Planning reconstruction: Renovation with a system

Planning a reconstruction: For more and more people, this is becoming an urgent task. There are tens of thousands of outdated homes. And so the idea is born, to give the house a fresh look with a lick of paint or even major reconstruction. But don’t botch it! Good planning from the very beginning is essential.

Planning reconstruction: Renovation with a system
A fresh lick of paint: you can simply give your house a new coat of paint without an architect and without a construction permit. (Image: fotolia)

Jürg Zulliger

Planning reconstruction: but how? So many renovation or refurbishment projects start off without a conclusive plan. Furthermore, most people do not start by thinking that they will indulge in architectural visions or build castles in the air. Bernhard Lauper, building consultant at Immopro AG in Zürich, tells us: “In practice, a seemingly small age-related defect in a house can be the impetus to consider a ‘face-lift’ for the home.” One example: At the start of the reconstruction, it was simply a troublesome burst water pipe. It called for more detailed investigation into its causes. Suddenly, the builders and homeowner were surprised and exclaimed: “We’ve really set off an avalanche here!”

Reconstruction: “The runaway avalanche”

It was quite understandable that specialists had to give this piece of advice: The best thing to do would be to replace the house’s entire pipe system, in order to prevent further water damage. And so, the owner of the property could not avoid taking on the serious and costly refurbishment. “If the piping system needs to be replaced”, Lauper the construction expert says, “it makes sense to refurbish all wet rooms, i.e. bathrooms and kitchen.”

External pressure sometimes plays a role, perhaps in terms of building concentration. “In many towns and communities, building and zoning regulations have been adapted in recent years”, Lauper explains. This means that: Higher density is often permitted on plots that have already been built on. A builder or homeowner, therefore, has more leeway, for example, to add to the building or to build an extension.

More and more often, sustainability and energy use come into these considerations. At present, almost every reconstruction plan includes these aspects: Is it also time to change the heating system? Do the building envelope and windows need to be replaced in order to satisfy current or future requirements?

Planning reconstruction: Renovation with a system
In order to get the best out of the space creatively, a good architect is often required. (Image: fotolia)

Planning reconstruction: Mistake number 1

One of the worst mistakes when reconstructing or renovating is making hasty decisions. Especially for older properties, a comprehensive analysis of what is possible or appropriate within the existing building structure and on the basis of planning and building regulations is worthwhile. The matter of the builder is then, as always, to be decided. You either draw on cash reserves, or make do with a simple repair or service of the building for the time being.

Even Zürich's René Dalla Corte, who has completed countless demanding reconstruction projects throughout his career, says: “The start of the project is pivotal!” I would consult a good architect or building consultant for advice.” Before you even begin, you should have several meetings and create a specification document. Dalla Corte stresses further: “A construction partner must analyze the property thoroughly, listen to the owner carefully and understand his wishes.”

For private builders and homeowners, there is more good news: There is a high level of expertise in maintenance and renovation in Switzerland. There are many construction managers, construction businesses, craftsmen and architects that have a lot of experience with the topic of“planning reconstruction” and can provide the best references.

Planning reconstruction: Mistake number 2

The second fatal mistake is made by builders in contacting the wrong people. The next-best building contractor might complete a purely superficial reconstruction, without identifying the potential of a truly beloved property.

If the owner wishes to carry out fundamental changes or redesign the building, an architect is usually necessary. Accurately assessing spatial configuration and recognizing areas for improvement is the remit of planners and architects.

Sometimes, however, it is better to contact a construction manager, especially when the organization and coordination of a building project is paramount. The construction manager's role is to coordinate the various workers and craftsmen so they are working at their best and to ensure the smooth operation of the construction site.

It is a different matter again when there is, for example, only paint work (a ‘paintbrush makeover’) necessary for individual appliances or kitchen reconstruction.  If you want to renovate a kitchen (without affecting room structure or other building components), you need a good kitchen planner and a kitchen fitter as a partner.

Many laymen ask: Do we need approval for a reconstruction? The requirements vary according to the area the property is in. However, in general: Purely superficial repainting on the inside of the building does not require approval. Bernhard Lauper, the building consultant, advises you to obtain approval when more major alterations are planned: For example, changes to outside appearance or changes in use (conversion of apartments to offices or similar).

Mistake number 3: No overall plan

The third fatal mistake is to start isolated individual actions - without a conclusive overall plan or a well thought-out concept. Many experts also warn against this: “Don’t botch it!”

Those who want to make a good job of it, however, should plan the reconstruction - thoroughly, from A to Z. For the experts, a building diagnosis is standard in such cases. An architect or construction expert will examine the building on-site and judge the condition of materials, HVACR, building shell, etc.

At intervals of 20 to 25 years the heating, building shell and HVACR often need to replaced, which is associated with high cost. Each building component has a specific lifespan. Planning reconstruction means: Work on different parts must be correctly combined and divided into stages. An approximate budget is also a part of this basic planning. Architects and construction experts are backed up by experience and benchmarks. For more major actions such as add-ons or extensions: Reconstructing space often costs a similar amount per area or cubic meter as building new.

Planning reconstruction: Renovation with a system
Before craftsmen are on site: basic planning is the first factor for success in reconstructions. (Image: fotolia)

Conclusion: planning for the next generation

Lastly, if you are planning a renovation, consider the following: Properties are long-term investments. For this reason, most houses now in private ownership will be passed on to the next generation. Planning a reconstruction therefore often also means: You will make important decisions, not only about the building, but also about your own life plans.

Checklist: Reconstruction in ten steps

1. Diagnosis of overall condition: Will simply repainting living spaces, bathrooms or the kitchen suffice, or are further actions necessary? What is the condition of HVACR and individual building components?
2. Clarify with the building authority and building inspection department whether your plans require approval or not. If necessary, prepare the planning application jointly with an architect.
3. Planning and projection: How should the renovated space be redesigned? Can the previous floor plan be retained?
4. Make a decision on the budget and ceiling limit for expenses.
5. Tender and allocate tasks to the architect, craftsmen etc.
6. Sampling: Select equipment and materials at suppliers and wholesalers.
7. Create a construction schedule, implementation plans and fitting plan - optimize the process with detailed weekly and daily schedules.
8. Information from neighbors and organizational aspects - can living spaces, for example, continue to be used during the reconstruction period?
9. The actual building reconstruction will last several weeks or possibly longer - depending on the complexity of the operation. When planned well, however, simple standard reconstructions such as bathroom or kitchen fittings can be completed in around two to three weeks.
10. Inspection of the finished reconstruction, creation of a log and agreement on possible guarantee work or reworking. Creation of the construction invoice.

Planning reconstruction: Renovation with a system
Planning reconstruction: The perfect reconstruction is here, all in one place. A modern upgrade is feasible, even for older buildings. (Image: fotolia)