Avoid Renovation Woes - Cleanliness & Safety During Construction

Author's Note: This is part of a series of blog posts are aimed at avoiding renovation woes.

After the Cherry Hill Kitchen renovation was complete, I asked my client what she wished homeowners knew before starting the renovation process. I asked because as a professional designer I know what to anticipate during a renovation and sometimes I take that for granted. I believe that the more you know going into a renovation project the more successful it will be because you will have a better idea of what to expect.


"Have a conversation about your expectations about cleanliness during the process. If you're living in the home, this is especially important." - Carla, Homeowner, Cherry Hill kitchen renovation


I am not going to sugar coat it, renovations can get messy. I have worked on full-home renovations where the client could afford to live in another home during the process and it could get stressful for them at times. Ideally, if you can avoid living in the home during a renovation, I say do it. However, the average homeowner cannot afford it. In order to maintain sanity during the process (especially if you are living in the dwelling throughout the process), one of the most important things to ask about during the contractor selection process is how they address cleanliness and safety on a job site.

Management of a job site varies from contractor to contractor. One thing you should be asking about is protecting existing elements. If you can't move furniture out of a room, it should definitely be covered. However, if you are getting new furniture have it delivered until the renovation is complete. The vendor can often protect your pieces much better in a warehouse. Additionally, if you have your furniture delivered towards the end of the process you only need to move the furniture once instead of moving it into a another space in your home then again into the space where the furniture will be long-term.

Also, ask how built-in elements will be protected. Pieces such as mantles are sometimes protected by a simple 5-sided plywood box that is pushed up against the mantle. If floors are not being replaced or refinished, they should be covered. Light fixtures should be covered as well, protected from dust. If a renovation is concentrated on one room there should be tarps up at the doorways that prevent any dust from entering another room. If there is no barrier between rooms I can almost guarantee you will find a layer of dust elsewhere. Dust travels far on it's own, but forced-air units move dust further.

Cleanliness on a construction site is not only an issue of dust, but of safety. If workers are leaving at the end of the day with tools laying all over the floor and building materials not neatly piled or grouped together, that is a huge problem. Anyone can easily trip and fall. Also, I cannot tell you how many times I have watched HGTV and seen people walking through a job site with flip flops. Please do not do that! The people working on a jobsite wear boots for a reason. On another note, please confirm that your contractor has insurance. If you are working with a contractor that does not have insurance and someone gets injured onsite that turns into a headache for you.

There is one thing I want to point out that a lot of homeowners do not realize. Designers and contractors collaborate and communicate a lot on a project, but the contractor is ultimately working for the client, not the designer (exceptions are with design-build firms where the designer and contractor both work under the same company). Remember, the contractor is responsible for the cleanliness and safety of a job site. Designers can take note that something seems amiss during a site visit and we can recommend the issue be addressed, but it is not our responsibility to directly alleviate the issue. I once went to a job site to check on the progress of a small commercial renovation project. The contractor (chosen by the client without my recommendation) left a messy pile of construction materials in the hallway of an office space. Not only was this a tripping hazard, but there was dust and material waste all over the place. My client brought up this issue with me first, not the contractor. I told my client that the contractor is responsible for resolving this issue and most importantly, any cleaning that needs to take place should be paid for by the contractor.

Bottom line is, do not be afraid to ask your contractor these questions. If you are working with an professional interior designer they will likely have recommendations for contractors that they know already who are a pleasure to work with in many respects including job site cleanliness and safety. If you have compiled a list of contractors on your own interior designers often sit in on interviews to make sure all the right questions are asked.