It really is no exaggeration to say that building a new home or renovating an existing one is a marathon and not a sprint – and its one of those extreme marathons – 100 miles along the coastal pathway type of ones. Bloodied feet, burning lungs, screaming muscles.

So how to survive?  Wel looking back at my experience of building our last house I would say that there are a few things that can reduce the pain.  Firstly be realistic – do not tell yourself that it is going to take 4 months to completely renovate your house when it is going to take at least 12 months.  You will just set yourself up for disappointment – anyone who has watched Grand Designs and seen the disbelief on Kevin McCloud’s face  coupled with that arched eyebrow when he is told that the dilapidated pigsty is going to be turned into a luxury home in 5 months knows what I mean.

Secondly do everything you can to be organised.  It saves time and stress in the long run. Research, plan and check everything.  Get things ordered early – only do everything once.  I tend to over think everything and so consequently do everything several times. Usually ending up where I started.

Thirdly be patient but not complacent.  The stages that you go through are fairly long-winded – getting planning permission alone can take months.  Patience is not the ability to wait for things – it’s the way that you wait

So try to be active within your project whilst accepting that things just take time and that a lot are out of your control.  Try not to get stressed and frustrated when you are prevented from pushing on by delays that you have no control over.  And tradesmen will push your patience to the limit, waiting for architects and engineers to respond likewise.  Find things to do while you are waiting that occupy your time in a positive way and give you pleasure.  For me on our latest project it is bringing the kitchen garden back to life and when that is done I will move onto the other parts of the garden.  I’m occupied, feel like I’m doing something positive and it takes my mind off of the fact that the promised drawings are over a week late and the electrician hasn’t turned up for a look at the project. Which is exactly the position I am in as I type!

Fourthly – and I think that this is especially important if you are living on site or within the property whilst renovating it, think about spending a little bit of money making your surroundings reasonably comfortable. In our new project we have refurbished the kitchen by painting the pine walls and the old 1950’s units, replacing the damaged worktops with cheap laminate and adding an island. We’ve popped down some laminate flooring that we hope to re-use.  It’s a temporary fix but when dressed with our furniture it looks great.



The repainted kitchen – original units except for the island


When we built our last house we lived on site in the existing property.  It had originally been a series of garages which had later been converted into a row of interconnecting rooms with a flat on top.  The only link between the floors was a tiny lift and an outside staircase.  It had no heating – not even an open fire.  The walls were not insulated and the ventilation was poor so it was damp.  There was one cramped shower room and the downstairs was an unfriendly, souless, barren space. We moved in thinking that we would refurbish it and that it would take 6 months to get building.  Consequently other than cleaning it and painting it white we did nothing, until our youngest son got stuck in the lift and we were forced to remove it and replace it with the smallest spiral staircase that we could buy, which we stuffed up the lift shaft.  No one over 12 stone could go up stairs as the stairs were too narrow.  It was so cold and damp that we sat glued to electric heaters with duvets wrapped around us.  The six months turned into FIVE YEARS as it became clear that our plans to renovate were uneconomic  and we then went down the rebuild route.  During that time we were miserable – if we had spent a little bit of money upgrading some essential things our wait would have been a little more pleasant. We could have put in a LPG gas fire, we could have removed the flimsy stud walls downstairs to create a friendly space, painted the kitchen cupboards.  None of that would have cost much but would have made our time living there much nicer.

So if the tap in the kitchen drips – fix or replace it; if the bathroom tiles are a horrid green and make you shudder every time you see them, paint them with tile paint.  If they annoy you at the beginning of the building process then by the time that you have battled through planning, costings, dealing with builders and so on, they will be driving you insane. One day you will look at them and want to commit murder.

Lastly – and this maybe difficult if you are living in a cramped caravan – but try to create a  sanctuary for yourself away from the dirt and noise.  Just a place for a bit of quiet – invest in some candles, or place a bowl of flowers somewhere.  Just something nice. If there is nowhere to remove yourself to then find a friendly coffee shop where you can go – you can do most things on-line – planning, ordering, financial admin so you can work anywhere. Or just take yourself away.  Go and just sit – read a book, eat cake.  Building or renovating a house is hard work but ultimately really worthwhile and very satisfying but you really want to get to the end with some of your sanity intact!



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