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A major remodeling project such as a whole house remodel, adding a second story (also known as a “pop top”), remodeling or designing a new master suite or in-law suite, an upscale basement remodel, or a home addition can be daunting.  

Before breaking ground, there are many steps to take, and you must find trust between yourself and those who are implementing the design and construction. 

Here is a helpful list of to-dos when planning a major house remodeling project: 

1. Create Your Major Home Remodeling Wishlist

To help keep your thoughts organized and your budget in check, start by organizing your home remodeling wish list in two ways. 

First, consider each area of your house that needs attention and brainstorm – keep a running list of things you don’t like and preliminary ideas on what you might like. This initial attempt can be specific or quite general. You may enjoy collecting photos – a picture is worth a thousand words! Here are some helpful resources for finding home design inspiration, or visit our Projects for ideas on transforming your home.    

Second, rewrite your wish list in three sections: 1) must-haves, 2) nice to haves, and 3) if money were no object. The third item might seem humorous – and it is – but it also helps keep a sense of perspective about the possibilities. Next, bounce this list off the professionals with whom you are meeting, and add their perspectives to your own.

whole house remodel with curb appeal

2. Set Your Home Remodeling Budget

Setting a budget for remodeling your home is probably one of the most confounding pieces of the process. 

Start by considering the funds you have available, have access to, and feel comfortable investing in a significant home renovation project. Know that it is common to significantly underestimate what a home remodeling project might cost.  

So next, be ready to talk budget with your home remodeling professional and modify your expectations based on their feedback. It can be a multi-step process to arrive at a budget and design that both suit your needs.  

In our experience, independent architects are largely disconnected from knowledge of construction costs. 

Design/build remodelers are uniquely suited to assist homeowners in establishing and adhering to budgets. Because they not only design but also estimate and produce the work, they are intimately knowledgeable about the costs and vicissitudes of remodeling, and can more easily anticipate and explain pitfalls.   

Design/build firms are also motivated to produce the entire project and focused on helping homeowners make informed design and budget decisions all along the way. 

So how much does a home remodeling project in Northern Virginia cost? Make sure you’re familiar with cost drivers and key considerations when budgeting your project. 

beautiful whole house remodel entrance

3. Determine Design/Build or Architect/Contractor as Your Home Remodeling Team

A well-designed home remodel will be a pleasure for years to come. Finely done work enhances your quality of life and property values, while a poorly designed project can become an embarrassment and even detract from value. 

You’ll find that there are several types of home remodeling business structures to evaluate:  


Home remodelers (aka contractors or builders) typically do not have in-house design capabilities, and therefore an independent designer or architect would need to be hired. The drawback of this approach is that it can elevate costs.

Architects can become enamored with the design process and can “over-design,” not understanding construction costs and budgets. It is common for the designed project to be significantly above the construction budget, which consequently, must be redesigned or scrapped late in the game.  Homeowners often find themselves starting over with a new design and a new designer. 

If you go this route, hire an experienced architect whose main business is in residential remodeling, as other architectural specialties (such as new homes or commercial builldings) do not give an architect the skill set required for the intricacies of home remodeling.

The right residential architect, however, can be a huge asset since they have far more training and understand structural complexities much better than many “designers,” for whom there are limited, less rigorous, or even no training programs.  


True design/build firms work integrally, having both architect and builder under one roof and one business structure. An integrated design/build team also has a defined process. This facilitates the flow of information and fleetness of decision-making. The benefits of a design/build firm for your home remodeling project are multi-faceted.

Design/build firms have a good handle on and better control over timelines than independent architects and builders. They can also help homeowners make decisions and selections informed by aesthetics, budget, and availability. 

Note that many who call themselves design/build have neither an architect nor a designer on staff but merely collaborate with an independent one – or even none at all. Ideally, find a design/build firm with a registered architect on staff. Commonwealth Home Design is one of only a very few design/build firms founded by an architect. This sets us apart and has ensured our almost 40-year longevity serving Northern Virginia, Bethesda, and Washington Metro areas.

The last option is regrettably necessary to mention; that of not having a skilled architect involved at all. We’ve encountered all-too-many projects over our decades of service that are poorly designed, to the detriment of the project – even of the whole structure, and certainly to the detriment of the homeowner. Enough said…

**For the rest of this article, we will describe the remaining steps of the process based on working with a design/build firm.**

Design/build home remodeling team4. Hire a Reputable Design/Build Home Remodeling Team

Longevity matters in the home remodeling industry. Talk to design/build home remodeling companies that have been in business for decades. The few that you will find have vast experience and established practices that facilitate a smoother process and better results. 

Seek referrals from friends, neighbors, and family. Do your research and ask questions! A skilled home remodeling firm welcomes questions.  

5. Understand Your Home Remodeling Timeline

Do you have a deadline and is it reasonable? Is there a special event or a season for which you wish to be ready? Are you planning ahead for a growing family, improved quality of life, or aging in place for yourself or your family in the coming years? 

You’ll want guidance from your chosen home remodeling team to know how much time your project’s design, preparation, and construction will require. 

Much of the schedule depends upon the specifics of your project, such as custom work and specialty or special-order items compared to in-stock items. Another significant factor is how quickly you make decisions and how quickly your architectural and building team responds.  

Home Remodeling comfortable porch6. Embrace the Home Remodeling Design Process

The design process starts with interviewing you, the homeowner, extensively to uncover as many of your preferences as possible.  

Your existing house is measured by architectural staff, and as-built drawings of the affected areas are produced.  

An architect then brainstorms and sketches, generating many possibilities and narrowing them down to solutions that come as close to your budget as possible while also incorporating as many of your wish list items as possible.  

An estimator then creates a more accurate ballpark. A meeting with the homeowner is then held to discuss both the initial design and budget. This meeting is usually fun, eye-opening, and revealing. Necessary modifications to the budget and design are made as a result of this discussion.

As the design process develops, more attention is given to intricate assemblies such as kitchen design, bathroom design, built-ins, fireplaces, etc.  

Finally, selections are made on items such as windows, cabinets, fixtures, appliances, tile, lighting, hardware, and exteriors such as the front door, windows, porches, decks, walkways, driveway, and outdoor lighting. 

Home Remodeling Architectural Drawing

7. Know Your Construction Agreement

An effective Construction Agreement should contain the following items:

  • Specifications that spell out the materials being used;
  • Allotments for things you’re choosing, such as appliances, tile, lighting, etc.;
  • Contract Drawings showing demolition and new construction, drawn to a specific scale; and
  • Construction schedule.

Unfortunately, many companies skip or skimp on this important aspect of the home remodeling project. 

8. Understand the Permitting Process

Your chosen home remodeling firm should help you navigate the permitting process, which can be complicated and rife with surprises. The permitting process typically requires building permits from your governing jurisdiction but can, and often does, involve one or more of the following:

  • Zoning restrictions, easements, building setback limits, height limits – these come into play whenever the exterior of the house is being expanded, such as with additions, whole house remodeling projects, second story additions, in-law suites, master suites, and decks and screened porches. A copy of your plat or survey from when you bought the house will be required. Sometimes a new plat (survey) will be necessary.
  • Neighborhood bylaws – some neighborhoods have additional restrictions and can even require a formal board review process. 
  • Land management restrictions – this includes wetlands, grading and limits of disturbance.
  • Health Department involvement – whenever a well or septic field is present, a review by the Health Department is required. Though relatively uncommon in the Washington Metro area, well and septic systems can introduce additional complications, so discuss this with your home remodeling team.

Newly remodeled home9. Organizing and Living During Your Home Remodeling Project

While your design/build firm completes the process outlined above, now’s your time to:

  1. Plan ahead for life during renovation – some families find another place to stay or plan extended vacations or trips to other family members’ homes while the remodeling takes place. Others choose to stay put and weather the inconveniences of living in a house that has been turned into a work zone. Discuss this with your home remodeling team and make an informed decision about what works for both you and them.
  2. Declutter and pack – now is a great time to evaluate your belongings, pull things out of closets and drawers and donate, donate, donate! Once your house is fresh and new, you’ll want your things to suit your home’s beautiful new spaces!

Breaking ground and watching your remodeling project take shape in real time come next. Finally, upon completion of the entire project, you’ll feel relief and pleasure – and it will be time to move back in and start enjoying a new quality of life!

Always remember, when it comes to remodeling your home, EXPERIENCE MATTERS! Commonwealth Home Design has been designing and remodeling homes for nearly 40 years, creating proven, effective, and efficient processes that consistently lead to remarkable results.

susan and kelvin pierce owners commonwealth home design

Let’s talk about your major home remodeling needs today so we can help turn your dreams into reality!

Kitchen Remodeling Northern Virginia