The Ultimate Guide to Home Renovations

If you’re planning a renovation, we would guess that you’re currently knee-deep in questions. What are average renovation costs? How long do bathroom renovations or kitchen renovations take? What are the regulations around permits? Do you have to arrange for waste to go to the local landfill?

In this guide, we’re going to give you the 411 on whatever renovation plans you have in the near future. It’s a great idea to iron out some of these details or at least familiarise yourself with common challenges so that you’re not blindsided during construction.

Here’s a rundown of what we’re going to cover here:

  • Permits and licences

  • Putting together your plans and permits

  • Calculating the renovation costs

  • Calling in the experts (and how to arrange all the legal details)

  • Prepping your space for renovation

  • Demolition & Construction

  • Finishing touches - cleanup, leaving review for your contractors

We’re also including a step-by-step checklist for your renovation project, so that you can know when you’re right on track. 

You’re eager to get started so let’s jump right in!

Renovation Stage One: Permits & Licences

 

Before we talk about the planning process, there are a few things you should know about permits. Depending on where you live in the country, you may have to acquire a permit before you get started. In most places, minor changes and fix-ups are fine. But if you’re going to alter the structure of your home and will be changing things like the plumbing, gas, electrical or drainage, then permission is required. 

And figuring out just what you need and who you need to talk to can be tricky. We say this because in some states, you can go to your local council and get a planning permit. This is going to be likely in any case in which you’re altering the building or if you’re in a heritage area. Some states also require you to get a building permit. This is a permit issued by a registered building surveyor. It basically states that your plans for your renovation are up-to-code and follow legal requirements. 

And then there are licences. You may be good at household repairs, but if you’re doing a major renovation, your local council is likely going to ask for a licence. That means you may have to bring in professionals, even if you were looking forward to doing the work yourself..   

Again, if you’re doing minor changes, like replacing the light fixtures and painting the walls and putting up new cabinets, you probably don’t have to worry about getting a permit or a licensed contractor. But, if you’re going to be moving an electrical socket, ripping out sinks and toilets and pulling up the floor, then yes, you will need to jump through some hoops.

Here is the breakdown, state-by-state, of what you’ll need in terms of permits and licences:

New South Wales

New South Wales is pretty strict about requiring licences of everyone who will be doing work in residential buildings in the state. So, if your renovation is going to cost more than $5,000 in labour and materials, you can only move forward with a licensed contractor.

There are two categories of qualifications that are accepted in NSW for contractors: Group A and Group B. Group A includes licensed contractors who are certified in carpentry, joinery, plumbing or wall and floor tiling. To qualify for Group B, you must have completed units of competency in areas like building codes, on-site supervision, residential site safety, plumbing contracting principles, or a variety of other units. You can get full information about licensing on the NSW government website

Australian Capital Territory

Like NSW, ACT requires a licensed building practitioner to carry out any renovations that are valued at over $5,000 in labour or materials. In ACT, licences are categorized by Class A, B, C, or D. For any structural renovations, you must contract someone with a Class A, B, or C licence. For non-structural renovations of over $5,000, you can contract someone with Class A, B, C, or D. 

Waterproofing for bathroom renovations or kitchen renovations won’t necessarily require a waterproofing licence. But, your renovation will need to comply with Australian Standards for waterproofing.

Victoria

In Victoria, all structural work must be done by registered building practitioners, regardless of the price. That means that all registered plumbers, electricians, or builders involved in demolition, restumping, re-blocking or other structural work must be registered with the VIctorian Building Authority.

The Victoria State Government website states that you don’t have to use a registered building practitioner if you are doing only one of the following tasks: plastering, re-tiling, glazing, installation of floor coverings, insulation, painting, attaching fixtures to the outside of the house such as awnings insect screens, security screens or similar features, erecting a pole or antenna on your property. You also don’t need a registered building practitioner if you’re calling in a plumber or an electrician - but those professionals must be licensed.

Things change if your renovation costs are going to exceed $10,000. At that point, you will need to procure a major domestic building contract. And, if the work will be more than $16,000, your builder must give you proof of a current certificate of domestic building insurance. The Victoria State Government also suggests that, for any work over $10,000, that you get a building lawyer to review all contracts. But more on the legal stuff later. 

Queensland

In Queensland, things are a bit more complicated. If you’re doing any renovations to a pre-1946 house, you’ll need planning approval. If you’re doing any demolition work, you’ll need building approval, which is separate from planning approval. If you’re doing anything related to plumbing and drainage, you might be required to get plumbing approval and/or a waterproofing licence.

Because there are a variety of different permits depending on the work that you want to do in your renovation, it’s best to write out your plans and then give a call to your local council to see exactly what they need from you. 

Western Australia

In Western Australia, things are pretty straightforward. For any renovation work you’ll be doing in your home, you need to apply for a building permit with your local government permit authority. Cabinet installation and joinery work is exempt. 

On top of that, if the work you’ll be doing exceeds $20,000 in value, you need to be registered as a building contractor. 

South Australia

South Australia is also pretty simple in their requirements. In almost all renovations, you’ll need to get Development Approval, and to get approved, you need to prove that your renovations will meet the requirements for Building Rules Consent. The work also needs to be carried out by a licensed building work contractor or should be supervised by a registered building work supervisor.

Some of the requirements on that list that could come up in bathroom renovations or kitchen renovations include energy efficiency, termite protection, wet area protection, fire protection, and smoke alarms.

For renovations valued at $12,000 or more, you must also provide a written contract for residential building work. For renovation costs of over $12,000, you also need to purchase insurance.

You can learn more about these requirements and more from SA’s Guide to Building or Renovating Your Ideal Home

Tasmania

Tasmania has one of the easiest-to-decypher permit requirement charts that you’ll see in any state. Basically, they break down all renovation work into “low risk work”, “medium risk work”, and “high risk work.” Low risk includes tasks that don’t require permit approval, like changing sink fixtures, putting up a fence or taking down a backyard shed. Medium risk work requires you to apply for a certificate of likely compliance and includes most bathroom and kitchen renovations. High risk work is much more involved and requires special building and plumbing permits.

One other thing to know about bathroom renovations and kitchen renovations in Tasmania is that you need to bring in licensed plumbers and licensed builders with regulatory oversight by a building surveyor.

You can look at Tasmania’s lovely breakdown of permit requirements on the Consumer, Building, and Occupational Services website

Northern Territory

NT also offers a very clear guide about permit requirements. 

Let’s start with bathroom renovations. If you’re planning on changing the walls, fixtures and plumbing, you’ll need to get a building permit but you do not need to go through a registered building contractor. If you are doing bathroom renovations without changing the walls, fixtures or plumbing, then you don’t have to go through council at all. 

If you’re doing alterations to an existing house which doesn’t increase the floor space - most kitchen renovations fall into this category - you do need council permission, but you don’t need a registered building contractor. 

Building contracts and insurance for these renovations aren’t required although they are recommended.

Takeaways on permits and licences

It looks like, in most bathroom renovations and kitchen renovations, you’re going to need to contact your local council and get approval. So, if you’re in doubt about what exactly you need, the best thing you can do is get in contact with them and ask. It’s better to go directly to the source instead of relying on what a contractor tells you or what you think may be exempt from permission. 

Renovation Stage Two: The Planning Process

Whether you’re planning a kitchen renovation, bedroom remodel, or bathroom renovation, the best thing you can do for yourself is to go into it with a plan. You’re going to want to be as specific as possible, so let’s talk about this room-by-room.

Planning bathroom renovations

#1: Sketch out a layout

If you could close your eyes and envision yourself walking into your ideal bathroom, what would it look like? Would you move the toilet to another place? Would you knock out the walls and make the bathroom bigger? Where would the shower and the sink go?

These are the most important and fundamental questions for bathroom renovations. Sometimes, in the early stages of a planning process, you might realize that the renovation you’re envisioning requires much more work than a weekend spruce-up. That’s completely fine, but it’s definitely something that you should know before you sit down to write out a budget and order your tiles. 

#2: Choose your aesthetic

Whether you notice it or not, most bathrooms have a theme. Some are modern and minimalist. Others are cozy and traditional. 

If you’re not sure what you want your bathroom to look like at the end of the transformation, it’s going to be difficult for your contractor to give you what you want. So, if you’re still fuzzy about the details, go online, look at some ideal bathroom renovations, and clarify your aesthetic.

#3: Select your materials

We all have preferences when it comes to the natural elements in our bathrooms. Some people like marble countertops. Others like wooden shelves. There’s the choice between glass and ceramic tiles. 

You’ll want to be specific about every element of your bathroom, from the doorknob to the sink bowl, to the showerhead. Every detail should be decided before you move ahead with your bathroom renovation.

One great way to do this is to take your bathroom sketch that you did in step one and enlarge it. Label every detail in the room with the material that you want. That will help you immensely in the next step: budgeting. 

Planning kitchen renovations

#1: Sketch a layout

If you could rip out everything from your kitchen right now and piece it back together based on your dream kitchen, what would it look like? Would the fridge be in the same location? Would you have an island? Would you opt for a larger sink? Would you expand your counterspace?

These are the basic questions that are going to drive your kitchen renovation. They will help you to decide whether you want a complete overhaul, or if you’re happy with the bare bones and just want to update some appliances and maybe switch out the countertops.  

#2: Choose your aesthetic

Do you want to go with a colour theme? Are you interested in a Victorian look? Have you always imagined yourself in a modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances and black marble countertops? 

Whatever you want your aesthetic to be, it’s important that you put it down on paper now. That way, you’ll be able to answer questions about materials, cabinetry, lighting, appliances, and any other elements that will go into your kitchen design. 

#3: Select your materials

There are a lot of different materials that go into your kitchen. You’ll want to make decisions about flooring, countertops, backsplash, lighting fixtures, the sink, the faucet, and cabinetry. You may decide to keep certain elements, like a beautiful wood floor or your traditional tile backsplash, but make sure that it’s a conscious part of your planning process.

It can be helpful  to bring home samples to make sure that everything will look good together. You don’t want to purchase all of your materials only to realize that you don’t actually like the look of a dark countertop with your light tile floors. 

#4: Appliances

Appliances can make or break kitchen renovations. After all, if you were to invest your time and money into your remodel only to put in the same old appliances you’ve had for 10 years, you might not get the same effect. So, make sure that you factor in new appliances (or vintage appliances) into your renovation costs. This is one stage that you can start before you’ve even brought in a contractor, so start looking for your ideal appliances now. 

Renovations in other parts of the home

As some of the more complex remodels that you can do in your home, we’ve focused primarily on planning for bathroom renovations and kitchen renovations. But, you can apply this planning process to any room of your home. Here’s a rundown of the things to keep in mind for renovations in your living areas or bedrooms:

  • Flooring

  • Wall colour or wallpaper

  • Window coverings

  • Furniture

  • Wall art

  • Plants

  • Floor coverings

To get more inspiration for bedroom and living room renovations, take a look at our article on the top interior and exterior trends of the year

Renovation Stage Three: Calculating the Renovation Costs

Now that you have a clear vision of what you want your space to look like after your renovation, it’s time to do the not-so-fun part: calculate the renovation costs. It’s not the most appealing stage of the process (unless you love a good spreadsheet) but it’s going to be necessary when you’re calling contractors for quotes and buying your materials.

Calculating Renovation Costs for Bathroom Renovations

Let’s rip the band-aid off early and talk about averages. In most parts of Australia, the average cost for bathroom renovations in 2019 is around $17,522. For those who are really on a budget and are renovating a small bathroom, that number might be as low as $5,000. On the other end of the spectrum, turning an ordinary bathroom into a magazine-ready luxury bathroom could easily cost over $25,000. 

Obviously, that’s a huge range, and there are a lot of factors that go into finding your unique renovations costs. Here are a few things that could tip your renovation costs in either direction:

  • Cost of our materials - Are you opting for vinyl or splurging on imported Tuscan tiles?

  • Whether you’ll be swapping out your bathtub, toilet, or sink

  • Size of your bathroom

  • Structural work like expanding the floor size or adding in a window or skylight

  • Layout changes that would require altering the plumbing system

  • Underfloor heating

  • Electrical work having to do with lighting or ventilation

Of course, the big cost here is labour. From Stage One, you know that you’re probably going to have to bring in a licensed contractor if you’re doing more than just swapping out your sink handles. So how much are these building professionals going to cost?

OpenAgent suggests that you can expect to find the following prices for the contractors who know everything about bathroom renovations:

  • Electricians average about $75 per hour

  • Plumbers average about $80 per hour

  • Painters average about $42 per hour (although remember, this is something that could do without a contractor to save some money)

  • Tiling experts average about $45 per hour

  • Builders who specialise in bathroom renovations average about $62 per hour

When you’re shopping around for quotes, it’s helpful to ask how much time a contractor expects a job will take. You should also request a quote in writing. Although we all hope to avoid disputes, it can be helpful to have a paper trail in case issues come up later on.

Calculating Renovation Costs for Kitchen Renovations

Kitchens are often larger and more complex renovations than bathroom renovations. And, unfortunately, the prices reflect that.

Renovation costs for an average-sized kitchen generally costs somewhere between $20,000 and $45,000. A small kitchen can be renovated on a budget for about $10,000 to $20,000. If you’re looking for something truly noteworthy and luxurious, you’re looking at renovation costs of at least $45,000. 

So, what’s driving the price costs between low-budget $10,000 kitchen renovations and $100,000 kitchen renovations? Here are a few of the key factors:

  • Size of your kitchen

  • Materials and cabinetry

  • Benchtop costs

  • Flooring

  • Appliances

  • Electrical work like lighting changes and the addition of new outlets for appliances

  • Structural work like floorplan expansion or the addition of windows or a skylight

  • Ventilation work

  • Plumbing

Just like with bathroom renovations, labour is another huge factor in your overall renovation costs. 

The renovation cost that homeowners always forget

When a major remodel is being done in your home, you have to take extra care that your belongings don’t get damaged in the process. For kitchen renovations, where are you going to store your plates and glasses and smaller appliances? For bathroom renovations, you’d be surprised at how much stuff you didn’t realise was hiding under the sink.

One of the renovation costs you should consider adding to your budget, then, is storage. The good news is, if you book with Spacer, you won’t be adding too much to your budget. Here are the average prices per month of storage listings that you can find in your area:

Not on the list? Take a look at the Spacer listings in your area by searching on the site. 

One thing to keep in mind if you’re going to be putting your items into storage is that you might benefit from calling in a removalist. A removalist company can make the process much less stressful when you’re trying to prepare your home for your renovations. 

You can learn more about booking a removalist  by reading our recent article on the Best Moving Companies in Australia.

Another thing that many homeowners forget to add to their budget is waste removal. Every part of Australia has its own rules and regulations about waste removal. But in most places, you are responsible for making sure that your waste makes it to the nearest landfill or recycling centre. Look into disposal companies in your area to rent a skip bin and arrange rubbish removal.

You can expect this expense to cost somewhere around $75/m3, but it’s best to look around your area because prices can vary widely. 

Final Thoughts on Renovation Costs

Now, as you write out your renovation costs, you might be thinking to yourself, “Is this really worth it?” And we get it. It’s a huge investment. But remember that bathroom renovations and kitchen renovations aren’t just aesthetically pleasing. They can also increase the value of your home. Tasteful renovations can add tens of thousands of dollars to your property value, and the exact number will climb over time. 

Renovations are also a great opportunity to identify and fix issues beneath the surface of your home. What you pay now on bathroom renovations could prevent you from paying thousands of dollars later on when a plumbing issue arises.

As painful as it might be to see how much you could pay for your renovation, it’s important to be exact with estimating your renovation costs. You might even overestimate to cover the costs of things inevitably going a little bit wrong - a delay in the plumbing, having to buy more tiles because a few of them were chipped, etc. If you underestimate because you’re on a budget, you’ll be disappointed later on. 

So, once you have your budget written out, use it as a strict guide. Feel free to share your budget with potential contractors and they might even be more willing to negotiate prices. After all, they would much rather go into a job knowing that the home owner has put serious thought into their budget than work for someone who hired them without having the funds to pay them.

Renovation Stage Four: Call in the experts

You have your plan, you have your budget, and it’s time to call in the experts and start signing some contracts. 

But choosing the right builder or tradesperson can be a stressful process. Selecting the first random contractor you find online to gut and rebuild your bathroom is a really risky choice. Instead, you can rest easy knowing you followed a tried-and-true process to land you with the best builder available. Here are our tips:

  • Ask your network whether they would recommend someone. Even if you do get some great recommendations, follow through with the rest of the process just to make sure.

  • Ask around for quotes - you should get as many as possible but at least 4

  • Make sure that every builder you talk to you has a current licence and insurance that they can prove 

  • When you’re talking to potential builders, share your plans and your budget. They should feel comfortable giving you honest feedback and suggestions. This is also a good time to ask about their proposed building schedule.

  • Look for reviews online. If you ask for references from your builders, chances are, they’re going to point you to the people they know will say something good about them. Instead, you might poke around online to see if what their references say line up with their online reviews. A great option here, if you’re really looking forward to working with a particular builder but have found a bad review online is to ask the contractor about what happened. What they say about how they handled it will give you useful information about how they might treat you if things go sour. 

  • Pay attention to your gut. You don’t want to sign a contract with someone who made you feel lukewarm at the start. 

You found the right contractor, time to sign

Always, always, always read and re-read any contracts that you share with your builders. Here are a few things that you should expect to be included in your working contract:

  • What kinds of warranties you can expect if your property gets damaged

  • Compliance with the relevant building codes in your state 

  • How you’ll be notified of any building changes

  • The start date, construction stages, and proposed completion date

  • Agreed deposit rate

Contracts for bathroom renovations and kitchen renovations may also include makes and models of fittings (oven, tiles, etc), labour costs per hour, and details about what happens in the case of a breach of contract.

If you’re unsure of something or want a second opinion, you might go to your local consumer affairs office or consult with a lawyer. For renovations that exceed the $15,000 range, it’s a good idea to get legal representation, just in case.

Renovation Stage Five: Prepping your Home for Remodel

You are so close to starting your renovation and it’s time to prepare your home for the builders to come in and transform your space. There are a few steps that you can take to make sure that the renovation will be as quick and painless as possible.

#1: Make arrangements for you and your family

Are you going to be living in your space while your kitchen renovations are underway? Or does it make more sense to stay with friends and family since you won’t be able to use your kitchen? Likewise for bathroom renovations, if you only have one bathroom, it might make sense to stay somewhere else or make arrangements with a very gracious neighbour. 

There are plenty of good options, but make sure that you arrange them ahead of time.

#2: Make your space spotless

One of the most frustrating things you can do for your builder is expect them to work around your cluttered home. On top of that, there’s going to be so much dust floating around that you’ll need to take precautions to protect your items, too. 

If you’re doing a major remodel, it’s going to be necessary to move a lot of things out of your home to protect the workers and your belongings. In the budgeting stage, you probably put in a line to book a storage unit through Spacer. You might have also hired a removalist company. About a week before your renovation will start, you’ll want to check in with the removalist and confirm your booking. Make sure to have everything boxed up and ready to go on moving day.

If possible, arrange for the removalist to come at least one day before the renovations are supposed to start. That will prevent any overlap in case the removalist is delayed. 

#3: Have a plan for waste removal

If you rented a skip bin or waste removal company, make sure that your booking is confirmed and you’ve got a place for construction waste! Double checking that you’ve got a place to dump your waste before it goes to the landfill is going to save you a huge headache when the renovation starts. 

Renovation Stage Six: Demolition & Construction 

If you’re hiring professionals to do your renovation from start to finish, the only thing that you can do during this phase is be patient, be open to change, and keep a good attitude. 

From the very first day that the builders are at your house, do your best to build rapport. They’re doing the hard work or carrying out your vision for your home, and most professionals want to make their customers happy. And, the first step of building that positive working relationship is simply being friendly when they show up.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but know when to back off. When you go to the doctor, you don’t ask question after question about how your doctor is going to do a blood pressure test. And in the case of contractors, they might not appreciate being called into question about everything that they’ve been trained for. Of course, it’s fine to ask questions about progress and point out any concerns you have. But, try not to see your contractors as people who can feed your curiosity about DIY home improvement projects. They’ve got important work to do!

During the construction process, try to keep in mind that delays and issues are common. No one can predict everything, and you’ve got to roll with the punches as they come. If you’re feeling upset about the way that things are going with your renovation, have a straightforward conversation with your head contractor. 

If you think there’s a breach of contract, refer back to the signed document and, if you hired a lawyer, get their advice. You can also reach out to your local consumer protection agency.

Renovation Stage Seven: Clean up and Finishing Touches

At this point, the hard work is all done! You have the bathroom or kitchen or living room of your dreams and all you have to do is move back into that space...right?

Well, not exactly.

The contractors responsible for bathroom renovations and kitchen renovations aren’t necessarily going to leave your home sparkling clean. If you really want the wow factor of walking back into your dream kitchen or bathroom, why not arrange for professional cleaners? You can check our end-of-lease cleaning guide for tips on finding an excellent professional cleaner.

One last thing that you should remember to do before officially say that the renovation is done, is leave reviews online for your contractors. They put in so much hard work into making your space a dream come true, and even a quick review can do wonders for their business.

All Seven Stages in One Easy Checklist

Stage One: Permits & Licences 

  • Get in touch with your local council to ask whether you need a permit. Remember a good rule of thumb is that as long as you’re not doing any structural changes (e.g. plumbing, changes to the walls, addition of a window, etc.), you probably won’t need a permit. But inquire just in case

  • Apply for your permit should you need one

  • Keep a copy of all documentation

Stage Two: Planning

  • Sketch out your layout

  • Choose your aesthetic

  • Select your materials

    • Cabinetry

    • Appliances

    • Countertops

    • Flooring

    • Lighting

    • Windows

    • ___________

    • ___________

    • ___________

    • ___________

    • ___________

Stage Three: Calculate the Renovation Costs

  • Calculate the cost of all materials: ___________

  • Find out the factors that could drive your cost up

    • Size of the space in square metres: ___________

    • Proposed structural work

      • Expansion of the floor size

      • Addition of windows

      • Electrical changes

      • Plumbing changes

    • Additions like underfloor heating

  • Labour costs:

    • Electrician: ___________

    • Plumber: ___________

    • Painter: ___________

    • Tiling Expert: ___________

    • Building supervisor or lead designer: ___________

    • Other contractors:___________

  • Storage for your items during renovation: ___________

    • Removalist: ___________

Stage Four: Calling in the Experts

  • Finding the right tradespeople for the job

    • Know which contractors you need based on your permit requirement

    • Ask your network for recommendations

    • Find quotes from at least 4 contractors

    • Make sure that all contractors are licensed and insured

    • Look at online reviews

  • Hiring your contractor

    • Sign your contract

      • Read it thoroughly

      • Question any red flags

    • Consider finding legal representation or contact your local consumer affairs office

Stage Five: Prep Your Home

  • Make arrangements for you and your family during the renovation

  • Make your space spotless

  • Solidify your waste removal plan

Stage Six: Demolition & Construction

  • Have a plan for delays and problems

  • Reach out to your legal representation in the case of problems

Stage Seven: Clean-up

  • Thank your contractors

  • Bring in a professional cleaner

  • Review all contractors and material suppliers online

 

What Are Your Renovation Tips and Tricks?

We have our rundown of organising a smooth and successful renovation, but what are your thoughts? Tell us all about your recent experiences with bathroom renovations or kitchen renovations. Or, share your plans for an upcoming renovation so that we can cheer you on!

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