I come from a long line of DIY project enthusiasts. I remember my Grandpa Memmott always saying, “The only difference between us and the professionals is that they have done it before.” Of course, the fact that they have done it before gives them a huge advantage as we usually learn what not to do on our first time through. But, I think there is a lot we can do on our own if we are willing to be teachable and work hard.
However, it is easy to get excited about giving your bathroom or kitchen a fresh, new look and just jump right in before thinking things all the way through. This often results in stressful situations, sometimes dangerous situations, marital distress, sleepless nights, pleas for help to more knowledgeable friends or family members, and an empty bank account. I want to help you avoid all that! Let me share with you 10 things to think about before you start that DIY project.
My husband and I have been remodeling homes from the time we married 14 years ago. Our first project was a basement apartment we were moving into after our honeymoon that we agreed to remodel for a rent break. We came home from our honeymoon to a gutted house with no kitchen and no bathroom. We worked around the clock for a month before we had a functional home that didn’t require a trip to the gas station whenever nature called or washing dishes with the outside hose. It was in that little basement that my husband taught me to do drywall, a skill he had been taught by his dad from the time he was 8. Since then, we have expanded our skill set to include framing, finish work, and tile. And my husband is just generally handy and can do pretty much anything he sets his mind to. Though we no longer do remodel work to make a living, we continue to use those skills to help friends and family with their remodel projects. We have learned so much over the years about the do’s and don’ts of remodeling. Hopefully, this advice can help you avoid some of the first-timer mistakes so many people make.
1- Do you have enough money to finish your DIY project? I have never met a remodel project that didn’t end up costing more than expected. There are always little things you don’t think about and, with remodeling, there is almost always something you will have to deal with that you won’t find out about until you tear into your project. There could be mold behind those walls, faulty wiring that needs to be fixed, a warped sub-floor, or a leaky pipe. Figure out what your worst case scenario could be and add an extra 25% to your best estimate of what it will cost before you start, just to be sure you can actually finish. There’s nothing worse than “living in the projects,” as I like to call it, for months while you try to save up enough money to complete the job.
2- Having the right tools makes all the difference in the world. You may think you can’t afford to get the right tool and you’ll just make do with what you have, or you may not even know that magical tool that can save you a whole lot of time and sweat exists. I am telling you- it is worth researching what the professionals use to get the job done and spending the money to get the right tools rather than wasting time and ruining your results with whatever you have on hand. Renting tools is a great option if you don’t think you’ll ever use the tool again. It is usually fairly inexpensive to rent. Or maybe you have a loving friend who is willing to let you borrow their tool. Just be sure you return it in a timely manner and are prepared to replace it if it breaks.
3- Talk to a professional before you begin the DIY project. They will be able to offer you sound advice on how to make the job go smoothly, how to do things the easy way, what tools you will need, what not to do, and they will also be able to tell you if you are in over your head and need to hire a professional. If you don’t know any professionals, watch YouTube videos. You can find how to videos on almost anything on YouTube. Just watch several to make sure they are all saying the same thing and discard the advice of outliers who probably don’t know what they are talking about.
4- Know your limits. Consider paying a professional in the first place for the parts of the project that require skill and/or experience to get it right, rather than spending time and money to mess it up yourself and then having to call a professional. It took me a year before I felt confident enough to drywall a room without any help from my husband. That might be one area you should hire out. Plumbing and electrical can also be pretty technical if you have no experience and can cost a lot down the road if you make a mistake. Better to get it right the first time than to spend more money down the road fixing your mistakes.
5- Shop around to save money. Most big stores will beat competitors prices. Sometimes you can find good stuff on online classifieds if you have time to watch for a good deal. For better selection however, go to the specialized stores rather than the major home improvement chains.
6- Measure twice, cut once. Always. Enough said.
7- Will your marriage suffer as a result of this DIY project? If so, pay someone else to do it. My husband and I really enjoy working together on projects. This is not always the case. Do you and your husband generally argue over the right way to do things? Will you blame each other if things cost more or take longer than you thought? Then maybe you are better off hiring it out. Even if it means waiting and saving up so you can afford to.
8- If you ask a friend or family member for help, here are some things to keep in mind. #1- Is your friend or family member a professional or are they just willing to help? If they are just willing to help out of the goodness of their heart, make sure they only help with things that don’t take a great deal of skill. Verify they are a professional if they claim to be. My sister-in-law hired a neighbor to hang her drywall. He said he was skilled in this area. He railroaded all her seams and she now has a crack all the way down her ceiling. And she paid him to do it. Both of these situations can damage your relationship, so do your best to avoid hiring a friend who isn’t really a professional or letting a generous friend help, but mess things up in the process.
#2- From our own experience, when a friend or family member asks for help and insists on paying you, you feel like you need to give them a discounted rate because they are a friend. But this is your livelihood, so you have to put your time into your full-paying projects first to keep food on the table, so you try to squeeze in your friend’s project after hours. But, because they are paying you, they feel like you should treat their project the same way you treat your full-paying project. This just causes bad feelings between the two of you because you feel like they don’t appreciate the good deal you are giving them and they feel like you are dragging your feet on their project.
So, we’ve decided when we help a friend or family member we will only do it for free, and if we honestly don’t have time, we will just tell them we don’t have time as much as we want to help them. That way they understand we can only work on their project when our paying jobs are done and they are more patient because they are not paying for our labor. As a general rule you have two options: Fast work at full price, or slow work that is cheap or free. Generally speaking, you just cannot expect to get fast, quality work for cheap or free. People still have to make a living while they are helping you.
The main goal is to come out on the other side of the project without any damage to your relationship. This will require some really good communication and patience on both sides to achieve. Keep this in mind before you ask a friend or family member for help.
9- Avoid endless trips to the home improvement store by making detailed lists of what you will need and buying a little more than you think you will need. Most home improvement stores make returns very easy, so get more and take back what you didn’t end up using. Have a specific location you keep receipts and bin for all items to be returned so it isn’t a nightmare at the end of the project to make the returns.
10- Beware of the escalation of renovation. What you may not realize is that when you remodel one thing, everything else will suddenly look much older. For instance, you may think- we will just re-tile the bathroom. But once that new tile is in, your vanity will look more dated and so will your door, and the paint could use a little touch-up, and on and on and on. Before you know it you are replacing the shower and moving plumbing lines. Things can get out of control really fast if you don’t set a budget and stick to it. And again, you might find yourself living in the projects because there is no money left to finish what you started. If the old mixed with the new is going to bug you, save up until you can do it all at once.
Hopefully these tips will help you survive your project and avoid the mistakes that can turn your remodel into a nightmare. Be smart about your DIY project and you will get the results you desire. Good luck!