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Our 4rm BTO Renovation Journey - Retro? Scandinavian? Geeky? I don't know!!!

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We have just started our renovation recently, and decided that we should start a blog to document our Renovation Journey, so we could one day look back at our experience =)

There are like so so so many tiny details that one should keep in mind during renovation. So many tricks, tips & pointers to look out for. Hopefully by sharing our humble experience, fellow renotalkers can also learn something from our renovation process as well.

Nothing fanciful here, but I guess I shall start off with some pointers on ID/ Contractor Selection Process, my ideal steps as follow:

1) Get your floor plan (the above is ours). You can email HDB and they will send the hard copy to you by slow mail. Then photocopy a few copies of your floor plan, for future usage (e.g. to give to potential ids/contractors). When to start finding? It depends, we started like 3 or 2 months before we get our keys. However, if you know you are finding someone popular, then you might want to check his/her schedule earlier.

2) Brainstorm & write down in details what you would like to do for your house. Be specific. Don't just say Wardrobe in the Master Bedroom, say instead, 6ft length wardrobe in laminated finish, and whether you want casement or sliding doors. Number of drawers may matter too. Soft-closing and what brand also must say. Your ceiling height matters too (normally they do until 2.4m or 2.5m high only... extra height must top up). Whether you want the insides to be internal colour PVC finish or the standard white colour (which may turn yellow after many years..) also affects the price. Choice of external laminates matters too as some laminates can be more expensive than others. Sometimes even mirror or any fanciful design or material can affect the price, so be specific on your requirements.

*EDITED ON 26 JUN 2016* 
3) After having written down your specific requirements, do meet up with at least 5 Ids / Contractors to get your quotation (bring your floor plan too). 
Doing this will allow you to:

a) compare the various quotations on the SAME job that is being done.
b) observe the person to see if it's someone you can "click" with.. His/her attitude and design sense, etc.
c) collect ideas. a good id/contractor may also point out impracticality of your design and explain stuffs to you why it's not good & propose better solutions.

Do note that engaging ids will cost more than contractors (duh....the obvious), usually at least $2k to $5k+ more... it depends. You may consider getting an id if you have the budget + if you don't know what design you want, etc. If you already have a sense of direction what kind of design you want, then perhaps a contractor may suffice. Some contractors have designers to draw 3D drawings for them, so you can better conceptualise the design. The cheapest option, however, is to outsource EVERYTHING (e.g. find your own carpenter, tiler, electrician, etc). But that would require a lot of time & coordination on your side, and it could be quite stressful too..

*EDITED ON 26 JUN 2016*  
4) Find out all the hidden costs, and also determine which items are worth outsourcing to make the overall renovation cost cheaper. Here are just some areas you can look into: 
a) Haulage & Debris Removal Service - Should you really pay $800-$1200 for haulage & debris removal service to your id/contractor? Or will it be cheaper if you call the HDB appointed Haulage Service contractor (his contact will be pasted near your BTO lift), and then ask your id/contractor to liaise with him instead? Haulage service is basically carrying the heavy stuffs for you, such as Tiles (if your flooring is not done yet), and debris removal is where they help you clear any debris from your renovation. I'm not sure if those who have no hacking & tiling works still need this service or not...as it may seem rather redundant unless you need to do kitchen mortar base, washing machine & fridge kerb then maybe need some labour need to carry the required materials such as prepacked cement, etc (this may probably cost you about $250?). For us, we have to hack some walls & do flooring... so we need this service. The amount of works done (hacking/flooring works) & the size of your flat (if do flooring) will determine the cost of this service.

Some ids/contractors will ask you to get this service yourself and they will not include this in the quotation..., some may absorb this cost for you and provide it "free" (while jacking up the prices of other items maybe?), and some others will include this in the quotation as $800 to $1200++ and say it will be better if you engage from them as it is their own workers doing the service directly, so there will not be any miscommunication or delays. I later realised that this is kind of not true.. The HDB appointed Haulage Contractor for our BTO is "Mr Tan", and he says the service would cost $600 if got hacking + tiling works for 4 room (I'm not sure if other HDB appointed private contractors from other areas have different pricing or not..). I told my contractor (let's called him Uncle S) about it and he says he actually knows him coz they sometimes need to work together. He also remarked that he charge me cheaper than him too (Mr Tan charges Uncle S $700 for haulage/debris removal services)! So anyway, I passed Uncle S the money, he help me pay and get the receipt from Mr Tan. And from there onwards they work together no need me to call or arrange any appointments with Mr Tan at all. I never even met Mr Tan myself, only phoned & texted him to negotiate the cost of service only. Thus, it's not as troublesome as you may think if you engage Haulage service yourself, the point is whether your id/contractor is willing to help you liaise with the Haulage Contractor or not. So far everything seems okay. My walls have been hacked with debris cleared. Floor tiles are already in our house & tiling works are progressing, might be finishing by end of next week :rolleyes:

b) Window Grilles & Doors - It's usually cheaper to outsource these to those companies that do these works as their primary focus. I will update again the contacts once I am in that stage of installing these. It is better to install them at a later stage in the renovation (e.g. as doors may hinder movement or get scratched unless you protect them with cardboards and stuff). Uncle S says he will help me supervise the installation when the day comes (I hope :unsure:).

c) Electrical, Plumbing Works & Aircon Works - These are usually not included in the quotation. You may choose to find your own electrician, plumber & aircon installer, or use the ones that your id/contractor works with.

d) 3D Drawings - Do the 3D drawings come with unlimited edits? Or each re-draw/change of a 3D drawing (to see another design) will cost extra $$$? Stay away from those ids/contractors whereby 3D Drawings will cost exorbitant price like $500 each per change, as this will only limit/force you to proceed with the current design they proposed to you, which may not be what you really want.

e) Internal Color PVC (example above) - As mentioned earlier, this is for the insides of the Cabinets/Drawers. The "default" is usually white color, but it may turn yellow after some years. If you want it to be internal Color PVC (non-white, there are a few colors & patterns to choose from..), then you have to top up. Do note that this is NOT the same as normal laminate, which is used for the OUTSIDE / EXTERNAL of the carpentry works. So, in terms of price, Internal White PVC < Internal Color PVC < Laminate.

f) Full-height Carpentry works - If you are staying with higher ceiling height, full-height carpentry works will cost more.

** 5) Create an excel file to break-down and compare the quotations. Copy & paste the various jobs you have written in Step 2. Now, add in the quotations you have collected in Step 3. It may take awhile, but this step is very useful in helping you see the differences between the different ids/contractors quotation. It also allows you to calculate your costs easier as compared to writing these in word document. 
This means you will have 1 Column of Items, and X number of other Columns representing the X number of IDs/contractors you've seen. Additional Items & freebies can leave it to the last rows, do it in whatever format that you are comfortable with. Example,
Requirements                                                                         ID A                     ID B                  ID C
Item 1: 7ft Brick Feature wall in Craftstone finish.                  $800                   $1000                 $900 

Item 2: 6ft Wardrobe, sliding doors, height 2.6m, 
            color internal PVC, with 1 mirror, 3 drawers,
            external laminates can choose $75 and below,
            etc (write whatever specific details)                            $1300                 $1200               $1050 

Item X: Window Grilles? (FREE = $0)                                      $0                       $900                 $800

Basically you can use any method you want, no need to follow exactly the format here. The point is, to break up the quotations so you can weigh the pricing differences for the various works.

6) After comparing the quotes, and having a rough sense of who is more "reliable" or "comfortable" to you... you may then approach them again to further discuss & revise the quotes.
Revise the quote? Well, remember the comparison you did in Step 5? You may approach the id/contractor you like and say so and so ID charged me cheaper for this item, do you think you can match his price? If you are lucky, the price can be matched, or a slight discount if the price difference is too big.

7) Ask to visit his current project sites to see the workmanship. Basically to see if the workmanship is good. Are the cabinet doors misaligned? Do they close properly? Is the floor grouting too wide? Etc. 

8) Request for a site survey at your new house. The purpose is for a more accurate quotation... those with high ceiling height may have to top up more $$ on full-height carpentry works. It could also tell you how keen the person is in taking up your job (those not keen will say after sign contract then come...)

9) Ask lots & lots of questions if in doubt. Questions regarding the different materials, design solutions, costs, etc. Double check their facts. Do not take their answers for granted if possible. For example, recently TV got show some unfortunate couple got conned by a "contractor/ID" that claimed to be Case Trust & Radac. However, the CaseTrust website do not have the id/contractor company inside. The "contractor/id" has since disappeared and never to be found. You can also check Casetrust banned list here. If the company is not case trust, then do a google or search renotalk on their reviews. Sometimes you can find a lot of bad reviews about that company, and it may be safer if you avoid them.

10) Check check & check the contract before you sign. For example, on hindsight, it may be better for your contractor/id to charge you just for the labour for laying the tiles, instead of Labour + Price of tiles. Why do I say that? Think about it, say your id states that Bedroom tiles you can choose $2.50 to $4psf, before GST.  If the Bedrooms are about 450 sqft in total, it would mean that a $2.50psf tile would cost 450 x $2.50 = $1,125. If you choose a $4psf tile, then it would be 450 x $4 = $1,800. That's a difference of $675 between the 2!! T_T And no... that will not be refunded if you have opted for the cheaper tiles. Thus, if we had taken out tiles prices in our quotation/contract, we will not have to worry about whether the tiles we are choosing is too cheap or too expensive. We could just choose based on the design. So this ideally should be discuss prior to signing the contract... unless your id/contractor is OKAY with refunding any extra $ if the tiles you choose are too cheap.

*EDITED ON 26 JUN 2016* I suddenly remember something that Uncle S told me: If your house is still in initial building phase/not yet fully constructed, and you are absolutely sure that you want an open kitchen concept, you may request for them not to do up the wall that is partitioning the kitchen (if any). Also, if you don't like highlighting tiles, you may also request them not to include them in the toilets or kitchen. Although I'm not sure how true this is because I never personally tried it before (my unit was already constructed).... I suppose there is no harm giving it a try by asking your BTO/housing developer or something. If it works, then this could save you a few hundreds of dollars from wall hacking, wall tiles overlaying, etc.

Not sure if I missed out any tips or pointers.. but feel free to comment ^_^

Edited by Lala86

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On 24 June 2016 at 10:42 AM, JohnJohn said:

These are great tips! Wish I read them before embarking on my reno journey.

@JohnJohn, so you renovated finish already??

On 24 June 2016 at 8:30 PM, dotti said:

Hi Lala86,

Thanks for taking the trouble to compile the useful tips and pointers. Really useful for newbies:D like me!

@dotti, I'm glad you find them useful :)


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2 hours ago, JohnJohn said:

@lala86 not yet but already at carpentry stage. 

Just read your tblog, really nice theme & 3d drawings. Looking forward to see your finished house :)


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Renovation Permit for Hacking/Demolition Works


In order to hack the walls within your house, you will need to apply for the hacking/renovation permit. Your id/contractor (need to be HDB licensed) will give you a form to fill in to which he will submit to HDB on your behalf. The application will take a few working days to approve. We submitted at around May 21 Saturday, and they already approve it on May 30 Monday! Upon approval, HDB will send you a letter (informing who will be doing your demolition works, e.g. name of worker(s)) and also issue you a permit, stating only about 3 dates that you can choose from to carry out the hacking/demolition of walls. And only those 3 dates. Not sure if you can delay further as I never tried.. Anyway, this really caught me by surprise as I didn't know about these previously... If I did, I would have delayed in submitting the application (because I wanna procrastinate and think about the design slowlyzz) !! So my advice to those who have yet start reno works: Submit your application only when you are ready! If you are still hestitant about the design or whether to have open concept stuff.. then don't submit so soon. Lucky for me... I'm quite certain about having a half-open concept kitchen and stuff... so it's still alright.

Photos on our Hacking/Demolition Works (taken on June 6):

Bedroom 3 wall
bedroom 3 wall3.PNGbedroom 3 wall4.JPGbedroom 3 wall6.PNGhacked wall 2.JPG

Kitchen wall
kitchen wall2.PNGhacked kitchen wall.JPGhacked wall 1.JPG

Uncle S gave me a little "Renovation Lesson", saying that the Bedroom 3 Wall took much longer to hack due to the metal wires structure inside. Kitchen wall is "easier" to hack away in comparison as there is mostly concrete without those metal wires. I asked him which is "better" he said both are okay, perhaps the one with metal wires structure is better. This brings me back to the point where some ids told me I have to hack away a full wall & then reconstruct a new half-height wall for it to be stable, instead of just hacking the top half of the wall to create the half height wall (they reason that it will fall if you just hack the top half of the wall). Back then, I tried to research on this topic but came to no conclusion. Uncle S assured me it is really possible to just hack top half of the wall & then make good, instead of hack full-height & re-create a half height wall (which is much more expensive also). I'm not sure if Uncle S is correct or not, but it seems like my wall looks okay, and is still standing.... Any thoughts on this please comment below :)

*I would also like to thank the worker who hacked our walls. Really not easy with all the noise & dust around... If possible, do buy some snacks/treats for the workers as it is really a tough job for them :(*

Edited by Lala86

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14 hours ago, Lala86 said:

Renovation Permit for Hacking/Demolition Works
*I would also like to thank the worker who hacked our walls. Really not easy with all the noise & dust around... If possible, do buy some snacks/treats for the workers as it is really a tough job for them :(*

Agree with this. I keep a carton of green tea for the workers to drink. I usually top up every 10-14 days. 


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Hi, lala86, my coming BTO same exactly floor plan. May I know your BTO location. Although my BTO will be next year end key collection @ puggoal, please kindly help me by sharing update info about your contractor. I hope to get a minimum budget for renovation and get some tips, ideal from you.


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(Disclaimer: Photo Credits to their respective owners and I do not own the following photos)

The Design process is like a fickle-minded affair:paint:
Now that we are in the midst of our renovation journey (just the beginning actually..), I've learnt that the things & design solutions you had initially wanted could change due to several reasons. Here are some things that we have to keep in mind:

1) Budget - Is it within our budget? Overlaying the wall tiles for all walls of a toilet could cost about $2000! :bangwall: If overlay just the shower area, could be about $800 - $1200. If overlay just 1 flank of wall within the shower area (enough to cover the HDB mosaic tiles in my case..), would be about $400+. I've chose to overlay a tiny part of the Master Bedroom toilet (will provide pics next time...).

2) Practicality & Convenience (Subjective) - One of the hardest thing is choosing between a closed or open concept kitchen. Alternatively, you may consider having windows like the ones below, but that would usually cost above $2000 for them in black power coated aluminium. We initially wanted that but the thought of having to wipe the windows after heavy cooking irks me, so we eventually dropped the idea (can further save some $$ also >_<). We also thought of window blinds in the kitchen but not sure if it will look good or not... The same goes for shower screen in toilets, are you prepare to clean the glass often? Or the grime that will accumulate underneath at the tracks? For us we reckon that shower curtains will be adequate.

Bomb shelter also, if you intend to conceal the bomb shelter door with feature doors/walls, are you okay with opening 2 sets of doors each time you wanna access the bomb shelter (1st time is the false door concealing the bomb shelter door, 2nd time is the actual bomb shelter door itself)? Decisions can be difficult, and even now, I'm still really torn on whether to have a feature wall to cover the bomb shelter door or not.. 


3) Want vs. Need - I used to want a tea/chill-out corner near the windows, like the kind in the photo below. It's like one of my "MUST-HAVES" back then. I was even planning to hack the Bedroom 3 wall (kindly refer to this post here) to make that area the living room instead (which will result in a longer sized living room). However, as time passed by, I began to question myself if we really need one. The reason being, a tea corner is usually purposeful or nice if you can sit there and enjoy the scenery outside. However, for us our windows are facing a another flat... So creating one may seem quite redundant or probably waste of money in our case... so we dropped the idea too.
tea corner.PNG

4) Others (e.g. Design Flaws)
Sometimes you have to change to achieve a better design solution (e.g. ironing out any possible design flaws). You may need to draw out the layout (digitally or on paper, roughly draw to scale if possible) in order to better visualise and look out for design flaws (this may not be applicable if you have an ID that gives you unlimited 3D drawings though). For example, we intend to have an open kitchen concept, but I have a problem placing my fridge around (70cm x 70cm). I'm also inspired to have a tiles countertop (with storage underneath) somewhere in the Kitchen, but I wasn't sure how I should place it. In the end I drew more than 15 possible layouts... but I will just discuss only a few of them in here... (pardon the rough mock-ups, measurements may not be accurate. Purple is the main countertop, green is loose furniture):

a) Version 1 - Fridge will be blocking if I want to access the contents underneath the tiles countertop (the opening of the tiles countertop will face the kitchen).
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.07.34 AM.png

b) Version 2 - Fridge is still the problem here, causing a narrow entry to the kitchen.
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.10.42 AM.png

c) Version 3 - Better than version 2, but my tiles countertop is like shortened and tucked away in a corner...
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.11.35 AM.png

d) Version 4 - Seems okay but then this will make our kitchen look really big, which is not what we want. Width of tiles countertop also reduced to a mere 40cm only.
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.12.46 AM.png

e) Version 5 - Not practical because fridge is outside of kitchen and quite far to access if you need something to cook/store.
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.13.43 AM.png

f) Version 6 - Our Final chosen layout. Some areas for us to put loose furniture too. 
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.13.15 AM.png

g) Version 7 - This could probably look nice if you put windows above the tiles countertop, and then a barn door at the kitchen entrance. But we did not choose this design coz it is more expensive & harder to put loose furniture too. 
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.14.52 AM.png

h) Version 8 - It looks kind of cool, combining dining and kitchen into 1 big space. But then it defeats my purpose of having tiles countertop as a secondary kitchen countertop that will be involved in kitchen-related activities, as it is too far away from the main countertop. 
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.17.31 AM.png

i) Version 9 - This seems ok, but my table have to be really really small/short.... chair might be blocking entrance too.
Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.18.53 AM.png

On a side note, I'm doing all these on my own initiative becoz I'm quite a fussy person... Uncle S do have a designer that will provide me with 3D drawings at a later stage.... after I have decided on the laminates to use, that is. (which I still have not yet) :dunno:

Inspirational Designs :good:

Anyways, enough of the pointers, now to share a few photos that I really like: 

- Sleek Brick Walls (Straight-edge & Regular sized Brick Tiles)
*URGENT* Anybody knows where I can find such brick tiles?
:( :( :( Any help will be GREATLY appreciated! 


- Rough Brick Walls (Rough-edge & Irregular sized Brick Tiles)
*URGENT* I'm also finding something like this... in the case that I can't find the straight cut ones above... 
:(  Basically something orangey-red. Or perhaps orangey-brown like below also can.. Anyone has any clue please pm me or comment below... many thanks in advance!!

- Some Lovely Kitchens
9766-musuem-id-photo-9-12.jpg17606-space-sense-photo-5-9.jpg11709-exquisite-art-furniture-decoration-photo-6-8.jpg11621-boxid-studio-photo-6-9.jpgScreen Shot 2016-02-28 at 2.34.33 pm.pngP1130830_zps115e05c6.jpg

- Cool toilets (the last 2 are more for the geeks/retro games fans)

Edited by Lala86

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On 27 June 2016 at 10:42 AM, Edger03 said:

Hi thanks for the detailed sharing. Would you mind pm me your quotes and contractor info? Thanks


On 27 June 2016 at 0:47 PM, syahirahs said:

Hi there, thanks for your tips. Do you mind sharing your contractor name and contact pls?

Hi Edger03 and syahirahs... actually we only just started our reno journey... so I think it's a bit too soon for me to give any reviews on my contractor.. Perhaps I can only comment on these with certainty after hand over stage... or at least after carpentry stage T_T which is still a long way to go... hope you guys understand!  

9 hours ago, d3n said:

my layout almost similar as yours! looking forward to your house completion.

Hi d3n, really? Thanks. Are you renovating soon?

1 hour ago, andytkh2004 said:

Hi, lala86, my coming BTO same exactly floor plan. May I know your BTO location. Although my BTO will be next year end key collection @ puggoal, please kindly help me by sharing update info about your contractor. I hope to get a minimum budget for renovation and get some tips, ideal from you.

Hi andytkh2004, it's at Yishun. As mentioned with Edger03 and syahirahs, we only just started our reno journey... I can only update my views on him and the workmanship next time after we have experienced / gone through our renovation. 

On 27 June 2016 at 10:53 AM, JohnJohn said:

Agree with this. I keep a carton of green tea for the workers to drink. I usually top up every 10-14 days. 

Hi JohnJohn, yes, I did that too. Need to leave a carton of packet drinks & snacks in bomb shelter. Hopefully they will also feel appreciated and do nice nice for us... haha =X


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What we installed

Will update this corner with what we have to install (e.g. doors, window grilles, aircons, etc), or the services we need to engage.

1) Sliding door arm. Works as a door stopper. Push to close door. Hold Position & Speed of Closing are adjustable. (Installed on June 18)
This is probably one of the first things you must get for your new house. Having to keep the main door in a stay-open position (e.g. with a chair) every time you visit your house can be quite annoying. We engaged Smart-Home to install this at $50. Chosen color is black. Comes with 2 years warranty. Installation takes about 20 minutes. However, they seemed to be VERY VERY busy folks, may have wait like 2 to 3 weeks for a Saturday appointment. Weekdays may be a shorter wait. Do call them again to remind them of your appointment in case they forget. And remind them to email you an invoice if they forget too (so you can keep track of the warranty). Overall, they give me the impression that they are extremely busy... but quality of the sliding arm seems okay.. and it is working fine (as per photo). 

Edited by Lala86

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