Home Renovation

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Many people do small renovations to their home, and feel comfortable doing so. But a lot of people are puzzled when it comes time for a slightly bigger repair. The same person who can repair a leaky toilet can replace the entire toilet. As a homeowner of a 19th century farmhouse, I know all about repairs and renovations. In this how-to guide, I will attempt to teach you what are good renovations and repairs that you can do by yourself. I will also tell you when it is best to call a professional contractor.

1) Recognize your renovation strengths and weaknesses. I decided that I wanted to do a renovation project involving my staircase. I was going to take down a wall, which would open up the staircase, and then construct a wall beneath the staircase so that it would be split in two from underneath. This would provide built-in storage underneath it in a dining room and a bedroom. I was comfortable demolishing the wall after learning that it was not a load-bearing wall. But as I started removing it, I discovered that there was intricate woodwork behind the wall. I took down the rest of the wall, and I’m in the process of refinishing the woodwork. I put up wrought iron ballusters to give it a Victorian look, and replaced several stairs. Because I did not want to destroy the woodwork, I scrapped plans to have storage on that side. While I was working on this project, I found out that many contractors will not work on stairs because of their difficulty. But I knew when I began that I could handle this renovation project. On the flip-side, I cannot do very much plumbing at all. I just don’t understand it, and it’s not something I am comfortable working on.

2) Do not try to force yourself to work on your home when your body can’t handle it. My mom recently took vacation time to work on painting her house. She worked all day long the first day of vacation. The second day, she was too fatigued to do a proper job, and she ended up falling 15 feet, headfirst onto her driveway. She will recover, but she is very lucky that she did not die. Painting your house is not something a lot of people consider dangerous. Many people consider it inconvenient to have to prepare their painting supplies and home, but not “dangerous”. And under normal circumstances, it isn’t. But it isn’t a renovation you should do when you are fatigued.

3) Don’t be afraid to learn new things. I had been worried about trying to learn minor electrical wiring, such as light switches or hanging a ceiling fan. I discovered that I was very good at these type repairs. Each time before I install a ceiling fan, I go through all of the necessary steps to make sure I am safe, and if I am installing a new light fixture, I always read the instructions, depsite knowing how to do it. It reassures me that I know how to do this repair safely.

4) Don’t get discouraged when things go wrong. My dad was renovating his basement when a door fell over and part of it caved in. He had planned to put a vent in the bottom, because it was a utility door, but the hole was in the top. I asked him why he couldn’t turn the door over. He was upset at first, and dismissed the idea. After an hour, he came to me and told me that I had a good idea. With his construction skills, he was able to turn the door upside down, and you would never know the difference. Also, on my stair renovation, I cut the handrail too short. It was only short by a tiny amount, but it doesn’t matter how short it is if it doesn’t meet the construction codes. So, we moved the newel at the bottom, and we constructed a decorative board at the top of the stairs. It ended up perfect, and gave the stairs a classier look. Just take some time, relax, and think of a way to fix the problem so it doesn’t derail your entire renovation. Sometimes you can’t, and you will need to purchase new materials, but at least you tried.

5) Renovate the right way. Do not hammer that screw into the wall because it won’t go any farther, no matter how frustrated you get. There is a reason it isn’t going in. Metal plates are commonly installed, and I believe required by certain construction codes, to make sure you don’t drill through your electrical wires.

6) Don’t even think about tackling the truly big renovation jobs. Without industrial machinery, you cannot install the driveway to your house. Or if you can, it won’t be cost effective. Same with replacing your home’s foundation. There are some things that are probably out of your reach. Save these jobs for a qualified contractor.

7) Do get construction permits. There is a reason you have to have a construction permit to do certain jobs, and it isn’t just so the government gets a little extra money. If you build a deck improperly, it could fall and injure someone. Or it could cause the house foundation to fail because the water is not running off properly. Get the construction permits, and if necessary, get help with the project from a contractor.

Some good repair and renovation projects for the average homeowner to tackle are interior painting, replacing a toilet, installing woodwork, or hanging wallpaper. And even with these projects, in certain circumstances, they may be too large for the homeowner to manage. If you can manage them, it brings a great sense of satisfaction. And take it from me- there is nothing as rewarding as demolishing a wall (as long as it isn’t supporting the weight of the entire house).

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