Planning for a remodel often starts with discontent, which breeds desires, which in turn give rise to dreams and visions. You probably have plenty of those by now! The trick is translating those dreams and visions into goals, plans, and physical realities. How do you do that? Paradoxically, you may need to back up before you go ahead.

Unless you live alone, remodeling isn’t a solitary project; it will affect everyone in the household, and everyone should have a say. Who shares the home now? How long will they live there? Find out what they like and don’t like about the house. Ask them about their visions and goals for the house and how their needs may change over time. It may not be realistic to let your six-year-old design your kitchen, but find out what she wants for her bedroom, the family room, the backyard.

A Step-by-Step Process

The following process will keep you on track as you explore your wants. If you live with others, you may want to go through these steps together, or work on some steps separately and then come together to compare notes:

  • Step 1: Start by articulating your dreams and visions. Jot down some simple bullet points, or talk it through with your family or with a friend who can help you bring forth your ideas.
  • Step 2: Then set your dreams and visions aside for the moment. What you first envision may not be what you end up building. Once you start exploring your needs, wants, opportunities, and constraints, your thoughts are likely to change. It’s common for a family to approach an architect saying, “We’d like to add a family room behind the garage,” and then end up building something quite different. Our visions tend to evolve as we work with them from various angles.
  • Step 3: Now consider the future. What are your long-term plans? Will you stay in the house indefinitely? Sell in ten years? Give it to your kids? Rent it out?
  • Step 4: Next, what are your goals for the remodel? Think in terms of performance rather than physical solutions. What do you want to accomplish? What doesn’t work well and should be fixed? Recall what made you want to remodel in the first place. For example, you might have wanted
  • lower utility bills and a smaller carbon footprint;
  • more space (make a list of exactly what you need space for);
  • a better connection between indoors and outdoors;
  • kids’ rooms closer to (or farther from) yours (will this change when the kids get older or leave home?);
  • a cozy reading nook;
  • space for overnight guests without compromising anyone’s privacy (putting it this way is more helpful than saying, “I want a guest room”; the first statement is about performance, the second one leaps to a solution);
  • to do something about those drafty old windows that leak cold air;
  • to have 15 people over for Thanksgiving dinner (again, this is more useful than saying, “I need a larger dining room”).
  • Step 5: Now compare your long-term plans with your remodeling goals. Do you notice any conflicts or inconsistencies?
  • Step 6: Prioritize your remodeling goals. You might simply number each goal on your list #1 (top priority), #2 (secondary), or #3 (relatively low priority). Or devise a spreadsheet showing different priorities for different household members. These questions may help you prioritize:
  • Which of your goals are most important to you?
  • Which are you most willing to spend money on?
  • Which will provide an immediate benefit and a long-term benefit? Which will benefit you more in the short term but less in the long term, and vice versa?
  • Would you be willing to defer or reconsider some of these goals if your needs change over time? If so, which ones?
  • After you assign a number to each goal, look at your #1 priorities and rank them from most to least important.

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