If there is one thing I have learned over the last ten months of being a new homeowner it’s how to tackle changing a home while still living in it. Living through a reno, now there is a feat in itself. I’ll tell you this though: no matter how you take on a reno it’s nothing like you see on TV. It will never be as easy, as cheap, or as wonderfully showcased (if you have doubts about the last just Google search the truth about staging).
My reno began before I bought the house. Every house I looked at as a potential new home was judged on how well I could live in the space as it stood. It was critiqued on where my material objects would fit. and lastly it was looked at for potential changes to make it my home.
I found a little place just on the edge of town. When I look out the back windows it feels like my house is in the woods. A hill down my backyard to a creek (river) with a hill up the other side. A cemetery behind the bank of trees means I’ll never have to look across at other houses.
My backyard is a little piece of paradise – in my mind.
But inside it wasn’t perfect. It was nice but it needs some improvements. The most glaring issue was it was stuck in the 1980s. It was build then and still had the original fixtures and decor. Hard to believe the taps were the same my parents put into the house when they built in the ’80s. The house still had the terrible pink carpet – much like my childhood bedroom.
My mother had read that the first thing you should always do is remove the carpet from an older home. Basically, you never know what is lurking in the threads of the flooring. So, my parents who helped me move in my belongings over a weekend spent a day pulling up every piece of pink carpet in my house. And let me just say it was everywhere.
What this left me with was no covering on the cement floor of the basement. No covering of the floor in sections of the main floor. And absolutely no carpet (and no surprise hardwood) on the subfloor of the second story.
I was now faced with the daunting question of what to do to make this house my home. Thankfully, I was not disillusioned by the idea that I could do the work in 7 days.
Here are some things I learned while undertaking the change of my home (I’m not yet finished).
1. Start small
I highly recommend working on one room at a time. It’s like in the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. Take one room at a time and make it your own. Lovingly take your time and let the details of the room shine through.
At the same time do take time to think about the walls and spaces. Sometimes a wall extends into other spaces and needs to be changed in connection with the first room.
Starting small might also mean: clean the space from head to toe; or, replace lighting or plumbing fixtures; or, paint the walls. Starting small might mean simply changing an unsightly color on the walls, you simply can’t live with. Many people would recommend living in a space for at least a month (most suggest longer) before you decide to cut into walls. Sometimes you need to be in a house to decide what would be helpful before you make changes.
You might want to build a wall inset for spices. But where is the best places for it? Figuring out where spices are the handiest and most convenient can save you disaster later. Buy a hanging rack and try it in different places. You might find you like the hanging mount more than an inset. You might find a surprise location.
2. Be prepared for the unknown
This should come as no surprise, but it still catches many a renovator by surprise. Often the best laid plans can be derailed once you start to renovate. Be ready to make adjustments as you go along.
Take the spice rack story from the previous point. What happens when you open the wall and discover this area is the air return for the upstairs bedroom? You have to either live with no air movement until you can change it later in your renovation. Or you have to close up the wall and start again.
Any renovator will tell you, once you start opening walls you can find just about anything. Old wiring that needs replacing. Crazy wiring that makes no sense. Hidden junctions in the wiring. Pipes that go up and across the ceiling instead of down across the floor. Pipes where you would expect. Floor joists that go in multiple directions. Joists hung without any support brackets.
Don’t be surprised if once you get by all the stuff in the wall, that you find the ‘perfect’ paint color isn’t so great on the wall. Even with all the samplers and computer apps, often paint will change it’s color appearance based on lighting and room size. So try your best to prepare with color samplers. Many paint stores can provide you with a small container of paint (less than $5). These small cans also you to paint a good size swatch, and many in areas throughout the space.
3. Plan ahead
A thought/idea board is a great idea. Find pictures of rooms you like. Put the biggest color swatches of paint. Get a small sample of tiles, carpet, hardwood to coordinate everything. Make sure it suits your current furniture or the furniture you intend to purchase. Find the decorative pieces you like. Choose lighting that catches your eye.
Planning ahead can reduce the amount of material you buy. It can also allow you to find sales and purchase the items you like without paying full amount.
There is no harm in getting an interior designers help too. If you aren’t a person who can see the vision of the room, a designer will ask you about your desires and match this with a design. You are not locked into the design. You can make changes after you see it.
Just make those changes before you order the material. It is difficult to decide to get different counter height or a pantry after everything is already on route to your new house.
It is just as important to decide whether you are going to do this by yourself or hire a professional to renovate your space.
4. Get help for things you don’t know
If you decide to renovate on your own, don’t be afraid to call in favors. Find friends and family that have experience with electrical and bring them onboard. Either get them to do the work – cheaply, or have them on speed dial so when something goes awry a quick call can put you back on track.
These days you can also find a lot of information on the Internet. YouTube videos are very informative. Watch at minimum 3 to get a good perspective on the different possibilities. Also, keep in mind, multiple videos will let you weed out the impossible or the misinformation.
I made calls home a lot. My dad was an electrician in his younger days. I made calls multiple times as I switched outlets and couldn’t get them to work – especially the GFI and 3-ways. Knowing people who can be your experts as you work is really a great way to save money on a reno.
5. Clean lots
Especially, when you are doing the work yourself, be prepared to clean up every day. Depending on what you choose to do it will likely take multiple days. And if you are living through the reno it means you are also still using the space you’re working in. This means you will take everything out to work, then put it all away and clean up.
I ended up having to rework 90% of the first floor of my house. After moving furniture in and out of my kitchen for days, I finally decided to move most of the furniture to the basement. But that only saved me time of moving all the stuff. I still had to vacuum more than I normally would. Getting rid of the dust was a long battle.
You need to plan into your reno time the clean-up time. If you plan on working for a couple hours every night, then make sure you have at least 30 minutes to move furniture, vacuum/dust, wash tools, etc.
No matter what you decide keep one thing in mind. It might not be perfect but it will suit your tastes. Mostly, remember to be proud because you did the reno. Many people move into houses with the intention of making changes and move out some years later having done nothing to make the space new.
It took me four months to reno my first floor. I still have a few details that need fixing. My powder room definitely need to be updated. I have some of the things I need – stripper to remove the wood stain and the new lighting fixture. But I’ve decided to start a few other small projects
First on my summer project list is remove the popcorn ceiling texture from the second floor. Second, I’m in the midst of collecting pallets and getting the wooden boards ready for a cheap alternative to hardwood flooring. These are definitely projects for rainy days, or at least cool days throughout the summer.