Somehow an entire year has passed since we closed on the house and started the most challenging, rewarding, and time-consuming undertaking of our lives. We haven’t posted on the blog in a while because frankly, we are just too busy working on the house! But the good news is we see the end in sight. We finished our master bathroom (a reveal post is coming up shortly), and we’ve started doing a TON of work on the basement. But today I’m going to pause and think about all that we’ve learned in case anyone reading this is thinking about doing a similar DIY home renovation.
So what have we learned? In no particular order:
Nothing is a simple or fast as we think it will be. But things do get easier over time as we apply new skills over and over. For example, I remember the first time we installed drywall, I was so intimidated that it would be hard, or it would look bad, or we wouldn’t figure out how to do it. Fast forward, after installing it in many, many, many rooms, we can now install drywall in our sleep. We estimate how long a new task will take after googling it and watching a bunch of how-to videos. I usually over-estimate the amount of time it’ll take and Jeremy usually under-estimates it. We faced so many time-consuming delays that we’ve learned to roll with the punches and have a flexible timeline.
Buy all the tools. We started this project with just a few hammers and one lil baby drill. Every time we started on a new task or room, we ended up buying a new tool. Some tools can be rented, but everything is so cheap that buying just made more sense. Keeping the tools organized has been a struggle so we make time about once a month to go around the house, gather all the tools, and organize them into boxes by category. We bought:
- A miter saw, a reciprocating saw, an oscillating saw, and a circular saw
- A random orbital sander
- A nail gun compressor with two different types of guns
- A gun powder actuated nail gun (to drive nails into concrete floors)
- A drill-driver, a hammer drill, and an impact driver drill (all for different uses)
- A ton of drywall tools
- A ton of painting tools like brushes, rollers, poles, drop clothes, etc.
And so much more! The point is, don’t be afraid to buy a new tool and learn how to use it.
Youtube and google are everything. We have learned how to do 95% of our home renovation tasks by googling it. We literally watch videos and read how-to instructions online before buying the tools and taking it on ourselves. A lot of people assume because Jeremy is an engineer and a male that he has done this type of work before. But the truth is, neither of us have done any sort of home renovation work before. Jeremy has always been handy and confident with tools (he could always fix any broken appliance), but we are BOTH learning as we go. Jeremy has a natural inclination for learning how stuff works and why certain methods are best. And I have a natural inclination for reading the instructions. So if you think you can’t do something to fix up your house, just tell yourself that you don’t know how to do it yet, google it, and then try it out. We figure that materials cost 1/3 of a traditional home renovation, while labor costs about 2/3 the total price. We have saved close to $100,000 by doing almost all the work ourselves. Which brings me to my next point.
Always get a ton of quotes!! We hired professional help for several aspects of the renovation that we just couldn’t do ourselves. Namely: replacing the roof; installing a brand new HVAC system for the first time; updating the electric box; moving the pluming around in our kitchen; removing and replacing the original gas line in the basement; installing the glass wall in our shower; adding rough-in plumbing and electrical for two new bathrooms; and removing a load-bearing wall. The range of prices that we get quoted are truly mind-boggling. For example, quotes for the glass wall in our shower ranged from $1,900 to $5,500!! For the exact same product! The basement gas line also got an insane range of quotes–from $950 to $10,000!! How is that even legal? It always pays to get at least three quotes, but five is better.
Taking on a full gut renovation is a LOT OF WORK. We did not realize when we committed to this project just how much work we were taking on ourselves. It has really changed our lives in a profound way–we have way less free time to socialize or travel, and we feel that we should be working on the house every evening and weekend. After a year of living like this, we are ready for our lives to go back to normal soon. We always have the option to hire help, but every time we consider the costs and benefits of hiring someone, we decide to keep slugging along at our own pace. This home is a huge investment for us, and we are trying to keep as much money in our pockets as possible to make it worthwhile. A single day of work by a handymen costs around $500! One potential benefit from doing it all ourselves is we can start investing in properties that need more work–because now we can do the work on our own. This past year has been one long apprenticeship in home renovation/construction, and we will NEVER need to hire a handyman again.
Historic homes deserve love. Our home is 100 years old and luckily had many gorgeous original features intact. We were very careful to keep as many of them as possible, even though restoring them has proven to be incredibly time consuming. For example, all the window and door trim and the staircase banister and railing are original gorgeous solid wood. It took a long time to strip, sand, and paint or stain them back to their glory, but it was so worth it. I’m currently in the midst of restoring all our interior solid wood doors (including removing layers of paint from the hinges and knobs) and let me tell you–its a TON of work. But they are going to last for another 100 years and hopefully bring joy to many people who will live in this house.
Home renovations are dirty, unorganized, and chaotic. Our house still doesn’t feel like our dream home, because it’s full of piles of tools and old doors, an ugly work table and dirty chairs that the previous owner left behind. And honestly, it is always filling with more dust no matter how much I vacuum. Home renovations produce insane amounts of dust and dirt–especially when you demolish plaster walls. The one piece of advice I wish I had known to follow was to cover all our possessions being stored in the basement in huge plastic sheets. We did not, and as a result we had to dust and vacuum every single thing we owned before moving it upstairs as the bedrooms and kitchen were ready to be moved into. Also we haven’t had time to fully unpack and move into our master closet, even though it’s been done for months! There just hasn’t been time to get organized and decide where we want things to permanently live in our house, so for now it’s just an unorganized mess. You have to be able to embrace the chaos during a DIY home renovation. For example, we had to remove and re-paint 4 cabinet doors in the kitchen due to a shitty paint job, but then the summer was too hot and humid to spray them outside. So we just didn’t have cabinet doors for about 3 months. In conclusion, your house will not look like the big reveal at the end of an HGTV show for a looooooong time. But it’s a process and each day we see progress.
The most work goes into planning and prepping, which is not satisfying at all. The planning part is mental, and includes looking at the existing space and thinking about what the new room will look like, what we will use the space for, and any structural things currently in place like pipes, wires, supporting walls, etc. The prepping part is physical–it includes removing or demolishing any old materials, pipes, wires, and cleaning off or prepping any surfaces for new building materials. Actually installing and finishing floors, walls, ceilings is quite easy once you get the hang of it. The planning and prepping don’t come with the satisfying feeling of making progress, but they are both vital steps!
There are a TON more that I could add but I’ll stop here.
It has been a whirlwind of a year. When I go back and read some of our earliest posts, I genuinely can’t remember everything we’ve already put into this house. It almost feels like childbirth–I’ve just blocked out the difficult parts so that I can keep on going.
Up next, we plan to finish our basement. It was a scary mess when we bought the house, but we plan to add a ceiling and some walls, paint some of the brick walls, and add a floor. Jeremy has spent so many hours removing or moving the pipes and electric wires so that we can close up the ceiling, and we are almost ready to do it!
But we hope to be finished with the basement by November, and then we can start the fun part–decorating!! We don’t have much furniture of our own in the house besides Jeremy’s loved and hated couch, but we are very pleased to announce that we have found it’s replacement! Once we get the couch, I’m ready to furnish the rest of the living room. I already have a master plan in my heart, but it’ll take a while to make it a reality. Like I said, this is not like an HGTV show with a hard deadline and a big reveal, but rather a slow evolution. In any case, we are ready to take on the last interior space in the basement, and then we will move on to the exterior!