It can seem like the elephant in the room that nobody wants to address. In a perfect world, your home improvements would go exactly like they were planned: on schedule, and on budget. There would be no delays or unforeseen issues lurking beneath the surface. Unfortunately for many homeowners, things don’t always go as planned. That’s why it’s important to understand things like Change Orders and to expect them, rather than dread them, during the home improvement process.

What is a Change Order

A Change Order is a document that identifies the task that was either not included or need to be de-scoped from the original contract. The changes may be the completion date or cost. Change Orders are common to most renovation or remodeling projects, because when Pros are preparing a proposal, they are unable to see the existing material condition or structure. Over time, damages may have occurred behind the drywall, and after demolition, these type of issues are discovered and need to be addressed before making any further improvements. The Pros write up the finding and propose changes, and then submit the Change Order to the homeowner for approval. The homeowners and their Pros must reach an agreement before moving forward to make the changes.

Why Things May Change

Even projects that have careful planning, conscientious professionals, and a high budget sometimes find themselves going off the rails. In fact, it’s far more common for there to be changes made to a project than to have the project go off without a hitch.

No one likes to think about it, but being prepared for changes can help you through the entire process more easily from beginning to end.

Some issues that will arise on your project are due to simple human error. Maybe the materials you ordered arrived incorrectly or not at all. Maybe there was a communication issue between you and your Pro. Errors can happen despite good intentions and seasoned professionals, so it’s important to leave a little wiggle room in your project for these to occur.

Other changes may occur once the project is underway, just because something that couldn’t be seen previous to demolition turned up. For example, you could be pulling up flooring only to find that there’s another layer of flooring under the first and that it contains asbestos. Or, you may see that what you thought was a stable subfloor actually has structural issues that couldn’t be seen previously. Pros don’t always have all the answers before they start, and once construction begins, you may be in for some surprises.

Finally, you may change your mind. It’s very common once a project is underway for homeowners to suddenly decide that if they’re in for a penny, they might as well be in for a pound. Suddenly you may decide to take on additional work or to upgrade designated materials. It’s totally fine to change your mind and the scope of the work, but you need to be aware that it can affect more than just your bottom line.

Why You Need to Keep Track of Change Orders

A good Pro will always come back to you about any changes to the project with a Change Order. This is a document outlying the changes, and what impact they will have on the project. For example, if you did find asbestos flooring, you would need lab testing, a specialized crew to handle the tear out, and possibly a new subfloor. This adds time, material, and expense to the project, which all need to be documented and signed off on by you before things can proceed.

A reputable Pro will be sure to document everything and to get your approval before things go ahead. This is to protect both of you so if the project goes way over budget or takes longer than anticipated, you're kept informed of what’s going on.

Denying Change Orders

Some homeowners may feel trapped or anxious by a Change Order, feeling that the changes and alterations may never stop. Remember, though, that you can refuse to sign off any changes you aren’t comfortable with. Sometimes these changes are necessary, such as in the case of material never arriving; you need to pick something new, and it needs a new install date. But if you’ve made several changes without realizing how they will impact the timing or budget of the project until you see the Change Order, and you decide not to go ahead with them after all, it’s alright to politely tell your Pro you’ve decided against them. Just be sure you're willing to explain yourself whenever you deny a Change Order, and if your Pro tells you that something is necessary for the safety or structure of your home, that you listen.

It’s also important to review your Change Order carefully, in case of any miscommunication between you and your Pro. If you were merely thinking out loud about a change, and your Pro assumed you wanted to do it when this isn’t the case, it’s OK to deny the change order.

Address the Elephant

Burying your head in the sand and hoping that things go smoothly is not likely to result in the best project experience for you or your Pro. Meet changes and Change Orders head on, talk to your Pro about what would be best for your project, and express any concerns you may have. You’re likely to find that change does not have to be frightening and may even be positive.