Remodel Fever

Published online: Apr 19, 2013 Feature Janet Groene with Gordon Groene
Viewed 2047 time(s)

She wants a new floor plan. He wants more power. They both love this houseboat and want to keep it, but with major changes. Few words are scarier than "remodel" because Groene's Law dictates that it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think. You're sure to find more delays than you bargained for-a spot of wood rot, a frayed wire, a corroded fitting, or a need for complete re-routing of wiring or plumbing.

Here is a suggested timeline that might make a major renovation go more smoothly for you.

1. Get together with your spouse or co-owners and brainstorm, dream, develop a vague outline.

2.  By actual feet, inches and pounds, look at space and weight requirements for big changes
such as new engine(s), a combo washer-dryer or a big refrigerator-freezer.   

3.  If you'll be changing entryways, windows or hatches (and you may have to in order to get big new inboards or a grand piano onboard), think about the structural implications. Just as a house has beams and bearing walls, your houseboat has structural integrity to consider. 

On a boat, weight and balance also come into play. A filled, 500-gallon hot tub weighs two tons in water alone.

4. Put your ideas on paper so you, your remodeling team and a marine architect will have something solid to work with. It's now time to call in the professionals. Consider behind-the-scenes changes such as increased insulation against weather or more sound-deadening insulation on inside walls. This is also the time to stub in wiring or plumbing for changes you plan to make in the future but can't afford just now.

After determining if your wish list is do-able, you can now fine-tune plans and start a cost analysis. Shop around for financing or, if you will pay as you go, understand the payment schedule expected by contractors.

5. At this point things will be different for liveaboards than for houseboaters who live onshore.  In any case, find a nearby storage unit and offload as much gear as possible. Even if some furnishings aren't involved in the re-do, storing them guards against breakage, theft and the dirt and dust that will soon fill the boat.  

6. Make yourself available to professionals who will need you to choose paint colors, carpeting, new window treatments as work proceeds. Just as you choose qualified marine carpenters and electricians it's wise to use a marine interior decorator.  A boat moves, making a big difference in your choices for curtains, blinds, carpeting and other home-style features. 

7. As each step is completed and each payment due, inspect the work and note any errors or omissions on a "punch list." This helps determine what, if any, money is withheld until the job is satisfactory.

8. A final punch list is made when work is completed. Try every appliance, switch, outlet and faucet to make sure wiring and plumbing are properly done. See if the fold-out sofa goes in and out smoothly, new windows open and close, patio doors slide easily, the toilet flushes and so on. After a final inspection and cleanup, the last payment changes hands and it's time to move back in.

They say that buying your boat is the second happiest day of your life. Moving in after the renovation of your dreams is the first.


About the Authors

"Living Aboard" is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years and they hold the NMMA Directors Award for boating journalism. Their books include Living Aboard and Creating Comfort Afloat. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at


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