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About to undertake a reno in Canberra? Read this first

About to undertake a reno in Canberra? Read this first

If you knew you were about to start a project that wouldn’t finish for four years, would you still start it?

I would. Because that’s how long it’s just taken me to completely renovate the house we bought in Fisher in 2016. It was my gran’s house, so I kept a lot of the original features that literally still make my heart sing but complemented them with a more modern layout, materials and fittings.

After a four year labour of love, I wanted to share with you what I learnt.


1. Don’t overcapitalise.

The kitchen of our house in Fisher, pre-renovation.

Before you start, research the homes in your area that have been renovated, look for those that have sold recently and learn how much they sold for. Compare this to the value of your home and the type of investment you want to make. Overcapitalising is one of the first big mistakes you can make, and while you want to renovate to enjoy the space, some homes will never make back the investment of the $197per sqm feature tile you chose to put in your three-bed entry-level townhouse. Be clear on why you’re renovating: are you renovating to sell? Or is this your forever home? If your purpose is to sell or rent, be extra cautious of overcapitalising. 

(Bonus tip: While we’re on budget, if you’re dealing with an older house, you definitely need a contingency. I can confidently assure you that when that gyprock comes down, or that kitchen comes out, you’re going to find a hidden surprise you will likely have to throw some money at. We removed our 50-year-old kitchen to find that NO FLOOR HAD BEEN LAID under the cabinetry. WTF?

2. Learn the lingo.

Our gorgeous kitchen, post-renovation.Our gorgeous kitchen, post-renovation.

Learn to speak Tradie. If you want to be savvy and save yourself time and money, know how to measure to the millimetre, calculate square meterage, and know some of the basic sizes things come in. For example, kitchen cooktops usually come in 600mm, 900mm, or 1200mm sizes, so kitchen joinery is usually built to a similar specification.

This also comes down to things like knowing the difference between a roof and a ceiling (ceiling is inside, roof is outside) or the difference between a sink and a basin (sink in the kitchen, basin in the bathroom). This may seem insignificant but when you’re chatting to your plumber about where to position the basin on your 1200mm wide bathroom vanity, you will have a much clearer discussion, with said plumber knowing you’ve got your shit together. 

3. Let your tradie do their thing.

When two become one – smashing through from the lounge to the dining.

When you manage to find a tradesperson you trust, treat them right. My advice is:

  • Leave them alone: When they’re working, leave them the heck alone. If they need your input they’ll ask. Trades are complicated, and often if you’re watching a process from start to finish there’ll be parts of that process that don’t make sense to you. Be patient, chances are when the job’s done, your question will be answered on its own. 
  • Pay them on time: Nothing motivates anyone to work hard more than reliable cash money. If you take forever to pay your tradie, I can guarantee they ain’t coming back in a hurry. 
  • Be reliable: Sure, there are tradies out there giving the good guys bad names, but if you agree to be at home at a certain time, be there.

4. Do some stuff yourself.

Don’t get ‘hammer happy’. Leave the demolishing to the experts.

We just finished our deck, and I painted what felt like 2039kms of black posts for the balustrades. Doing this myself saved my builder a tonne of time, and probably saved me a tonne of money. Don’t be scared to let your tradesperson know you’ll help with prepping the space for a job, and then get in there and do it. Side note:


(Bonus tip: DO NOT demolish things yourself unless you have spoken directly to your trades. If you’re not a qualified carpenter or electrician and you decide to smash down a wall on Saturday, you’re gonna mess it up. Leave it the heck alone! Tradies can actually meticulously and cleanly demolish a space in half the time and effort of you getting hammer-happy on your own.)

5. Clear your evenings.

My husband’s joy when our new windows were finally installed.

Renovating takes time and flexibility, and things very rarely run to schedule. If you’re managing the project, make sure you have time each day or week to sit down and assess the progress. Make sure you line up trades in the right order, with enough time to get their work done before the next trade rocks up. This process of resource juggling is time-consuming, so don’t undertake a reno project if you’re not able to devote time to it. 

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