With mortgage rates at historically low levels, you may be thinking it's an ideal time to plan that home renovation you've been meaning to do for years. But before you pick up your tools or call a contractor, a considerable amount of planning should be done first so you're prepared for all a home renovation entails.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation recently released a list of recommendations in their Before you Renovate: Renovation Guide that can help you ensure your renovation is as seamless as possible.

Set goals

Put to paper what it is you're trying to achieve with your renovation, and use these goals to make decisions along the way. Are you trying to improve light? Add space? Ease the flow of traffic through the house? Is it an enhancement, retrofit, or is the renovation tackling maintenance and repairs? Knowing what you're trying to achieve and address will help you successfully navigate the renovation and ensure that you are happy with the end result.

Make a blueprint

You may have an idea of what the renovations should look like in your mind's eye, but they often don't translate accurately once the actual work is done. A blueprint can help you identify what's practical and if you have the space needed. As the CMHC states, "Mistakes on paper are much easier and less expensive to fix than mistakes on the job."

Can your home support the renovation?

Renovations have a funny way of exposing the limitations of your home's support systems-plumbing, electrical and heating. Before you take on the challenge of a renovation consider how it will affect the house as a whole. Can the plumbing, electrical or heating systems support the changes you want to make? If they can't, you'll have to budget for the necessary updates and upgrades, or reassess whether the renovation is realistic.

Take into consideration the long-term impact

Think long-term when planning your renovation. For example, renovations that make your home more energy-efficient could pay for themselves through years of lower monthly utility bills, but, if you're adding a level to your house then you can bank on higher bills-there'll be more to heat, more to light and likely (if adding a bathroom) more water needed. Also, don't plan for just today; think about your family's future needs. Make sure what you want to do is flexible and can be adapted to fit your changing needs as time goes by.

Home insurance is an additional long-term consideration. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, homeowners are obligated to inform their home insurance companies about any renovations or additions. Even though you are required to do so, you'll want to do so too. If your insurance company doesn't know about a renovation, enhancement or upgrade, you may not have enough coverage. Also, insurance companies sometimes decrease premiums when you improve wiring or fire prevention and improve or add a security system.

Establish a budget

Once the ongoing and long-term impacts have been assessed, CMHC suggests that you get several quotes so you have a solid understanding of how much it will cost to undertake. Then from the quotes you get, take the most reasonable quote (not necessarily the cheapest) and add 10 to 15 per cent for unexpected costs.

Golden rules for renovating

The Canadian Home Builders' Association lists their golden rules of renovating to help homeowners get the most out of their renovation. They're worth a read, before you dig in.

  • Know what you want by taking the time to explore the possibilities for your home.
  • Set a realistic budget. Be ready for the unexpected costs that may arise from the renovation as well as the costs that pop up post-renovation, like new furniture, drapery and the like.
  • Plan for the long-term so that you are not undoing later what you're renovating today.
  • If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. Buy the best quality products and materials you can realistically afford.
  • Don't choose a renovator on price alone. Get references, ask about warranties and make sure you have a good relationship.
  • Protect yourself. Get it in writing and work with professionals that have all of the licences and insurance necessary.
Home renovations are exciting, but they are stressful. Remember the more you plan, research and know your options the more likely you'll be happy with the renovations when they're complete. You can't over prepare for a home renovation.

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