The renovation watchlist


So you’re looking to make a space of your own.

Think buying and renovation is the way to go? Keep an eye out for a few easy things and it might save you from migraines down the line.  

Study of the site

Similar to any new construction work, it helps to be aware of the area.  

  • Is the area prone to flooding? Do the walls around show any water lines? How were the roads and the slope of the area leading to the house?  Are there pieces of garbage stuck to the power lines of the electrical posts outside?
  • How close is the property to its neighbors? While the building code generally has rules on how close houses should be to one another, the code has adapted over time and houses may not always be built according to the prescribed guidelines. It’s worth noting the distance between houses for possible issues with sound and privacy. And it’s worth noting the distance between the roofs to see if there may be issues with fire jumping properties worst case.  

Inside a house, the concerns would be similar to any apartment or condominium unit.


Water damage worries

Keep an eye out for any sign of water damage.  

  • Any streaks, water lines or faded materials and finishes could be possible first signs of much bigger issues.  
  • What was the source of the leak? Did it come from the roof? A drain or gutter? A burst pipe? Or just a tap absent-mindedly left open to run and overflow across an entire floor? Has the problem been solved?


    photo by Edouard Tamba

  • Did the water damage anything that has to be replaced? Has the gypsum ceiling weakened from getting soaked over time? Has the floor warped and faded? Were there any problems with the electrical system from complications with the water?  
  • If the area is especially soaked, and isn’t well ventilated, start worrying  about the possibility of having rot or mold in the walls or in the ceiling. You might even be able to convince the seller to perform the investigation himself.  

Checking cracks.

All building sway and develop cracks over time. But different cracks mean different things. 

  • Small cracks are generally like crows feet. They’ll develop slowly around areas of movement in a building.   Temperature and humidity changes during the day also tend to expand and contract materials at different rates. Your house is built up in parts, and move as discrete pieces causing cracks around joints and connections.  
  • Small cracks around joints are generally structurally safe as the important steel connections are deeply embedded.  
  • Water takes advantage of any opening, so look out for cracked areas that get drenched on a regular basis.  
  • Ants can also use small cracks as highways through out your house.  
  • Large cracks, especially through the middle of floors or structural members could be a cause of worry.  A professional may be helpful in determining how serious you should be in  investing in that particular piece of property if that’s the case.  


Understand the utilities.  

Sometimes it’s what we can’t see that cause bigger headaches down the line.  

  • Burn marks around outlets or outlets that are taped over are definite signs of problems.  
  • It might be worthwhile to check the outlets one at a time. Dead outlets merit an investigation as to why and if there were possible related problems it might have caused.   
  • Is the water potable? Is there rust in the pipes? Does the water come from a shared overhead tank or cistern? Answers will let you know if you’ll need to buy filtered water separately or no. Worst case, answers might even point to possible vectors for disease.  
  • Ask for a copy of the past 3 months of utility bills. If it’s coming out to more than you should expect from a space of that size, there may be problems with the wiring, or the plumbing.  
  • Bills for a space where the owners could be similar to your own family could give you an estimate for how much it might cost you to live in the place.
  • Getting an understanding of the state of the utilities is critical. More than simply having to pay to replace or refinish components to fit your style, problems and inefficiencies are often more insidious. You could end up paying more than you’ve budgeted for on a monthly basis if the problems aren’t caught early. Major retrofits too could mean having to dig up and demolish parts of the space, if not building completely independent systems from what’s already been installed.  


Sound and the surroundings.  

Use more than just your eyes when you examine a potential buy.  

  • Understanding a site’s surroundings should give you a general idea of if you can expect loud street sounds in the middle of the night or not. If the external noise is a concern, consider how much you’d have to pay for additional insulation or to replace your windows in the overall cost.


    photo by Tim Wright 

  • Knock on the walls. Understanding how they’re built and how hollow or thin they might be could give you an idea of the privacy between spaces and from your neighbors.  
  • Bring someone with you and shout or play music between rooms. Check if you’re happy with the privacy you’re getting or if you’ll have to improve the insulation.  


Remember, when taking a look at spaces you might want to take on, it doesn’t hurt to be a little bit critical. You’ll be the one who has to live in the space –  or else pay more to fix it up. Anything worrisome that can’t be explained away or may merit a deeper investigation.  

Get a copy of the blueprints. Knowing what you’re working with is the first step in planning what you can do with a space.  

Get a complete set of the as-built drawings where possible. That means the architectural drawings, as well as that of the structural, electrical, plumbing and sanitary, and mechanical and fire protection trades.  

Take your architect with you to study the property you’re considering. An early consult could be worth it. The earlier you find out about problems, the cheaper they’ll be to solve or the sooner you’ll be able to avoid a bad purchase altogether. Apart from pinpointing possible problems, going around with a professional may also give you insight on the potential of the property that you wouldn’t otherwise see yourself.  

Have any worries on properties you might be considering for renovation? I’d like to hear about it. Tweet me at @homebydesignph or email me at

~ Jiddu


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s