How do you renovate a house in Taiwan? With lots and lots of money. Blog over.
Just kidding. It is much more complex than that, and you will have to put in a lot of time, effort, planning, and decision making on your part. In this post, I will share with you in detail my personal experience renovating an old apartment in Taiwan for your reference. Hopefully this will be helpful to someone considering buying an old house or doing renovations themselves as a foreigner in Taiwan.
You can check out the video below for a vlog of the renovation progress.
Before we get started, please read my previous blogs about my experience renting a house
here, and buying a house here. There are some details and background information in these blogs that I will not be repeating here.
But in short, we bought a 27 Ping house in Taipei that was over 40 years old, and needed some love. The electricity, plumbing, floors, windows, and roof needed to be redone.
Step 1: Budgeting 設定預算
First of all, before you even get started, before you even think about renovating anything, you need to have a budget in mind. Your budget will do most of the planning for you. You can also adjust your budget later if it is unrealistic.
As part of the renovation, we knew we wanted to add a third bedroom, take out the kitchen wall, extend the living room, redo the electric and plumbing, redo the floor, and redo the windows and doors. Originally we also wanted to add a second bathroom, but we soon decided that that was not important and it would put us over budget.
Our initial budget came before we even put money down for the house. We budgeted 800,000 NT to be able to do the minimum renovations to move into the house and live comfortably.
This is what we actually spent:
As you can see, we overspent our budget by 413,474 NT. However, the initial demolition and construction was within budget. Later on, appliances, furniture, and other things we didn't originally know we needed put us over budget.
Here are some photos of the state of the house when we bought it.
The roof, balconies, and floor needed work. Windows and doors needed replaced. The bathroom and Kitchen needed redone. Electrical and plumbing needed to be redone.
Step 3: Finding the right Contractor/Engineer/Plumber 找到對的工程師
Five different repairman came to look at the house before we found the right one. Some others we asked but didn't even want to come look at such an old house.
There are basically three ways you can find someone to fix your house
Engineer No. 1: Too expensive 第一個工程師: 太貴
The first engineer we found actually charged us 2000 NT to come look at the house and make an estimate, which could be used against the total price of the project later. We later learned that this is not common; most people come and take a look for free.
However he did take a lot of nice pictures and gave us a good idea of the things that needed work on the house, and gave us a good idea of our options.
His fee quote is shown below. Basically he wanted us to spend at least 110,000 NT per ping (3 million NT) just on the renovation.
We thought this guy was a little overpriced. There had to be cheaper contractors out there that could do a basic renovation for less.
Engineer Number 2: Getting misled 第二個工程師：被騙
The second engineer that came we liked. He said we could salvage a lot of the stuff in the house, and even keep the window frames, just change the glass. It seemed like he could give us a cheaper price in our budget for what we needed.
However later he brought his friend over with him, an interior designer. We hated that designer. The next time we met, the designer was late an hour. We were in their work area and brought out little kids, and frankly it was dangerous waiting there an hour trying to stop our kids from touching all the tools, and it soon was past our kid's bed time. And it stank in there.
The interior designer came and talked our ear off about how we needed a nice view from the living room with an armchair where we could watch the view and drink red wine (we don't drink alcohol). We said there were a bunch of things in his plan that we didn't need, and he said he would revise the plan and meet the next day.
The next day, I met him at noon during my lunch break. He was late an hour again. He said he was out meeting with the metal guy, double checking the price. But I heard the other guy call him, and he said he was still making the interior design chart on his computer. So he had already lied to me, and my trust for this company already down to about zero. I took the quote and left.
The quote was reasonable priced 1,043,334 for the whole project, except for a 77,000 NT designers fee. We were not going to pay that. It was time to consider others.
Engineer No. 3: Snooty Designer 第三個工程師：傲慢的設計師
The third Engineer we had look at the house was a referral from a good friend. My friend swore by this man. But my friends lived in a new house that did not require very many renovations. But he took one look at the house and said “there is not a single good thing about this house.” That about set the tone. He did not even give us a fee quote. We made sure the door did not hit him on the way out. It was more just a favor to my friend.
Engineer No. 4: YouTube Grandpa 第四個工程師：網紅阿伯
The next Engineer we found made some YouTube videos that my wide liked. He came and had a look, but didn’t really say anything. I think he eventually gave us a fee quote weeks later but by then we had already chosen someone else. Overall we were not impressed with his plans and his thoughts about our house.
Engineer No. 5: The Best Choice: 第五個工程師：最好的選擇
I called the fifth and last Engineer because he lived across from where we were renting. Originally I actually tried to call the place next to him, but that number was no longer in use. He said he would come take a look. First he came in person by himself. He said it was possible we could complete the project within our 800,000 NT budget. He seemed like he knew what he was doing, didn’t waste our time, and was easy to communicate with. It also seemed he was not trying to scam us.
He came back about a week later with his team and gave us the official fee quote of 709,600 NT for the floor, walls, electrical, plumbing, and windows. It was the best offer by the best engineer yet, so we took it.
The demolition was surprisingly fast. I’m sure it was loud for the neighbors, but it only lasted two days. They used jackhammers to break apart the top layer of cement.
First of all, a week before the project started, we put up the notice above to let the neighbors know there would be noise during the day. According to the expertise from our contractor, as long as the noise was only between 9 AM and 5 PM, the neighbors should have no reason to complain.
I was surprised that they destroyed the floor so fast. Before the floor was a green linoleum which was ugly, and covered up with more linoleum.
Underneath the layer of green colored concrete was the base layer of concrete, which was there when the house was originally built.
Later these pieces of broken concrete were gathered into buckets and taken to the roof, to be hauled off via crane. The old A/C unit and old water heater were also dismantled and disposed of.
Also the original glass door to the front balcony was dismantled and taken out.
The floor tiles of the front and back balcony were also dismantled and destroyed.
And the bathroom was also fully dismantled.
The tools used were jackhammers. If you have ever wondered why your neighbors are so loud when they are renovating, this is why. Luckily for my neighbors, the jackhammering only lasted about two days.
They also jackhammered out the wall cancer in the bedrooms, which would be covered later in cement.
View of the inner brick wall after demolition.
We also wanted to tear down the kitchen wall and make it an open kitchen, and build another wall to make a third bedroom.
After all the demolition was complete, they loaded the trash onto the roof to be hauled off by crane.
Water and Electricity 水電工程
First of all, we were told our electric system was too old and needed to be upgraded to handle modern appliances.
After the floor was demolished, we went in and chose the outlet locations. He basically let us have as many outlets as we wanted. We let him know how many appliances we had and where we would be using the most electricity. He added four more breakers to let us have A/C in every room, and also expand our electric meter's capacity.
As for the water, he put in all new PVC pipe, as well as drains. He added a water spout on the roof and front balcony, as well as drains for all the A/C units within the walls.
Our contractor said that this would require an application with Taipower, which could allow us to add to our electric load. In addition, all the old wires were stripped and new ones put in. Our new fuse box was about three times as big as the old one.
The balcony was leveled and also all the windows taken out. At the same time, electric wires and water pipes were set on the floor.
Because we live on the top floor, our water pressure is very low without the help of a pump. Originally the old pump was on our balcony, and was loud, so the water guy moved it to the roof. This created problems later but I will cover that further down.
Here is a photo of the water drain and electric wires along the front balcony.
We also went around with the electrocution and showed him all the areas that we needed electric switches. We went back a second and a third time to confirm as well.
And the electric wires to each outlet were also set.
Currents were tested and new outlets were installed.
During the project, only standard lightbulbs were installed.
We went ahead and bought our own light fixtures which were installed for a small fee.
Building a wall 建墻工程
We wanted to take out a kitchen wall to connect it with the living room, build a wall for a third bedroom, and take down the glass doors on the balcony and also fill in the wall where the old kitchen window was and the old window A/C unit.
Building a brick was is actually really cheap, only 10,000 NT for the whole wall! Building a door within the wall is actually more expensive.
Originally our living room was open like this, but we wanted to build a wall on the left to make a third bedroom, and take out the wall on the right to make an open kitchen.
View after the kitchen wall was taken out.
Another view of the demolished kitchen wall.
A delivery of bricks for the wall appeared on the roof.
Soon the wall was built, and the old kitchen window was filled in. Inside the brick wall they also placed some rebar to help reinforce the wall against earthquakes.
Next they placed a layer of concrete over the wall.
View of the old kitchen window being filled in.
Concrete dried onto the walls.
New door put into the wall.
View of the final product.
Originally we thought we could salvage the windows, but the window guy convinced us that the windows were just too old. But he would replace them with 1 CM thick glass. I originally wanted double pane, but he did not want to give me double pane. Double pane simply is not used in Taiwan, they just like thicker glass or tinted windows. Also he said he would replace the balcony doors and front metal awning. Later we decided to replace the back awning with steel too. Also he replaced the entire metal frame window for the living room/front balcony.
View after the front window was dismantled.
Side window view.
Master bedroom after the new window frame came in. The new window frame had to be cemented in.
We also had them cut off some of the steel bars on our living room window so that we could have a better view.
View after the frame for the front window was installed.
View after the master bedroom window was installed.
View after the main living room window was installed. They also helped us to install three in one glass/metal bars/screen doors for the balcony.
Originally the awnings were plastic and leaky.
View of our awnings from above. The parapet walls were also leaky and had wall cancer.
Originally the window guy only quoted for replacing the front awnings, but later we also wanted him to replace the back awnings because the back balcony was also leaking.
There were leaks from the awnings, but later we found part of that was because the hot air from our dryer was getting stuck in the ceiling, creating hot and humid air that would condense and drip down, so we bought an extension hose for the dryer to blow the hot air out.
The water used to collect and drip down from the gap between the metal and concerete.
The front awning did not have this problem because it covered that crack.
Floor Tiles 地板
As explained earlier, originally the floor was an ugly linoleum layer.
Underneath the linoleum layer was more green tile to be discovered. This was broken up and hauled out.
Originally we wanted a tile that looked more like marble, but it was more expensive, so we went with cheaper tile 90 by 90 for which there was no extra cost from our contractor. The dude did a good job and the floor is super flat. This floor is probably the part I like most about this house.
Soon bags of cement also arrived on the roof.
The first part of the cement was used to cover the bare brick walls.
Next, they started to cover the pipes and electric wires on the floor.
They added pieces of microplastic to the cement making it flexible "彈性水泥" after which it would become waterproof. They also added drain pipes for the A/C units to drip water.
Then one day a bunch of tiles came.
I should mention the workers were constantly smoking and drinking energy drinks/soda/rice wine/beer on the job.
And more bags of sand.
Sand and concrete being mixed together right on the floor.
Another view looking back.
A giant mess, somehow this would become a floor.
The tiles were installed slowly one at a time, with the kitchen first.
The back balcony being finished up, with cement poured into the floor.
View of the front balcony after tiles were completely installed.
View of the finished back balcony.
Living Room floor finally finished.
Final product. With no furniture, this place became super echoey.
Originally we thought we could keep the original wooden front door, but it had no lock, so our contractor convinced us to upgrade to a nice metal door.
Originally we wanted American style wooden doors, but again we were convinced us to buy cheaper plastic doors that look just as good, which are cheaper because the frame could be installed easily without having to cut and shave it off using a carpenter.
The original bathroom was horrible, and unusable. We had to redo it.
We replaced everything, new tiles, new sink, toilet, and shower. Toto is the best. We wanted a wet shower separator, but it was not needed yet. That costs about 10,000 NT.
View after the floor was destroyed.
We went to pick up Champion tiles, which were no extra charge from our contractor.
New cement was poured in, and also a green waterproof layer.
Also wall tiles were placed on, using these plastic placeholders.
Some of the tiles had defects and needed to be replaced.
View after broken tiles were replaced. The workers also peed down the toilet hole with that red funnel during construction. Another thing that bothered me is that they were also always smoking and drinking alcohol on the job.
We also ordered our toilet, sink, mirror, and shower online which were delivered on a specified date of our electrician. .
View of the new toilet.
We also bought a toilet seat from Teliwu, which fit nicely.
The sink was Toto, but the faucet was Ceasar. Those did not really match up, so it is hard to open and close the drain.
Originally I wanted to keep the kitchen as is. I thought the original cabinets were okay, but my wife insisted that we remove them.
We also filed in the old window, and took out the wall to make it a semi-open kitchen. We also put in new cabinets and put in metal racks instead for appliances.
View after the kitchen wall was taken out.
Outlets and water/drainage pipes put into position, as well as a concrete layer on the walls.
View of the kitchen tiles we selected from Champion.
Soon the kitchen tiles were up.
There was a problem with one of the tiles.
After that, we had the kitchen cabinet company come and measure. We looked for a number of kitchen cabinet companies, including IKEA, but they were all fully booked months in advance. So instead we went with a place in Xinzhuang.
The best we could do with our space was a one sided kitchen. We originally wanted a table to come out of the right, but there was just not enough space. So instead we just put some DIY cabinets there.
Not as much counter space as we would have liked, but it got the job done.
Another side view of the finished kitchen.
Hot Water and Gas 熱水及天然瓦斯工程
Originally the house had no natural gas lines. But the gas company did have a gas line on the building. For some reason the previous owner did not want to hook it up.
Natural gas lines were a must for us. We did not want to deal with gas cans, and running out of cold water in the middle of winter.
Another view of the old water heater.
After I got the ownership certificate for the house, I went to the gas company and applied for a natural gas line. They came about a week later to make an estimate, and then I went to the company and paid the fee. Three weeks after that they came and installed the meter on our back patio.
Gas line to the kitchen. They also drilled a hole for that.
We also asked a local shop to hook us up with a hot water heater, which did not need an exhaust hose because it was already outside.
The painters came and parked their equipment in out bathroom.
Originally we thought painters were too expensive, but we caved. They made it look god and got rid of wall cancer.
They also painted waterproof paint on our balconies.
There was also lots of wall cancer on our ceiling at the beginning which needed to be taken care of.
And we added new drywall ceilings in the kitchen which needed painted.
In addition, the new concrete walls needed new putty applied before they could be painted over.
This is the view after about the first layer of putty.
For the wall cancer, they used a blow torch to kill the existing fungus, and then mixed two types of epoxy, which after they dry turn hard as concrete.
View after the painting started. They used a machine to spray the paint on, for a perfect finish.
Another view after the painting was pretty much done. They also did a lot of sanding to smooth down the putty, which created a lot of dust. Some of that dust is still on our walls.
At the end of January after the painting and electricity were finished, we were ready to move in. We hired on truckload for the big items like out fridge, beds, washing machine, etc.
At the same time, we took a billion trips to IKEA to look for furniture.
And we built most of it ourselves.
For our TV stand, we bought this and put it on its side.
And we bought a bed that could lift up and stuff things underneath from the internet.
And we bought night stands and wardrobes from IKEA.
Building the TV stand.
For the wardrobes, we paid some extra money for the IKEA people to come install them for us.
Originally we thought the washing machine could fit on the front balcony, but there was not enough room.
And while assembling an IKEA night stand, it fell over and broke my toe.
View of our house after we completely moved in.
Air Conditioning 冷氣
Engineer No. 5 couldn't install air condition for us, in fact almost no on wanted to do it. We went to Carrefour Cankun, and Momo but they were not professional. The Cankun guy actually came over to have a look, and he said the A/C drain pipes we installed were unusable. Then we talked to my daughters classmates' mom, and they got the job done for cheap. We already knew what we wanted after looking at so many different brands. You also have to get the right size of A/C for the space you have. A good rule of thumb is to divide the pings of space by 6 then, you know the tonnage you need.
View of our A/C units on the front porch after they were installed. They did not take up any additional space that we needed.
Roof Waterproofing 頂樓防水
Repairing roof leaks took forever. It rained for two months during construction. Finally we got it done three months later. During this process it leaked a few times, and so we aske our contractor to come fix it and fill in cracks with waterproof paint and foam.
We also had to waterproof the parapet walls.
The previous owner had put down a layer of waterproof paint, but it was not very good at stopping water from seeping in. Almost every rooftop apartment will have leaks after a while, especially after year after year of typhoons and torrential rains.
The polyurethane waterproof paint used.
Our engineer putting on the first layer.
View after the first four layers were done.
Even after the first four layers were done, we still had leaks in the parapet wall that were leaking into the third bedroom.
Also there were leaks on the side wall above the living room.
The new window in the living room facing the outside also had traces of water seeping inside.
Soon paint also went up on the parapet wall.
But we noticed there was water leaking out of the wall from the metal bars screwed in there. This was solved with silicon.
Later more repairs were made.
But leaks still persisted, so our contractor came in with a bucket of foam, drilled a hole, and pumped foam into the hole to fill in any cracks.
After the foam was pumped in through a needle (in Chinese literally called getting a shot 打針), the leaks pretty much stopped. He told us there were still empty spaces in the concrete, which could not be fixed without bulldozing the roof open and redoing the cement on the roof. We did not have the budget for that.
As mentioned before, the back porch was still leaky, but after we moved the dryer hose to blow outside, we did not see any more drips of water coming down.
Also, he added a waterproof layer on the tile outside our house to prevent leaks coming in from the side wall.
This included the stairway wall, which we thought was the reason why water was leaking in from the side.
Finally, our contractor put the last layer of grey paint on.
Finally the roof was completed after two months, most of which time was spent waiting for the rain to stop so we could apply paint.
After Photos 以後的照片
Ongoing Small Repairs 不斷的小維修工程
Even after the initial projects were finished, we still had ongoing repairs and projects.
For one, the new cement walls had not had time to completely dry, so after paint had been applied, about a month later hairline cracks started to appear. We had to fill these in with putty, sand them down, then apply a final layer of paint.
Also, we found a leaky water pipe. The electrician came back and helped to redo the joints on the water pipe.
Worst of all, the neighbors behind us complained about out water pump motor made a noise.
We called out electrician and went over to the neighbors house to listen. There was only a very faint sound, but because their daughter sleeps during the day it was bothering her.
So I went ahead and bought a rubber dampening pad to place under the motor. It helped to dampen the noise and vibration, and the neighbors have not complained again. Originally they wanted us to move the motor to another side of the roof, but even then that would not solve the vibration problem.
Also, some of the ceiling paint started to have cracks in it, likely do to the epoxy putty not fully drying before paint was applied, so I applied putty and painted over it again.
More cracks to be retouched.
Tools handy for DIY repairs 修繕的DIY工具：
Small house repairs are a bit different than I am used to, living in an American wooden house, with walls made of drywall. Here all the walls are made of concrete.
For repairing walls 修理墻面的工具:
For drilling holes 鑽洞:
For fixing outside leaks 戶外防水:
There you have it. Renovating a house take time, planning, and money. But in the end you can get a pretty good result.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out more of our blogs about life in Taiwan to come.
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.