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How to budget your next home renovation

Renovation tools - how to budget your next home renovation 

When Jesper Bendtsen and Joanna Matsoukas decided to excavate their basement to put in a play area for their kids, they did their due diligence and sought out multiple quotes, and considered various designs before finalizing the contract details. Everything went (relatively) smoothly, and they are very happy with the finished result.

But there was one thing they didn’t initially budget for: patching and replacing large sections of plaster, and repainting much of their house to repair all the cracks in the ceilings and walls after the excavation work shifted the foundation. “I expected a few little cracks here and there,” says Joanna. “I wasn’t’t expecting to spend thousands of dollars to fix it all.”

There are a number of hidden and unexpected costs that are part of a renovation project. Here are five of the most common ones you can expect.

Adjustable fees

In older urban areas, building code requirements have changed dramatically since the homes were first built. While building permit fees are a fairly small portion of the overall budget (see “Permit Pending” below), when you undertake a major renovation, you will likely have to meet current regulations, which could cost more.

For example, there are new standards for insulation in basements, and bathrooms now require exhaust fans. An addition will likely be considered too close to property lines or exceed the allowable square footage of living space for the size of your property. So you’ll have to apply for what are known as “minor variances”. You’ll have to pay a non-refundable application fee, which can run into the thousands of dollars, wait while your application is processed and your neighbours are informed so they can lodge any objections, then appear before the committee of adjustment to plead your case. It can be time-consuming and stressful.

Unexpected Repairs

The Bendtsen-Matsoukas family spent about $10,000 to repair the numerous cracks that appeared in their plaster walls, replace several ceilings with drywall, and paint everything. And that wasn’t their only unexpected expense. When the foundation settled, the frames for their rear entry and patio doors warped and wouldn’t’t open. Tack on another $10K to replace those. The repairs also aren’t’t limited to the inside of the house. Work on the exterior of your home could damage the flowers and shrubs you’ve so laboriously tended. And if you are planning an addition, you’ll also need to re-landscape your yard after the work is done.

Time to move on

While minor renovations can be done with little impact to your life, larger projects – such as building an addition – may require you move out while the work is done. Factor in the cost of a short-term rental, moving fees, and storage fees for anything else you don’t immediately need – but would rather not end up covered in construction dust and debris.

Trash talk

For small jobs, you might be able to get away with one of the newer soft-sided disposal “bags” that you buy at your local building centre, fill, then call for pickup. But larger projects call for metal disposal bins. Most companies charge a delivery or rental fee for the bin, plus disposal fees based on the weight of the contents. Each load can set you back several hundred dollars.

Clean up crew

When my wife and I renovated our previous house, we decided to move out for the three-month construction period, and move everything we didn’t need into the basement. Even though we covered everything with heavy-duty tarps and sealed off the basement from the work area, construction dust and debris seeped into everything. We ended up hiring a cleaning crew for a day to tackle the worst of it, and then invested some sweat equity of our own to finish off the job.

Permit Pending

For any major renovation project – from building a deck to removing an interior wall or adding an addition – you’ll need to get a building permit. While many homeowners begrudge the time delays the permit process can add to a project, the related inspections ensure the work is been done correctly, and safely. Here are some sample permit fees for a variety of renovation projects within the City of Toronto. Contact your local municipal building department to find out which jobs require permits – and their associated fees – in your area.

  • New home construction: $16.06 per square metre
  • Basement finishing: $5.36 per square metre
  • Adding a new fireplace or wood stove: $107.05 flat fee
  • Adding an air-conditioning unit: $133.83 flat fee
  • Adding HVAC equipment, with new duct work: $167.27 flat fee
  • Adding a detached residential garage or shed: $107.05 flat fee


Toronto-based freelancer and father of two Allan Britnell has been writing about DIY and home renovations for nearly 20 years. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, an award-winning national trade magazine.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February 2015.

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