Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thinking about knocking down a wall?


More to consider than whether it’s a load-bearing wall


You’ve seen ordinary people do it on TV. They simply pick up a sledgehammer and start going at the wall with gusto, gaining momentum as they do it. It even looks like fun, sort of like a toddler knocking down a wall of blocks.




As you likely know, it’s not quite as simple as that. Most of us have heard that the main consideration is whether the wall is a load-bearing wall, basically a wall that supports the floor above or the ceiling. Knock down the wrong wall and the entire house can gradually come crashing down like a house of cards.

Several ways to determine whether it's a load-bearing wall

So, yes, you must first find out whether the wall that you want to remove is a load-bearing wall. There are several ways that you can try to determine on your own whether a certain wall is load-bearing, including consulting the original plans for your house. We suggest you call a structural engineer or a building contractor who can tell you with certainty whether a wall is load-bearing or not. The added benefit of consulting an expert is that they can make other recommendations if the wall turns out to be a load-bearing wall. They can either recommend adding another support system or achieving your remodeling goals a different way.

After determining whether the wall is load-bearing, there are other considerations to keep in mind.

Lifestyle. Is this a renovation that will work for your lifestyle in the long run or do you favor an open home concept plan because this works for you now? It may be helpful now for you to be able to view your young children playing in the family room while you prepare meals in the adjoining kitchen, but will you and your kids be craving more privacy once your kids turn into teen-agers? Do you get easily distracted while cooking or do you crave the company of others while you’re in the kitchen?

Heating and cooling. Keeping a larger room warm in the winter and cool in the summer will be harder. Make sure to factor in whether your home has central air and heating, or whether you will need to factor in alternate heating and cooling resources.

Asbestos. There is a possibility that walls in homes built before 1980 may contain asbestos. If so, you will need to call in a professional asbestos cleaner.

Electricity. If the wall contains any electrical outlets, electrical wiring will likely need to be rerouted, which is work that is best done by an electrician.

Flooring. This may be a minor consideration, especially if you are also planning to add in new flooring. Otherwise, you will need to think about how you’re going to fill in the gap in flooring where the wall used to be for a seamless look on your floor.

Photo credit: Last.fm

Friday, May 24, 2013

Homeowners Spending More on Renovations


Harvard researchers credit the improving housing market 


Good news in the real estate market usually means good news on the home renovation front.




A recent report by a Harvard University think-tank says consumers will be spending more on home renovation projects as the year progresses. Existing home sales were nearly nine percent last year, with house prices continually inching upward this year.

Increased equity, increased spending

“This has increased the home equity levels for most homeowners, encouraging them to reinvest in their homes,” said Eric S. Belsky, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

The report, issued a few weeks ago, predicts that consumer spending on home remodeling projects will increase from $125 billion at the start of 2013 to nearly $150 billion by the end of the year. This is compared to a low of about $111 billion in 2011.

The Harvard think tank uses a combination of factors to calculate their prediction, based upon statistics provided by agencies such as the Census Bureau, National Association of Realtors and the Federal Reserve, among others.

Renovation spending a key economic indicator

The U.S. remodeling industry is picking up speed as the housing market has revived, according to a report issued earlier this year by the think tank. Several factors are at play:

  • Properties that were foreclosed are being purchased, often by investors who fix them up, or by homeowners seeking to customize a home to their liking.
  • Sustainable home improvements are increasingly becoming more popular
  • Older homeowners need to retrofit their homes to fit different needs

The emerging echo boom generation means more good news could be on the horizon for those in the remodeling industry, as people in this generation begin buying homes.

Researchers keep tabs on home improvement spending as an economic indicator because the amount of spending is so significant. Indeed, the home renovation researchers at Harvard said that spending on home renovation projects in 2011 surpassed money spent on clothing, furniture and home furnishings, and electronics/appliances.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Consider a Foreclosure or Short Sale Home

Do Your Dreams Fit Your Budget?




Perhaps you think your ideal home is out of reach because your dreams don't fit your budget. You may want to consider a foreclosure or short sale that you can renovate to add your personal style. Remember that a good contractor can estimate renovation costs.

With the housing market seemingly poised for recovery, some communities have tight inventory and prices are gradually inching upward. With a little patience and know-how, you can take advantage of lower-priced short sales and foreclosures to convert a less-than-perfect house into a home that meets your lifestyle and style needs.

Do your research

Many people immediately shy away from a distressed home thinking it will be too much trouble and money, but a foreclosure or short sale home can be a good way to find a home below your price range that you can then renovate to create your dream home. The key is to do your research beforehand so that you have a good idea of what you're getting into.

Key areas to research

Here are some ideas for areas you may want to research.

Building records. You can check past building permits to see whether any additions have been made to the property.
Contractor estimate. It goes without saying that you may want to hire a contractor to provide an estimate for renovations and to give you a professional opinion as to whether the distressed home can indeed be converted into the home you have in mind.
Home inspection. Home inspector who can look more closely at important structural fixtures like plumbing, roofing and foundation issues.
Sales history. Previous MLS listings or the previous listing agent may have information on the home that may be of interest to you.
Neighbors. These can be a treasure trove of information about the home and its previous occupants and owners.

It may seem like a lot of work to do on a home that you may not end up buying. But you stand to save thousands of dollars in the long run if you find the right home at the right price that others have passed up because they don't want to deal with the additional work. In the long run, going with a distressed property can pay off big time.

Photo credit: Niall Kennedy

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cabinet Options to Make the Most of Your Space


Space-saving options to make life easier




The kitchen is undoubtedly the heart of the home, the place where meals are made and families gather. It is probably also the busiest hub of activity in your home, serving as the place where you prepare and gather for meals, have family conferences, and maybe even a place where you pay your bills.

When you picture your ideal kitchen, you’re probably thinking that a kitchen that makes life easier and smoother is the way to go. A kitchen where you’re constantly on all fours reaching deep into cabinets below the counters for your everyday essentials is not ideal.  A kitchen where you’re rummaging around cabinets above the counters, constantly taking things out and putting them back as you search for pantry items to make a meal is not ideal. A kitchen countertop strewn with mail, papers from the kids’ school, work projects and other paperwork is not ideal.

The ideal would be a well-organized kitchen that makes life easier and smoother, wouldn’t you agree?

As you think about your kitchen renovation, here are some cabinet options you may want to consider to make the most of the space in your kitchen:




Built in storage. It goes without saying that the cabinets are probably the main form of storage, but think beyond a basic cabinet configuration. There are so many choices these days that will help you maximize storage As you choose these, make sure you go beyond purely aesthetic considerations. Think about how you use your cabinets on a day-to-day basis as you plan your perfect kitchen. Remember, your kitchen should work for you, not the other way around.





Pull-out corner drawers. Many of us have seen the lazy Susans that are built into corner spaces in cabinets. The round units make it easier for you to find things, but the round shape leaves unused space. Enter the pull-out corner drawers that makes use of every inch of space and makes it easy for you to find what you need.




Drawers. Consider installing drawers instead of cabinets below the countertops. This may save you from having to get down on all fours to reach deep inside cabinets. Lower-level cabinets make it easier for you to see what's inside.

Refrigerated or non-refrigerated wine cabinet. If you regularly drink wine, think about including a dedicated storage space for wine bottles that is easily accessible.




Shelf built into the backsplash above the range or somewhere else that provides needed storage.

Warming drawer on a side of the island makes things convenient for someone who likes to make sure all dishes are warm when it's time to eat, or who entertains a lot.




Small bookshelf built onto a side of the island or on the wall gives you a spot for your cookbooks that is easily accessible and visible to make it easier for you to peruse your favorite recipes.

Be sure to discuss any specific storage needs with your contractor, who will know of the latest cabinet designs and can make recommendations.

Photos: Glenvale Group

Friday, May 17, 2013

Will your home renovation pay off?


The return on renovations has gone up for the first time in six years


The bottom line for anyone considering a remodel is just that. The bottom line. 

“How much will my home value go up after this renovation?” is the question most homeowners will ask fairly early in the remodeling process. It makes sense. No one wants to dump their money into a hole.

Remodel magazine says renovations are paying back more 

The good news, according to Remodel magazine, is that most renovations are paying back more than they were the year before. Their latest report detailing the value of 35 different projects nationwide shows that, for the first time in six years, the return on money invested in these projects has gone up. What this means is that it’s a terrific time to invest your money in a home renovation project.

The folks at Remodel magazine did a comprehensive study that further broke down their findings into regional reports. The Remodeling 2012-13 Cost vs. Value Report shows that these are the top three upscale projects paying off in the West South Central area (which includes Dallas):

Adding a bathroom. The cost to add a bathroom with all the bells and whistles is estimated to cost a little over $65,000, for a resale value of more than $41,000. The estimate assumes you’ll be adding a new 100-square-foot master bathroom with features such as body-spray fixtures, stone countertops with two sinks, larger matching ceramic floor tiles, heated towel bars, etc.




Bathroom remodel. The cost to upgrade an already existing bathroom with all the bells and whistles is estimated to cost $46,760, for a resale value of $31,257. The estimate assumes you’ll be converting an existing 35-square-foot bathroom into 100-square-feet of luxury that includes a large shower enclosure with ceramic tile walls with accent strip and all of the features mentioned in the bathroom addition section above.



Major kitchen remodel. The cost to upgrade the kitchen was estimated at $49,530, for a return of $36,111. The estimate assumes you’ll be updating a 200-square-foot kitchen with semi-custom wood cabinets, complete with an island, laminate countertops, custom lighting and new flooring, among other things.

Check out the full report, for the lowdown on other projects.

If you plan to continue living in your home after the renovation, there is a satisfaction that comes with knowing that the renovations are adding value to your home. And if you plan on selling your home after the renovation, then you really need the work to pay off right away.

Remember, a full consultation with a contractor will help you better determine what  renovations will pay off in the long run and, most importantly, what changes will enhance your lifestyle.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Earth-Friendly Countertop Options Abound


Green living expert Danny Seo touts benefits of laminate


Real or faux granite?



If you guessed faux, you’re right. It’s exactly what laminate manufacturers are touting about the new laminate options for home renovations these days. They say the newly manufactured laminate options are made to resemble everything from granite to wood - at much cheaper prices than their traditionally more glamorous counterparts.

Green living expert Danny Seo recently told Remodeling magazine he thinks it’s one of the three next big trends in kitchen and bath remodeling. Seo, who is well known for his ideas on incorporating sustainable design into everyday life, is using laminate on his own kitchen remodel on kitchen countertops and a bar wall area.



“Laminate. I’ve decided to rebrand it as glaminate because the new finishes are not like your grandmother’s laminate anymore,” Seo said. “And I like the fact that it’s so eco-friendly.”

Laminate manufacturers say new manufacturing techniques have allowed them to produce material that is better than what some of us knew from the 70s and to use it in a way that does away with unsightly seams.

Check for green certification

One thing to look for when considering a laminate countertop is checking to see whether it has certification from the Forest Stewardship Council and the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute for indoor air quality.

Laminate countertops are a popular choice, especially for consumers seeking budget-friendly materials but there are plenty of other green options you may want to consider for your countertops.

But if you aren’t sold on laminate, here are some other eco-friendly options for countertops:



Terrazo: Tile made from recycled glass and sometimes other materials like marble, quartz, granite. These are poured into a cast and treated with a binder chemical. It’s known for being durable and heat and scratch resistant. It can be used in kitchens, bathrooms and floors.

Oceanside Glasstile: Tile is made from a natural resource called silica sand, with a variety of recycled waste material  mixed in, such as recycled bottle glass and others, for a finished product that contains up to 95 recycled materials.

Alkemi: This surface material is made from recycled acrylics and is certified by the Scientific Certification Systems as containing 91 percent post-industrial scrap. With no VOC content, this kind of surface is made from aluminum flake, solid surface scrap, and recycled acrylic.

There is no doubt that advanced manufacturing techniques coupled with an emphasis on eco-friendly living has combined to create more options for consumers interested in using green materials in their kitchen and bathroom remodeling.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Using Feng Shui to Attract Wealth, Happiness


Some Tips For Attracting Positive Energy in Your Home


Some people believe feng shui can help them lead happier lives, so much so that they consult a feng shui master to guide them when renovating their homes. They believe that following the rules of this ancient Chinese belief system will help them create the necessary balance to attract happiness, wealth and other positive energies.


Can feng shui really have such an impact?

Feng shui focuses on creating a healthy and harmonious energy flow to attract happiness, wealth and other positives into your home.

Many of the principles of feng shui really are common sense, such as reducing clutter in the home to allow for good energy to flow and allow plenty of room for happiness and wealth to flow into your home.

Some of this can be achieved on a daily basis simply by giving your home a good cleaning and decluttering treatment. These simple tips are especially helpful if you aren’t planning on moving or renovating, but using feng shui during a renovation is a terrific opportunity for increasing the positive energy in your home.

Some feng shui rules to consider

Here are some feng shui rules that you can consider as you plan your renovation:


  • Front door. The front door should not be aligned with the back door, or all the good energy will flow right out. A single door is more desirable than a double door. A front door should be seen from the street and also face the street.
  • Similar sized children’s bedrooms are best.
  • Avoid having a second-story bedroom over a kitchen. 
  • Medium height ceilings without exposed beams are best. 
  • A well-placed bathroom can help you keep money flowing in. Avoid placing bathrooms on the second floor directly above the kitchen or front door or under the stairs.
  • The center of a home has the most power so this is where you might want to consider placing the room where you spend the most time.
  • Good energy can get trapped in a small room so plan for large windows to help release some of that energy.
  • Avoid having too many doors in one room or area because these tend to spur arguments.


A good feng shui master can offer you a consultation that takes into account everything about your home including site location, shape of the house, and interior elements. A consultation is more thorough when that design consultant also takes stock of your life and what you hope to accomplish with the principles of feng shui.

Photo credit: Avia Venefica

Friday, May 10, 2013

3 Steps to Smart Renovation of Your Home or Residential Investment Property


Should You Take on the Job of Renovating An Old Home?




The TV shows make it look so easy, showing how a dilapidated, outdated or hideously ugly house undergoes a magical Cinderella transformation within 30 minutes. Well, not really 30 minutes but that’s how long it takes to show the viewers the process of converting the home into a beautiful abode. And, we, the viewers know it takes longer than 30 minutes, but we walk away thinking maybe whole house renovations aren’t so hard.

Do your homework

They don’t have to be, but you should do your homework before deciding to take on the job of renovating an old home.

First of all, you should carefully assess the home to determine what is salvageable. Figure out whether the home has any architectural or historical details that should be preserved, such as moldings, railings or hardwood floors. These are the kind of features that could affect the value of your home and set your home apart from others. During your assessment, you should also figure out what features you would like to keep, either because they are in good condition or simply because you like them.

Decide what you would like to tear down

Make two lists: “tear down” and “maybe tear down” or something similar that you can refer to when getting estimates later from a contractor or builder.  You can request two different estimates:

1. For a heavy remodel (tearing down walls, getting new roofing, kitchen, bath, etc.) and
2. For a near teardown of the house that preserves the main structural elements. Make sure the budget includes any fees for building permits.

If the house is structurally solid, you should consider saving your money for remodeling in the kitchen and bathrooms, which are the rooms where updates usually pay off the most and where you will most notice the upgrades.

Older homes tend to have nasty surprises

Keep in mind that there may be surprises as you go along. Older homes have a tendency to hide some nasty secrets (ie. mold problems, electrical wiring, plumbing, etc.) that don't get discovered until far into the renovation process. These fixes could turn out to be costly and you need to set aside some of your budget for these possibilities.

From the outset, it's helpful if you keep your ultimate goal in mind. You want your home to be aesthetically pleasing, but you also want to make sure you are modernizing the home to adapt to the way you live. This will nearly always ensure a successful renovation. Surely, you will have more than 30 minutes worth of stories to tell but you will get years of enjoyment out of your newly renovated home.

Photo credit: grongar

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Is Salvaged or Reclaimed Wood A Good Choice For Me?


Reclaimed and Salvaged Wood Offers Quality and Personality


A couple of days ago, we mentioned some eco-friendly materials you may want to consider in your renovation. We mentioned salvaged wood as one of the options, saying that it can be cheaper and add character to your home.

Intrigued and curious, we did some more research on salvaged wood and how it can fit into your project. First of all, we wanted to know exactly what salvaged wood is and where it comes from. Salvaged wood comes from dead, decaying or fallen trees. A similar form of recycling takes place with reclaimed wood, which comes from old buildings or structures. Sometimes, people refer to reclaimed wood as salvaged wood, but true salvaged wood comes from trees.

How to find it

We also wanted to know how to find it in case a client is interested in incorporating it into a renovation. We found a couple of interesting options that are available.

First up, Reclaimed Designworks offers reclaimed wine barrel wood, decommissioned boxcar flooring and other types of reclaimed wood for projects that include kitchen islands, feature walls, furniture and counters, among many other projects. One of their three showrooms is in Austin, but their online photo gallery gives you a good idea of the many projects where it would be appropriate to use reclaimed wood.

How it's used

Here’s what one of their projects looks like:





We also found Waste Not Wood Mill, a one-man sawmill operation based in Athens that specializes in massive slabs of wood cut from salvaged trees.




Is all this old wood durable? 

Salvaged wood is generally more durable than younger woods that were grown specifically for harvesting. Because of its age, the wood tends to be stronger, have deeper color and a patina that’s hard to replicate. Salvaged wood is known for sometimes being expensive, but can be cheaper if you are fortunate enough to find someone selling pieces on Craigslist or from someone’s demolition scraps.

Most people who decide on salvaged wood want something that is one-of-a-kind and enjoy the eco-friendly benefits.
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Monday, May 6, 2013

Five Eco-friendly Materials You May Not Know About


Good for the Earth and Oftentimes Your Budget


Decorating with eco-friendly materials is all the rage these days for the simple reason that it’s good for the earth and often looks better than the alternative. We thought we would give you an overview of some cool materials that are now available on the market.




Glass Tiles. Made out of recycled wine bottles and beer bottles, glass tiles can be used on walls in kitchens and floors, countertops, and even flooring. Proponents say this material won’t stain and is easy to maintain. The best part is that it comes in a ton of colors, patterns and finishes to suit a variety of tastes.



Salvaged wood and metal. Perhaps you have visions of salvaging beautifully aged pieces of wood from an old barn that’s being demolished. Wherever you get it, salvaged wood and metal already comes with a built-in personality in the form of a hard-won patina that’s unmatched in any new materials. Salvaged wood and metal can be used in a variety of ways, including on walls, doors, countertops and other decorative accessories in a home. You could score an ultra-chic and modern home that pairs the softness of nature with industrial touches throughout.

Antique accent pieces. This kind of material could significantly bring down the cost of your project, depending on where you obtain the materials. Think old windows, doors and sinks whose looks and workmanship would serve modern homes well. Some of these materials are sometimes even listed for free on classified services such as Craigslist by home or property owners who don’t care for the aged look.

Bamboo and cork flooring. Cork for cork flooring is harvested from the bark of cork oak trees in a process that doesn’t harm the tree. The cork then grows back within a few years. Bamboo, which grows back faster than wood, is fast becoming another popular option because it looks a lot like hardwood and is durable. Unlike wood, it is resistant to moisture.



Polyester Berber, or P.E.T., is a carpet made of recycled plastic bottles, which makes it spill resistant, surprisingly durable and is available in many colors and patterns. It’s fairly inexpensive so it can feel slightly rough. Also, this kind of carpet can snag and unravel if the problem is not repaired in timely fashion.

Photo credit: uosɐɾ McArthurIABoomerFlickr, jseattle


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Friday, May 3, 2013

Contractor Scam Alert


Beware scam artists posing as contractors 


Warmer spring weather draws out something else besides pretty blooms - scam artists posing as contractors.

The Better Business Bureau consistently warns homeowners that one of the top complaints they receive year after year is of so-called contractors who promise the world at rock bottom prices to unsuspecting consumers eager to get work done on their home during warmer weather months.





The Better Business Bureau and the Texas Attorney General receives complaints about a variety of scams, including contractors who accept a payment and then never show up to do the work, those who do show up but do shoddy work with subpar material, and those who show up and do the work but never finish the job.

Some of these contractors are smooth operators, sometimes preying on vulnerable populations such as senior citizens and other times offering homeowners a deal they find hard to turn down.

Watch out for these red flags:

Full payment upfront. Beware of any contractor who demands a payment in full before a job even starts or is complete. It is typical for a contractor to request a deposit as a good  faith payment but a full payment should not be required until the contractor finishes the job.

Lack of contract. Any contractor who does not provide a detailed contract is highly suspect. A contract protects both the owner and the contractor by setting forth in detail what is expected, when and for how much.

Quick decision. Be careful of contractors that pressure you to hire them. You shouldn’t feel too rushed to make an informed decision with ample time to check out the contractor and compare prices.

Extra Materials. Some scam artists go door-to-door, claiming to have just finished up a neighbor’s job and offering you a good deal with the leftover material from that job.

How can you tell whether a contractor is legitimate and will do the job you need?

Steps to protect yourself from scam artists:

  • Get a written estimate of the work. Obtain written estimates from at least two different contractors. Three is better.
  • Check the contractor’s references, licenses and insurance. Anybody can provide photos from previous jobs, but make sure they are previous jobs done by the contractor you are hiring. The best way to do this is by checking references. 
  • Make sure you have a detailed contract that details the job (including materials and any diagrams if necessary), the duration (planned beginning and end dates), and the cost (breakdown of materials and labor).  


Finally, you should be aware that Texas state law makes you responsible for paying any subcontractors and suppliers if the contractor fails to pay them. Your property may be subject to a lien if these subcontractors or suppliers are not paid for labor or materials for a job on your home, regardless of whether you had a contract with them or not. This is yet another reason to make sure you are working with a reputable contractor in the first place.

Avoid costly headaches and hassles by doing your homework before signing on the dotted line.

Photo credit: SandTDesign

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Consider Your Neighbors During a Renovation


Will your renovation affect your neighbors? 


Stories abound of neighbors complaining about a renovation infringing on their quality of life or home values. Or both.



A recent article in The New York Times outlined problems New York homeowners are having with their neighbors while renovating their homes. Neighbors complained about noise, trash and damage, some even going so far as to say their property values have been affected.

The truth of the matter is that these are issues afflicting homeowners in the midst of renovations everywhere. Here’s a sampling of some high-profile renovations that have made headlines:

In Cupertino, Calif., neighbors complained to city officials over a family’s plan to add three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The main point of contention was that the renovation meant adding a second floor in a neighborhood with mostly single story homes.

A homeowner in Prairieville, La. has raised suspicions among neighbors concerned about his ability to complete renovation on a property that was moved to their neighborhood after being split in half. Unsightly canvas covers the gaping parts of the home, which has sat in its current location for about a year.

Last year, presidential candidate Mitt Romney came under fire for his plans to  nearly quadruple the size of his $12 million home in La Jolla, Calif. Neighbors were angry about his plans to convert his three-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home into an 11,000-square-foot mansion complete with a four-car, split-level garage featuring an elevator to move cars between levels.

Some of these may seem like extreme examples, but you may want to keep in mind that neighbors’ riffs are often triggered by even seemingly minor issues such as barking dogs. Just imagine the kind of problems that could result during a typical renovation and all its ensuing disturbances.

Will your renovation affect your relationship with your neighbors?

Are you wondering whether your renovation will anger your neighbors? There are steps you can take to avoid a confrontation. Contractors and those who’ve gone through extensive renovations offer the following words of wisdom:

Think through how your renovation could affect neighbors. For example, are you making structural changes that could affect neighbor’s views? This is a huge deal to most people. In the 2006 movie “Friends With Money,” two of the main characters end up getting a divorce after their home renovation featuring a new second floor turns all their neighbors against them, a drama that exposes wide rifts in the couple’s marriage.



Make sure you get all the necessary permits. Be aware that, as part of the permit process, you may be required to gather signatures of approval from your neighbors. This step is important to make sure your improvements are legal and remain unchallenged.

Talk to your neighbors. Keeping open the lines of communication can go a long way. Knowing they’re in the loop will help prevent neighbors from becoming distrustful and wary of your project. For starters, details abut when trucks and construction crews may be parking in the neighborhood will help ensure good relations.

Listen to any concerns and try to deal with them responsibly and in a timely fashion. If your neighbors see you making an effort to take their feelings and needs into consideration, they may be more inclined to turn a blind eye toward any parking inconveniences, noise, trash and other disturbances.  

Any steps you take can only help your project run as smoothly as possible. If all goes well, you could consider hosting a block party as a way to thank your neighbors for their patience when the renovation is complete.

Photo credits: Wonderlane, grongar