DIY Story

Riverbend Home Renovation Interview Series: Experiences, Advice and Tips from Everyday People Volume 3

Read some helpful advice for DIY renovation from real home owners.

Read some helpful advice for DIY renovation from real home owners.

About Our Renovator: DIYer, Empty-Nester, and Grandpa - MA, 55-65

“We decided to do 20 years of major maintenance all at once!”

First, let me give you some background about our home. Our house was built in 1963 (now 53 years old). We have owned it for almost 30 years. It is a pretty typical two-story, cedar-shingled New England home. We have been pretty frugal over the years and deferred most major maintenance projects. We have done almost all of the minor maintenance ourselves. This includes painting (inside and out), wallpaper, and most plumbing and electrical repairs.

Replacing exterior home wood shingles, adding insulation and vinyl siding.

Replacing exterior home wood shingles, adding insulation and vinyl siding.

We did hire contractors along the way to replace the driveway and two porches on the back of the house which were larger, more critical projects beyond our abilities.

Many factors conspired, leading to a major renovation project. The kids were finally out on their own and we wanted to replace our tired old house with a more maintenance-free home as we approached retirement. In short, we decided to do 20 years of major maintenance all at once.

What did you renovate?

It might be a shorter list to mention what we didn't renovate! On the outside, we replaced the roof, gutters, all of the old, drafty, wooden sash windows, doors, bulkhead and replaced the wood shingles with vinyl siding (completely replacing the old inadequate insulation at the same time). On the inside, we took both bathrooms back to the studs, removed the wall-to-wall carpeting on the first floor and refinished the hardwood floors underneath.

Post bathroom renovation with wainscoting, pedestal sink, Toto toilet and sliding glass shower doors.

Post bathroom renovation with wainscoting, pedestal sink, Toto toilet and sliding glass shower doors.

We replaced the furnace and added central air conditioning. We splurged on some luxuries like granite counters, under cabinet lighting, and heated floors in the kitchen.

How did you find the right contractor for your renovation?

We knew from the beginning that the most critical element for a project of this size, involving so many trades, was to find a capable, reputable contractor. We wanted to deal with one person and have one person responsible for the whole project.

I networked to find my contractor. The contractor we ultimately selected was referred to me by a commercial real estate developer that I had worked with and trusted. We sought out an experienced contractor whose primary business was residential renovations.

How did you start planning and preparing for such a large renovation project?

After we chose our contractor we worked with him to create a detailed budget and incorporate it into the contract detailing the scope and specifications. And I do mean – detailed. We spelled out everything we and the contractor could think of. We wanted there to be no question about what was included, what wasn't, and what it was going to cost.

Also, to make the project more bearable, we completely vacated the house for a couple of months, so that all of the work could be done efficiently and at once. The contractor didn't have to juggle to keep one of the bathrooms working, make sure there was always water and electricity available, or button up the windows at night.

How did you keep track of all the renovation details, choices, and decisions?

We tracked the details digitally. We used all of the typical applications: Excel spreadsheets to track costs, specifications and summarize the budget, Word documents for notes and contract details, Email to communicate with our contractor, and Windows Explorer to organize all of the pictures we collected (primarily of design and fixture choices). It was surprising how much we used pictures—to make design and fixture decisions, to show our contractor, and for our contractor to show us. We used our phone cameras and Google to search and capture and sift through all of the tile, flooring, plumbing fixtures, windows, vinyl siding, etc. choices we saw and liked.

What was the biggest unforeseen obstacle?

Of course we encountered many unexpected things on a project of this magnitude. For example, we had to upgrade our electric service from 100 amps to 200 amps to accommodate the central air conditioning. But we knew things like this would come up, because you can't anticipate everything. Because we did the hard work of planning out the details, there was no arguing with the contractor. If it wasn't in the original plan, it would cost extra.

Did you go over your renovation budget? If so, by how much?

There weren't really any unexpected budget overruns. We only ended up paying more when we intentionally added to the scope of the project.

If you could go back and give your pre-renovation self some advice, what would it be?

It is hard to appreciate all of the decisions you are called on to make on a project of this scope. There are hundreds of decisions to make (and that is just in one bathroom), and all of them require research and agreement. The decisions are complex and interrelated. Changing your mind on something such as tile in the bathroom likely impacts a host of other choices, sending you back to all of the stores with your new sample to match paint, grout, fixtures, etc. A renovation project is a lot of work even if you don't do the work!

It was a very expensive project, but our satisfaction with the outcome and the workmanship has produced no regrets. We couldn't be happier with the improvements we have made. We now have a virtually maintenance-free home that is quieter, warmer, (and cooler) with lovely bathrooms and an inviting kitchen.

Final thoughts?

Renovation today is good news and bad news. There is an unbelievable number of high quality, lovely, building materials, and fixture offerings out there. But the extravagant number of choices consumes an equally extravagant amount of time shopping and making final selections!