It’s tempting to want to save money and to launch into DIY renovations, with no experience whatsoever, when you wantto get the job done quick and ‘on the cheap’. However, there are a few things you should consider before you start, to make sure the job is done well and produces the results you want. A good renovation needs to add value to your home, not the opposite. You don’t necessarily need a lot of experience to DIY but you do need a lot of patience and a practical approach. Lack of experience can be easily made up for with good planning and a common-sense strategy. Run yourself through these 5 important steps first and get a good grasp of how easy it is to do DIY renos. Then you are ideally placed to make decisions about launching into DIY or calling in the professionals.
1. How much renovation experience do you need to DIY?
Watching every renovation show on TV, without even picking up a drill, does not count as experience. Having said that, experience always has a starting point and it’s easy to cultivate if you start small and realistic goals, allowing you to build up your skills and confidence for bigger projects down the track. When you know what kind of renovation you want to try first, start researching how that project should be done.
Read things online, watch videos online, and talk to the staff at your local hardware store about your project. Most of us know a tradesperson in some capacity, so ask around amongst friends and family for advice – finding someone who knows how to do it or has already done it is like striking gold. You can harvest tips from their experience and inform yourself before you start. Be realistic about what skills you currently have and what things you could learn relatively easily, to enable you to get the job done. If you struggle to change a light bulb or assemble an IKEA bookshelf, you may need to rethink your plans to install a whole new kitchen. DYR (Do you research) before you DIY (do it yourself)!
2. Start with the easiest project first
Before you launch into any project, it helps to know the basics, such as how to turn off water, gas and electricity at the mains. You should also be able to take accurate measurements of the project so that you get exactly the right sizes and volumes when you go to buy materials. If you know your way around a basic tool kit and have some small projects you can start with this is a good entry point for DIY renovations. But what are the easy DIY renovations? Many local hardware stores now run DIY classes on weekends and these can be a great entry point to see what projects they consider reasonable as DIY projects.
Jobs such as sanding floorboards can easily be tackled as DIY – you just need to know what to do and hire the right equipment. The same applies to laying a laminate timber floor, or ripping up old carpet. From changing light fittings, to updating fixtures such as taps, showerheads and toilets; retiling the kitchen or installing built in wardrobes. There are plenty of projects that give you the opportunity to try on DIY renovations for size and then understand what you realistically have the capacity for. Sanding back and painting window frames, skirting boards or cupboard doors is a simple and easy task to start with. It requires all the basics of renovation – working out what materials are needed and how much, discovering you didn’t get enough, preparing workspaces and surfaces, cleaning up afterwards and living with a little bit of chaos until the final reward is delivered. If this process ends up being too tedious, chaotic and/or stressful then you may need to leave that bathroom renovation to the professionals.
3. Be realistic about your budget and time
Many people choose DIY renovations because they think it will cost them less money, but if you’re bad it at, it may cost you way more than you had anticipated. Work out how much money you have available to spend and then make sensible decisions about how to maintain that budget. Using second hand or ‘found’ materials can be a great way to save money on materials, leaving you more in the budget to spend on a tradesperson for the important bits. It’s not just how much the job will cost you for materials though – you should place a value on your own time too. If you have to take time off work to do the renovations or pay a nanny to take care of the kids, are you really getting the best value out of your budget and the project?
A good starting point is to get a few quotes from tradespeople. This will not only give you a sense of how much the job will cost to be done professionally, it will also show you how much money you’ll save if you DIY. Compare their quotes with your own estimates and don’t decide based on which is cheaper, decide which is the better investment – their time and skill or yours. If the difference is just a couple of thousand dollars, is it really worth it to DIY when you can get the whole thing professionally done? Or does that extra money represent the entire budget for the next stage of your, renovation project?
4. Be realistic about how much expertise you need
Amateur plumbing is not for the faint hearted and becoming a DIY electrician is a fool’s game. Trying to do the job of a professional without the appropriate skills or experience can result in you needing to call one in anyway, to fix your mistakes. Professional tradespeople will know what permits and permissions you need, how to make sure a job is done to code, and they usually have good contacts to call on if something unexpected goes wrong.
Getting quotes from professionals not only gives you a sense of the costs involved; it’s also a great way to understand exactly what the job will entail. In quoting the job, the tradesperson can run you through the work they would do, giving you a more realistic perspective than the 10 YouTube videos from other home handymen that you watched. It may be that you then take on the role of ripping the old bathroom/kitchen/laundry/wardrobes out, to save you on labour costs, then paying the professional to install the new version. It’s often true that labour is often the most expensive component of a renovation, but it’s important to make good decisions about where you want to invest your hard earned cash. Is it better to pay a tradesperson a fortune now, to finish it ASAP, or to lose your marriage over a renovation you spread out over 10 years because you’re not good at finishing things?
5. Don’t plan to fail by failing to plan.
Renovation planning should be taken seriously. There are usually two main reasons people renovate – to improve their living environment for themselves either for size or comfort, or to add value to their home. Understand why you want to do the renovation and then outline clearly what you want to do and how, then set realistic time frames for when the project will be completed. Don’t be that person who is still working on their reno ten years later! Be realistic about your skills and make distinctions between ‘I can do that’ and ‘I’ll give it a try’. If you struggle to change the batteries in the smoke alarms once a year, then custom building a whole kitchen may be a little outside of your skill set.
Measure everything, make notes, and sketch out exactly what you want to do before you get expert opinions – from your local hardware store, from a friend who has DIY experience, or from a tradesman. Don’t make tearing down a load bearing wall the first thing you do in your DIY renovation project. Not only will it be disastrous for the renovation you planned – but you may not survive the experience!