DIY 101

Posted by: on Jul 7, 2013 | No Comments

Do you own a house? Chances are that you are constantly dealing with the disadvantages that come along with the advantages of home ownership – I’m talking about repair, maintenance and remodeling. Unfortunately houses don’t come along with manuals, and especially older homes have ailments that are sometimes difficult to diagnose and expensive to fix.

Ask the Expert is always good advice, but after your first few phone calls for an emergency AC repair or a plumbing problem, you already learned your lesson that contractors can be very expensive. Plus, you don’t always get what you pay for.

Do It Yourself – Can be the Answer to Your Problem

Construction of our new shower pan

Construction of our new shower pan

If you’re not completely left-handed and have some common sense at your command, you might decide to tackle the project yourself to save some money. Actually, depending on your project you can save a lot of money. Will you save time? Not likely – chances are that you’ll be working on your project after your bread-winning job in the evenings and over the weekends. My husband is early retired and remodeled our master bathroom last winter. Even with working on it every day – weekends included and working about 7/8 hours a day – it took him eight weeks to complete the job. I had my share of work to do too – and it took me the same eight weeks for wood staining and paint jobs.

I’ve put together some thoughts and ideas that may help you by guiding you through the ordeals of DIY mayhems.


Before you even think about getting a gallon of paint and a paint brush, be honest to yourself and rate your handiwork capabilities. If you already have some DIY experience and completed minor projects to your satisfaction you might have a good foundation to take it from there. If, on the other hand, you never had a paint brush in your hand, that “simple” task of painting the kitchen can be a major challenge.

Are You on the Same Page?

If you’re a couple and work on this together – make sure your communication works! Give the planning a lot of time to make sure that you both are talking about the same things. Nothing is more frustrating than assuming the partner has the same taste or the same working techniques than oneself. Keep in mind: Research suggests that a major remodel is the Achilles’ heel of every relationship.

Are You Patient?

As I mentioned before, DIY home improvement can save money, but you pay for it with a steep increase of time to finish your project. Not only don’t you do this every day, hence you’re not working as fast as a pro. Most likely you also need learning time – you need to educate yourself about the materials you’re working with and which techniques to use. In the meantime you live more or less in a self-induced chaos in some or all parts of your house that may include not finding necessary items because everything is packed up in boxes or getting a cleaning hysteria because no matter what you do, the fine dust that comes along gets everywhere.

Do Your Research

My husband and I have done several DIY projects in the past including a new patio with a new pergola, a major kitchen overhaul, an extension of the house to create more storage room and better access to other rooms of the house, and a complete new master bathroom. We’ve always taken a good amount of time to research what was involved and how to accomplish our goal.

HGTV maintains a good Web site I recommend to get some design ideas. Another good resource is the Web site of This Old HouseYouTube is a valuable resource that hosts innumerable how-to videos.

Because of our research there were also some projects that never made it, like a second sitting area in the garden, a pond in our garden or adding a small bathroom in the garage. After long hours of research and soul-searching we decided that a second sitting area would be too overwhelming. We dropped the idea of a pond because of the amount of work that was involved and the difficulties to handle a pond during hot Texas summer. We now have a lovely fountain that fits perfectly with our style of the patio. The small bathroom wasn’t necessary any more because with the extension we added, we gained immediate access to the master bathroom coming from the garden.

Ask the Experts

No, don’t call the next best contractor. But chances are that you know somebody who has worked on one or more projects and is willing to share their experience. My boss for example does a lot of DIY and I got some valuable advice from her about all sorts of things – from wood staining to tiling, to color matching and how to re-upholster a dining room chair. Our neighbor who also happened to sell us the tiles for the new bathroom, was very generous with his advice about the tiling specifically, but also about related subjects in general, for example how to build the new shower or what building materials to use. We even could borrow his wet-saw for a while. The rental fee was two bottles of wine and some homemade marmalade and salsa he didn’t expect but never the less appreciated. Also, the staff at Lowe’s is quite knowledgeable and helpful.

And Experts Again

If you really need an expert to remodel or repair something either because the task at hand is way out of your capabilities or because you screwed up, then you will need a pro. I had some so-so experience with a match-making Web site like HomeAdvisors a few years ago. My best experiences however were with the contractors we got through Lowe’s.

Last not Least – Your Budget

Plan your budget for your project meticulously – from the most expensive item down to every screw. Don’t forget to include the tools you need because chances are you either have to buy or to rent them depending on the nature of the necessary equipment. When you have those numbers, let it sit for a little while and then double-check every item again to make sure you didn’t forget anything. Add 10-15% of this sum to cover your contingencies – for those tools and items you will forget to put on the list. For our last remodel we developed an Excel spreadsheet, which contained our budget and what we actually spent. It was a good learning experience. Inevitable we went over budget, but stayed within our contingency. We’re keeping our notes for our next bathroom remodel.

We’ll Be Doing it Again

The remodeling of our bathroom took us eight long weeks with boxes packed with bathroom items and building materials piled up in our master bedroom. We are completely happy with the outcome and managed to transform our old, worn out bathroom into a contemporary spa-like environment – a pro couldn’t have done it any better. Compared to estimates we got from contractors we were able to save about 2/3 of the cost. We stayed within the limits of our capabilities and could complete the remodel without any major setbacks. We’ll be doing it again. And FYI: we didn’t have one fight during this time 😉

Before and after of our shower in the master bathroom

Before and after of our shower in the master bathroom

Images by Tony Staszkiewicz

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