Renovating a House with Children
People often tell me they ‘don’t know how we do it’, meaning living in the middle of a building project, doing all of the work ourselves, with a houseful of people and children. The thing is; it’s all we’ve ever known. We moved into this house when pregnant with our eldest, and very quickly had two under two in the middle of all of the work. So if you’re looking for the answer to the question: “Can I live in a building site with children?” the answer is of course, yes. If you want to know if it’s easy then the answer is of course, no! So far, along the way, we’ve had tears, tantrums (from me more than the children!) and many, many arguments. I could write a post with tips and help if you’re living in a building site with kids (in fact I might still do that) but more recently I was speaking to the lovely Meera from First Sense Interiors (who is currently undergoing her own renovation – you should definitely go an check it out!) and we were comparing our experiences renovating with children and I realised how guilty I feel about so much of it. I thought a post talking about the gritty reality might be helpful to people considering whether this experience might be one for them.
For context here are a few things it’s probably worth knowing about us:
- Lee and I completely upgraded our first house. Whilst it wasn’t as much of a project as this we have done a massive refurb before including moving doors, complete kitchen rip out, bathroom upgrade etc. We were fairly experienced with how long projects take.
- Lee is a civil engineer. His day job involves structural design and project managing construction projects. He has a very good understanding of what costs are involved, realistic time frames and is very used to managing different trades working together
- We spend a lot of our free time wild camping, so we are very used to roughing things, living without luxuries and cooking on camping stoves.
Essentially we went into this project with our eyes fully open, and VERY realistic expectations. We’re also positive people and we have still had some very low moments. So if you’re wondering whether you might be able to live through a renovation with kids, here are the things you need to know:
Dust. It gets everywhere.
It sounds so obvious but if you haven’t lived with dust from building work then you won’t understand. You can walk into the house and literally taste it. Even when there isn’t building work going on, rooms just collect dust. We didn’t think this would be a massive problem, but the mum guilt kicks in and I’m convinced that any cough the kids get is related to the building work. We’ve had Ewan checked for chest infections a couple of times when he’s had bad ones and hasn’t been able to shift them. We’re incredibly lucky and have healthy kids, but I constantly feel guilty for exposing their immune systems to situations that could include dust, mould spores etc. Thankfully, we haven’t had a situation yet involving asbestos but it’s so common in building sites so you really need to be prepared to deal with the guilt that comes from putting your kids near substances like this.
Our whole house is cordoned off with child gates as it’s the only way to keep the kids safe. We have screws and nails that we’ve lost as we’re working which we’re yet to find, wires everywhere, old fiberglass insulation. We have areas of our house without floorboards that the kids could literally fall through, we’ve moved the stairs and have a make shift banister that they could climb through if they were left alone for long enough…
I make the house sound really unsafe (bits certainly are) but we just have to be very cautious. The kids are never left alone in any dangerous areas. It also means that at almost 3, Ewan still doesn’t have free reign over the house. Harris has learnt to climb stairs, but he never gets to at home. Essentially there are times when the work is confined to one room and that can be closed off easily, but there are other times when the kids are essentially prisoners in their own homes, and that makes me quite sad.
Having somewhere to go.
Sometimes the only solution to some of the more dangerous jobs is quite simply to get the kids away from it all. Anyone who has ever tried to entertain two kids, under two, in nappies (one toilet training), for around 10 hours at a time, away from their own home, in horrible weather I’m sure will agree with me is that it isn’t actually that easy. The amount of times I thought we’d be able to stay in the house and realised that it just slowed the work down way too much, or else I’d end up with screaming kids who just wanted to see their daddy… it just isn’t realistic to stop in.
Fatigue – of the project, not just the work.
Obviously doing all of this work is physically draining. You’ll get tired. But you’ll also get bored of the project. You’ll have moments of just wanting to stop it all and you’ll need to be able to motivate yourself to keep going. It sounds really simple, but when you spend months and months having to make a room worse before you can even make it better – it is really difficult to do.
Food and nutrition.
It’s a bit of a cliche that working on a building site means you resort more to tinned/microwave food and takeaways, but obviously it’s just so much easier. And although most people are happy eating rubbish for a few months, most parents (myself included) feel a bit of guilt at the prospect of doing this with their kids (the odd takeaway I have no issue with!). It’s not just that fruit can develop a thin layer of dust if left in the fruit bowl when any work is ongoing, it’s that finding time to cook meals from scratch when trying to work around jobs is really, really difficult.
The biggest workaround we’ve found for this is we now buy Gousto (a meal delivery subscription service where food arrives in the correct quantities ready to be cooked) mostly because taking the consideration from meal planning (and having new meals each week) was enough motivation for us to actually start cooking again. This is one of the biggest things we constantly beat ourselves up over.
Lack of space.
Our house is huge. We have two reception rooms. We’ll have four (and a half) bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a conservatory. It sits on a plot that’s about quarter of an acre, so our garden is a brilliant size. We have multiple garages and outbuildings…
…but we have absolutely no room.
We have boxes from the rooms that are being worked on, taking up space in the rooms that are finished. You are always working around each other, and various projects.
Despite all of the space – we sleep between two bedrooms. Harris (at 15 months old) still doesn’t have his own room, so Lee and I still haven’t got our own bedroom back yet. (Granted I’m in no rush to put him in his own room, they’re only young once, but it would still be nice to have a bedroom for his clothes to live in!).
My point is you are going to be living on top of each other, and personal space will become a bit of a luxury unfortunately!
If we’d undertaken this project before we had kids then there are so many different jobs we’d have been able to do at all times of the day and night. Now, even on the rare occasion we manage to get back from work, cook us all a healthy meal, see the kids, get them to sleep at a reasonable time and have the energy to start a job (which doesn’t happen that often obviously!) there are so many things we are unable to do just because they’d be so noisy.
Our kids are good sleepers (they’ll sleep through vacuum cleaners and gentle conversation) but using a drill or a chop saw unfortunately puts us on borrowed time of around 15 minutes before we’ll wake them up!
It’s one of the biggest changes to pre and post children DIY we’ve found.
No more date nights
We are incredibly lucky that we have family and friends happy to babysit the kids for us. They do a fair amount of week day childcare for us, but then are happy to give us the odd few hours/evening every now and then when we’re not at work too. Most people would use this to go ‘out’ and reminisce about how easy it was before they had kids. If you have a building project, then you need to use these rare hours to progress things.
We know how much time we already have to give to the project over our kids, and it makes it very difficult for us to ever take any time for ourselves.
A place to stay overnight
Sometimes, despite best plans, the house just isn’t habitable over night. At a push adults might be able to live in the space, but for all of the reasons I’ve listed above if you haven’t got parent’s/friends/budget for a hotel/you’re not happy to camp etc… then you really need to think this thing through. You need a bolt hole if things get too difficult because the kids need to come first.
So far we’ve had two stints that ended up with us staying at my mums for a total of two weeks. They’re weren’t particularly planned, but we were very lucky (and grateful!) that the door was open for us.
And a special consideration for pregnancy…
A bit of an obvious one if you’re a mum, but if you’re yet to experience (or have a partner experience) pregnancy hormones then be aware all rationale thinking can go out the window. I remember balling my eyes out because plasterboard made me emotional. I hated having a newborn in a ‘messy’ house (it wasn’t even messy at this point – it was just the old rooms that weren’t to our taste!). Morning sickness in a building site was horrific. I didn’t want to go near the bathroom (it was, and still is a bit grim at the moment – one of those rooms we haven’t got to) but obviously couldn’t avoid in when being sick! And then nesting kicked in twice near the end of pregnancy, and my usual tolerance for building site mess went out of the window. My point is – if you think the above sounds doable, and you’re thinking about having a baby – don’t underestimate how differently you’ll feel when those hormones kick in. And prepare yourself for the post natal arguments, one week about hating the building site and NEEDING to get more jobs done, the following week about how you’re always looking after the baby because your partner spends all their time doing jobs!
You’ll notice that the majority (not all) of these points that I think I’ve mentioned can pretty much all come back to mum guilt! But in all seriousness, mental health is a big deal when taking on a project like this. If you’re considering it then I really think you need to be able to be kind to yourself. That means not holding yourself to your usual standards, and being relaxed enough to let time frames (as well as countless other things!) slip a bit if needed.
I’m so glad we’ve taken this project on. I love it. I love it now more than when we started (helps now we have finished rooms) and I know I’ll miss it when we’re (eventually!) finished, but it’s been the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do and it’s really tested us.
Fingers crossed this post was fairly honest. The intention isn’t to put anyone off – it’s to make sure that if you’re considering a renovation you do so with your eyes wide open! If you’re part way through one – is there anything else you’re struggling with? It would be great to keep this list going in the comments below.