Minimize Stress During Your Dream Remodel

 Author: Allison Mainland

Allison Mainland recently graduated from California State University-Chico and has her family home in San Diego, CA


Currently, my childhood home is being renovated. 

Having watched every HGTV show in the book on home renovations I thought I was prepared and it would be fun deciding what I wanted in my new and improved home. I couldn’t wait to get started! 

Visiting material showrooms was like a dreamland- but with so many gorgeous options, it was easy to forget what I originally envisioned and staying within budget was a very daunting task. 

Early on, I thought choosing my contractor and signing the contract would be the hard part. Little did I know what my role was as a homeowner during the construction process, the time demands that would be placed upon me or its impacts on my daily life.

The non-reality-show version of my renovation involves strangers walking throughout my house along with intermittent jackhammering and other loud noises from 7am – 6pm for the last four months! There were times I had no refrigerator or place to heat food. Parking in my driveway is nonexistent and leaving the house without sawdust all over my pants has been a constant frustration. 

Now that I’ve gotten to know the construction crew and see them every morning, they kinda feel like extended family… that were supposed to move in for a week, but stayed for 4 months!  As much as I like them and am grateful for all their hard work, I can’t wait for them to move out!

As we are nearing the end of construction I’m thrilled to see my “dream home” renovation come to fruition- it looks fantastic!   There were a few bumps along the way and times I felt a bit overwhelmed. Below are some lessons learned that I hope will help you minimize stress while creating the space you have always wanted.


  • Materials Selection Process- know yourself and determine whether you will need help!


Choosing materials is the biggest task placed upon homeowners during their construction project. Never having done a construction project before, I didn’t know how much work it would be. For me, these tasks took roughly 15-25 hours a week and it wasn’t easy balancing these responsibilities with a full-time job.  Moreover, I was never fully confident I was making the right choices and on a number of occasions, the stress over these decisions kept me awake at night.  

Are you uber-organized, good at making decisions and have a great design sense? Would you jump at the chance to scour through a large showroom of tiles to choose just the right one? If this describes you and you have time to organize, select, order and receive materials, you are perfect for the job and I encourage you to give it a try- you can skip to tip number two!  

However, if you are more like me, you may want to consider paying a designer or your contractor to take on some of these tasks? 

You may say, “I did hire a designer, so why didn’t they choose and order materials?”  And, what’s the difference between hiring a designer vs. your contractor to help you with materials?

Designers typically create drawings which show where cabinets, countertops and other finish materials will go but services beyond that are additional.  Mine included a floor-plan, elevations and a schedule of materials- tile, flooring, cabinetry, countertops, electrical fixtures, knobs and pulls, towel racks and plumbing fixtures.  She suggested colors but did not specify brands, model numbers or finishes.

This left me to visit and least 5 showrooms- multiple times for at least 1-2 hours each, ensure all finishes looked good together in natural light and at night, organize lead-times, purchase materials, schedule deliveries, verify deliveries were correct and undamaged, address discrepancies, deal with backlogs for all materials, some that take over 8 weeks to ship!

A typical Designers materials-selection process involves narrowing down each selection to three to five options.  Some accompany you to the showroom while others bring samples directly to your home so you can examine them in varying light conditions throughout the day and night. And, they are experts at ensuring everything comes together in a harmonious composition so you won’t have sleepless nights! Contractors who offer material-selection services primarily focus on the ordering, receiving, inspecting and verifying part and generally don’t give aesthetic advice.  

Cost to hire a Designer or Contractor for these services is not straightforward!  They usually charge a fee, but frequently pass discounts they receive at showrooms along to their clients so it is hard to figure out the net difference.  Every professional is different so you’ll want to make sure the services that you think are included, such as organizing, ordering, inspecting deliveries and determining “overage” is listed on your contract, along with their fee structure, markups and discounts.

If you feel it is not within your budget to hire a designer, many showrooms have free onsite designer representatives (by appointment) that can help you choose and make the process a bit easier. Some will set you up in a private space and pull samples prior to your arrival if you send them a copy of your plans. These representatives are usually commission based, so you may get a higher level of service if you let them know you are committed to purchasing all your materials with them.  Friends have told me there are a number of online designers, such as, that can help select finishes for a very low rate.


  • Organize shipments

Before my renovations started I made the mistake of not having material selected and purchased and no idea of all the decisions I would need to make. This made it incredibly difficult to catch-up and shop while construction was underway- not only for me but for my contractor. I often found myself driving out to Home Depot in the middle of my workday to rush and purchase material that happened to be in our garage, purchased months ago, hidden behind some boxes! 

To stay organized you’ll want to create a checklist of materials that shows when they are ordered, when they arrive, whether you’ll need to pick them up at the showroom or your home and who will off-load them (tile, flooring and bathtubs are very heavy!). If you will not be home to receive shipments, it is imperative to determine who will receive the shipments and make sure they will be home at that time.  My contractors’ team (a.k.a. my new extended family) were happy to help, but on more than one occasion, they were out picking up lunch when deliveries arrived.

Once they do arrive where do you plan on storing the materials? Creating a staging area where you know all materials are safely stored and accessible will make the process go a lot smoother.    

Upon receipt of your order immediately count and inspect materials and check for damage. Out of every order placed, 25% of items will have some type of damage or discrepancy-chips, missing parts, or the wrong finish. Surprisingly, we even received tile in a box with the correct label and bar code, but when opened it was the wrong size, causing a major work delay, so you do have to open every box.


  • Topics to discuss with your contractor before you sign a contract.

Prior to signing your contract, have a conversation about how your life will be impacted during construction and what their service includes?

Where will you be able to park and will they keep your access clear 24/7?  

If your kitchen is being remodeled, how and where will you store food, heat it up and eat it?  Can they set up a temporary kitchen for you in your garage or other location where they can move your old refrigerator, microwave and table?  Is there a way to temporarily set up a sink where you can wash dishes?

If your bathroom is being renovated, will you still be able to use the toilet?  If you only have one bathroom in your home, this will be a key question. Will workers use your restrooms or a porta-potty?

How will they deal with dust migrating into the rest of your home?  Even with special dust matts, zip-walls and a huge air scrubber device that sucked out dust, I found dust to be very annoying.


Was it worth it?  Absolutely! The finishing touches are almost completed and my home looks far better than I ever imagined!     

If you decide to embark on a large home remodeling project, I hope my tips help make your experience more enjoyable!

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