I have found there are two kinds of people when it comes to DIY remodeling.
There are those who are so worried about messing things up they never consider doing anything themselves and there are those who hear “DIY” and start rolling up their sleeves. In most cases, my hubby and I are the latter.
Attempting anything on your own can be daunting, especially when money is involved or, say, a house. But realizing just how much money you can save doing projects on your own can help you past that trepidation fast.
And then there’s the rather addicting side dish of pride that comes with a job well done. Nothing can quite top the feeling you get when a guest loves a room in your home or a project on your wall and you can say, “I did that.” It’s the look on their face that keeps us crazy DIYers coming back for more.
This is what convinced my husband and me to remodel a kitchen, two baths, a laundry room and a full basement in our former home. Accepting an offer well over our asking price when we sold our house made it worth our investment of time and money. It also showed us just how capable we are.
But before you go tearing down that wall blocking the view to your kitchen, let me share some renovation tips we learned along the way that will help you make solid decisions and allow you to tackle your remodel in confidence.
Let’s get started!
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Table of Contents
- Do Your Research
- Know What to Expect
- Be Realistic
- Save up for a Remodel
- Plan for a Longer Renovation
- Contain the Project
- Update the Bones
- Plan Your Layout
- Consider the Materials
- Keep Receipts
- Test Everything
- DIY is not Always the Answer
Remodeling Tip #1. Do Your Research
I cannot stress this one enough. There have been many times I have dreamed up an idea and my husband has had to put a damper on it because the wall is load-bearing or there is a heating duct that runs up that corner or the cost of a rounded doorway is much more than a traditional one.
Having a professional do a walk-through with you as you show him/her your design is a great way to save you time and money down the road. (Nothing like tearing into a wall just to have to patch it back up because you cannot take it down.) Having a contractor do a walk-through also helps you set your budget. They will often point out expenses you might not have thought of.
A professional need not always be a contractor, you can ask questions at your local hardware store, too. Occasionally, I like to get a second opinion when I buy supplies.
I do not always heed their advice, but when I don’t, I have no one else to blame but myself when my project does not yield significant results.
Another part of your research should involve a real estate agent. They can run comps in your area and tell you whether that $50,000 kitchen renovation is worth it financially. You don’t want to put money into your home that you can’t recoup should you ever have to sell.
You never know what the future holds, the last thing you want is to be stuck with a house you can’t sell or cannot make back the money because you put too much into it for the area you live in.
Remodeling Tip #2. Know What to Expect
I can imagine some pretty neat stuff and fully expect my amazing husband to pull them off. But he keeps me grounded in reality mainly because he has a better grasp on how layouts work, etc. I’m getting there, though.
One tool my husband uses to help me visualize each project is SketchUp. It uses real measurements so you can see exactly how something will look before you remodel. We never start a project without first putting it into SketchUp.
You can see in this post how Steve helped me visualize our bathroom remodel and how it turned out almost exactly like his rendering. I highly recommend spending time on designing your remodel so you are not disappointed when things do not fit as you had imagined.
Remodeling Tip #3. Be Realistic
Unless you have an unlimited budget (you would hire this job out if you did) you will have to make choices in which materials you use, what fixtures you like, etc. If you are on a budget, choose one or two pieces for the room you absolutely have to have then try to find the best prices for those items.
Everything else might have to be a compromise. Instead of granite, you might need to look into faux granite. Things like that.
I know it’s hard to go with another idea when you have your heart set on one thing, but there have been many times my compromises ended up being better options than what I originally wanted.
We have come across some great finds over the years that have helped to stretch our budget.
Which leads me to the next point:
Remodeling Tip #4. Save up for a Remodel
Two reasons you will want to do this:
One, you will be SO thankful you didn’t go into debt for the remodel. You can better enjoy the finished product if you’re not worrying about how you will pay it off.
Second, you will stay closer to your budget if you are paying with cash. If you are paying with credit, it can be all too easy to tack more and more on and before you know it you have racked up some impressive debt.
The key is staying inside the budget you set up. If you budget each item, you will see where you need to compromise on things and where you can draw extra funds. But when you are planning out your overall budget, add an extra 20%.
Once you tear down walls or even if you are just doing some cosmetic work, there is always something you did not account for or things that can go wrong or things that are worse than you expected. Planning for this will help you out tremendously.
Remodeling Tip #5. Plan for a Longer Renovation
I had a starry-eyed belief when we moved into our new home that I could tackle all the painting (kitchen cabinets included), remove the carpet and handle a few other things, in the five days they gave us to work before moving in.
So, you can imagine the disappointment I felt when I sat on my new living room floor that first night, paintbrush in hand, struggling to keep back the tears because I only got one wall painted that first day. I had bitten off way more than I could chew.
The walls did get painted, but it took a crew of people and several days. (I did not realize the walls were covered in wallpaper that had been painted over many times. That took days to pull off.)
The carpet was a nightmare. It was only on the stairs, but they riddled it with staples. It took well over 30+ hours for four people to pull them all. Not even joking.
So even if something looks like a simple job, expect the worst. After two houses, I still fall into this trap. I still catch myself saying to my husband that something can be done in no time at all. He’s good enough not to remind me of all the times he’s heard that before.
Remodeling Tip #6. Contain the Project
It’s insane how dusty things get during a renovation. Wherever you are working, try to keep the room closed off from the rest of the house as much as possible. There is nothing more frustrating than dusting and cleaning 24/7 during a renovation. You will always have dust in a renovation no matter how well you tape off a room, but you CAN minimize it.
If the work is in several parts of the house and it is almost impossible to contain, then try keeping one designated room set apart from all the work.
You can tape this room off and forbid any moved items from settling there. You will need one clean, clutter-free space that you can escape from all the chaos that happens during a remodel.
Remodeling Tip #7. Update the Bones
If you are doing a gut job on a particular room, spend the extra money and replace the pipes or update the electrical, if need be. There is nothing more disheartening than finishing a room only to have to tear it up to replace those things a year or two later when they cause problems.
I know that spending your budget on what you don’t see is difficult, but trust me, it’s great for peace of mind and re-sell value.
Remodeling Tip #8. Plan Your Layout
This is where SketchUp comes in handy. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine your space remodeled when all you see is the old layout. Using SketchUp allows you to move your walls, doors, windows, anything you need to rearrange so you can see exactly what you want in your space.
This also allows you to come up with layouts you might not have considered before or thought possible. This is the time to try all the things and see which design makes the best use of your space. Having a visual for your layout also allows a second pair of eyes to look it over and see if he/she can see any problems with the design.
Remodeling Tip #9. Consider the Materials
This is where your research comes in handy. The flooring you absolutely adore in the store may not hold up well to moisture in the bathroom. Or traffic in the halls. You need to know what the materials can do before putting time and money into them.
I had my heart set on a particular flooring in our forever home, but after some research, I realized that beautiful look would not hold up well and would need to be replaced in five years. Additional time and money was not something I was willing to compromise on.
Another example, chalk paint was all the rage when I moved in and so I bought it for my kitchen cabinets. It worked great and saved me a ton of time, but the wax coating I used does not hold up well in a kitchen where the cabinets need to be cleaned often. I did not do enough research on the materials, in this instance.
And cost should not always be a factor when you are deciding what to use. Yes, you want to get the best deals that you can, but if going with a cheaper product means more work, is it worth it?
Case in point: I was buying cheap paint and doing two coats to save some money until I came across Behr Marquee. For the same price of two coats of the cheap paint, I could cover the same room with only one coat. I couldn’t believe I was paying the same amount of money for twice the work.
On the reverse of this advice, you can easily buy generic brands and get the same quality items for less. You just need to do a bit of research to see if it’s worth it.
Another thing to consider, when you are choosing your materials, pick stationery pieces that are classic. You might have eclectic taste, but should you need to sell your home for whatever reason, your style might make your home harder to sell.
Your canvas should be classic. From there, you can add your own flair with items that are easily removed.
One last thing, do not forget to budget for tools, which can eat up quite a chunk of change. Consider renting if you do not plan to use them again.
Remodeling Tip #10. Keep Receipts
Keeping all your receipts will save you a headache later if you need to return something or wish to claim a tax deduction later. This is a simple tip, but an important one.
Also, check to see if your hardware store offers rebates or price matching. Every bit helps when you are remodeling.
Remodeling Tip #11. Test Everything
When we remodeled our upstairs bath in our former home, I had the paint color in my head and was so convinced it was the perfect choice I never tested the color ahead of time.
But once the renovation was completed, I realized I wasn’t super fond of the paint color once it went up in the space. I’m not sure what changed, because the samples looked great together. It wasn’t horrible, just not something I would choose again.
There are plenty of paint samples you can test on your walls to see if you really like them. Make sure you test the color in the different lights of the room (sunrise, sunset, artificial lighting).
The same goes for flooring. I’m so glad we took home samples and tried them beside the original wood floors we were keeping and against the stairs recently stained.
If we had gone with my original choice, I would have been very unhappy. Turns out, the one we settled on not only complemented the other wood colors nicely, but it was also the cheapest of our choices. 🙂
Remodeling Tip #12. DIY is not Always the Answer
Yes, this is a post about DIY remodeling tips. But sometimes, it is more cost-effective to hire some things out. Because let’s face it, there are some things that SHOULD be done by a professional.
My hubby is a jack-of-all-trades, but there are two things he doesn’t mess with: plumbing and electrical. That doesn’t mean he won’t work alongside the professional to learn what he can. In fact, he has since taken on minor plumbing fixes and runs all the wiring for our electrician so all that’s left to do is finish hooking everything up and making sure it works.
I even learned how to wire canned lighting when we worked in our basement. Once my husband saw that I could do it, he stuck me with wiring all 17 of them. 🙂 I have to say, I was pretty proud to see every one of them turn on for our electrician. 🙂
But even some things that you might be comfortable tackling should be done by a professional. When we were remodeling our basement before putting our house on the market, we decided it was in our best interest to hire out the tile work because there was so much of it and it would have taken us forever to do on our own. And the cost difference after renting tools, etc. was not that much.
The more DIY projects you take on, the more you’ll know your limits and what you should let someone else handle.
Last but not least, when you are in the market for a contractor, make sure you do your research! Word of mouth is always good; references from people you know or projects you have seen with your own eyes will put your mind at ease and save you from a nightmare situation later on.
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About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.