Design & Style, Made In The Prairies

Misadventures of the DIY renovation

Spring time is approaching and with it comes a sense of renewal, inspiration and ambition.  To many this means home renovation time. There are many aspects involved in sprucing up your home, from simply updating the paint colour to tearing out the kitchen cabinets and starting from scratch. But whatever is on your wishlist this coming spring there are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to tackle it yourself. 

1. Energy (or, when the excitement of learning a new skill degrades into wondering when you will ever have a free evening or weekend and you start using coping mechanisms like expensive wine to make the endless take-out meals taste better)

Life is busy, unless you have no friends, family, employment, kids, hobbies, or vices.  Would you rather spend your valuable summer at the beach/park/festivals/road trip, or instead annoying your deck-lounging mojito-sipping neighbors with your endless re-cutting of that same piece of lumber on your backyard ghetto table saw?

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2. Quality (or, ascertaining your ability to close your eyes or change all your hundred-watt light bulbs to forties)

We have all watched or at least heard of the reality tv shows that enable homeowners to spearhead their own renovations by putting the tools into their hands.  The allure is different for everyone but it most often boils down to two very different reasons: the desire to create and the desire to save.  Those two things however, are not mutually exclusive.

There are a lot of tasks that are seen as easy for the weekend warrior and therefore not worth paying a professional to complete. But like most things, they may be easy to do but are far from easy to do well.  Painting, drywall, and tile are most often lumped into this category.  As a professional contractor for the last decade, a large portion of residential renovations that I have completed involved tearing out the homeowner’s previous attempts are re-creating what they had seen on tv or in a magazine.

3. Cost (or, the moment you realize you could have picked up a second part-time job that simultaneously succeeds in home escapism and providing extra money to have someone else deal with your home and be done before 2021)

While there is money to be saved by taking on some of your home’s renovation responsibilities on your own, the benefits need to be weighed against the long-term costs of maintenance and resale.

diy guy

4. Warranty (or, not having to be the one who gets blamed for potential grievous errors that result in having to pay dearly in pride and cash for someone else to come fix it)

Peace of mind is priceless.  While the initial capital cost of hiring an experienced renovator may be higher, you can rest assured that if something goes wrong, you will have signed a contract (always sign a contract) that ensures warranty.  The warranty is especially important when plumbing, electrical, gas, and drywall are involved, which is most jobs that aren’t painting.   Your builder should provide a two-year warranty on workmanship.  Cabinetry should be minimum 10 years on product and installation.   A warranty also indicates that a contractor is confident in his or her ability to deliver a quality product and it’s not in their best interest to cut corners or use inferior products.

If you tackle putting tiles in your shower for the first time, and in three months they are falling off and mold has grown inside the walls, no one is coming back to fix it.  And you’ll end up having to pay for it twice in both materials and labour.

5. Scope (or, knowing where to stop before you’ve sacrificed your sanity, budget, and realized that maybe you should’ve just torn down your “charming” old home)

No matter the project, it is always very important to put some thought toward the future.  If you would like to give your bedroom a facelift, consider the following:  Will painting the walls achieve what I want? Do I want to change the flooring and if so, how far into the rest of the home do I take it? Will I also need to buy furniture? Is this a good opportunity to update the lighting?

The more thought you put into your long term plans the more prepared you will be to handle to work cost-effectively. Hiring a professional will allow you to discuss these options and help you to decide how much time and money you are willing to invest in your home.

In conclusion, know thyself.  If you are determined, learn things quickly and/or have experience, and are able to carve out a significant amount of free time (take your time estimate and double it), then doing your own renovation may be the right choice.

It also comes down to scope.  Sacrificing a weekend or two and living in self-administered chaos may be worth the money saved, and you might even enjoy getting your hands dirty.  Refinishing furniture, painting, installing wallpaper, wainscotting or trim, tiling a kitchen backsplash are all examples of challenging smaller projects that can give you a sense of satisfaction without all the liability of larger projects involving diverse trades and specialized skills.  A helpful thought experiment is to imagine the worst case scenario of doing it yourself.  Go there mentally.  If you decide that you are willing to undergo the risk of that reality, then by all means, roll up your sleeves.

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Adam Bumbolo is the co-founder of FIRESIDE DESIGN BUILD INC., a Winnipeg based full-service design build company with a focus on custom residential renovation:www.firesidedesign.ca