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Should I file a change order for my remodel?

Picture this: You’re three weeks into a home remodel when a sudden stroke of genius hits you at 3 am. Instead of a 200 square foot addition for the kids’ playroom, you want a 500 square foot addition for a home gym. The solution? Submit a change order to your remodel team.

As a home remodeling company based in Portland, OR, Lamont Bros. knows that sometimes, your remodel plans need to change. Whether it’s due to a delayed bout of inspiration or unforeseen circumstances, it’s well within your right to change the course of your remodel. Fortunately, there is a simple process designed to make these changes as painless and cost-effective as possible.

In this article, you can learn about how to file a change order for your remodeling project. We’ll discuss everything you need to know about the process so you can feel confident in whatever decision you make. Specifically, this article will cover:

What is a change order?

In its simplest form, a change order is a written request to change your remodel design after the construction contract has been signed. This can apply to any aspect of your remodel, big or small. Perhaps you want to select a different kitchen faucet than you had originally chosen. That would be a change order. Maybe you want to add a 500 square foot addition to your existing designs. That would also be a change order.

Change orders help keep all members of your construction team on the same page as you. If you decide to change something about a remodel, the change order provides written documentation describing the changes in detail. Your project manager will share the order with the rest of the company, including the purchasing department, billing office, and carpentry team. This way, any new products will arrive on time, your billing statements will reflect the cost of the change order, and your builders know exactly what to change in the design.

Not every change to a remodel requires a change order. While the definition of what does and does not need a change order is largely discretionary, it mainly comes down to appearance, functionality, and cost. For example, if you decide you want a specific outlet in your kitchen to be a few inches higher than originally planned, it probably wouldn’t make sense to file a change order for that request. But if you decided to change the same outlet to a GFCI circuit, that would require hiring an electrician and purchasing more materials, so it likely would involve a change order.

When do I need to file a change order?

In most remodeling projects, there are many reasons why you might decide to change your design. However, most of those reasons boil down to one of two reasons: you either want to, or you have to. 

You want to add or change something in the design

They say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago – the second-best time is now. The same is true for remodeling. While the best time to add what you want to your remodel design was during the design phase, the second-best time is during construction. 

Let’s say you had an LVP floor picked out for your bathroom, but then had a brilliant idea for a custom tile floor design. Can you request a change order to switch flooring material? Absolutely! However, it’s best to make this type of change as quickly as possible – the last thing you want is for your builder to tear out any tile they’ve already installed. 

While a large number of change orders we see at Lamont Bros. are product selection-related, a change order can be more complex, as well. Some change orders can even look like standalone remodels, themselves. We’ve had clients in the middle of a kitchen remodel decide to add a bathroom remodel to the project as a change order. We once built an accessory dwelling unit on a client’s property, just to have the client file a $50,000 change order to move the entire structure exactly four feet and two inches over.

The build team finds something unexpected

Sometimes, you don’t want to file a change order, but the circumstances of your remodel require it. One of the most common reasons for this is that the construction team finds something amiss while remodeling the home. If the builders find something in the home that was not previously built to code, it’s best to fix that issue as quickly as possible. 

For example, if a load-bearing wall does not have proper stud spacing, that’s a safety hazard. The decision is ultimately up to you as to whether or not you want to sign a change order to repair the wall. However, your builder cannot legally continue to do work on an improperly built structure until the problem has been solved. 

One common problem for remodels in the Portland area is dry rot. A form of wood decay caused by a fungus, dry rot can cause serious damage to the structural integrity of your home. Oftentimes, it can go completely unnoticed until somebody opens up the drywall and exposes the studs. If your remodel team finds dry rot in your home while renovating it, you should almost always sign a change order to repair the damage. Not only will it help your remodel get back on track as quickly as possible, but the walls are already open, so it’s the ideal time to do dry rot repair on the home.

How will a change order affect my remodel?

A change order presents you with the ability to fine-tune your remodel as it happens. The tradeoff is that they often complicate the cost and timeline of the remodel. The more a change order deviates from the original plan, the more it will affect the price and process.

Will a change order affect my remodel cost?

The cost of a change order depends entirely on what it changes. At the very least, a change order usually involves a few additional man-hours to accomplish. At most, it involves design services, ordering new materials, and many more labor hours.

60-70% of change orders increase the remodel cost. How much depends on what you change. Most change orders add value to the project. Whether it’s because you choose to switch out materials with something that costs more, or add square footage to your home, more remodel value means more project cost. 

Even in cases where an unwelcome surprise presents the necessity for more work, a change order keeps you in charge of the cost of your project. Why? Simple – an ethical contractor won’t execute a bunch of changes – however necessary they may be – without your explicit approval. Instead, you remain in control of the project costs the whole time by having the power to approve or disapprove any changes made to your remodel.

Sometimes, however, a change order can keep the cost the same or even reduce it. In these cases, it is often because the change order doesn’t require more expensive materials or additional labor. When a change order reduces the cost of a project, it is usually because it narrows the scope. For example, you might have originally planned to have two windows in your home addition. However, in the middle of construction, you decide you only want one window. This change might actually lower the total cost of your project because it lowers the cost material and labor. 

How much longer will my remodel take?

Much like the cost of the project, the timeline for a change order is entirely dependent on what it changes. If your change order requires your builder to order specific materials, you could end up waiting several months for the items to arrive due to supply chain disruptions. Or, if your change order substantially increases the scope of the remodel, that will extend the timeline, too.

On the other hand, a change order could shorten the timeline. Some change orders are filed for this exact reason. If a specific product or service turns out to have a very long lead time, you might file a change order to go with a different option and get the job done. Some cabinet companies in Europe have 3-4 month shipping delays. Filing a change order to buy from a local cabinet company can dramatically reduce the timeline.

Want to learn more about the design-build process?

If you’re considering a home remodel, you’ll probably have a lot of questions before you even think about getting started. Almost every home remodel benefits from starting with a great design. To learn more about our remodeling process, check out our Design+Build page.

If you’re ready to start designing your current home into your dream home, click the link below and schedule a free video consultation with one of our design consultants. We’ll walk you through the process of remodeling your home step by step.