Yes, it's true that my hiatus started with a very nice trip to visit a brother who lives in Ecuador. That was a fun trip full of spectacular vistas and great times. It was so wonderful to see him and the absolutely beautiful country he and his wife call home.
But that vacation was immediately followed by a family member’s major surgery and unexpectedly prolonged recovery time that called for my time and energy tending to her needs and those of her farm animals and garden.
Not for the first time, I was exceedingly grateful that my work allows me the time off I needed to be available to her. I was so glad to be able to help.
Then, after her recovery, I returned home and right away plunged into some long-planned renovations that we decided to finally tackle this summer.
This particular project was fairly straightforward and involved knocking out a wall between two tiny rooms to make a larger, more functional bedroom. A good deal of work, to be sure, but a DIY project that can usually be done within a reasonable time frame and budget.
As it was.
The Problem with Renovations
But here’s something that is seldom, if ever, discussed about renovations carried out on one part of your house.
And it's this: that newly pristine living space you just worked so hard to create always makes the other, non-renovated sections of the house look dingy, dirty, and dated by contrast.
Which is exactly what happened in this case.
So that led me to start on those rooms as well. Ultimately, I ended up emptying, repairing, cleaning, and painting every room on our second floor, plus both floor hallways and the stairs.
It was no small undertaking, let me tell you. It had been a good 24 years since any of it had been done, and that was 24 years of full living with 4 teenage boys growing up in the house.
It took weeks and plenty of heavy lifting and moving, elbow grease, joint compound, sandpaper, and paint. I just finished yesterday, finally. But I have to say that I am delighted with the results.
It’s a wonderful feeling to walk into the boys’ old bedrooms to see smooth, freshly painted walls, and clean, fresh, clutter-free guest spaces.
They're much more welcoming now, I’d like to think.
Now, it had been some time since I’d undertaken any kind of large scale renovation or painting project, so it took me a bit of time to get myself organized and up to speed on this one.
Doing renovations is not like riding a bike. You do forget the steps and procedures. So, I ended up making some mistakes that cost me time and effort.
And it occurred to me that a blog post was in order to offer some pointers to anyone starting out on their own DIY project so they can avoid some of those missteps or just be better prepared for starting this kind of thing.
So here it is. These are my pointers for getting yourself organized for do-it-yourself projects. I hope you find them helpful.
There are so many resources out there to help you learn how to do just about anything, the materials needed, and the steps involved.
I particularly like The Family Handyman website. It’s a mother lode of very useful information and truly helpful hints.
YouTube is also a gold mine of DIY videos that show you the process and steps.
Your local hardware store can be a source of great advice, too. We are fortunate enough to still have a very good, independent one in our neighborhood, as well as a True Value and Ace Hardware within easy driving distance.
They will give you pointers on what you’ll need to get a job done.
And, of course, the big box home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot also often have very helpful employees.
The important thing is to make use of available resources to figure out before you start the project what you need to do and what materials, tools and supplies are required to get the job done.
I cannot stress this step enough. You will save yourself a huge amount of frustration and wasted time if you take this step seriously. There’s a reason that logistics engineers are hired by the military, and degrees in the subject are conferred at major universities.
Having what you need when you need it and where you need it is an absolutely crucial part of getting a job done in a smooth and timely manner.
There are few things more aggravating than, say, thinking you’re all ready for a painting project, only to discover you don’t have enough drop cloths, for example.
Or being deep in a painting project, only to realize you’re going to run out of paint halfway across the wall you’re rolling because you didn't buy enough. Or that you needed 2 paint rollers and not just one because you’re working with 2 different colors for different walls.
Or to run out of dry wall screws when you have only 2 more pieces of wallboard to install.
Trust me when I say that it’s draining and enormously time wasting to have to stop everything, perhaps have to remove shoes and clothing (if you’re working in a particularly dusty or dirty area and don’t want to track through the house) to run to the basement, workshop, or – worse – the store to get what you need.
So do yourself a favor and write lists of everything you need before you start, and make sure you have all of it on site.
You’ll be very glad you did.
Honestly, I cannot recommend this strongly enough. It will pay for itself many, many, many times over, both in time and effort saved, and for the excellent job it does that a regular vacuum or broom never could.
We have had our Sears Craftsman one for more than 20 years, and it’s still going strong.
We use it all the time, and not just for renovations. It’s also great for cleaning the basement or garage.
With its 16 gallon capacity, 6.0 horsepower motor and big hose, it’s got tremendous suction and will take care of dust and construction debris that would defeat a little household vacuum, or a less powerful shop vac.
As awkward as it is to pull around, it’s a work horse that’s really worth having and well worth the $80-$100 investment.
It's definitely true that we could never have done all the projects we have over the years without this tool. It's truly indispensable.
Just be sure to wear ear protection when you use it, because it is very noisy.
This garment is yet another item I consider essential. I keep my over-sized and completely paint-spattered overalls hanging in the basement next to my paint shelves.
That way, they are handy, and I can slip them right on over whatever I’m wearing to do a quick job when I have a few minutes of time, but not enough to get changed into my usual grubby work clothes and completely involved in the project.
Having the overalls or coveralls will allow you to make use of even short bits of free moments to touch up a paint job, or lightly sand recently installed wallboard, or apply a second coat of varnish to a piece of furniture you’re refinishing, etc., etc.
Put them on, take care of the small task you want to do, take them off again, and you’re ready to go pick up the kids from their music lesson or track practice. Or do errands. Or cook dinner.
They will also save you money by keeping you from ruining many a piece of very nice clothing.
Because let me confess right here that my own painter’s clothes, work shirts, and pants that I keep hung on a special hook in a corner of my closet did NOT start out that way.
I never actually intended for them to become work clothes at all.
No, they all started out as “regular” street or work clothes that I managed to ruin by picking up a paintbrush or other tool to do “just a bit of work”, and then getting paint on them or oil, or tearing them, etc. in the process.
It happens Every. Darned. Time. Regardless of how careful I try to be.
Overalls allow you to take advantage of every possible working moment, while preventing these little mishaps. They are a very worthwhile cost and time-saving investment.
Trust me on this.
Beyond making sure you have everything you need on site, you also need to know where to find them while you're working on the project.
It will save a lot of time for you if you can locate a particular tool easily when you need it. So it’s important to know where your tools are at all times.
Find an area of your work space where you keep everything you need in one place. Organize tools by type (screwdrivers together, hammers together, saws together, etc.) so that they’re easy to pick out among the rest.
You’ll still misplace stuff, believe me, but with some kind of system, you’re less likely to drive yourself crazy looking for things when you want to use them.
It's quite maddening when that happens - yes, I speak from experience - so do yourself a favor and keep everything in one place.
You will save yourself aggravation and effort overall if you do all the necessary pre-preparation for whatever project you’re undertaking.
For example, if you’re painting a room, you will need to lay protective coverings over the floor before you begin.
You’ll also have to move and/or cover furniture, remove any outlet covers, light fixtures, tape off woodwork, and anything that is not to be painted, etc.
And you'll have to clean, repair, sand, and prep the walls and woodwork before you even pick up a paintbrush or paint roller.
Doing it right before you pick up a brush can streamline the entire process and save you a great deal of time in the long run.
If you’re changing a toilet, you’ll most definitely want to empty all the water beforehand and make sure you have plenty of rags and buckets on hand to do that.
If you’re installing wallboard in an older home you’re renovating, you will probably have to shim at least a few wall studs to make certain that the new boards will have a level surface to support them.
Getting that kind of detail taken care of before you start handling very heavy pieces of wallboard is a back and time saver.
Prep work can all seem very tedious at times, but it is an essential step to ensuring a smoother, more efficient job, and the best, most long-lasting results.
Skipping it can actually end up costing you more time and effort down the line.
Living on a renovation or construction site is not easy. So it’s important to recognize that there will be chaos, and to try to figure out beforehand any ways to mitigate its effects, or to work around it.
I cannot speak for other families and renovators, but in our case we never completed a total room renovation in less than 3 weeks. That’s working on it every day part-time during the week whenever we could find some time, and pretty much 12-16 hour days on the weekends.
Even for a relatively simple task like repainting walls, I find that by the time I do all the prep work and move all the furniture and get everything put back together again, it takes a good 10 days.
That can seem like an eternity if the room is in the middle of your home.
I advise trying to keep the work area of the house as isolated as possible. Close doors or hang plastic to minimize the spread of dust and dirt.
Avoid tracking into the living areas of the house by changing your shoes when you leave the work area. Or wear shoe covers and remove them.
If you have small children, the situation is made much, much harder. I recommend trying to have an area where they can play, well away from the construction site.
When we did our whole house renovation as DIYers, the best thing we ever did, and something I wish we’d done way sooner, was setting up a playroom in the basement. It was a safe, toxin-, dust- and debris-free room where our 4 boys -- and their playmates - could play to their hearts’ content.
Having that play area meant I wasn’t a nervous wreck worrying about them stepping on a nail, or coming into contact with lead paint dust, or with paint stripper, or with any other hazard that's common in a construction zone.
Beyond these suggestions, I recommend simply resigning yourself to the reality of the situation, rolling with it as much as possible, and focusing on the fact that it’s a temporary situation, and the end result will be worth it.
Deep breaths and frequent reminders that "this, too, shall pass" help a lot.
This is essential for any renovation project . Adequate lighting will help enormously to make sure you are achieving the results you want, such as a smooth, even surface when painting or staining, and when you’re doing new wallboard.
You want to avoid the dismay and disappointment of seeing some of your finished work for the first time in a bright light that reveals unevenness in the prep work and finishes that you didn’t see when you were doing the work.
It will bother you always and ever after, I can guarantee it. I speak from experience on this.
You want to avoid shadows or dim light when you’re working. The best is direct sunlight or daylight. Indirect light through windows is not nearly good enough.
Use work floodlights directed at the wall or work area to create the light you need. Or use a couple of lamps with their shades removed and positioned around the room and up on tables to cast a good strong light.
And if you’re doing close work, such as electrical or plumbing, particularly under the sink, I recommend an inexpensive camping headlamp.
That keeps your hands free, while directing light exactly where you need it.
Whenever we’ve hired workmen – which has not been very often - I’ve been astonished at the ones that leave the job site a mess at the end of the day.
That’s not a recipe for success or for keeping a homeowner happy.
Good work habits dictate cleaning the site at the end of every day. This serves three purposes.
First, it will help you stay organized by making sure that all tools are where they need to be for the next day.
It’s all too easy to lose tools in among the debris and material of a renovation or the drop cloths of a room painting. Daily clean up gets them back where they belong and ready to use.
Second, it keeps the work space safe, and minimizes the dust and debris.
Vacuuming (with that wonderful shop vac) and/or sweeping and cleaning at the end of each day gets rid of dangerous things such as nails and screws, and drastically reduces the risk of tracking dust and dirt from the construction zone into other areas of the living space.
And third, it provides you a much needed psychological boost to restore some semblance of tidiness and order to the chaos that is part and parcel of any household project.
That cannot be underestimated, particularly if it’s a big, ongoing project that is going to take weeks.
Anything you can do to lower the stress level is a good thing, and this is one step that will definitely help.
This is hardly a comprehensive list, but I hope it's helpful.
Good luck with your DIY efforts. Happy home improvement!