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On the Job

Successful renovations take careful planning

By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / August 21, 2011

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Although a master carpenter, Mark Philben rarely wields a hammer. As a project development manager for a Cambridge firm specializing in period restorations, he instead spends most of his time “building a project on paper.’’

Before a nail is driven into a wall, Philben, who works for Charlie Allen Restorations Inc., meticulously plans renovations from concept to completion, making sure work gets done on time and on budget. Renovation projects, Philben said, are a “different kind of animal’’ that for many homeowners can mean delays and cost overruns.

As a result, he said, “It’s important to understand the original construction of your home and have a professional restoration plan.’’

You’ve been in the construction business for more than 20 years. How has the industry changed?

I have a lot of professional certifications now - certified remodeler, lead carpenter, aging-in-place specialist, green remodeler - because the industry is getting more professional and setting standards.

What’s the typical process for a home renovation?

Rather than the old-fashioned way of working with an architect and getting bids for X number of dollars, the latest trend is called “design-build,’’ which brings contractor, architect, and owner together to produce, budget, plan, and design a concept, which can then be implemented.

It’s notoriously tough to coordinate different trades - plumbers, electricians, HVAC - but why is this important?

Most people live in the house during a remodel, and you don’t want to be working through difficulties when the walls are coming down. Knowing when contractors need to work within walls, ceilings, and floors has to be laid out carefully.

What’s on your punch list now?

I’m doing a final walk-through on a South Boston kitchen, making sure doors don’t stick, appliances are working, inspections will pass, and other “must-dos.’’

What do you think of home improvement reality shows?

They set unrealistic expectations. They essentially sugarcoat the whole process and make it all look quite a bit easier than it actually is.

Do you have time to work on your own house?

I’ve picked away at my house over the years. I’ve done my kitchen over, remodeled the family room, and done a lot of work on the back deck. But I never have enough time to do what I want done. It’s like the old saying: “The cobbler’s kids have no shoes.’’