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Contractors, Permits and More to Consider When Planning a Home Renovation

By Tom Murray

You’ve got a nail gun, a couple of demolition bars and a shop vacuum. That’s about all you really need to remodel your home, right? Well, actually no. According to Steve Lenarduzzi, a vice-president at Edmonton’s Clark Builders—and an experienced home renovator himself—whether you’re hiring a contractor or doing the work yourself, there are many things to keep in mind in advance of any major renovation.

He cites jobsite safety and liability as significant considerations that may be overlooked by novice renovators: “If a homeowner hires a contractor but doesn’t assign him or her as the prime contractor, per Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Legislation, then as part of the contract the owner may still be liable for safety incidents. On top of that, if the company you hire doesn’t have proper Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) coverage, then you can be personally liable for, say, a roofer falling off the roof.”

The availability of materials is often also an issue, too. Chris Smith, a general contractor out of Edmonton, warns that it’s best to prepare well in advance when ordering in certain items.

“Any specialty fixtures or flooring, for example, can have long delivery times,” he says. “So try to get that stuff nailed down early on—or even stockpile it—to ensure it doesn’t hold up the overall construction process.”

Lenarduzzi says that schedule, budget, quality and safety are four major points that contractors keep in mind when taking on a job. Here are five other key things to consider before you decide to undertake a home renovation.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but check the credentials and references of any contractor you’re looking to hire. And don’t just hire based on price alone: Make your decision a bit more robust in terms of qualifications. Have contractors submit a preliminary timeline and schedule for the work, and find out what their expectations are of you, as compared to your obligations of them.

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Most municipalities’ websites offer resources detailing the requirements that must be met—and procedures to be followed—before and during construction. These requirements and procedures can differ depending on the type of renovation you’re proposing. For larger projects, you may be required to submit professionally prepared drawings and other planning documents, as well as, yes, payment for your application to be considered.

Once you’ve submitted your permit application(s), be aware that the review process can be slow. Take the city’s claimed processing time and double it, just to be sure. And be aware that you may have to revise your plans if the work that you’re proposing isn’t strictly “to code.”

Whether you’re dealing with a contractor or doing the work yourself, it’s essential that you get the proper permits, and then do the work as specified on your city-approved drawings. Non-permitted modifications to the plumbing, electrical or structure of your house can pose significant problems if you decide to sell your property in the future. They may also give your insurance company cause to deny coverage, should your home ever be damaged or if a person is ever injured on your property.

In addition to informing City Hall about your renovation plans, you’ll also need to have a discussion with your home insurance provider. This is especially important if you’ll be moving out of the house during construction; your policy may be subject to exclusions and limitations due to your property being vacant. (For example, many insurers, including AMA Insurance, do not cover vandalism while your home is under construction or vacant.) Your premium may also temporarily increase, to account for the greater risk posed to your property during the construction/vacancy period.

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Note, too, that you’ll need to reconnect with your insurance advisor once the renovation is complete. Updating your insurance policy post reno will allow you to reactivate coverages that may have been limited during construction, and ensure the policy accounts for your home’s increased value—and therefore its replacement cost—should you need to make a claim in the future. You may even be able to lower your premium or access better coverage if you’ve upgraded your home with, for example, a monitored security system, weather-resistant materials, and loss-prevention devices such as a backflow valve and sump pump.

Paperwork in order, it’s time to get down to business. While the easy availability of tutorials for simple renovation tasks may make it tempting to “get your hands dirty,” often it’s best to trust the professionals. Lenarduzzi says that electrical is a good example of work you shouldn’t mess with if you’re unsure—especially when it comes to terminations or hooking up outlets and panels. And remember that any sizable reno will likely come with a surprise or two. A good contractor may be better equipped to handle contingencies without sacrificing your project’s timeline or the quality of the workmanship.

Ask an AMA Insurance advisor how you’re covered and how we can help you prepare for the unexpected. Visit us online or call 1-800-615-5897.