How to keep your reno from going off the rails

The inside of a kitchen with a dining room table in the middle.
Illustrating the importance of planning, this Westboro reno by Carleton Kitchen & Bath took only 12 weeks to complete, but the planning was many months in the making. Photo credit: BMG Studio

By Anita Murray, All Things Home

The nature of renovations is such that you can pretty much guarantee something will go wrong.

Renovators will never know exactly what they’re going to find behind your walls until they open them up. If they’re experienced, they’ll have a good idea of typical things they might find, like knob and tube wiring in an old Ottawa home, but they can still hit obstacles with the unexpected.

A good example is celebrity contractor Bryan Baeumler. He’s had several shows on HGTV and one of his biggest, called Island of Bryan, showed how a project can go spectacularly off the rails. In his case, he knew what he was getting into and chose to dive in anyway, but still.

For close to two years, Bryan and his wife, Sarah, worked to restore an abandoned boutique hotel resort in the Bahamas, an adventure chronicled on the show. 

Their initial plan was to take six months renovating enough of the property so that they could open in October 2018. A year later they still hadn’t opened, although they did begin accepting reservations toward the end of 2019.

“We knew what we were getting ourselves into,” he says. “It was chaos trying to plan and manage a project as you’re into it.”

Their journey is an example of how problem after problem delayed progress, chewed up their budget and forced a rethink of many of their plans.

So, if someone as well known and experienced as Bryan Baeumler can have a project go off the rails, does that mean you’re doomed to the same fate?

Not at all. It just means you have to be prepared.

“There are always surprises, but part of doing a good project is knowing they will happen and how you react when they happen,” says Norm Lecuyer, owner of ARTium Design Build & Just Basements.

Brian and Sarah Baulmer pose for a photograph on a Sandy beach with palm trees.
Bryan and Sarah Baeumler, Island of Bryan, on HGTV. Photo credit: HGTV Canada.

Seven key steps

Keeping your reno from going off the rails comes down to seven key things, and the responsibility is on both you as the homeowner and whoever you hire to do your project. Those seven keys are:

  • Plan, plan, plan… and plan some more
  • Make sure to hire professionals
  • Have a realistic budget, then budget well
  • Get everything in writing
  • Be flexible so you can handle obstacles that will come up
  • Make sure your team has a good communication plan
  • And then stick to your renovation plan

So, what does it mean to have a reno go off the rails?

It can mean several things, but typically involves going over budget and/or blowing your timeline. And those two issues usually crop up thanks to hidden obstacles and scope creep, which is when the defined parameters of the job increase or balloon because, after the project has begun, you think of other things you want to add, such as deciding to replace all the flooring on your main floor when you were initially planning to just renovate your kitchen.

In a free downloadable pdf on All Things Home, we interview Baeumler and several top Ottawa renovators to explain those seven keys and get their advice on how to keep your reno from going off the rails. If there’s a renovation in your future, get the guide at and set yourself up for a successful project.

Anita Murray is the co-founder of All Things Home Inc. and owner of Three C Communications. The veteran journalist has covered the Ottawa housing industry since 2011.

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