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Should I stay, or should I go?

A closeup view of Andy standing in the dust of a stair well renovation.

When considering the purchase of our first home in Pound Ridge, I asked Tony, a very experienced carpenter, to walk through it with me and give his opinion on its condition.

It was a old farmhouse on a beautiful piece of land. Of course it needed a lot of work and I was bursting with remodeling ideas that I could clearly visualize in my mind’s eye. It had creative potential and plenty of room for our family to grow. As we were leaving I asked Tony how long it would take – working only on Saturdays – to accomplish my goals. Without hesitation, he replied, “Eight years.”


In those days when our children were small, Saturday was named “Boom, Boom Day”. With the help of friends in various trades, we worked for years and accomplished a great deal. But we never got close to the whole house renovation intended at the beginning. We managed to live through the noise, dust and expense by working one or two days a week, cleaning up, and getting on with normal family life.

Time to move out.

In larger remodeling and restoration projects, spacing the work out as we did is neither practical nor efficient.

Andy demolishes and old stair well.

Andy demolishes and old stair well.

Remodeling always takes longer and costs more than expected, especially in older homes. No one wants the work to drag on forever!

Lengthy timetables drive up cost and create duplicate work, such as site cleaning, temporary protection from the elements, incomplete plumbing and wiring. It also creates project fatigue for both the client and tradesmen.

It is always better to “grab the bull by the horns.” Go at it! Complete the demolition, framing, wiring, plumbing, insulation; then sheet rock and complete the finish work as a single phase.

When the client says: “We are going to live here during the construction,” I get nervous. No one really knows, unless they have gone through it before, what it means to live through the noise, dust, and tremendous inconvenience … not to mention safety.

The Certificate of Occupancy

When we take out a building permit, the Certificate of Occupancy is revoked for the house, it is closed for occupancy. The principle is simple: the building is unsafe for habitation.

Andy tears and old staircase apart.

Andy tears and old staircase apart.

During the demolition, especially in older plaster walled buildings, a toxic, irritant-based soup of dust is released which can include some very tough hombres: lead, asbestos, fiberglass or mineral wool fibers. It is next to impossible to keep the dust from infiltrating the building.

The conscientious builder works hard to control this situation by sealing off the work area and using positive ventilation strategies. But the fact is, it is a construction zone.

So when a client states that they want to stay in the house during construction – and I understand the economic reasons why they wish to do so – I try to persuade them otherwise.

Children and pets should never be exposed to renovation dust. The work place must be isolated from the family’s actual living area with temporary enclosures and the use of exhaust fans to draw particles outside and rigorous daily clean-up.

The decision to live through a remodeling project are either financial or control based. Agreed, it is costly to move out for the four to eight months duration (or longer) of a project. But living there may extend also the construction window. And one cannot ignore the emotional and physical stress of living in a construction zone.

In my experience, just when the carpenters are getting to the “good stuff” … the icing on the cake for all involved – the trim work, tile work, and final painting – the clients have hit their limit and put undue pressure upon the crew to “get this thing” OVER.

So, should you stay or should you go? In the final review,  this is a 20-20-vision thing.

In my humble opinion, it is never productive, or technically legal, to live in a house under full renovation. And, as I learned way back then, working on my own home, it takes longer than expected. As the great sage Yogi Berra said:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”