Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Renovation Realities on DIY

Renovation Realities on DIY is a great show for aspiring DIYers considering a home project. (But also entertaining for viewers like me with a few projects under their belt.)  It's the reality-based renovation adventure of at least two people.  They're not professionals.  They're a lot of husband/wife teams, pairs of friends, or couples.  It's at least one person with a renovation dream and a willing helper whose along for the ride.  Sometimes the full team is jazzed about the project, but in the shows I've seen, one person really wants to be there and the other is somewhat cooperative, but more lukewarm about the mission. 

Renovation Realities makes me laugh because the producers add sarcastic comments in the form of text like; They wouldn't be doing that wrong if they watched DIY or They'd know how to do this task if they logged onto DIY.com, etc.  I don't laugh at the rotating crop of hammer swingers routinely making their projects harder than they need to be.  I feel like I'm laughing with them because I've made most of their mistakes myself.  Repeatedly cutting the stair stringers wrong.  Been there, more than once.  Burning up half a day on a single kitchen cabinet...installing it and removing it multiple times to get it right.  I know how that feels too.  Having lumber bash me in the head during demolition.  Yep.  Mistakes with drywall, guesswork with the electrical work, plumbing chaos, new tool incomprehension, and on and on.  I've done them all.  I think I've been on the wrong end of over 90% of the goofy things the folks do in each thirty minute episode of RR.  I wish I could tell them that.  Sometimes the people look so disappointed with themselves (and each other).  They really need someone to let them know that everyone makes the same missteps, we're just not all in front of a working camera like them.  They're really not knuckleheads, they just don't know what they're doing because they've never done it.  That's how we all learn.  (see Vinny Had the Right Attitude.)

At the beginning of Renovation Realities, they always share the predicted cost and schedule.  As I keep saying, they always do a lot of things wrong and I've never seen them finish on time.  That's no surprise because most of what they show us is the problems and keystone cop moments.  However, they usually get things done under budget or close to it, and this impresses (and surprises) me since there's so much confusion with the hands-on stuff.  Nevertheless, if they asked, I'd still give them my advice about doubling their estimated time and budget before they start (see Attention First-Timers).  That would help them understand the value of easing up a little (see If Necessary, Just Slow Down) and maybe with a slower pace they'd do more things right the first time.  Then perhaps at the end, they'd be more willing to try again on another project instead of the often seen conclusion of: Renovating is hard and we're never doing it again.

When I was in college I played rugby.  It can be a rough sport at times.  For four years I told concerned friends and family, "It looks a lot worse than it is."  I think I'd give the same advice to would-be rehabbers watching Renovation Realities on the DIY network.  Home renovating is really not as hard as it looks on the show and it's a lot of fun.   

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Step 13 - Dig into the Foundation, Structural Work, and Roof

If I'm breaking down what I do and how I do it, the thirteenth step would address the trio of foundation, supporting structure, and the roof. (In no fixed order).  The foundation forms the base of any structure and it's construction is usually the first major component of a new building.  After this groundwork is in place, the structural framing usually goes up next, and then the roof is added up top.  However, there are exceptions to this.  For example, with many pole buildings, the framing is first, the roofing is second, and the concrete/foundation is after (and may even get placed following the installation of the siding, doors, windows and plumbing rough-in).  Think of extreme home renovating as another exception to the norm and remember that you don't necessarily have to tackle it in the order of: foundation first, framing second, and roof third.

The Fire House - Framing/roof came first.
For me the sequencing of these three has varied.  On The Fire House, I focused on the framing, then did the roof, and had no issues with the block or concrete work supporting the home.  The Hurricane House was the same; no foundation issues there either.

On The Cottage, the roof didn't leak and the shingles were in good shape.  So I started with the foundation work on this property before heading inside to move walls and redesign the interior.  On this project I didn't need to add a new roof until I was ready to sell a few years later.

The Bungalow was an example of a project that started with the roof.  When it rained, water came in everywhere.  There were buckets and large plastic containers under the leaks and for the first months of the project these had to be watched and dumped regularly.  On The Detached Garage at the Bungalow (which was a pole building), the slab and the original nine poles were fine, but everything else had to be redone.

The Duplex - The roof was the hot issue due to tenants
On The Duplex, the roof was the hot issue right away as well and was even more significant because I wanted and needed to keep the tenants dry.  (Leaks in the units would lead to unhappy tenants/vacant apartments and I needed that monthly rent to make this project work financially.)  

The Detached Garage at The Fire House was like two different projects that was taken on two distinct ways.  When I bought the property it was half storage and half carport.  The roof had no issues, so I closed in the open areas and then placed concrete after that to make it a two car garage.  However, after the oak tree next to it got struck by lightening and it burned down, I had to rebuild it from what was remaining, which was the concrete slab.

So, understand that every project is different, especially when the home has been condemned or forgotten.  There's no one way to bring it back to life, but you need to be ready to deal with the foundation, the structural framing, and the roof right away. 

The Duplex After - Same view as above
The Fire House After - Same view as above.

The Bungalow - Before.
The Bungalow - After
The Hurricane House - Before
The Hurr. House - After  (Slightly diff. angle)
The Det. Gar. at The Fire House was originally a carport.
The Det. Gar. at TFH after it burned down.
The Rebuilt DG at TFH that started w/ the slab that survived the fire.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bungalow

The Bungalow was part of a larger, three building renovation project that also included the Detached Garage (see The Detached Garage at The Bungalow) and a rental property next to it that we call the Duplex.  Although this 50 year old home had a countless list of pressing issues (some clear and obvious, but others hidden behind drywall), it had great potential.  It had four bedrooms, two closets, and one bathroom.  It also had a living room in the front and a large den in the back of the house (that I really believe had been originally added as an attached garage). 

The property held one beautiful live oak tree in the front yard and another in the back between the house and the Detached Garage.  These grand trees (and the oaks around the Duplex) created a canopy above the three structures that made it feel like you were inside even though you were outdoors.  The world above my dilapidated challenges was home to families of squirrels, bluejays, cardinals, and a pair of woodpeckers.

I have renovated properties that have been officially condemned.  This experience leads me to believe that The Bungalow would have qualified for the city's red tag if a code enforcer from the building department had come by for a visit.  The roof leaked, there were floors collapsing in more than one room, the heating and cooling system had been replaced by window units and space heaters, and the plumbing and electric were functional, but were hodge-podged through-out and not up to code.  

Along with the issues that would have made the home legally uninhabitable, there were other things that made the flow of foot traffic awkward and thrust the Bungalow into the Pig's Ear category.  It was a wreck.  Half the outside was painted blue and the other half was brown.  There was no uniformity with the doors, windows, or the interior and exterior trim.  It had two back doors, the fire place ate up too much valuable square footage in the den, and the chimney was falling away from the house in the back.  There were unfinished handy-man projects inside (drywall, painting, misc. carpentry) and there was trash, debris, and left-behind belongs by previous residents everywhere.  

I felt at home immediately.  There was no where to go but up.  I knew what to do and how to do it.  All I needed was time.

The Picture Window at The Bungalow

Subdividing The Bungalow and The Duplex

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Step 12 - Line Up Your Temporary Services

In renovating extremely run-down properties, I've trotted through the first twelve steps without electricity and by improvising on a water source.  However, you're going to need to have reliable temporary power and water and there are a few ways to make this happen.

If you can use utilities already servicing your home, that's the best option.  Even if you have to shut off certain areas, some access to electricity and water inside is better than none.  Just be safe and take precautions to make sure exposed pipes and wires can't be turned back on inadvertently.    

The second option is to borrow from the neighbors.  If you're fixing up the ugliest place on the block or the worst property in the neighborhood, it's a safe bet that the people living around you will be happy you're there to make things better.  And, they'll probably let you use water from their hose bib and maybe even run an extension cord from an exterior receptacle.  However, you don't want to wear out your welcome with the friendly folks near-by so I'd recommend you only tap into borrowed electricity short-term.  Using water from someone next door is a different matter because fees are comparatively nominal.  So if you can get it from the neighbors, do that, and then try to help with the water bill.  The thing is, water is basically a non-issue for most people and they'll probably wave you off.  If they casually dismiss your offer, remember them at holiday time or do something to show your appreciation because they'll have done you solid favor.

Option #3 is to put some temporary services in place so you're self-sufficient.  This may appeal to you so you don't feel like you owe any favors or you may need your own temp power and water for other reasons.  On most of my projects I've installed a temporary power pole.  This usually requires a permit and an inspection. (see Step 7 and Inspections).  Some towns will let you pull the permit and set the power pole (per their specifications) yourself, but other officials will require that you hire an electrician.  Something similar goes for temporary water, but this has been a rare issue for me on my rehabs.  If absolutely necessary, a plumber can help you in establishing a temporary water spigot, but as a rule I don't call out the plumbers until later in the project when I really need them.

And it's worth adding, that if you don't have water in the house, you'll need to consider having a port-a-potty on site.  This will be a month-to-month agreement and will be a necessary expense if/when you have contractors and tradespeople on site.

Friday, May 18, 2012


First off, as I've said before, renovating a house is an adventure and the worse off the home is, the more exciting and challenging the mission will be.  Keep this adventurous spirit in mind as you read on and remember that inspections are just part of it and anyone who renovates a house has to deal with them and the people who conduct them.

Inspections are as unpredictable as permits. (see Step 7).  The process has less variations than permitting, but each town is different, and also like the issuing of the permits the building officials occasionally change the inspection procedures.  So, like permits, be prepared for anything.

If you need temporary services like electricity and water you'll need inspections (after getting permits).  If you have water and power in working order already, then that won't need inspected.

Next, if you're adding on any square footage, you'll likely need to invite someone from the building department over to see how things look before you have concrete placed.  Usually they get out of their vehicle to count, measure, and review what's been done, but I've had drive-by foundation inspections before where authorization was granted by a honk of the horn and a friendly wave.  (This was a small town and is certainly not the norm.)

After the base is complete (in an addition), the carpentry work will also require a review by the inspector.  All this has to be done to code, but one inspector might tell you you've done a perfect job and then a fellow code enforcer may cruise through a few days later and tell you things aren't quite right yet and you have to make adjustments.  So, be ready. 

In some municipalities, they require a framing inspection if you move or add any walls during the renovation.  This review usually happens before you do the plumbing, electrical, and the HVAC work.  I prefer this inspection sequence because if they want a correction or change it's easier to make it happen before everything is roughed-in within the walls, floors, and ceilings. 

After this, the next inspection(s) will be for the plumbing, gas, electrical, and heating/cooling systems before insulation and drywall.  And, some cities will want to stop by for a second framing inspection before insulation. (and they may even want to review the insulation before you cover it with sheet rock.)

Next, you'll need final inspections after the plumber, electrician, and HVAC contractors have trimmed out their work.  Some places will do all these trades at one time and call it a 'Final Inspection', while others will do them individually and then maybe come back one last time to see everything done to perfection before the Certificate of Occupancy is handed over.

When you hire contractors and tradespeople to do work for you, have them call for their own inspections.  They know what's required and will likely have a working relationship with the building officials. Once their work has been approved, be ready to receive an invoice (and write a check).  

I'm probably making inspections sound worse than they are, but just understand that these officials have authority and you need their approval to keep going.  Also, inspectors are like the people issuing the permits and oftentimes feel the way they do things is the only way.  Fighting the inspector is always an option, but that will cost time and money and I'd recommend you avoid this battle if you can.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Step 11 - Make Adjustments to Your Floor Plan

Making a revision to your desired floor plan may not be necessary.  The need for Step 11 will be determined by how extensively you'd like to change the home, the issues you're addressing, and the complexity of what may have been discovered during the demolition phase.

As I mentioned before, I like to re-work the layout to make the shared living areas feel like one big open space by adding headers and columns.  Moving electrical and plumbing lines as well as the re-routing of HVAC duct-work has been a large part of each of my renovations.  

In some projects, a major gut job was required because the home was outdated and needed to be brought up to code.  In others, there was extensive fire damage, mold, or some other point of concern.  These are some of my own examples, but you may have other issues that you're better aware of after Step 10 (Demolition), challenges that might require some adjustments to the drawing you created in Step 6 - Sketch Out Your Floor Plan.

I mentioned in previous posts (and above) that plumbing, electrical, and gas lines may be discovered during the demolition phase (see Step 9 - Know Your Limitations).  All of these things can be relocated, but that does not mean you'll absolutely want to spend the time and money having them re-directed.  It might be a big change, a small modification, or something in between (like you need to rotate a closet 90 degrees or alter the size of a wall opening).  

The point is, that once you get finished demoing the walls, you have to be prepared to make adjustments to your plans.  At the beginning of The Bungalow renovation, I had a completely different plan than what I ended up with because the home was radically different structurally than what I had anticipated.  Although I was solid in my take on how one part of the house had been added, there were other additions that I understood more sufficiently after the demolition phase.  I had to install missing headers, totally change where the laundry room would be located, and move a bathroom to the other side of the house to accommodate structural members that had to remain unchanged.     

So, if you don't have to change your floor plan after the demolition phase, be glad and keep moving forward with your renovation plans.  However, if revisions are needed, don't be too surprised, and just remember the modified layout may leave you with a revised floor plan that you like better than what you ended up with after Step 6.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Extreme Renovating - Steps 1-10

I've never thought too much about how I go about renovating the properties I buy...except maybe when someone asks.  These run-down places have been condemned, abandoned, or forgotten.  Maybe that's why people feel inspired to ask, "How do you do what you do?"

Occasionally these visitors have shared their dream of buying a project home of their own.  They have clear enthusiasm on their faces and excitement in their voices.  They're curious, but it's more personal than that.  These people want to know how they can do what I do.

Below are the first ten steps I take as I renovate what we call a Pig's Ear: 

Step 1 - Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!
Take pictures before you pull your first weed or pick up a single piece of trash.

Step 3 - Batten Down the Hatches
Make the property secure.

Step 4 - Pull Out the Valuables
Divide what's been left behind by previous owners into two categories; useables and sellables.

Step 5 - Clean the House Out
Get rid of things inside the house that have no use or value.

Step 6 - Sketch Out the Floor Plan
Create an accurate, scaled drawing of the existing layout on graph paper.

Step 7 - Permits
Obtain any necessary, official authorization from local authorities to fix-up the home.

Step 8 - Redraw Your Floor Plan
Create a modified sketch on graph paper that shows how you want the house to look when your finished.

Step 9 - Know Your Limitations
Give yourself an honest evaluation.  Come to terms with what you know and what you can do yourself.

Step 10 - The Demolition Phase (Serious Fun)
Get the house ready for your changes by demoing walls.  Get debris and damaged material out of the house.

Your house may not be a Pig's Ear, but my advice will go a long way in helping you resurrect any property you buy into the home you imagine it can be.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nicole Curtis Going Non-Conventional on Rehab Addict

How do you place value on the whatever it takes attitude?  It sure goes a long way in new construction and maybe is a little more significant in construction renovation when things rarely go exactly as planned. 

Case in point:  Nicole Curtis solving her minor bathroom dilemma on The Terrors episode of Rehab Addict.  How did she keep moving forward when she needed a smaller water closet for Rachael and Adam's bathroom?  She traveled a few blocks home, yanked out her own smaller commode, and put it to use at R&A's home so she could stay on track.  I loved it.  This is what you have to be ready to do.  I'm not talking about given your bathroom fixtures to someone else, I'm talking about doing whatever it takes

Before I was working in residential construction renovating old homes, I worked on the commercial side of our industry.  Once, we were building a distribution center up in Northern Virginia.  It was a huge building, over eighteen acres under one roof.  At times I'd be thankful to hitch a ride on a golf cart to get me from the project's office trailer to a far off destination somewhere in the gigantic place.  Anyway, we had these over-sized fans to keep the building cool when it was finished and had to set them on their openings all over the roof.  They were heavy and we anticipated that a crane would be the ideal way to move them into place.  However, physics and basic leverage would prevent the traditional equipment from reaching the bulk of the openings in the roof because with the fans at the end of a crane boom, the weights and distances made this plan unfeasible.  So what did we do?  We hired a helicopter pilot to fly them into place and it all got done without a hiccup.      

So sometimes you have to be ready to go unorthodox or non-conventional.  I'm talking about out-of-the-box effectiveness you won't find in the handy-man guides (or construction management textbooks) at the bookstore.  It's an attitude that regardless of the challenges, things will move ahead and get done as needed some way and some how.  It may not happen as originally planned, but there's an understanding and commitment to finding another solution that's just as good or better.  This is part of renovating houses others don't want and another reason we're wild about Rehab Addict on DIY.

Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis on DIY  April 24, 2012

NC's Bathroom Redux on Rehab Addict  May 5, 2012 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Demolition Footnotes

Keep in mind that things you might be ready to discard during the demolition phase may still have value.  Know this as soon as you start ripping things out and try not to obliterate all the framing material.  Just like I'm not the type of contractor who's gung-ho about destroying an old house and building a completely new one in it's place, I also see no reason to throw away a stack of structurally sound 2x4's and then scoot off to the lumber yard to buy new ones.  It's a waste of time, money, gas, and trees.  You'll spend as much time pulling out nails as you will on the alternative; dragging it outside, driving back and forth to the store, shopping, and loading/unloading new material you'll have to haul back into the house.  So save wood you can reuse.  It makes sense, saves dollars, and yanking out those nails will be a good work-out for your biceps.    

Copper pipes and wiring, steel, and metal will generate quick cash at your local metal salvage yards so think twice about tossing them away also.  The value of these fluctuate depending on world markets and I've sometimes been surprised about what my salvaged scraps were worth.  Once, I stopped by the yard with some miscellaneous metal in the back of my truck expecting to get enough money to cover my lunch tab for a few days.  However, rates had spiked upward and when I checked out they gave me a payoff six times what I was expecting or enough cash to fill my truck up with gas on my next couple visits to the pump.  I couldn't believe it.  I was like, "What?! Really? Awesome! Thank you."  All I'd done was not throw the stuff out and went a few miles out of my way on the trip back to the house.   

A Bucket of Miscellaneous Copper - I'm not sure how much this will get me and I don't really care.  It's money and I'm not throwing it away or putting it next to the road for someone else.  And...it's better than sending it off to the landfill.  However, I'm keeping that metal bucket.  I've salvaged two of these, I like them, and I think it's the kind of thing our grandparents may have used to feed the farm animals.

And finally, you may not want your existing plumbing and electrical fixtures, but someone else might.  (Same goes for doors, cabinets, and some trim).  You can sell them yourself or at the least donate them to a charity-based building consignment house. (They're likely nearby even if you don't know about them and sometimes they'll come to you).  The donation might not necessarily put cash in your pocket, but they'll surely give you a receipt you can get credit for at tax time.  Plus, it's better to pass these usable things along to someone else rather than taking up space in your dumpster and then paying to have it hauled away to the landfill.
For more on salvaging and repurposing, see The Picture Window at the Bungalow and Step 4 - Pull Out the Valuables.

For more about using what you already have, see The Detached Garage at the Bungalow.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Step 10 - The Demolition Phase (Serious Fun)

The demolition phase is one of my favorites.  It's the moment when dark areas get reintroduced to natural light and the openness I'm after begins to feel more tangible.  If there's been a fire, it's always great to get smoke covered drywall and charred framing outside and into the dumpster.  If there's been a mold issue, that stinks too, and I want all that nastiness off site sooner than later.  As I described in Step 5 - Clean the House Out, removing the carpet helps rid the property of noticeable odors.  If getting rid of the floor coverings is the beginning of the end of foul smells in the house, then the demolition phase has the project heading down the final stretch as far as the issue of stank is concerned.

As I mentioned before (see Step 9 - Know Your Limitations) you need to exercise some restraint as you unload on the walls because of plumbing, electrical, and gas lines hidden within.  And as I also stated before, you don't want to get too carried away and take down a wall that's supporting the structure above you.  Also, make an effort to protect elements of the home that have significance and are worth protecting.  It's easy to overlook the value of old flooring when it's covered with a thick layer of dust, but give some consideration to covering the floors before you begin bombarding them with potentially damaging debris from eight or ten feet above.  This same advice goes for special cabinetry, fixtures, trim and anything else that's in danger of being damaged while you're demoing around it.  Haste makes waste and you don't want to find yourself tearing out items in your home that were valuable assets until you trashed them to uselessness.       

If you're dealing with a house that has been condemned as a result of some catastrophic event or a home that's been neglected and slowly deteriorated, than you have to get the rotten material out.  As a rule, you'll be demoing to the sound, solid stuff and then going a little further.  I'm not sure I can explain this as adequately as I'd like.  Each dilapidated house I've done has been markedly different, so they've each come with their own unique challenges regarding demolition (as well as everything else).  I love construction (building and remodeling) and when I found myself in the dentist's chair getting a filling, I realized that dealing with a cavity has similarities to dealing with rot and decay in an old, run-down home. (Stay with me.)  My last filling was back in the 90's, but I was asking so many questions about the procedure that the staff brought in a mini-camera and a television monitor for my benefit so I could watch.  I was totally into it and concluded that it was very much like construction, but just on a more finite scale.  Seriously.  The tooth man dealt with the cavity by getting rid of what was rotten, and as he explained (comparatively to what I wrote above), they went just a little bit past the point of all the decay to be certain they had removed all the bad part of my tooth.  Then, they started filling the crater in my molar back in with new/solid material.  It was white and looked almost like an unaltered tooth and you could hardly tell that I'd been such a bad brusher.  If you're dealing with a house with some rotten parts, think about my cavity story and go just a little past the rotten area, further into the salvageable parts of the structure, demo to that point, and get ready to rebuild from there. 

I think demolition is a really fun part of every project, but be careful, and don't hurt yourself (or someone else).

The Hurricane House before Demolition began - This is the rotten roof above the Master Bedroom. 
The Hurricane House After Demo. - Taken from where the old
M.Bdrm. was & where the new MB would be.
Hurr. Hse. - Looking from the kitchen, through both future baths,
to the back wall of the Master Bedroom. 

More on The Hurricane House

Demolition Footnotes  May 9, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

NC's Bathroom Redux on Rehab Addict

I've taken some of my own advice, kept an eye on the television schedule, and caught some more Rehab Addict on DIY.  I was able to see the Bathroom Redux episode this week and as I said before it's all really good stuff.  Nicole Curtis, the shows host, was working on her Harriet House which is an 1890 home that's now upper and lower apartments.  Along with a list of other demolition and renovation tasks, Curtis and her team demoed some walls to expose the interior so they can bring plumbing and electrical up to code, blew insulation within the cavities behind the laths on the perimeter walls, and trimmed out around a radiator (with a removable top).      

Nicole knows the value of the before/after pictures and video (see Step 1 - Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!) so we all get those looks of what they started with.  The bathroom at the beginning of the episode was jacked-up.  If you lived there and had to use the before bathroom, you'd really question the need of bathing everyday or you might buy a membership at the nearest YMCA and shower over there.  It wasn't the worst bathroom in history, but there may have been a few science experiments growing in there.  It was not good.

After they demoed the trim and framing funkiness around the claw foot tub (that was kind of wedged into a hard to use corner/nook type area), Curtis got to work.  She prepped and refinished the claws and underside of the tub, the tile team installed the chosen basket-weave pattern on the bathroom floor, and then the tile crew knocked out the subway tiles on the walls.

Afterwards, it was completely different...like a spa or some great bathroom you'd find in a Bed and Breakfast somewhere.  It was spot-on and it made you want to shut the door, fill the tub, and have a good soak after a long day.

I almost forgot to mention the exposed brick they discovered and revealed.  I missed how this turned out, but I will see it down the road because I'm watching the schedules even closer and looking forward to seeing how the Harriet House Duplex ends up when Nicole and her team are finished.

Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis on DIY  April 24, 2012

Nicole Curtis Going Non-Conventional on Rehab Addict  May 10, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

If Necessary, Just Slow Down

I have some family members that drive too fast.  Clearly, this is just my opinion and they say I drive too slow.  However, on a few occasions traveling with them in unfamiliar territory, with me serving as the 'co-pilot', riding shotgun, trying to confirm directions on my phone, or with a map...in these situations I've been heard saying, "If you don't know where you're going, slow down."  Doesn't that make sense?  It has for me when significant street signs were whizzing past us in a fuzzy blur.

How about a boating analogy?  Remember in the film On Golden Pond when Norman (played by Henry Fonda) and Billy Ray (Doug McKeon) were navigating the waters in the fishing boat?  In the heart of the lake they were at full throttle, but in the coves, they slowed down and were careful to watchfully maneuver through the rocks (or were they stumps?)

Home renovating can be approached understanding comparable advice about slowing down sometimes.  If you've done some activities before, like painting, then you know what your doing and can chug along a little more effortlessly.  You know how to prep before you paint, cut in corners and trim, clean brushes and equipment when you're done, etc.  However, if you're doing something for the first time, like installing kitchen cabinets, there's a good chance you need to drop down into first gear and proceed more slowly.  Doesn't that make sense?  You'll probably agree, but when folks get excited about transforming a house into something better and more impressive, it's easy to get caught up in that excitement and move forward in a way that can be counterproductive. 

Sometimes, depending on the severity of the issues of a home renovation project, it might be necessary to patiently and methodically work your way through some of your challenges.  You can speed through others (like hauling demolition debris to the dumpster), but with the sticky issues, be ready to ease off a little and when you're scheduling the workload for your evenings and weekends (perhaps scopes of work you've never necessarily done before) allow more than adequate time and proceed slowly and with caution until you know what you're doing and what you're up against.  However, when you start doing something you're comfortable or experienced with, hit the gas because you'll need the extra time for the work you've never done. 

Now, you may have a mishap like Norman and Billy Ray did in On Golden Pond, but it likely won't be a life-threatening situation like drowning.  As I've said before, these things will happen.  When they do just hang in there like the guys did in the movie, learn from your mistake, be grateful if you're rescued, and thankful when you're back on track.        

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

You Can Do It

I wrote in my preceding post (Step 9) that renovators working solo or as a team need to get a handle on their own capabilities before banging away at the walls.  Although I believed that it had to be included as the next step on my list, I also felt conflicted about posting it because I want to encourage people to renovate and writing about limitations feels like it's going against that attitude of encouragement.  I love resurrecting the run-down properties I buy and really want others to experience home renovating as I have.  My bottom line message is: You can do it.   
There's nothing wrong with getting a hand from friends (or hired help), but don't sell yourself short either.  What you're able to do is likely somewhere in between doing every task on the project and getting out of the way, watching all the action from a safe distance, and then writing checks.  Step 9 - Know Your Limitations is intended as a reminder of that.  

Most of you probably learned to ride a bicycle as kids, but you certainly have a few stories about spills you took as you learned to ride.  The first time I rode a two wheeler, I was clueless about the breaks and stopped when I rode into the side of our barn.  As you arrive at the down and dirty truths about what you're capable of as a do-it-yourselfer, you may have some wipe-outs. (see Vinny Had the Right Attitude).  Furthermore, you might find yourself in a jamb and maybe you'll have to call a professional to get you out of your predicament.  It's okay if that happens and just remember that it's part of the business of renovating your own house.   

If you have a home renovation dream of your own, go for it.  Just remember to be careful and exercise basic caution, discretion, and common sense.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Step 9 - Know Your Limitations

"Man's got to know his limitations."  Clint Eastwood muttered this advice in various ways several times during the film Magnum Force.  I'm a licensed general contractor and have an engineering degree, but you don't need to be a GC or an engineer to renovate an extremely run-down property and I've never been one to make home renovating seem more complicated or difficult than it actually is.  Still, with that said...men and women, you need to come to terms with your own level of expertise before you move on to Step 10 - Demolition.  Or as Dirty Harry put it, you've got to know your own limitations.   

As I've shared before, I've made plenty of mistakes as a home renovator.  (see Vinny Had the Right Attitude)  I've accidentally ripped loose plumbing that caused water to flood my project and I have been jolted to attention when I touched electrical wires that weren't supposed to be live.  I've fallen from more than a few ladders, been stitched up in the emergency room, and have had to spend time and money fixing things that were a result of my own over exuberance during the demolition phase.  So, if you consider those things, I may be the last person you should take this advice from, but I'll say it again in a different way: be mindful of what you can do and get help or advice if you need it.

Neither home renovating nor demolition are mindbogglingly complicated, but since the wiring, plumbing, and gas lines run through the walls, you have to give some thought to these partially hidden elements of the house before you start knocking into the wall with a sledge hammer.  In addition, you want to consider the load bearing walls that support the roof and floors above.  Don't be surprised when you have to do some additional research to get smarter on these topics and forget about being embarrassed to ask someone how to deal with these things if that's necessary.  I have my license, that associate's degree, and over a decade of experience working on condemned or abandoned homes.  I have taken on some really jacked-up properties and seen them through to completion.  However, I still don't have all the answers and need to get direction from time to time.  That's part of the adventure of renovating (see It's An Adventure.)  

So, know your limitations and get help if and when you need it.  You can hire contractors, tradesmen, engineers, and architects, but hold off on doing that until you've given yourself (or yourselves if you're working as a couple or team) an honest evaluation.  When that's done, grab that sledge, a crowbar, and some work gloves and get ready for Step 10 - The Demolition Phase (Serious Fun)