Seven Costly Surprises That Ambushed Our Remodeling Budget

When my husband and I decided to remodel the first floor of our home earlier this year, we wanted to plan for everything. The fact that we were paying in cash meant we had to draw a hard line for our budget if we wanted to avoid going into debt. Plus, we wanted to mentally prepare ourselves for any expenses that would come our way – both the anticipated and the unforeseen.

And, to tell you the truth, both of us absolutely hate surprises – especially the financial kind. To a certain extent, we wanted to budget for the worst-case scenario. In our eyes, it would be much better to prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised by coming in under our budget. At least, that sounded like a good idea at the time.

Here’s the skinny on our project: Since our home was built in the ’80s, it came with a choppy, poorly-built floor plan. Not only did we have two smaller living areas sitting directly next to one another, but we also had an enormous foyer that served no purpose at all.

Our goal with the remodel was to break down all of the walls and create a somewhat open floor plan downstairs, while adding in metal support beams so our house didn’t fall down. In addition to those larger projects, I wanted the contractors to knock out a built-in desk in my kitchen and build a bigger pantry instead.

The Perils of Budgeting for a Home Remodel

Part of our budgeting process was rather simple. When it came to the contractors we used, they offered a firm price that wouldn’t surge unless some unforeseen issue cropped up. In the end, their initial quote asked for $5,115 to demo our walls, put in metal support beams, and add new drywall. Since there were very few material costs for our project, that bill was mostly for labor.

The second component of our project included replacing our entire first floor with hardwood. After some negotiation at Lowe’s – and after I received a discount because the initial flooring I ordered had been discontinued – I wound up paying around $6,900 for 1,000 sq. ft. of wood floors, including installation. Since we planned to keep these floors forever, this is one area where I splurged. Not only did we get something nice and solid that might last forever, but we also paid for professional installation instead of doing it ourselves.

The rest of our budget was comprised of cosmetic touches and furniture; I set aside $5,000 for decorations, paint, a large sectional couch, a new formal dining table, a television stand and occasional tables, and new area rugs for our living space.

This probably sounds like an exceptional splurge on my end, and it certainly was. But, it was also very exciting. I am 36 years old and this is truly my first real “adult” furniture – as in, we didn’t buy it from a clearance sale or out of someone’s garage.

And at the end of the day, our budget was set firm at around $17,000. To save money and keep our budget in check, we chose to complete certain aspects of the job ourselves – namely, some of the demo, the removal of two layers of old flooring, and all of the interior painting, including an entire floor of ceilings.

After talking to some friends and our contractor, however, we did mentally prepare ourselves to spend an extra 20% to 25% on any unforeseen issues that might crop up. While we certainly didn’t want to go over, hearing the experiences of others convinced us it was a real possibility.

Seven Surprise Expenses to Budget For During a Home Remodel

And I’m so glad we listened. Once our project was underway, we uncovered all kinds of problems that needed to be fixed before we could proceed.

As one of my neighbors shared, “You never know what you’ll find once you start tearing up walls and floors.” And boy, was he right. Here are a few surprise expenses that sent our total budget surging:

Additional Paint and Supplies

According to a cost analysis from, hiring an interior painter can cost anywhere from $400 to $4,000 depending on the area you want painted, the type of materials you use, and the details of the job. So, if you can paint your interior yourself, you can save a boatload of money right away.

Still, it can be difficult to estimate how much you’ll spend on paint and supplies when you’re not a professional. In our case, we drastically underestimated how much ceiling paint we would need because it went on so thick (we guessed two gallons and it ended up taking six), and we spent more than we planned buying different types of paint for our kitchen and living area, despite the fact that we were painting everything the same two colors.

While we did save at least $3,000 by painting our entire first floor interior on our own, we spent approximately $250 more than we planned on paint, rollers, and paint brushes.

Floor Vents and Light Switch Covers

Here’s an area that I didn’t even think about during our initial budgeting phase. When you rip out walls and floors, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to replace some of the finishing touches – light switch covers, heating and air vents, and floor vents.

In our case, we had to replace almost all of them – some because they were dingy and others because they got ruined during some phase of our remodeling project. The floor vents we purchased seemed especially expensive to me; in order to find ones that would match our interior, we paid more than $15 for each vent. In total, the vents, light switch covers, and wall vents I failed to plan for cost us an extra $200.

Water Damage

Interior and structural water damage is no joke, and it’s something you might not see until you start ripping out walls and floors. When it comes to the way water damage impacted our plans, however, we got extremely lucky.

After we began ripping out the floors in the front of our home on an exceptionally rainy day, we noticed that some water had managed to find its way in beneath our windows. Once our contractor investigated it, he let us know that some of the wood on the front of our house had become saturated, requiring a complete re-do of the siding on the front of our home. Fortunately, the rest of our home is brick, so this problem was fairly isolated.

While I wasn’t thrilled about the extra expense, I was relieved that we noticed it. Can you imagine putting in new wooden floors and instantly discovering that your siding had sprung a leak?

Our contractor had to remove the old wood on the front bay window of our home, waterproof the area, and replace the siding with a material that had a similar look. To save money we did the cleanup and repainted the area ourselves. Still, this set us back an extra $600.

exposed wall during demolition - remodeling surprises
You never know what surprises you’ll find when you open up a wall. Photo: David B. Gleason

Poorly-Executed Fixes and Renovations

While remodeling your home can mean improving it in the long run, that doesn’t mean you won’t find your share of shoddy renovations completed by former owners along the way. Whether it’s bad wiring, “quick-fix” solutions, or ugly drywall jobs, it seems like there is always some old work that needs to be fixed when you begin a new job.

During our home remodel, we had several surprises pop up. For one, we discovered that some of the wiring in our living room had been dangerously installed behind the crown molding. Second, we found that the casing on our back door had been glued together at some point and had since fallen apart. Lastly, more rotting wood was hidden behind a layer of caulk below the broken door that led to our deck.

In the end, all of that shoddy work needed to be fixed, and we paid around $400 for a new pre-hung door and several hundred more dollars to fix the electrical wiring and woodwork.

Additional Cleaning Supplies

Nobody tells you just how dirty a home remodeling project can be, but it’s absolutely true. During the course of our remodeling project, I got up early every day to wipe off the layer of dust that settled on every surface in our home.

Our contractor and his helpers did a great job cleaning up each day, but there was only so much they could do to keep the dust and dirt at bay. As a result, I spent a lot more than usual on paper towels, laundry from all of the extra dust rags I used, and, of course, furnace filters! Although we didn’t plan to change our furnace filter every few days at first, we quickly found that was the best way to keep the dust under control and to keep our furnace from getting too dirty. Sadly, those furnace filters cost $7 or $8 each!

Custom Blinds or Curtains

Ahhhhh, the cost of curtains and blinds. As someone who shies away from covering my windows too much, this is an issue I have only confronted once. The last time I shopped for window coverings was when I searched for valances to cover the four windows in my kitchen. At the time, I was shocked to find that some curtains I liked were nearly $100 apiece. Fortunately, I was able to find valances I kinda liked for around $20 at JC Penney. Whew.

This time around, I wasn’t so lucky. In an effort to match the existing blinds in my living area, I was forced to buy custom blinds. And since my windows are huge and oddly-sized, the blinds I ended up with weren’t cheap.

I saved money by using a Lowe’s 10%-off coupon and by buying faux wood instead of the real thing, but they still set me back $200.

Add-On Services

Even when you think the worst is behind you, something else pops up to siphon away even more of your budget. This happened to us near the end of our project. Once our new floor installation was underway, we found that our interior doors needed to be cut to make way for the new transition pieces to fit – that was an extra $150.

Lastly, we discovered that our air vents were downright gross – filled with dust, dirt, trash and, now, pieces of flooring and concrete from our home remodeling project. Our contractor suggested we have them cleaned to improve the air quality in our home, and I was immediately on board.

Fortunately, I received a coupon in the mail that allowed me to have all of my air ducts – and two returns – cleaned for just $50. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but the air ducts do look and appear a whole lot cleaner. With my children breathing in the air that comes from those ducts, the $50 was well worth the peace of mind.

The Bottom Line

While you can (and should) do your best to create a budget for any home remodeling project, there are some things you just can’t plan for. I suppose that’s why nearly every professional contractor and home websites like House Logic and Houzz recommend taking your initial budget and adding 20%.

You may not be able to plan for everything, but by adding that 20% contingency, you’ll be in a better position to fix any problems that arise without blowing your budget out of the park.

I’m so glad we listened to that advice and mentally prepared ourselves for extra expenses. And, on top of that, I’m glad we keep a stocked emergency fund that can cover us in our time of need.

And now that our project is behind us, I’m thrilled with the results and relieved that we discovered and fixed the problems we found during our project — and that we avoided any serious water damage by waterproofing and replacing the siding on the front of our home.

All things considered, the ordeal was worth it. But I have to say, I hope I never have to spend that much money on anything ever again.

Have you ever remodeled your home and gone over budget? What expensive discoveries have you made when remodeling or upgrading your home?

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Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.