Home renovations are a high stakes undertaking at the best of times, but the process can be extra daunting if you’re living in your construction zone of a home with kids. The good news: It’s totally doable, and we’ve tapped the moms and interior design experts who’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. Here, we gather their advice on everything from safety precautions and home insurance to keeping the kids happy through all the chaos.
1. Be strategic about what you renovate and when
Plan to get as much done at once as you can, and get tactical about the order of your renovations. “Consider your working bathroom and working rooms strategically before you start. We always have one working space the family is able to use,” says Kendall Ansell, owner of Burnaby-based Kendall Ansell Interiors and Belle Construction. “Renovating the kitchen is most disruptive, and redoing the bathrooms all at once is disruptive, but updating in steps makes it absolutely livable.”
2. Set realistic expectations (for your kids and yourself!)
“It’s important to set expectations for everyone involved. Renovations will be disruptive and dirty, and things won’t be put back exactly the same each day,” says Ansell.
It’s especially important to explain the process to your kids. “Tell the kids what to expect at the beginning of the process so they know how they’ll be affected,” says Kim Barker, who updated her Markham house with two kids at home. “Show them pictures of how beautiful it will look so they’re invested in the changes.”
3. Communicate your family’s needs upfront
Keeping the lines of communication open will make the whole process run smoother. “Let the contractors know where you’ll be living in the home, the age of your kids and their mobility. There’s a lot we can do to protect children from spaces they shouldn’t be. In. We can put up full barriers if that fits your needs,” Ansell advises.
4. Marie Kondo your space
“Organization is the key to a successful reno!” says Debra Ambrose, who revamped her Toronto home with three kids in the house. “Ensure that everything is perfectly packed and labeled, and it’s very clear where the contents belong.”
“Declutter your space and put the toys away [before the renovations begin]. Store what isn’t a necessity to protect your stuff from dust and fumes,” says Barker. Discuss with your kids why toys need to be safely stored so they don’t feel like they’re being punished, and try to participate in some clutter-free games and entertainment as a family so they still get to play. You can even let them choose a favourite toy to keep with them during the renos, and task them with protecting and safely stowing their toy away whenever they leave the house.
5. Put safety first
“Turning off gas lines, power and electricity is critically important,” says Ambrose. “And we kept the kids away from the home at sleepovers when major work was being done.” Even with proper barricades installed, it’s best to keep the little ones out when there will be fumes or heavy machinery that’s used to cut metal or concrete, since this kind of work involves extremely loud noises and debris. Talk to your contractor about any fall hazards, too, especially if they are installing new stairways or upper floor additions that may put your kids at risk. That also goes for temporary scaffolding that may be tempting to play on: Make sure those areas are completely blocked off, or keep the kids away.
Mandy Milks renovated her old Toronto home with a new baby on board, but organization kept her sane. She suggests sectioning off an area with windows for your living space, with barriers that can’t be breached by kids, and ensuring that all vents are blocked so your space is safe from debris. She also swears by the crawl test: “When going back into your new space, crawl around like a child to make sure there aren’t any nails, staples or construction debris. After the work is done, hire a cleaner who specializes in renovation clean ups before the kids use the new spaces.”
You’ll want to protect your belongings, too. “There are home insurance policies you can take out for the duration of the project to cover the contents of your home,” says Ansell. “And we recommend taking photos of everything before the work begins.”
6. Include your kids in the process
“Keep your kids engaged and make sure they are aware of the exciting changes. This will affect them positively, so help them understand the strategy and the outcome,” says Ambrose.
Milks recommends letting the kiddos have a say in the design and planning to make it fun for them. Including them will help them feel like they have an important role in the exciting new home—and they’ll be less likely to complain when they’re invested. “Let them pick out some bedding or a nightlight that’s just for them,” Milks suggests.
7. Don’t rush the work
The reality is, the work will take longer with a family living in the house, says Sappho Griffin, a Halifax-based designer of interiors and owner of Henhouse. “Working around someone living in the house limits access for tradespeople [who have to abide by family hours rather than trade hours] and daily clean up takes more time because you need to be more thorough,” she explains. Though it slows down the process, it’s a tradeoff many families are happy to make in order to save money on alternate living arrangements and stay up to date on daily progress.
Ansell also warns against rushing back into spaces that aren’t yet livable. “If you’re painting a child’s bedroom and putting carpets in, you should leave a few days of buffer before they sleep there,” she says. “It’s tempting to get the kids back in immediately, but give it a few days for the off-gassing process.”
Milks was extra cautious with avoiding any fumes: “I stayed at my in-laws with the baby for a week and my husband would go to the house to air it out each day. We didn’t come back until it seemed clear.”
8. Try to stick as close to your regular routine as possible
Milks says timing is everything, so if you can, plan the work during the least disruptive times: During the summer if your kids go to sleepover camp, or March break when you can get away for the week. If that’s not possible, try to maintain your usual routine as much as possible. “If you can keep bedtime and other activities on their regular rotation, kids will have a sense of normalcy,” she says.
9. Stay positive!
With all the chaos and disruption, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when working on your home, but a positive attitude goes a long way toward surviving the process with your sanity (and family) intact. “Major overhauls can be frustrating and stressful at times, but your kids will pick up on your emotions, so try to stay calm, cool and collected,” says Barker.
“You can position it as an adventure for the family and think of it like ‘camping’ out,” suggests Griffin.