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Real Talk: DIY-ish Your Home Renovation

Dec 9 2020

This is part of our ongoing series on the basics of owning a home.

Found a good deal on an old or disregarded home? Ready to update yours? 

Any renovation project is a commitment. Once you start working, you’re in it for the long haul. Sure, you can take breaks. But those unfinished stairs, torn-up floors, and stacks of material will sit there, like notifications reminding you to finish the task. 

I know from experience. I was born into a family that’s been building homes and fixing up older ones for generations. My earliest memories are snapshots of renovations, scented in sawdust and roaring with the sound of circular saws. Growing up, I thought every kid spent their weekends painting ceilings, installing insulation, and tearing down walls to see what’s behind them.  

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t belong on HGTV! Despite my experience, I’m not always suited to be at the controlling end of a power drill. What I have is the confidence to try things myself and a knack for knowing who to turn to for guidance (and a helping hand) when I’m in over my head. 

Here are a few tips I’ve collected in my years as an unqualified home renovator. These aren’t meant as advice, they’re just tidbits of insight and encouragement. 

Believe me: If I can do it, you can too! 

Ask for help 

In a major renovation, it’s still DIY if you enlist the guidance of a contractor to handle the tough stuff. In fact, knowing when to call in a professional is key.  

If you need a contractor, take your time to find a darn good one. Look for someone who’s inspired by your project and believes in your ability to do things yourself.

When your contractor gives you advice, listen to it. They might push you out of your comfort zone, but if they’re trustworthy, it’s with good intentions.

(For more help, check out our how-to tips to hire a contractor.)  

Consult other folks from your homeowning journey, too. Real estate agents and neighbors you’ve chatted with along the way may have insight. Not sure where to find a good septic inspector? One of them may know! 

And if something is too heavy, or beyond your ability, tell someone. Most likely, folks will be impressed with what you’re doing and willing to help.

Trust your gut  

In some cases, a contractor or another person involved in the project may want to do things differently than what you have in mind. Welcome feedback and suggestions. Really listen to their point, give it a minute, and see if your gut is still leading you in another direction.  

In the end, if your feelings prevail, stick with them. Some choices may not be best for everyone, but they will be for you. Nobody knows your needs better than you do! 

Similarly, once in a while a relationship with a professional you hired for a job doesn’t work out. In that situation, trust yourself. Whatever happened isn’t personal, and everything should be OK if you part ways respectfully. 

Always give it a try 

Whether it’s replacing a deadbolt lock or cutting through sheetrock, give tasks a shot yourself first. Be careful with plumbing and electricity (and no messing with gas!), and be mindful of changes that may require permits.  

With most renovations, there are tasks that don’t require a ton of expertise and only take a bit of elbow grease. Must you hire a pro to tear up that brick, or can you or someone you know go at it with a sledge hammer? What’s under that carpeting? Dig up a corner and figure it out!  

Once you start, you’ll likely see what to do next, especially if you (mostly) know your way around a toolbox. Approach each step with curiosity, and try to figure out how things are put together. Worst case, it takes two days and you have to watch a few YouTube tutorials. (And you can always take a picture and go to Home Depot!) 

Feeling handy? We have easy home maintenance projects any homeowner can do.

Give yourself extra time  

One thing experienced DIYers know is that projects take longer than expected. You never know what you’re going to discover when you open a wall or pull up flooring. Even pros budget for “hidden conditions.” 

If you expect a job to take an afternoon, plan for it to spill into the next day. If you think it’s going to take two weekends, it may be three. Trust me, I’ve spent days digging staples out of plywood that was under wall-to-wall carpeting. If you get it done as expected, that’s great! Just don’t be surprised if you clock out with tasks still on your checklist.  

To speed things up, do the necessary research to learn the best practices and get the right tools before digging in. You don’t want to be cutting vinyl siding with a hacksaw or sanding an entire deck by hand. If no one you know has tools to borrow, libraries often have tool collections and hardware stores typically rent out equipment.   

Psst – working on your deck? Check out our guide to easy deck maintenance.

Dispose of waste efficiently 

Renovation projects create waste, but do you really need to pay for a dumpster? Or can you separate it into bulk trash and recycling — and scrap metal (which you can sell)?  

Even if you really do need a dumpster, throwing everything in it yourself is more affordable than paying pros to do it for you. And don’t overdo it on the size. You probably won’t need one the length of a football field, especially if you take the time to pack it right (another lesson I’ve learned the hard way).   

In fact, there are plenty of tasks to do around your home that won’t break the bank. You’ll love our list of easy home updates for under $25.

If you’re not afraid to put in the effort, DIY renovating can be a lot of fun and great for your budget. Just make sure to bring your work gloves and sense of humor. You never know what you’ll find once get started!  

Looking for more hands-on tips? These posts might interest you:

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