Renovate your home with young kids
Expert tips on renovating your house with small kids under foot.
Don't be afraid to engage kids, even the littlest ones, in projects around the house. They'll have fun being in on the action, and can even lend a hand. (Jon Shaft photo)
Renovating when you have young kids at home is never easy, despite the success of the Novogratz family, stars of the new Bravo reality show "9 By Design." But it can be done — and it can even be fun — with a few pointers from the experts. The first being: Dive in.
"There's never a good time to do anything," says Bob Novogratz. "You've got to take chances and live your life now. You have to make it a home and make it comfortable, and at the end of the day it's just stuff. Hardwood floors get scuffed. That's what gives them character."
With that in mind, we present the low-stress guide to renovating with kids.
Though Novogratz says four of his kids have had stitches — "it's part of growing up," he says — you still want to minimize your risk of on-site injuries. In part, that means proper gear.
"Eye protection for kids is a must for most any job," says Carter Oosterhouse, host of the HGTV show "Carter Can." "Gloves, hard hats, even earplugs. Even if you're not sporting the safety apparel that you should, kids are a must."
It also means knowing which jobs to take on.
"Any time you're doing demolition that will create dust or opening up a wall with insulation in it, don't do it when kids are around," says Matt Lederer, owner of Chicago-based Mahogany Builders, which specializes in custom kitchens and bathrooms. "And nothing toxic out in the open because you know curiosity is going to lead them to stick their finger in it."
Lederer says there's a serious risk of exposing kids to toxic lead if you're working on a home built before 1978, when the federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in housing. As of April, the Environmental Protection Agency passed new regulations that require contractors performing any projects that disturb more than 6 square feet of paint in pre-1978 homes to be certified and trained to prevent lead contamination.
"If your house is pre-1978, let a professional do that," Lederer says. And be sure he or she is trained under the EPA's new guidelines.
Make the most of nap time
If your kids are young enough to nap, you can try to squeeze in projects during that magical two- to three-hour window when they're asleep. But that probably means no loud noises — and the constant worry that today will be the day your little one decides to wake up after a measly 25 minutes. Lederer has a better suggestion.
"Use that nap time — or TV time — prepping the space and getting everything ready to go, so when the kids go down for the night you don't have to spend an hour taping off and getting plastic down," he says. "Get your tools and supplies organized so you don't have to start from ground zero.
Let them 'help'
"When I was 12, I started working on actual home builds," says Oosterhouse. "The main things I had to do were the tedious jobs like picking up the trash around the job site, making sure the guys had water, pulling nails. Those were jobs that they knew I would be all right with."
"If I'm painting, I'll set them up to paint leaves," says Lederer, of his 2- and 4-year-old sons. "I have them hold the flashlight a lot. Especially if I don't really need the flashlight, it's just a fun way to distract them and tell them they're daddy's helpers. I'll find things they can hand me — 'Can someone hand Daddy the tape?'"
Let them actually help
"On tiny home renovations or major overhauls, there are always those small jobs that require a lot of time where the adult know-how could be used somewhere else," says Oosterhouse. "For instance, taking down wallpaper. The adult can scrape off the high and bulky pieces and the child can tackle the smaller lower pieces. Painting is perfect. Let the child use the roller after you've instructed them, and the adult can do the cutting in. When I'm putting in a chair rail or other types of molding, I always seem to need one more hand.
"If you have to put new knobs on door fronts or drawers, kids are great with jigs and they can mark every door and drawer in the whole house as the adult follows around and drills the screw holes," he continues.
Call for backup
"We need a village to raise the kids," says Novogratz. "We have a lot of help. There's no way in heck we could do all this and tote seven kids around all the time."
And think beyond the traditional babysitter set-up. The Novogratz kids are enrolled in a boatload of activities, but their parents have arranged for many of them to take place at home.
"The break dancing teacher comes here, the sewing teacher comes here, the guitar teacher comes here," Novogratz says. "It really enables us to see the kids a lot and still get things done."
Consider whether similar arrangements, or even play dates, would keep the kids busy at your house and buy you some time to tackle that entryway.
Embrace the adventure
"We don't tend to put the kids on scaffolding," Novogratz jokes, "but we do bring them to a lot of projects so they can see how a house is built.
"In general, with our kids, we try to expose them to all kinds of things — sports, art, design, antiques, flea markets. Even if they're not loving it at the moment, they'll remember it and maybe love it down the road. You're building that memory reflex."