Renovating a House: The Ultimate Guide to Modernising a Home

Renovating a House: The Ultimate Guide to Modernising a Home

Renovating a house is both exciting and rewarding, yet it is not without its challenges. Our guide is here to ensure your renovation project runs smoothly.

There are many advantages to renovating a house, as opposed to buying a new property or self-building. Perhaps the main advantage of renovating a house is the exciting potential it offers to uncover all manner of charming original features, closely followed by the fact that a renovation project can, if carried out to a good standard, result in a home that sees an impressive uplift in value.

Conversely, there are also some downsides. For one thing, renovation opportunities are not always easy to come by — buyers often clamour to snap them up and are regularly willing to pay a premium for a 'blank canvas.' There is also the risk of buying a money pit that ends up draining your funds and causing undue stress — although this is avoidable if you know what to look out for.

And that is exactly what our guide to renovating a house is here for — to arm you with the right knowledge to ensure your project results in the house of your dreams. Here, we have broken down the stages of a renovation into easy-to-follow steps, from how to remove any risk from your purchase with the right surveys, to how to deal with any unexpected and expensive issues.

Refurbishing a Property

While it's true that every refurbishment assignment is unique, there are commonly shared tasks and prerequisites across most.

Typically, the standard sequence for a vast majority of renovation endeavours can be summarised as follows:

  • Identify a project
  • Evaluate the potential of the project
  • Develop a comprehensive budget strategy
  • Conduct property surveys
  • Secure renovation insurance and warranty if needed
  • Verify eligibility for any available grants
  • Seek out an architect
  • Apply for planning consent
  • Source a builder Inform building control
  • Arrange waste disposal
  • Tackle accessibility issues and inspect existing drainage
  • Consider energy efficiency improvements
  • Make the structure weatherproof
  • Preserve and mend original features
  • Upgrade plumbing and electrics
  • Implement internal structural modifications Initial fixing work
  • Plasterwork Secondary fixing tasks
  • External enhancements (often these are concurrently ongoing during interior tasks)
  • Final touches and snagging list

Identifying a Refurbishment Project

Arguably, the most challenging part of renovating a house is the process of locating and purchasing a suitable house for the task. Homes requiring modernisation are perpetually sought after, and consequently, it's not unheard of for individuals to pay over the odds in their quest to outbid others, inadvertently inflating their property refurbishment costs before the work even commences. Those who have the capacity to make a cash purchase often have a higher success rate compared to those depending on a conventional mortgage or a refurbishment loan.

This is because obtaining a mortgage for such a property hinges on an independent valuation to ascertain that the house's worth aligns with the offer you've agreed to. Despite the rapid sale of these properties, it's crucial not to rush into any decisions. Detailed assessments are required to unearth potential issues that could unexpectedly drain your budget.

Luckily, you don't have to proceed blindly. Even before acquiring a refurbishment project, it's feasible to gauge the house's condition accurately. Properties ripe for refurbishment are typically sold via auction or a sealed bid process of final and best offers.

Understanding these mechanisms early on will improve your chances of securing a renovation property at a competitive price.

Create a Refurbishment Project Checklist


The term 'renovation' is often likened to restoration — returning something to its original condition, rejuvenating and revitalising it. In contrast, 'remodelling' typically indicates changing a building, possibly through modifying its design or extending it.

Not all renovation endeavours will suit your needs — some may prove to be overly costly, while others might require excessive work. In the course of evaluating a property for refurbishment, it's vital to grasp its potential — a renovation checklist can prove to be very handy for this purpose.

When inspecting a house, consider the following questions:

  • Is there room for expansion, such as a rear or side extension, or conversion of a loft, basement, or garage?
  • Observe the neighbouring properties.
  • Have they managed to secure planning consent for renovations similar to what you envision?
  • Is the property situated in a location that suits your needs?
  • How much of the task will be structural compared to aesthetic?
  • What are the maximum prices for properties in this area?
  • Will your refurbishments enhance the property's value?
  • Are you aware of any covenants or planning restrictions that could hinder your planned extensions or alterations?

Invite a builder or architect to assess the property and request their expert opinion.

Develop a Comprehensive Budget Strategy

If you're aiming to renovate within a budget, this stage is crucial. Prior to purchasing a property for refurbishment, be mindful that, apart from the typical refurbishment expenses, there are several additional costs that you should account for, including:

  • Reconnection charges: It may be essential to initiate or re-establish a water supply. If one existed previously, it might have been disconnected. You'll also need electricity for power tools or day-to-day living if you plan on staying on-site.
  • Valuation costs
  • Council tax
  • Professional fees: Your budget should include costs for planning consent and Building Regulations approval, an array of surveys, structural engineer reports, and any other professional charges (e.g. tree surveys).
  • Contingency reserve: Ensure you have additional funds available to manage any unexpected circumstances that might arise (and when refurbishing a property, it is absolutely anticipated)
  • Legal expenses: You should anticipate paying £500-2,000 for a solicitor or conveyancer to represent your interests.

Determine the Necessary Surveys

The appropriate building survey will ensure early detection of any potential issues. In fact, it's possible to organise a survey even before submitting an offer on the property, granted that the owner approves. However, this typically occurs after an offer has been accepted. A building survey should pinpoint areas of concern and provide an estimate of any urgent repairs required, along with their potential costs. You can utilise the survey report to decide whether to proceed with the transaction, or whether you can negotiate a lower price based on the survey's findings. If a chartered surveyor suspects or identifies the following, they will advise further investigations:

  • Infestations
  • Subsidence or heave
  • Dampness
  • Drainage issues

A building report should disclose the construction methods employed in the house (which can vary if the house has undergone extensions over the years). This information can subsequently be utilised during the house refurbishment to ensure any new materials and techniques used are compatible. Bear in mind, most structural problems have solutions.

While these may necessitate increasing your budget, early detection will allow for better planning. You also need to be aware that certain structural issues, like subsidence, could influence your insurance options, as well as the eventual resale value of the property.


The presence of subsidence in a property you adore doesn't necessarily mean you should abandon the purchase. Strive to detect any structural issues as early as possible in the project. Not only can they be hazardous, but they can also lead to further damage. Subsidence, or the need for underpinning or piling work on the existing foundations can be particularly concerning. If the walls and roof have experienced lateral spread, steel ties might be required. In some scenarios, the addition of steel props, beams or scaffolding can prevent further collapse.

A measured building survey will provide you with an accurate scale drawing of the current building's layout. These are often necessary when submitting a planning permission application for projects like extensions. Consider a drainage survey as well. This provides peace of mind about a property's drainage system and is relatively inexpensive, particularly when compared to the cost of addressing any drainage issues left unidentified after purchasing the property. You can locate a surveyor through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Arrange Renovation Insurance

Upon contract exchange for a renovation project, you become responsible for the site and, as a result, need to have adequate insurance in place. Renovation insurance protects your property during construction work, and is sometimes referred to as building work insurance, building renovation insurance, or house refurbishment insurance. If you're using a mortgage to finance the project, your lender may withhold funds without a warranty and proof of insurance. Issues such as flooding, theft, or fire typically fall under standard home insurance. However, failing to inform your insurer about significant renovations could invalidate your standard policy. Renovation insurance should encompass public and employer’s liability, coverage for building materials, works, plant, tools, temporary structures, the existing structure, personal accident cover, and legal expenses. The usual costs vary from £500-1,500, depending on the project.

Determine if a Home Warranty is Necessary

While home warranties aren't always required during a house renovation, they can be beneficial. A warranty is essentially a policy covering your home against flaws in design, materials, or build quality. It also covers issues resulting from these defects, typically for about ten years. If you're considering a warranty for your project, get in early as premiums can rise as the project progresses.

Check Your Eligibility for a Renovation Grant

When arranging finances for your renovation, it's worth checking whether you qualify for any grants related to your renovation work. You'll need to apply for grants before starting work. Consult your local council and national level from Central Government via National Heritage. In terms of VAT concessions, reduced rates might apply to residential buildings that have been vacant for two years or more. More information can be found in VAT Notice 708.

Hire an Architect

After securing your renovation project and evaluating its structural condition, the next step is to create a design for your new home and any planned extensions. Many people find designing an existing house more challenging than starting from scratch. While hiring an architect or designer isn't always necessary, and you might have your own home renovation ideas, large-scale renovations, extensions, or projects in sensitive areas or listed buildings will generally require professional advice. Your choices for a design professional can include an architect, architectural designer, house designer, or even a structural engineer.

A professional designer can guide you through the planning permission process, create designs based on your brief, advise on what may or may not be approved by local planners (some works might fall under permitted development), and give you an idea of how far your budget will stretch. Once you have an approved design you're satisfied with, create a work schedule to ensure improvements are carried out logically to minimise disruption and duplication.

Obtain Planning Permission

Not all house renovation projects require planning permission, but you should check several consent areas before starting work, including:

  • Planning permission
  • Building Regulations approval
  • Listed building consent

To avoid delays, always start your work schedule with projects that don't require planning consent.

If you're altering the roofline or extending, you may require planning permission. If you live in a listed property or designated area, you'll likely need consent before starting work. Consult your local planning department prior to commencement. Remember, even jobs requiring Building Regulations approval can start after giving 24 hours’ notice of compliance intention to the local authority building control department. If you're building near your house renovation boundary, check if your work is affected by the Party Wall Act. Also, have your solicitor review your title deeds or lease—there might be development restrictions on the property.

TOP TIP Spending a few months living in or frequenting a house truly pays off. It allows you to observe the house's natural light, test out layout configurations, and gather ideas on how the house could best suit your lifestyle.

Source a Builder

If an architect is part of your project, they may have builders they frequently collaborate with and can suggest. Alternatively, you'll have to identify a builder to implement the renovation work unless you're intending to undertake all the work on a DIY basis. The most reliable way to find trustworthy tradespeople is through trusted recommendations. Aim to use builders who have experience in projects of similar type and scale to your own. Before making a final decision, get at least three quotes.

Inform Building Control

All new work when renovating a house must adhere to Building Regulations. From January 2006, new building regulations applications for extensions are required to include plans to enhance the thermal performance of the existing part of the house.

Establish a Schedule of Works

No renovation project should begin without a work schedule. This keeps the project on track and ensures all trades involved understand the sequence of work. With this in mind, let's initiate step one in the renovation process.

A concise and clear work schedule lists every task needed when renovating a house, organised in the most efficient order. It should ideally include who is responsible for each task and the associated costs. Below is a standard work schedule. This may vary depending on your specific project, and your house designer or builder can provide advice.

  • Assessment of current condition
  • Halt further decay Grants/Tax concessions
  • Legal permissions
  • Structural stability
  • Demolition work
  • Handling damp
  • Drainage
  • Site access
  • Major construction work
  • Weatherproofing Exterior
  • External works
  • First fix Plastering
  • Drying out I
  • nstalling fixed flooring
  • Second fix
  • Decorating Final clean
  • Moving in Snagging

Plan for Waste Disposal

If you're dismantling parts of the house, consider demolition work. Waste can be disposed of in skips. Local authority tips usually accept most waste for free from private individuals, although asbestos must be handled separately. A house renovation may include components that can be salvaged and reused. These should be safely stored or sold to a salvage yard. Sometimes, you can sell the salvage rights of large-scale demolition projects, which could mean some of the removal work will be undertaken by the reclamation yard. This can save time, effort, and potentially generate some cash.

Resolve Access Challenges

If your house renovation is situated in a place with limited access, it's prudent to strategize ahead of time. Get any large items or machinery needed for landscaping onto the site before new construction work and accumulated materials further restrict access.

Verify Your Existing Drains

Are your current drains functional? Identify the inspection chambers (manholes) and pour distinct color food dye down the toilets and sinks. This helps determine the connections and whether any drains have collapsed and require excavation. After the scaffolding is removed, it's time to connect the external drains to the sewer or septic tank. Some people prefer to do this during the groundwork phase, but this risks damaging the drains during construction — especially if they are exposed in the building trenches before backfilling.

Landscaping, including forming driveways, paths, beds, and lawns, can occur at nearly any stage in the project as long as it can be safeguarded from construction damage. Most people wait until the final move-in stage. Avoid laying the final drive finish until all heavy vehicles and skips have departed from the site. If building an extension, drains may need to be relocated, and now is the time to check. If there's no mains drainage connection, evaluate the condition of any existing septic tank and soakaways.

Consider Energy Efficiency Improvements


Eco-vation or eco-renovation, the process of enhancing an old home's energy efficiency, results in a less drafty, more cost-effective, and more comfortable dwelling. To make your finished renovation eco-friendly, you should reduce the amount of heat your home needs and minimize the cost of producing necessary heat. Draught-proofing is vital, as are wall and loft insulation. Upgrading the boiler and heating sources (like old radiators) can further decrease heating bills and create a more comfortable indoor environment. Easy draught-proofing methods include adding draught seal, repairing damaged and poorly fitted windows and doors, and using draught excluders. Insulating old homes can entail adding cavity wall insulation (if walls are cavity), adding internal wall insulation to existing solid walls (which will need plastering afterward), or adding external insulation (a choice for those undertaking an external makeover or re-rendering).

Consider replacing single glazing with double glazing, taking into account its effect on the house's overall aesthetics and whether planning permission allows it.

Ensure Your Renovation Project is Weathertight

Once the roof structure is repaired (or constructed for extensions), felted and battened, the entire structure should be made weathertight to protect against the elements and secure the building. While the scaffold is up, verify that any chimney stacks and pots are sturdy and clear, fit bird guards, and repair lead flashings around chimneys, valleys, hips, dormers, and abutments. If new sections of the roof intersect with old ones, it's generally better to match the existing/original roof covering either by purchasing reclaimed tiles/slates or by replacing one roof plane at the back and using the salvaged tiles/slates at the front.

Doors and windows can now be installed and glazed. If these aren't yet on-site, the openings should be covered with plastic sheets or, preferably, boarded up. Scaffolding will also come in handy for replacing, repairing, and fixing rainwater goods.

This is an excellent time for exterior joinery decorations, such as fascias and soffits, barge boards and windows, render, and timber siding.

Safeguard and Repair Original Features

Many people are attracted to house renovations by the potential to include original features that may still be intact — these add to the character and charm of old buildings. Unfortunately, not all renovation projects will have survived years of neglect, meaning original features could be missing or damaged. Determine which features are worth preserving and which are later additions to avoid unnecessary spending.

Sometimes, repair work might not be cost-effective, and you may need to consider sourcing compatible replacements. However, unless you're willing to invest more, these replacements might not replicate the fine detailing of the originals.

To maintain the original character of your renovation project, pay particular attention to features like: Windows

  • Floors
  • Doors
  • Fireplaces
  • Original mouldings
  • Roofs Timber beams

Modernise Outdated Plumbing and Electrics

Rewiring and replumbing a renovation scheme can be costly endeavours, but they provide the opportunity to implement systems customised to your lifestyle, your energy consumption, and future plans for the house. Modernising heating and electrical systems can significantly enhance the final property value.

You might be fortunate to find that the heating and electrics have been upgraded to a high standard fairly recently. If so, all you may need to consider are new radiators. Older radiators can suffer from cold spots due to sludge accumulation — power flushing them greatly aids in boosting their performance. Of course, many people refurbishing a house or adding extensions might prefer underfloor heating as an alternative to radiators.

Execute Internal Structural Modifications

Most renovation and remodelling projects necessitate some form of structural alteration to adapt the house for contemporary living. Historic houses were frequently designed with numerous smaller rooms and may have been subject to haphazard, poorly planned additions over time, leaving the overall layout lacking in fluidity. You might consider extending or repurposing your spaces by demolishing internal walls, extending into the garden, or utilising existing unused spaces, which could lead to a basement conversion, garage conversion or loft conversion.

Undertake 'First Fix' Tasks

You might have come across the term 'first fix' — but what does it signify? Once internal stud wall frames can be constructed and any walls dismantled, flooring-grade chipboard or floorboards can be affixed to joists, and additional ceiling joists can be inserted if needed. Door linings can now be installed, ready for the plasterers to utilise (these are added later for dry-lining), and window reveals and sills can be incorporated.

Once the first fix carpentry (including new staircases) is done, new first fix wiring and plumbing work can be conducted, including soil pipes and drainage connections. At this point, everything that will later be hidden by plaster needs to be installed, including:

  • Ventilation ducts
  • Hot water cylinder
  • Extraction ducts
  • Wiring for central heating
  • Controls alarms
  • Speakers or any other smart home equipment.

Initiate Plastering

With the first fix finished, it's time to plaster walls, affix plasterboard/dry-lining to ceilings and any stud walls (tacking), and repair any damaged plasterwork/mouldings. In older buildings, avoid using modern metal angle beads around arises unless you desire sharp, clean lines: instead, utilise timber beads. Also, consider the type of plaster you use — many older houses were completed with lime plaster, and adding a new, modern plaster might result in damp issues.

Ensure you protect the stairs and any other susceptible features while plastering, as it can be a messy task. New floor screeds for the ground floor will be laid at this point, usually post plastering to maintain cleanliness. However, some prefer to screed then plaster to create a neater intersection between plaster and floor. If you're installing underfloor heating, the pipes or cable elements are typically laid post plastering, so the manifolds can be affixed in place, but pre screeding so that the pipes and elements are concealed.

Modern storage media in the contemporary room, for DVDs, game consoles and electronics, storage for multimedia. 3D rendering.

Begin Second Fix Tasks

With the flooring in place and plastering complete, you can initiate second fix tasks. The second fix typically involves: Linking up the consumer unit and fitting all light fixtures, sockets, switches, phone and TV points, and the extractor hood Hanging all doors and installing skirting, architrave, spindles, and handrails Setting up the bathroom fixtures and connecting the taps Installing the boiler and controls, and fitting radiators Equipping the kitchen and finishing any fitted furniture Concealing any pipes or soil stacks ready for the decorators Now is also the moment for the plumber and electrician to commission the heating system

Begin External Enhancements

House renovation isn't always about quaint country cottages or perfectly symmetrical period properties. In fact, an increasing number of people are now recognising the potential of post-war properties. While they might not be initially visually appealing, these houses are often cheaper, abundant in natural light, and boast large open internal spaces. They also tend to be less costly than their more attractive renovation counterparts.

Post-war houses present a wealth of opportunity for a spectacular exterior makeover, including new cladding, roofing materials, window treatments, and driveways.

Before embarking on a large-scale makeover, it's crucial to consider smaller details that can be changed without a hefty expense — these are crucial for creating kerb appeal. Minor modifications to contemplate include: Updating rainwater goods Repainting (or replacing) any timberwork, such as fascia boards and finials Adding a porch to enhance character Landscaping, including gates, fences, and planting Brickwork painting Many of these changes can be executed under Permitted Development, but if your home has a special designation (i.e. listed), these rights are withdrawn.

Undertake Final Decorative Touches

Painting and staining should commence only after all second fix work and preparations are complete, ensuring the building is clean and dust-free — otherwise, achieving a superior finish is impossible. Wall tiling in the kitchen and bathroom can now be done. Shower enclosures and doors can be fitted once tiling is complete. Finally, after decorating is finished, any soft floor coverings, such as vinyl and carpet can be laid, and the white goods like the oven, hob, fridge, and washing machine can be installed.

Create a Snagging List

Small issues are bound to emerge in the following months. Address these issues as they come up, or if you engaged tradesmen, request them to return, although anticipate paying for defects that aren't their fault, such as plaster cracks.

If you engaged a main contractor, you may have retained a retention of 2.5-5% on the final payment. This sum is released once they have returned and rectified any defects.

So that's it, 26 tips for the perfect renovation. Dependon work with clients across the country on Building Projects, Kitchen Installs, and Bathroom Renovations and would be happy to help with any aspect of your next project.