The Beginner’s Guide to Home Renovations

Renovating is fun, invigorating, exhausting, and expensive. It can also include stitches, burns, and electrical shocks if you don’t know what you’re doing. Make sure you have someone with the skills you don’t yet have before you start, and when in doubt, stop and call a professional.

Measure Everything Twice

No matter how old your house is, there won’t be many square corners. Measure everything twice. If you’re hanging a row of photos or a big mirror, use a level and create your own straight line in case your house isn’t quite square.

In every project, prep work is key. Hanging sheetrock is hard, but if the studs aren’t square, it’s impossible. Getting a nice smooth wallpaper is hard, but if the sheetrock is poorly finished, it’s impossible.

Take Lots of Notes and Pictures

After your measure, write things down. Make multiple lists and take photos of the items you want, the thing you need to replace, or the thing you need to match.

Additionally, if you’re around when walls get opened, make sure you take photos of where the electrical, water, and gas lines run. These will come in useful if you need to open that wall again.

Go Ahead and Salivate Over Tools

One of the most interesting things about renovating is that you’ll develop a favorite tool line. You’ll probably also wind up with a large collection of paint chips. Once you fall in love with a particular tile saw or your own metal cutting saw, you’ll find a project that requires it, so make room in the garage and the budget.

Then put in some time playing with your new gadget. Learn to use your jigsaw on a scrap of plywood. Practice with your new face shield and tile saw. Read the instructions twice, unplug the machine and look at how to adjust the guard mechanism. New saws are nice, but they’ll cut whatever you put in front of them. Do your homework!

Start Small

Start by removing the wallpaper from one room. It may be simple because the wall was properly sized, or it could be a nightmare because the paper was put over bare sheetrock. Until you start, you’ll never know. Start small and work in one room at a time to avoid having a constantly disrupted, messy house.

Make sure you use masking materials to the best effect. For example, if you’re skim coating a rough wall

  • take everything off the walls
  • move all furniture to the center out if possible and to the center of the room if not
  • cover everything with plastic
  • make doorway covers and put down shoe cleaning rugs or sticky mats
  • tape off the bottom of the doorway on days you’re not accessing the room.
  • work quickly and try to leave the HVAC off for the duration of the project

Sheetrock dust is insidious and will get into every nook and cranny of your home. A newly skim-coated wall is a thing of beauty and you deserve it, but do your best to get it done and get it primed to keep the dust down.

Know Your Own Strength

Painting with a friend all weekend always looks fun, but if you work on a computer for a living, going to your job with sore hands is frustrating. Unless you have the time to do nothing but your renovation, be ready to live with some things until you have the time and the money to tackle them quickly. Painting the outside of your home can be done one side at a time if you have your own ladder, but the inside of your home can become unlivable if you have too many projects stretched out and making a big mess for a long time.

Finally, do your best to get flooring projects done before you move in. If you need a new carpet once you move in, send your furniture out to be cleaned or reupholstered while the carpet gets replaced. Consider hiring someone and going away for the weekend. Walls can be disruptive and ceilings can be messy, but not being able to use your floor is frustrating.

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