When my husband and I bought our house, we did so with every intention of getting all HGTV on the place. Despite neither of us having any home renovation experience, we naively looked around and assumed that small repairs and some paint would fix up our new home and make it immaculate.
What we didn’t expect was faulty plumbing, rotten plaster, a dying HVAC system, hidden “repairs” and water and fire damage.
Three years out from signing our mortgage, I’d like to share with you some of our missteps in our first DIY adventure so that you might spare yourselves, your wallets, and your sanity when you tackle your own projects. Here are the biggest problems we’ve encountered and the ways you can avoid them like the plague
Getting In Over Your Head
That picture above is of our dining room, partly through the process of tearing down the plaster walls. Why were we tearing down perfectly good plaster walls? Because on the other side of that wall with the door was another room with plaster walls. Rotten plaster walls, actually, that had been covered with paneling that was straight glued to the rotten plaster.
And the simple task of taking down that paneling ruptured the rotten plaster, so we began to take it down, not realizing that the force of taking down the rotten plaster was cracking the plaster on the wall you see there, causing sheets of it to fall in our dining room. Before we knew it we were covered in plaster dust, scrambling to find ways to buy drywall. We couldn’t afford it, so we lived with just slats for walls. For two years.
What seemed like a simple project (taking down the paneling) resulted in a huge undertaking that caused us more stress, money, and time than we anticipated, and actually is still a project we’re trying to finish when we can. It’s so easy to get trapped into a huge project that you never saw coming.
Had we proceeded with caution, we probably could have avoided the situation in the dining room, which would have given us more resources with which to handle some more pressing projects (such as re-flooring the room we’re making a second nursery for the baby that’s due in eight short weeks). So be careful, work with intention, and proceed with caution before you end up with pieces of you walls and ceilings on the floor.
Not Researching Your Project Ahead of Time
One of my husband’s DIY sins is that he loves to jump into a project head first, tools in hand, and with reckless abandon. He unfortunately also does so without really researching the project he wants to begin, which leads to a whole bucket of problems down the line. I’ve already talked about ways to research your DIY project and I can’t tell you how much time and effort spending an afternoon researching has saved us.
Even if you think you know what you’re doing, double and triple check. Also, if you’re like us, where one person works on the project and then the other, check in with one another instead of assuming you know what they’ve done and what needs to be accomplished next. Too many times we’ve tried to move forward on a project without consulting the other and only set ourselves back even further while also making us want to kill each other. Lesson learned: do your homework!
Assuming You Can Do Anything
One of my sins, on the other hand, is believing that research will teach me anything. You know those people who try to perform surgery on themselves after watching a video of the same procedure online? Home renovation can be a lot like that.
You need to be able to admit that trying to reroute plumbing yourself may not be the best idea (unless you want a flooded basement) even if all the books and websites tell you it’s easy as pie. It’s a hard pill for a DIY’er to swallow, admitting that they can’t do something, but until you get some more experience under your belt and can possibly be supervised by a professional, there are just some projects best left to people who are licensed to do them for a living.
Not Asking For Help
Sometimes what seems like a simple task is anything but. And other times what seems like something one person could handle really takes three. You may want to bear down and just muscle through your project alone, but if you want things to go smoothly, quickly, and without your head exploding, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
We’re lucky enough to have friends and family with previous contracting experience with extra time on their hands, but sometimes just a friendly face to navigate the treacherous terrain of home renovation with can make all the difference. And of course, if you get neck-deep into a project and realize it is more than you can handle, don’t be afraid to call in a professional to finish up the job.
When we needed to drywall a room, we actually had a handyman come in for a day and work alongside my husband to knock the project out. The extra set of hands with professional experience made it so that a project that would have taken the two of us a week was accomplished in a matter of hours, and that made it totally worth the slight shame of asking for help with our DIY project.
Not Budgeting Money or Time
I’m really bad about just assuming money will appear out of nowhere. I’m also kind of pro at buying things for a project slowly over time, when they’re on sale or we have a little extra money. However, this is not a very smart way to go about a home renovation project AT ALL.
You have no idea how much you end up spending on a project, which is often a lot more than necessary, and sometimes more than you would have paid a professional to do the job for you. I suggest, after doing your appropriate research and consulting with a professional or two, you set a budget.
Include in that budget a timeline for the project — because any professional will charge you for labor as well as materials. Try to be as generous as possible with both time and money to give yourself some leeway, or be prepared to really go nose to the grindstone when either one runs low.
In the end, things will not go 100% your way. Obstacles will come up. Money will run out. Time will run short. Mistakes will be made. Compromises will be negotiated. And you need to be okay with that. Part of the beauty (and the monster) of DIY home reno is that you’re doing it yourself, and unless you are a licensed professional as well, you need to be able to let go when things don’t go as planned.
As a perfectionist, I found this one of the hardest things to overcome, but for the sake of my house (and my marriage and our bank account) I’ve learned to let go and make the best with what I’ve got and what I can do.
With any DIY project, whether it’s large or small, what matters most at the end of the day (or week, or year…) is that you have something you’ve created that you can be proud of. And if you can get to that point with minimal damage, well then, you’ve survived your trial by fire and can consider yourself a seasoned do-it-yourself-er.