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The top 9 renovation traps that BBQ cash

Courtney Cole

Interior designer, property stylist, and TileCloud team member Mel Smith sat down recently and distilled the key learnings from the renovation of her family home, a Victorian terrace in Alexandria, NSW.

Here are 9 steps when renovating a home where careful planning can elevate burning through too much cash if you are looking to take on the task of project manager.


1.It's all in the planning!

Details are everything when it comes to renovating. Spend the time in the early stages mapping out key steps in renovating your home:

Determine the key function for each room
Break each room you are renovating down by its key functions. Consider who uses the rooms, what are they used for, and any requirements the rooms need to make it function at its best. For example: is storage a key consideration for your living room to achieve that minimal look you love, yet allows your kids to access their favourite toys during the day?

If you can, try to live in your space for a while before knocking down walls. You will learn what you love about your space and what you need changing in order for it to function better for your needs.

Future plan your home requirements
If you are planning on being in your home for some time to come, factor what you may need as the household grows with your family’s changing needs. For example, air-conditioning in that spare room may not be necessary now but in the future when it becomes your home office or your teenager’s new bedroom it could be a key requirement. Getting all your services put in at the same time is less costly then adding it in separately later if you have the foresight.

Be sympathetic to your suburb and street and homes current style
Working with what you have if you are renovating can help save lots of money. Our terrace is over 100 years old and had original cornices, skirting boards and hung windows. We drew a line between the old and new parts of the home and kept or restored original features in the older front part of the home. The mix of old and new has given the home a beautiful sense of character. Stripping the home of all of this would have been costly and would have made the home less sympathetic to its origins. Inherited “features” however are sometimes best removed, like a friend of mine who had Italian columns from the 1980’s flanking the outside of her federation style home. Some things are best not seen.

When you have refined your key considerations, start planning the look and feel of your renovation. Where to start? Make Pinterest your friend. Collect pictures of ideas and spaces you like and sort by rooms/finishes etc. A pattern should start to emerge when you collect enough, and then really analyse why you like what you have pinned (is it the colour scheme, the hard surfaces, the light?). This should help you pinpoint the style direction you want to head in with your renovation.

2.Establish a Budget

Establishing a strict budget from the outset can help minimize the stress of the build. But always build in a buffer as unexpected cost items that will creep into your build and I guarantee they will. For example, during our renovation our builder was pulling up the flooring for sub-floor ventilation and detrimental to our wallets discovered the back half of the house was standing on rubble, not level pylons. Rectifying this past shabby construction cost quite a bit but needed to be done to ensure the longevity of our new additions.

Keep track of all your expenses. This includes future pieces that are secondary to your build (such as pendant lights and that rug you had your eye on) in a spreadsheet. Also making note of when the expense will be realised for cash flow purposes. This sheet will be your bible during your build and will help you feel in control, particularly at the back end, when you are nearing completion, where you will be hemorrhaging cash at an unruly rate.


Make sure the alterations you are planning to make are adequately signed off on. With many structural changes, you will require prior council approval before walls are knocked down.

Keep your close neighbors on-side during this process
Visiting with a bottle of wine for a discussion over your plans before submission is sometimes the better approach if you are up to it and if you feel they will be impacted, rather than surprising them with a development application in the post. This forward engagement can make that approval process less arduous if they understand what you are trying to achieve and how they will be impacted

Hiring a certifier
When it comes to this process sometimes a certifier that has worked with your builder is the best one to engage as they already have established a dialogue and understand how each other work. Otherwise, a certifier familiar with your council and suburb will be the best one to engage. Don’t leave certification too long post your build – it can be a bit of a headache chasing up trades to rectify any items that require alteration to pass.

4. Draftsperson or Architect?

If you are planning a more complex, larger scale build, want something bespoke in its design, are after a project manager outside of the builder you engage and would like heavy involvement from the building designer an architect may be the best option. Architects can provide design vision and factor in aspects you may not in the planning stage.

If your build is straight forward and you know what you want in terms of layout a draftsperson or building designer can often provide you with results that are just as good as what an architect could provide, usually with a quicker turnaround and at less cost. The key is to find someone who understands what you want to achieve and can articulate that best on paper.

We chose to go with a draftsperson for our last renovation as we were pretty restricted on what we could do with a Victorian terrace. We had only small structural changes to make and knew the layout we wanted so felt we would not get much value to add by using an Architect given our budget. Five years on, I feel we made the best decision by going with a draftsperson. There are no glowing changes we would have made, and our plans and BASIX were submitted and approved as quickly as possible, all changes covered for a fee less than $5,000. I have recommended the draftsperson we used many times over and they also had positive experiences going down this design path.

5. Lead times can be long

Got your heart set on items required for your renovation? Ensure you know what the lead times are on specific items as once your build starts up, you need to have all your items ready to go when called on to make the build run efficiently and for deadlines to be met. Establish any lengthy lead times for fixtures and fittings you may be looking at early in your planning process, so you can ensure you get the items you have your heart set on delivering on time for your respective trades. Remember a lot of items required for a build or your renovation are large items or on special order.

Even if you purchase the items online, there is a process involved in the background in getting them to you. It can involve various warehouses packing and dispatching, along with special transport vehicles passing state depots to coordinate getting your items to you. We ordered a lot of our European kitchen appliances from an offshore company. Our induction cooktop had more stamps in its passport than I by the time it reached its destination surprisingly in one piece. It took a bit more time, but the forward planning meant we saved a lot of money and without comprise.

6. Engage in professional help

Most suppliers offer advice, assistance, and extra help if you engage their services. Take advantage of this. They are experts in their field, so instead of re-inventing the wheel, get them to help where you may lack expertise.

Engage a builder early on. A builder will be able to give insight into things you may not be aware of. For example - advise how costly or tricky it may be to introduce services such as plumbing to a room that previously has none or what supporting works are needed if load bearing walls are removed. This may affect the overall changes you make.

We originally wanted to open the bottom floor of our terrace from the front bedroom onwards which would have led to us relocating the stairs. The cost to do such due to engineering requirements would have tipped us way over budget. Our builder and draftsperson pointed out it was not our forever home and workarounds would still achieve a revised layout we would love to live in. In hindsight we are so happy the house is not as open planned as we originally wished it to be. Having two separate living spaces at either end of the house allows the home to function for various members of our family without compromising needs.

7. Trust your builder/trades

If you engage the right professionals, ensuring you build a level of trust is paramount. Builders and tradespeople spend many years perfecting their trade, if they suggest an alternative, or introduce workarounds to make things more efficient, it is usually for a sound reason and can make the whole process a lot less stressful and easier to work through.

We got three quotes from three builders and did not use price as the final decider on who we selected. It really came down to a gut feel. All three builders we engaged to quote were recommended by friends or friends of friends, so we already had a positive reference of the builders’ process, communication and output. We went with the builder who we felt would work best with us and our communication style.

8. Be available on site as much as possible

Sometimes your vision has not interpreted the way you think it has been or there is a breakdown in communication amongst trades. Being on site for regular meetings to go over the stages of the build can help ensure problems are addressed when they are in their infancy. You can see first hand what is being built, painted, laid and rectify any issues if they crop up before it becomes a costly exercise to fix.

TIP: "Mud maps are gold". This includes tiles, fixtures and sources of electrical placement – like switches, sockets, dimmers, etc so trades are across your plans as well as you are. A lot of people are visual and work best with visual cues and work less efficiently by being passed secondary information if you are not on site.
Considering how you will turn on and off taps, light switches, etc by walking through the room is the best way to figure out where items are best located. Also factor in secondary devices that may need power in rooms when planning out your electrical requirements (e.g.: kitchen bench for cooking or phone charging).
Ensure your builder and trades have updated schedules of fixtures and fittings, including dimensions, installation guide links (if plumbing/electrical items) and estimated delivery dates and final locations.


9. Be flexible

Not everything will go to plan. Being agile if problems crop up and again trusting the professionals you hire is paramount. If something cannot be done as first planned, be open to the alternatives given, you may be surprised, a better outcome may come of it.



If you need help choosing tiles for renovation? You can book a free design appointment with the design team at TileCloud.
Don't forget to follow us on Instagram to share your renovation using our beautiful tiles or get more inspiration from real life renos!

Courtney Cole
As an interior designer at TileCloud, Courtney brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the world of home renovation. With a Diploma in Interior Design and Decoration and a passion for creating stunning interiors, shes dedicated to helping people on their journey to transform their homes. Currently channeling her expertise into renovating her own home, she aims to share valuable insights, tips, and inspiration to assist others in achieving their dream space!