I love renovating. I love re-imagining spaces into something more functional for our lifestyle … designing rooms to better reflect our personalities … and managing the process of transforming a house into a home.
But, I don’t love the mess and I don’t particularly love renovating with a one-year-old at home.
However, we moved into an original and dated 1978 Colonial — and I’m a stay-at-home-Mom, DIY enthusiast who can’t help but tear down walls, build new ones, paint and update flooring and fixtures.
Who’s been there?
Construction sites are dangerous – sharp objects, dusty spaces, power tools, hazardous materials and heavy equipment are lying around. I don’t recommend renovating with children in the house. But, I know that most – myself included – will ignore the obvious advice and continue demoing, building and finishing our projects.
Just do so safely and sanely and be cognizant of a few things and set yourself up for success.
Seriously, update room-by-room (or move in with friends, family or a short-term rental until it’s done!)
Resist the urge to rip off all the wallpaper and simultaneously demo your communal spaces (oops, I ignored this tip). Earmark a minimum of one area that remains untouched until another area is 100 percent complete. This gives you space to breathe and your kiddos a space to play and stay safe.
My caveat: you may need to multi-task and manage several spaces at once depending on your child’s age and your time on site. For example, I took Gordon outside in his exersaucer while I painted the gazebo and stained the deck. As soon as the weather turned bad, we went inside and worked on stripping wallpaper. During his nap time, I painted the basement trim and walls. We did this routine for a few days. That’s definitely not a room-by-room approach, but it worked for me because of Gordon’s attention span, the weather and my time at home.
Budget to hire contractors for the work you can’t really do and or want to finish more quickly than doing it yourself
It’s worth every penny. Let friends and family help if they offer … bless their souls! Just be sure to thank them with food, drinks, and gifts. You’re not a lesser of a DIYer if you have help to get it done. If your partner is around, consider splitting up your time on doing small projects. For example, one of you can take little ones outside while the other focuses on completely painting that wall. It helps to have a solid 60 minutes kid-free to work.
Designate a living space
This should be where everyone in the family sleeps and gets dressed. Move everything into that area before you start renovating. It’s stressful when you can’t find your underwear at 6:30 a.m. and everything’s covered in dust. If your kiddos nap during the day, identify where that space is so when they melt down when contractors are pounding, nailing and sanding, you can quickly escape to a quiet place. For Gordon, that meant sleeping in his crib upstairs at night and his pack and play in the basement during the day.
Contain and clean-up the mess
I love using ZipWalls and drop cloths to section off areas and keep odor and debris from traveling room-to-room (plus its safer). Sheetrock, insulation, wallpaper, carpet, paint and electrical parts are dirty and show up everywhere. Dedicate 15 minutes every night to sweep, pick-up and vacuum your renovation areas and at the end of your project, hire a ductwork cleaning service!
Use your head and be safe
Mold, asbestos, and lead can seriously cause damage … know what to look for, how to test for it or call in the professionals. If you’re working on a home built before 1978, even a small (tip of a pencil or piece of dust on clothing) amount of lead can damage a child’s brain. And it probably goes without saying, but kids should not be around power tools!
Encourage age-appropriate “all by myself” tasks
When supervised and done safely, older kids can pound small nails into a piece of rigid foam or cut scrap wood with a kid-sized saw. It’s good for them to learn, too. Just make sure they’re wearing safety glasses, leather gloves, fitted clothing and closed-toe shoes. Check out Small Hands, a publication that sells quality tools and safety gear for kids as young as 18 months.
Keep the kiddos occupied and contained while you work
It is best to work efficiently and quickly while they nap, but sometimes you need to work when they’re awake. In safe work zones and in my sightline, I love giving Gordon snacks in his high chair and if I’m lucky, he’ll tucker out while eating bananas. Or, I plop him in a pack and play with lots of toys or a blow-up pool in my living room full of Tupperware. Of course, be aware of where you’re stowing your kid … if it’s too loud or smelly, pick a different room.
Remember family time
This is just as important as getting that new color on the wall. Renovations can be stressful for children, too. Their environment is off-kilter and Mom and Dad are distracted and focused on adult things. Consider working one day on, one day off. Or, dedicate a day of the week to a family field trip where housework is off limits. It’s important that you and your partner make time for each other, too. Whether that’s a morning cup of coffee, afternoon round of golf or evening stroll around the neighborhood— take time to remember you’re in this together and there’s more to life than construction projects.
Renovating with children at home isn’t ideal because of the added precaution, timeline, stress and expense, but it’s reality for a lot of homeowners. Take some time to pre-plan, adjust on-the-fly and work on a stress-free (ha!) environment as it will make your renovation experience that much greater. And just remember: someday, your reno will end!