extra considerate of the small people kicking around their workplace. My kids discovered they supported the same football team as our building contractor’s director Andrew - they’ve now got him bringing them branded merchandise from the stadium and when they get home from school they ignore me completely and wander around asking, “where’s Andy?”
I’m told a Belkin tabletop stove is a lifesaver if your kitchen is the thing being renovated/out of bounds during the renovation. We’ve been lucky enough to still have access to our kitchen but the only way in is through the bulk of the bulding work. So we’ve created a temporary kitchenette with kettle, toaster and fridge upstairs too. And taken out shares in Pizza Express…