My House Renovation – HDB

Living in Singapore, most people’s first house will be one built by the government, the HDB flats. They have done a good job at providing affordable housing for almost everyone. Government housing in Singapore are not third-rated housing projects. In fact the quality of these flats have improved by leaps and bounds. As one whom had stayed in various countries for varying periods of times (months to years), I for one am very appreciative of what Singapore government has done. It has its down sides of course, but in my opinion, these are nothing compared to bigger issues of unaffordable housing elsewhere. Hence, I got my first piece of 111 sqm, albeit it being 15 stories up in the air.

In the beginning…

One bear I had with my house is that I actually paid the deposit in 2010. It took them 5 long years to built, and I received the keys in early 2015. However, being still in the US, my busy wife and I decided to let it ‘sit’ till I am back. Initially, even after I am back, we weren’t in a hurry to renovate the house (the house is pretty much just concrete walls at this point in time). Things changed when we realized that contractors have to use pre-mixed cement starting June 2015, which will increase the cost of renovation by ~30%. So started the hunt for contractors (don’t be afraid to compare prices).

1. Choose a contractor/Interior designer (ID)

I am not going to say too much about the pros and cons about having an interior designer or not – to each their own. But suffice to say that one more person means one more mouth to feed. And for a simple 111 sqm house with a living room, a kitchen and 3 rooms, there is only so much one needs to do:

  • False ceiling/cove lightings – Yes/No
  • Hacking of walls to combine rooms – Yes/No
  • Feature wall – Yes/No
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Wardrobes
  • Toilet fixtures
  • Tiles selection
  • Lights

Another thing I realise after peeking into neighbours’ houses, as well as contractors’ show flats is that they look the same. The trend now seems to be either conduit track lighting or false ceiling light box with a 3 bulb “do re mi” hanging dining light and a stone feature wall. I think people should not go with trends. Things like industrial, minimalist, scandinavian… whatever are created by marketeers to fuel a demand for their trade, and only serve to boost revenues of involved parties. But like most trends, they will fade. Another reason some people choose an ID is that the ID will ‘oversee’ the project, thus freeing up the owners’ time. However, according to some friends’ feedbacks, this is not true.

2. Install your air-conditioning

The most advertised system seems to be mitsubishi star mex right now. But given the tons of advertisement, one wonders how much of the purchase price actually go into marketing costs. Instead of advertisements and celebrity-endorsement (what gives celebrity a right to endorse products still baffles me), compare the amount of electricity consumption the unit actually use. Those electricity saving ticks only measure the consumption of certain parts in the air-con, and don’t represent the actual power consumption. Nowadays, air-con showrooms have an amp-meter attached to each unit to show the real operation current consumption. On top of that, there are two phases of air-con powering up. The initial ‘blast’ phase, and the subsequent ‘maintenance’ phase. Some units maintain a fix consumption throughout the phases. Some units have a higher consumption during the ‘blast’ phase to cool the room faster, and a lower ‘maintenenace’ phase consumption. Its up to individual usage patterns to decide which is better. Also, trunking insulation is important to ensure no condensation occurs around the trunking boxes.

Air-con installation can come either in 1 phase, or 2 phase. In the latter case, trunking installation and system installation are separated. Is this necessary? A check on renovation forums will yield about equal number in both camps. I opted for one phase installation (saves money). To prevent paint and dusts from staining the air-con unit, ask the installers to wrap up the unit properly. Otherwise do it yourself.

Wrap up the air-conditioning unit with plastic and tape.

3. Contractor items to choose

First and foremost is the tiles. There are a couple of tile suppliers in Singapore. Lian Seng Hin, Soon Bee Huat and Hafary, just to name a few. Different people have different experiences and thus comments about different shops. The perception that China-made tiles are inferior is well, just a perception. In my opinion, China is catching up in technology and quality. But nonetheless, their tiles are still cheaper then European made ones. The only reason I choose to believe is that you pay for the shipment of the tiles over. Quality and material wise, I feel is the same. For the same material and design, European made tiles cost 2-3x more than China-made ones. I settled for Lian Seng Hin tiles, and am more than satisfied.

After the tiles, will the Sink, Hood, Hob and Oven. As well as the running of gas pipe by Citigas. Gas pipe installation is a bear as there is a lead time of about 2 weeks. Make sure you plan in advance, as the pipes have to be installed before the kitchen cabinets go in. I am using Citigas for my hob, water heater and gas dryer, so there is alot of pipes for my contractor to conceal.

Next will be the kitchen cabinet and wardrobe laminate. Basically just pick of from a book your contractor will pass to you. Then there is the kitchen tabletop. There are NUMEROUS choices again – laminated top, granite, iQuartz, marble… Again, cost and preference will determine which you choose. Laminated top is probably the cheapest, but has the poorest reputation. Granite is not bad, but it is a natural porous material, which means liquid can seep into the granite. Some people have also complained about staining of granite top by hot surfaces. Given the minimal price difference between the cheapest iQuartz range and granite, I went with iQuartz.

Tiling complete
Citigas gas pipe installation
Kitchen cabinets installation
Room wardrobe installation
Doors completed
I like my kitchen glass door 😀
iQuartz kitchen top with hood and hob. Sink from Blanco.

4. Lights

For basic lights I got from Brighthouse. They had a promotion of 12 lights for under $700 inclusive of installation. Sometimes I am really frustrated at sales people. They lie and they lie and they lie. If something is too expensive to be true, it probably is. Check prices online at taobao. That is probably the price most shops get their stuff at. Some shops dare to tell me that one light is $400, and claim its from this country and whatsnot. And when asked about a 12% discount given by another shop, they ALWAYS go into the quality argument.

Apart from LED ceiling lights, we also saw this hanging light in some other shop. The light has 15 bulbs, and cost >$1000. Its ridiculous. We found the same exact hanging lights on taobao, and bought TWO different sets – one with 25bulbs, another with 19bulbs. The price of the lights + shipping + installation comes to ~$800. This is the obscene margin these people work with. No wonder a search online will tell Singaporeans to head to Malaysia to buy lights. I believe we are very lucky all the 44 glass bulbs didn’t break, but I bet the professionalism of these China vendors played a major role in ensuring they arrived in one piece in my house. Each glass bulb is individually wrapped and placed in a well fitting Styrofoam container, before being packed into a box and sealed with a wooden frame.

Installation of hanging lights brackets to the ceiling. Note: DO NOT USE the taobao screws, they are not meant to be used on our ceilings.
19 bulbs hanging light from Taobao
Lighting em up
25 bulbs hanging light from Taobao
25 Bulbs Light… there is some asymmetry… but…
Let there be light

5. Curtains

Some people spend up to $4k on curtains. Again its about budget and preference. I spent about $1.4k. I have day and night curtains for the living room, maximum light and UV blocking curtains in master bed room, and Japanese anti-dust blinds for the other two rooms. One thing I learnt about shopping for curtains is, you can most likely get curtains for the price you ask – its just a matter of the material. For this reason, I chose not to buy my curtains from Taobao, because I can’t touch and feel them.

6. Furniture

Basic furniture is bought from Cellini. They had a package deal that includes a sofa set, a dining set and bedframe for $2888. We changed the bedframe to a console table and got another sofa for my study. Looking around other furniture shops, I simply cannot understand how some shops can sell their fabric sofas of similar design and color for >$4k, when I can buy 3 sets of items for $2888. I bought carpets and other miscellaneous items from Taobao as usual. My 4m x 3m living room carpet comes down to about $125 inclusive of everything. Again, I wonder how shops can sell the same thing for $600 here.

Carpet and clocks from Taobao
Looks good.
One year moving in anniversary – HDB

August 2015


11 thoughts on “My House Renovation – HDB

  1. Hi Jimmy, I’m sourcing for a good ID/contractor for my upcoming new home. Hence, I wondered if you can share with me which ID/contractor did you engage for your home Reno? Are they good? And may I know what was the damage like?

    1. Hey, my contractor is from hong fatt heng. Damage was 25k-30k. Work includes, tiles and doors; kitchen cabinets and iQuartz top; 2 wardrobes; glass door for kitchen and toilets; concrete sink and washing machine mount; a few electrical sockets and plumbing works. Whole experience was generally satisfactory and they worked fast.

  2. Hi Jimmy, thank you for your post. Can I check with you what is the washing machine model you bought? And where did you bought it?

    About the washing machine mount, did you get it yourself?

    1. Hi junjie,
      The mount was made by the contractor. I told him to make a raised washing machine platform. WM is from LG top loading 11kg. Wanted to go front loading but its too expensive and typically only around 7kg… i can’t wash my set of bedsheets/comforter sheets… so went for top loading.


  3. Hi Jimmy
    Your articles, a great relief to me and will definitely save me hours to hunt and compare. I am totally lost with what to do, where to buy and look for contractor with a small budget to do up the new house. I go for simplicity so, just need a reliable contractor not ID. You didn’t mention painting? Care to share the info? Thank you very much

    1. Hi Rene, painting is taken care by the contractor as well. There are a variety of paints from odourless to easy-to-clean. I just went with the cheapest. It will be at least a month before you move in, so whatever odour will be gone. Cost for painting is pretty basic.

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