Remodeling an existing home presents many challenges that are not typically found when designing a new home. The above photo is from a renovation on a circa 1890’s Victorian home in Ann Arbor where we found a walled up exterior window that had been covered up…just one of the many “treasures” we have found once the demo begins.
Many times, these challenges make a remodel more exciting from a design perspective. You have to begin your design process with an understanding of the limitations of the existing spatial configuration, structural system, material palette, the house location on the site; and most importantly, with the anticipation that the unknown lies in waiting once construction begins.
The last challenge is certainly the most difficult to prepare for because it is almost always not a problem until contracts are signed, payments made, and the demolition begun. Most of the time it is a quick fix in the field that is handled by the construction crew at no additional cost, but there are times when the unforeseen discovery has to be resolved with post-demolition design changes (and associated cost changes). These findings can range from an unknown cistern location where a new foundation is going, inadequate footings for existing foundation walls, unpredictable structural systems in older homes, as well as many other things. This is obviously not the ideal situation and certainly does not happen on every remodel, but it does happen; and therefore, every homeowner considering a remodel should be made aware of the possibility of the unforeseen.
There have been times when our construction manager has channeled his inner “Miss Cleo”, and predicted the problem in advance. When this is the case, we may actually include a contingency provision in the budget to fully prepare the homeowner for the worst-case scenario, both financially and psychologically. This isn’t always the case though, but it is definitely a good practice whenever someone is contemplating a remodel to account for what may be found “behind the drywall.”