The Hurdles of Apartment Renovating

Considering an apartment reno? Our DIY expert, Cherie Barber, explains some of the potential hurdles you could face.

There are many reasons I prefer renovating houses over apartments.


First and foremost, I have complete control over my project. The only people I have to run my plans by are the suits at the local council, and even then, only if I’m planning a structural renovation. And houses come with a front and rear yard, so there’s plenty of space to store all the materials and clutter that a renovation brings with it. My tradies have room to freely move about – very important when there’s up to a dozen of them underfoot at any one time. Now try condensing all that into a 45-square-metre enclosed space! 

Apartment renovating definitely has its unique set of challenges, as I discovered during one of my 2012 projects forThe Living Room.


This was a complete cosmetic refurb of a studio in one of Sydney’s inner-city suburbs, Chippendale, which has lots of funky warehouse conversions. This was one of them. The apartment was on the ground floor, with its own private little courtyard, so we were fortunate to have ground level access. I couldn’t imagine doing the same renovation, ten floors up, negotiating lifts and narrow hallways with heavy sheets of gyprock and lengths of timber. That’s a quick way to bump up your labour costs.


As with any significant apartment renovation, I had to run my plans past the Owners Corporation – basically the committee that represents all the apartment owners in the building. To cut a long story short, my plans required a special bylaw, which cost around $1500 to have drawn up and rubber stamped by the committee. And the whole process took a couple of months. So keep in mind that you may not always have free rein to do what you want when renovating an apartment. For example, ripping up grungy old carpets to polish the floorboards or put in a floating floor is often not permitted because of potential noise issues from clattering heels.


And talking of noise-sensitive neighbours, there’s another issue to contend with. When neighbours are only metres away, often behind thin walls and floors, power tools and noisy demolition work are going to raise hackles. As will the succession of tradespeople coming and going through the common areas. So you need a pre-emptive action plan to keep neighbours onside. Aim to get your renovation done as quickly and as quietly as possible, and give neighbours plenty of advance notice of your plans. And strictly observe the time that renovation works can commence without a council ranger paying you a visit – not before 7am or past 5pm on weekdays as a general rule, 7am to 2pm on Saturdays. And silence on Sundays.

Turning off the water or gas in an apartment building may not be as straightforward as flicking a switch. If the hot water and gas is on a communal system, your plumber or gasfitter is going to have to shut off supply to the WHOLE building while the necessary works are done in your apartment. You can imagine how popular that is. Again, you need to notify all apartments well in advance of the exact time you’ll be depriving them of water and/or gas. And make sure it’s a time of day that causes least disruption.

These are just some of the things you’ll need to think about if you’re contemplating an apartment renovation. You can make great money renovating apartments, but just be mindful of some of the hurdles you’ll have to navigate along the way.

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