Monk Renovations | What are potential unknowns for a renovation project?
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What are potential unknowns for a renovation project?

What are potential unknowns for a renovation project?

What are potential unknowns for a renovation project?


There are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns, basically items you can predict with relative certainty based on experience and observation and items that are not possible to know without opening walls, ceilings and floors. I will do my best to explain some of the challenges of home renovations and how working with a professional renovator can help avoid some of pitfalls and their associated cost.


Contractors cannot see through walls or under floors, however with years of experience it is possible to know, with some certainty, what could be hidden. An experienced renovator can, and often does, provide pricing for situations that are likely to occur, this allows the home owner to have more certainty of pricing and make decisions on budget before the project starts.

Experienced contractors can see the signs or know what to look for in a home that will allow them to make informed decisions about potential unknown conditions. Often this is why an experienced professional renovator will provide a more detailed and often higher priced estimate than an inexperienced person or a person who does work on the side or under the table.

Often, an experienced renovator will include options in their estimates for potential unknowns, such as hazardous materials (asbestos or lead paint), anticipated water damage, re-sheeting a roof and cracked foundations as a few examples of items which a proactive and experienced renovator will discuss and/or provide an estimate for prior to renovation. Please remember, professionals still cannot see through walls and cannot allow for every possible scenario. There will be unknowns and associated extras and it is important to have a 5-15% contingency in a renovation budget for unknowns.


Hazardous Materials – Asbestos was used as an additive to many building products, predominately between 1945-1985, commonly used in plaster, drywall mud, flooring underlayment, fire resistant materials and tile flooring. A professional will allow for sampling and testing for asbestos and can provide an estimate in advance of the renovation for hazardous material removal, which should always include air sampling when completed to ensure your home is safe when the project is complete.


Water Damage – This can be challenging for any contractor to see before removal of wall or floor coverings and can range from minor to significant rot and mould. A professional will know how to handle this type of situation and will typically charge based on time (an established labour rate in the contract) and materials, which will include a reasonable mark-up. This is known as a time & materials contract and can be easily tracked and protect both the client and the renovator.


Hazardous Wiring / Plumbing not to Code / Structure Damaged or Improperly Constructed – These are three items that are commonly exposed during renovation projects. Perhaps the original home was not built by a professional or a handy-person attempted and addition or renovation. This is often the cause of the above noted hidden unknowns, but once they are exposed they must be addressed by a professional to address the past mistakes and make the home safe for the client.


I hope you have found the above information helpful, please remember the best way to protect against unknowns is to hire a professional and do a thorough review / inspection of your home before renovations. Ask lots of questions so you can identify areas of potential uncertainty and manage that risk by getting detailed estimates.


Dan Monk, P.Eng. / Red Seal Carpenter

Owner – MONK Renovations