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Building Renovation Strategy

house renovation

Getting The Best Out Of Building Renovation

The most successful building renovation, remodelling or refurbishment is achieved by making major improvements to the building without it costing too much money. Carefully thinking about what exactly you are trying to achieve and from there thinking through how to achieve it can pay dividends.

Here we look at why you might wish to renovate, how to take a sensible approach and important considerations to achieve success.

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Consider what you want to achieve

Last issue we talked about tired buildings and how to identify why some buildings look shabby.

So you are contemplating taking over a shabby building or perhaps your existing dwelling is looking very tired. Your mind turns to renovation. The first thing you might consider is what you want to achieve and why.

For hotels building condition is one of their most important considerations

For most people it is just a matter of wanting to freshen up their existing living space but for others such as hoteliers or restaurateurs it is a matter of business survival. For these people the building is the single most important asset they have, after “location, location, location” (tourism hotels don't do very well in Somalia now do they?) for such businesses the condition and presentation of their buildings is one of their more important considerations.

Successful hospitality entrepreneurs include building decoration, furnishing and maintenance as an essential part of their regular budget expenditure. As we said last issue well organised hotels carry out renovation as an ongoing process.

Renovation to increase the value of your property

For others renovation is a means of increasing the value of a property and the opportunity to make significant gains by realising untapped potential. There are a few people around that have the gift of being able to see which properties have potential and knowing which don’t. As the old adage goes “you can’t make a silk purse out of a female warthog’s aural appendage”.

This may require a close examination of the structure of the building to understand what can and can't be done, the vision and creativity required to come up with new ideas and concepts and the discipline to manage a budget that will bring the project in at a reasonable cost.

The golden rule is not to overcapitalise on the building, do not spend more than can be recouped through increasing the selling price. Many people make this mistake becoming too enthusistic about their ideas and losing touch with reality.

Making your building more liveable or to work better for you.

If you are thinking about renovation you might also consider this as an opportunity to make your building work better for you. Perhaps this is the time to reorganise the rooms, move the entrance, add a floor or take advantage of that breeze that annoyingly hits a windowless wall.

You need to consider careful how people move about the building the various functions the parts of the building provide and the tasks that people have to do.

It may be that by adding a doorway or too you can make travel through the building more efficient. It may also be that by closing off a doorway will prevent unwanted movement. Moving a wall may make a store room larger by taking some space from that bedroom that was always a bit on the large size.

Renovation to bring a building up to an acceptable standard

It may even be a time to consider the quality of construction of your building and bring it up to a standard that will allow you to sleep easily at night. Is the structure strong enough, does the roof leak, is the foundation strong enough, are there problems with the plumbing system and is the electrical system safe. Perhaps a starting point is to get the building assessed.

With so much building going on in Bali there is a shortage of good labour that know what they are doing. With some rather questionable professional skills displayed by some of the people who work in construction and with a preponderance of people throwing up buildings as quickly and cheaply as possible just to make some quick money you may have found that the main structural strength of your nice new building is, in fact, the coat of paint rather than the masonry beneath.

A building renovation gives you the opportunity to sort problems out and improve your building.

The important thing is to clearly identify the things that let the building down such as floor tiles the colour of something the dog left on the pavement back in the 1970s.

In the article in the previous issue of BA in which I talked about “tired buildings” (see article 127 Building Renovation part 1) I mentioned a process of turning that “feeling” about a building into an understanding of what is wrong and what may be required to bring about the change you are looking for. A way of identifying a list of the things that need to be renovated.

Identify the areas of weakness

You need to find the weak spots. Have you noticed that restaurants are often judged by the standard and cleanliness of the toilets. In the same way the standard of a building is often judged by the lowest standard item in a room. If you use cheap floor tiles and this will set the standard for the whole of the room or building.

Of course some things will be easy to address while others will not. For example the overall shape of the building might be wrong and this might not be easy to resolve. I remember a woman with a bad roofline. Whatever she did she could not escape the fact that her house was a hotch potch of modifications made over many years.

With nothing sound to work from, problem piled on top of problem. The only sensible remedy was demolition and a fresh start. Sadly the financial considerations were too great and the house has remained a work in endless progress with a touch of too hard basket thrown in for good luck.

Renovation is often harder than building a new building

Renovation usually requires a lot more thought and care than a new build. Making the most of and working with an existing building is often a lot harder than building from scratch. It often requires technical understanding of the building and/or some creative thinking to work out what can be done. Having said that it is amazing what can be achieved and how even a coat of the right colour of paint can turn a slum into a palace.

Many people find themselves taking over a building with a plan to modify and renovate the building to suit their purposes. In such cases it is a good idea to seek advice before committing yourself. Have the building assessed first, develop some ideas and get renovations costed out in the planning stages.

Determine what can and can't be done

The starting point is to look at a building and see what can and can’t be done. Removing a wall, changing windows and doors around or adding to the building can turn a hovel into a very desirable living space. More ambitious projects may involve serious reconstruction work but you will have to work within the structural limitations of the existing building. Don’t forget the terrible lesson of Padang where a two storey hotel had four extra floors added without strengthening the structure, an earthquake hit and rather a lot of people died.

Take note of where the structural columns and beams are and this will tell you the parts you cannot remove or change and, by omission, tell you what you can remove. From this you can develop a vision of how the building might be remodelled.

I was once asked to assess a single storey building with many rooms in it. The aim was to remove most of the walls and create a large open working area. When we checked the roof structure it was found that much of the roof was resting on the many walls through the building and the walls could only be removed if the roof was rebuilt with a frame strong enough to span the whole building, this was a prohibitively expensive task which stopped the project.

architectural design pays off

Engaging a good architect can help

For mere mortals the task of creating a sound concept may not be as easy as it sounds and, if you are looking for something particularly special, you might consider engaging an architect. A good architect can give you ideas you never even thought you hadn’t even thought of but bear in mind that minimalist architects often have minimalist skills.

Developing the ideas for a renovation also needs to be done with a close eye on cost, a golden rule is not to overcapitalise on the building, you probably won’t get it back. The best solutions are usually simple but well thought out requiring minimal work but giving maximum gain.

Opening a restaurant in Bali and renovation madness

Many people come to the tropics and, in spite of having few culinary skills, they have a dream in their head and for some reason they think that running a bar or restaurant is easy. They take over a restaurant that isn’t doing too well and spend a fortune renovating the building only to find when it opens that no one is interested.

The fact is that restaurants live and die on their food, success is not determined by whether or not they have gold plated toilet seats. Regardless of what a restaurant review may say those few restaurants with lots of people in have got a formula that works, most are run by hardworking professionals who really know their stuff and have worked for years to beat a lot of competition in an overcrowded industry. Many hopefuls have failed to realise this and in the mean time they have launched into an extensive renovation, overcapitalised on the building and lost their shirts, their life savings and their sanity. It is a sad thing to see that repeats itself time after time.

Conversely I recently worked with an enterprising young woman from Singapore who took over a fairly drab nondescript house. She knew exactly what she was doing and had access to her own network of friends - highly stressed business people who want a quiet hideaway to unwind.

She has a good eye and together we worked out how to turn this building around and furnish it with taste. With some clever thinking and at very reasonable cost she ended up with a very presentable villa that is proving popular amongst her friends.

A rewarding project and good for the soul.

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Copyright © Phil Wilson November 2011
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