Home Renovations

There is no such thing as a small and simple renovation project. The process takes time and effort. It's also messy. However, the more planning and care that goes into the renovation in advance, the better your chances of having things turn out to your satisfaction.

  • Understand your own abilities and the amount of time that you can spend on the project. This will help you decide what kind of professional help you should look for, ranging from an architect or general contractor who will take charge of the project from beginning to end, to a one-person local construction company.
  • Write a detailed list of the things that you want to achieve. If you change your mind part way through the project, the costs will also change.
  • Check with your municipal building inspection department to find out which permits you'll need before you start work (this is not your contractor's responsibility unless that is spelled out in your contract) and check which inspections you’ll have to arrange part way through or when the project is finished. Check with your insurance company to discuss any extra insurance coverage required for the renovation that may add to your final cost.
  • Make a list of potential suppliers to interview. Ask relatives, friends and neighbours as well as local business associations for recommendations.
  • Some professional organizations, such as building associations, keep a list of suppliers who specialize in renovation work.
  • Check with your local Better Business Bureau or business association to see whether any complaints have been filed against any firm that you are thinking of hiring.
  • Contact at least six professionals by telephone to find a minimum of three to interview.
  • Ask for references and check them.

Why Renovate?

  • Lifestyle renovations: This type of renovation might involve building a sun room for pleasure, or converting unused attic space into living quarters to meet your changing needs.
  • Retrofit projects: This type of renovation usually focuses on your home's shell or mechanical systems. Examples are upgrading your insulation, replacing your furnace, or putting on new siding.
  • Maintenance and repair renovations: This type of renovation might include caulking windows, reshingling your roof, or replacing your eavestroughs.

Advance planning is the key to successful renovations. Get the results you want by doing your renovation right the first time. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation offers a series of fact sheets on different renovation topics to help you plan, assess and avoid surprises.

Selecting a Contractor

Interviews are a two-way conversation. The contractor should ask you a lot of questions about what you want. In turn, you should ask the contractor about similar projects he or she has handled, the time required for the job, whether there will be subcontractors involved, what the stages of progress will be, and the permit and inspection requirements.

Most tradespeople need to be certified (plumbers, electricians, etc). Make sure the person or company you hire is certified. Be sure to check references. A good place to start might be talking to someone who has had a recent renovation or contact the Better Business Bureau or the Home Builder’s Association in your area.

It is a good idea to get a few estimates for the job, but make sure that each supplier has the same job specifications so you can compare apples to apples. You should never be given a quote at the interview. Ask the supplier to send you a written estimate of all costs, including labour and any extra charges. Also check the quote to ensure that it has included any applicable taxes and ask about any liability insurance or worker’s compensation that may be required. Review all the quotes carefully. They should outline your project and provide at least a partial cost breakdown.

Don’t Take it Underground

The underground economy hurts all Canadians. The underground economy also makes businesses and individuals less competitive because it offers an unfair illegal advantage to those who don’t respect Canada’s tax laws. For consumers, paying “under the table” for a job is not a better deal. If you pay cash you have no warranty, no recourse for poor workmanship, and the added risk of liability if an injury takes place on your property.

How to Protect Yourself

Before you hire anyone be sure to ask a lot of questions. Make sure a written contract is in place and ask for proof of Workers’ Compensation or equivalent private liability insurance to cover injury as well as any damage that could occur in your home. This will protect you from being liable for an injury in your home, as well as damage to your home, and to the worker’s equipment.

The Contract

Don’t sign a contract until you have fully reviewed it, are satisfied with all the terms and are sure that the contractor is capable of meeting your needs. Ask the contractor to include a detailed description of the work to be done. Get them to list specific information about products, manufacturer, size and colour of materials and equipment to be installed. It is a best practice to even include product numbers for items such as carpet, tile, countertops and hardwood floors for example.  The more details that are contained in the contract, the less room there is for error. Never allow work to proceed until you have fully reviewed, understood, agreed to and signed the contract. (See the “Contracts” section of this Handbook for more tips and information on signing contracts.)

The contract should include the following information:

  • the type and amount of work to be done;
  • who is to complete the work (including a list of any subcontractors and who is responsible for their payment and when);
  • who is responsible for ordering and paying for materials;
  • who is responsible for permits;
  • the total cost;
  • what percentage of deposit is required (does it seem reasonable);
  • the start date and date of completion;
  • who is responsible for clean-up afterwards;
  • the Business or GST/HST number of the contractor; and
  • the name and address of the contractor and your name and address.

On major projects, it is a best practice to break down the work into phases. If additional jobs are added along the way, make sure the original contract is clearly amended. Attach to the contract a list of the sections of work to be done and their completion dates. A payment schedule should always be part of the contract. Keep the number of payments to a minimum and check on construction liens legislation in your province or territory. The law may require you to hold back a percentage of the payment until the date when the major work is finished (what's known as the substantial completion date). You'll be asked to sign a completion certificate. Don't sign it until the work is finished and you're satisfied with it. Check with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office to see what is required where you live.

For more information on what to do when hiring a contractor, visit the Get It In Writing website, run by the Canadian Home Builder’s Association.

Door-to-Door Home Repairs

Sometimes salespeople come to your door offering a deal on roofing, driveway resurfacing, or furnace inspection or repair, because "we just happen to be in your neighbourhood." Usually they insist that the contract must be signed immediately to get the special price.

This is a high-pressure sales tactic. Don't fall for it.

The seller may ask for a deposit and then never return to do the work, or the work he or she does do may be substandard. Unless you have references about the contractor from people you trust, you won't know what you're really buying until your money is gone. (See the “Door-to-Door Sales” section of this Handbook for more information.) If you were thinking of having the work done anyway, ask the salesperson for local references. Obtain quotes from other suppliers as well.

Your province or territory may require door-to-door salespeople to be licensed and bonded, and may allow a cancellation (or cooling-off) period, during which you may cancel the contract for any reason. For more information, contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office.

Environmentally Responsible Consumer Tip:

Heating can count for more than half the energy cost of running your house. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), more than 17 percent of the energy consumed in Canada is used in this way. Buying an energy-efficient home or making energy-saving renovations can offer big savings.

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