9 Tools and Strategies You Need for a Remodel, According to General Contractors
If you’re considering starting that remodel soon, these tools and strategies will help your reno go as smoothly as possible.
Starting a renovation is a big decision. It takes time, planning, money, and the proper tools. This article plans to address all of those topics, ensuring that homeowners who are considering renovating their homes are ready for the endeavor.
We reached out to several contractors to get their opinion on what homeowners should have before starting a renovation, whether it be a tool, technique, or strategy. Overwhelmingly, they concluded that certain strategies were far more important than actual tools or items. We’ll highlight those tidbits of advice and add a few items we’d suggest from our contracting days.
1. Tool: Personal Protective Equipment
No DIYer or pro should start any renovation without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Without these items, a simple accident can bring the entire renovation to a screeching halt, and a serious injury or even death can occur. And make no mistake, accidents will happen—that’s the nature of the work!
As far as PPE goes, the team at Bob Vila suggests high-quality safety glasses, a respirator mask, and work gloves at a minimum. If the renovation will involve some serious demolition, consider a hard hat as well. We also suggest keeping a first-aid kit nearby in case an accident does occur.
2. Strategy: A Pre-Renovation Structural Inspection
Folks that live in older homes might want to consider whether their current structure and foundation can carry the weight of their renovation. Particularly, this is the case when adding a dormer, a second-floor bathroom, a new kitchen’s worth of cabinets, appliances, and counter tops, as well as bathroom renovation with cast-iron or oversized tubs.
According to Gavin MacRae of GJ MacRae Foundation Repair, “we get a lot of clients (in older homes, generally) that are looking to renovate or remodel kitchens, bathrooms, or entire floors. But, their basements need some significant structural reinforcement first. They should consider having a structural engineer inspect everything before the renovation begins.”
3. Tool: Reciprocating Saw
Demolition is often where the rubber hits the road, but houses aren’t designed to unzip like winter coats. DIYers and pros have to dig in to tear out, and that’s where a trusty reciprocating saw comes into play.
Also known as a “sawzall,” reciprocating saws are powerful hand-held saws with swappable blades that travel back and forth. They can cut through wood, metal, plastic, and a wide variety of other materials quickly and safely, as long as the user understands how to use theirs properly. These saws come in corded and cordless versions, with today’s cordless version being just as powerful and more versatile.
4. Strategy: A Great Relationship With Their Contractor
If a DIYer isn’t DIYing their entire project themselves, one of the most important things they can have is intangible: A great relationship with their contractor. This often takes some time to develop through interviewing multiple contractors, asking friends and neighbors for references, and shopping for more than just the lowest quote.
“Not to be too woo, but trust and goodwill move a project forward—more to the point, get it over the inevitable surprise and obstacles that will happen from start to finish—more than anything in the contract,” said Mark Clement of Clement Improvements and MyFixItUpLife. “Obviously, price matters. Money is not an unlimited resource. But it pays to work with someone who is not only technically proficient but who you also like. When the going gets tough—and sometimes it does—it’s better to be in the storm with someone who has your back.”
5. Tool: Circular Saw
When it comes to all-around capability, there are few tools as useful as a circular saw. These power tools have round, high-speed blades that can cut framing lumber to length, break down sheets of plywood, and plunge-cut through counters. They can even be fitted with blades capable of cutting masonry and metal materials. They can be used for framing, demolition, and many other purposes.
There are quite a few circular saw models available, with each of the top manufacturers offering at least one model. The team at Bob Vila recommends going with a cordless model that’s both powerful and convenient. The uses for a saw like this on a typical renovation will seem nearly endless, particularly in the early phases.
6. Strategy: Completely Understanding of the Scope of Work
Having a complete understanding of the project is key to renovation success. While taking the project step-by-step is the best way to get it done, DIYers need to know what each step entails before they take it. Surprises do arise, but this approach can minimize their impact.
According to Joe Perez, owner of the general contracting firm The Building Pros, one thing a homeowner needs before a renovation is “a complete understanding of the scope of work.” Joe has the perfect solution for this: “The tool for this is a smartphone or computer to do research.” He also stated that understanding CPM, or the critical path method (a popular scheduling method in construction) would be a big help, particularly for homeowners who aren’t DIYing the entire project themselves.
7. Tool: Drill/Driver Set
Before that renovation begins, homeowners should take inventory of their current drill and its condition, and ask themselves if it’s up for a serious renovation. If the answer is no, it’s time to think about a new drill/driver.
A drill/driver set will be one of the most used tool sets during a renovation. The drill and its accompanying impact driver will allow the user to bore holes through wood, remove or sink screws, hang cabinets, and even assemble other tools and materials they have to purchase along the way. Again, the Bob Vila team suggests a cordless set for their convenience without a lack of power.
8. Strategy: A Cushion in the Budget
Renovations and construction projects rarely go exactly as planned. Expenses pop up, and some expenses are more, well, expensive than others. Rather than letting one of these expensive expenses wreck the budget, it’s better to create a cushion to prepare for it.
“Build a cushion in your budget for unexpected expenses,” reiterates Chris Fallon of Fallon Contracting. “In any remodeling project, you will almost always find that each stage of the process takes longer and costs more than you expect. All the supply chain issues and fluctuating material prices that have plagued the construction industry since the pandemic have only exacerbated this problem.”
It’s not all about securing extra cash, though. Chris offers a helpful solution when the budget is what the budget is: “If you’re locked into a budget, then it’s best to separate your non-negotiables from the items you’re willing to be a little more flexible on. For example, if you really want to splurge on that beautiful and expensive kitchen countertop, you may need to have a backup option for your flooring that’s slightly less expensive.”
9. Tool: Wet Dry Vac
Whether it’s a DIYer’s first renovation or their 20th, there is always more debris to clean up than expected. No matter if it’s simply joint compound dust or a mouse nest full of pistachio seeds and insulation that fell out of the ceiling, the amount of dust, dirt, and random items that need vacuuming are seemingly endless on a renovation.
A good wet-dry vacuum is the answer. These rugged vacuums can suck up dust and dirt, and when fitting with a HEPA filter, prevent tiny airborne particles from making their way back into the atmosphere. They can also suck up water from the inevitable plumbing mishap on a kitchen or bathroom renovation. Best of all, they preserve the usefulness of the standard house vacuum by avoiding the abuse of a renovation clean-up.
The prices listed here are accurate as of publication on March 1, 2023.