Homeowner Helen Crawford, of Grand Rapids, Mich., had no idea her kitchen remodel would involve so many decisions. It wasn’t even two weeks into the project when, as Crawford was mulling over hinges, handles and drawer pulls for the cabinets she had chosen, her contractor called. He couldn’t even order the cabinets until he had a location approval on the appliances. And he needed her final choices on flooring and lighting fixtures and their location. As the decisions piled up, Crawford began dreading the prospect of looking through another showroom or catalog.
Crawford was fighting off “decision fatigue,” a common reaction in homeowners new to the remodeling process who underestimate the pace and sheer number of decisions required of them in the design and product-selection stages. Any building or remodeling job requires dozens of crucial decisions that set the pace for a small army of workers and craftsmen. Slacken the pace, and you lose momentum and end up paying for downtime. Make snap decisions, and you could live with expensive mistakes for years to come. The key to avoiding decision fatigue is knowing which decisions you need to make and when to make them.
Know What’s Coming
Early in the planning stage, ask your contractor or architect to work up a complete room-by-room, item-by-item list of decisions your project involves. You’ll notice the list breaks out into two general categories: design and products. Design decisions include appliance location, skylight and window placement, heating duct or baseboard locations, door placement and swing direction, the number and location of outlets and lighting plans. Product decisions concern the type and size of items such as cabinets, kitchen and bath sinks, shower stalls, toilets, appliances, flooring, tile, windows, doors and electrical fixtures, along with their features.
Nearly all of these decisions are interdependent and have far-reaching impact. For example, skylights must be chosen long before the other windows, because they can significantly affect framing done at the start of the job. A kitchen range hood could require either custom framing or dedicated electrical circuits. And floor joists beneath a large bathtub might have to be reinforced during initial framing.
Even late installations demand early decisions on design and product. For instance, while a shower stall is one of the last fixtures to go into a bathroom, which you choose affects plumbing rough-in locations and the framing plan, both of which affect the floor-tile pattern and how much drywall is needed. The same goes for electrical fixtures, which are supplied by hidden wiring roughed in before the drywall goes up.
Create a Calendar
Once you have your list of decisions, work with your builder to organize them procedurally around the steps of the job. For instance, what decisions must be made before demolition? Be sure you can afford that breezeway between the kitchen door and garage before the demo crew cuts the hole, or you could end up with an unsightly patch after you refigure your budget. If you plan to reuse an existing garage door, inform your builder before the demo starts. And be sure to finalize window placement before wall framing begins, because larger windows can dramatically affect the structure and cost of a wall. For each decision on your list, assign a date by which you’ll give the builder your final choices and decisions. But be realistic. Leave enough time before each due date to do some research in magazines and showrooms and on the Internet; you’ll also have to leave time for materials to get delivered. You should be able to tackle light fixtures, cabinet accessories, stock tile and trim over several evenings at large home centers. But big-ticket stock products such as windows, doors, cabinets, appliances and sinks can take two weeks of comparison shopping. And custom cabinets, countertops and other special-order items can take months to finish and deliver.
Use a loose-leaf binder with subject dividers for each major decision area. Fill it with notes, business cards, brochures, paint chips, fabric swatches and other information. And organize each decision area according to its due date. Then stick to those dates. Your builder will be working from the same calendar and scheduling daily tasks accordingly. If you say you’ll approve the map for the tile pattern in the kitchen by June 23, the builder will tell the tiler he can bid those plans on June 24.
If you know that you won’t have all the particulars of, for instance, the cabinets worked out by the agreed-upon date, alert your contractor early on and see if you can supply just a partial list of cabinet features and sizes. Although you might not have settled on the style for drawer pulls and hinges, you might be able to delay those decisions if you can supply enough information — such as cabinet height and depth, backsplash height and door type — to order the cabinets on the date planned.
Any remodeling project is a three-dimensional chess game where each step affects all the others. Seemingly minor decisions like cabinet trim and backsplash tile can be as important as major ones like window and tub placement. Keep your promises, and you’ll find it easier to insist your contractor does, too. Timely decision-making puts the performance onus on him and reduces the chance of error. Best of all, you won’t hear the contractor say he could have done a better job if only he had had more time.