DIY Lessons Learned

corgimumNovember 11, 2012

This thread is for all of the DIY or partial DIYer's out there. Our cabinets went in on Thursday and I've been thinking about what I've learned so far. Hopefully this will help anyone who is earlier in the process. If you have already done your kitchen, please list the things that you learned, too.

1) Do not paint until the floors are in. Installers are not careful. If you paint the kitchen, expect to do a lot of touch-ups. (I have to repaint the hall and part of the kitchen.)

2) Measure, measure and measure again and remember that the crown molding sticks out from the upper cabinets. (Learned when my recessed lights hit the crown in two places.)

3) Hire out for the things that you do not do well. (For us is was drywall and hardwood floors.)

4) Do not assume that hiring out for part of the work is not in your budget. Get 3 estimates and then decide.

5) DIY is not for the faint of heart. Not only do you have to make the decisions, you have to act upon them.

6) Most things will take longer than you think they will. (I have spent 2 days measuring and cutting shelf/drawer liners. I am still not done. Also, our floors were a 2 day job that turned into five when we found out they needed to be sanded first.)

7) The dust is never ending. (This goes for all remodels.)

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donaleen

Here are some good things about DIY

1) you can stop and think about things if you need to.

2) the schedule is within your control.

3) you won't have to worry about miscommunication about what you meant.

4) you don't have to worry about someone else's carelessness.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 7:49PM
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corgimum

Good points Donaleen. I certainly don't regret DIY but hope this thread can keep someone from repeating my mistakes! I also thought of one more thing...

8) Order your sink early. I did not and now it's on backorder for two more weeks:( I ordered it on October 12th.) My goal of countertops by Christmas has been changed to New Year's.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 10:25PM
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mudworm

The personal lesson I learned, which I'm sure many of you disagree, is: Don't DIY if you could help it. (I'm not done yet, but it's almost too late to switch out of DIY.)

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 12:25AM
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donaleen

I think it's not the same for everybody so I wouldn't disagree. But for us, we find the work we do is more likely to turn out the way we want it. And we find it satisfying to do it ourselves. Which isn't to say we always agree or never argue.

We've been DIYing for ourselves for over 30 years. And my DH has built cabinets professionally.

We do hire out some things. It was a real treat to hire out the demolition on the last phase we did. And we do use electricians and plumbers but we decide what we want done and how want it done. We know how plumbing and electrical work needs to be done but neither of us is great at sweating pipes nor do we want to stick our hands in electrical panels.

I really do marvel at many of you who take on much bigger projects. That wouldn't be fun for me. That would be really stressful. We like to take our time with the decisions. We like to have the time figure out how we want it to be. Maybe we are just control freaks.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 12:56AM
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corgimum

To DIY or not definitely depends on how much you want to do yourself for whatever reason (cost, time, etc). We chose to do demo, electrical, minor plumbing and painting. We are paying to have cabinets built and installed, hardwood floors and countertops installed and drywall installed and finished. Money was saved but lessons were learned. Some which will cost a little more money(paint, broken light fixture).

I am impressed by those who have remodeled more than one kitchen. This is my first and hopefully my last. I am loving the outcome but getting too old to DIY again!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 1:26AM
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Lake_Girl

The good thing about DIY is if the results aren't perfect, atleast you didn't pay someone else "big bucks" to do it. It's hard to live with less than perfect results when you paid someone to do a prof. job. But if we ever build again, I have a feeling my husband will want to hire out as much as he can, because DIY is time consuming :)

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 7:19AM
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debrak_2008

DIY takes three times as long as you expect it to. Good thing is you can change your mind more along the way, bad news is you can change your mind more along the way.

I'm not sure I could ever hire anyone after hearing/seeing the bad quality of work that people have to deal with.

Communication can still be an issue even when its just the two of us.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 7:46AM
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Angie_DIY

As donaleen so aptly stated, a big advantage for me for DIY was having control of the process and the ability to take my time to make decisions.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 8:06AM
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carterkitchen

1. you can be plumber, electrician, framer, floorer, finish carpenter all in one day...try that with external trades :-)
2. the pace you work at (weekends, after work) dictates that you will have more time to make decisions and more latitude on what your choices are
3. you can take some of the labour money you saved and buy really nice appliances/tile/hardware etc.
4. you need to have an understanding partner becausse it will take alot of your time (12 hours tiling on Sunday)
5. subscribe to a good home magazine like Fine Home builders so that you do the work right (eg, exterior window flashing, tile backerboard) and with modern materials/techniques
6. you need to have the tools...even as a DIY, the tools you need are the same ones as the pros. There is a tool for every job and its darn hard to do it right without it. Some of the tools are really expensive - factor that in before you do the job...
7. ask youself honestly if you have the skills - especially in the finishing
8. sub out anything that you answer "no" to in question 7. I no longer do drywall mud/taping - I'm crap at it.
9. Some work is only by the pros - its just not available to a DIY to buy or install - My floor finish is like that - it is a specific, vendor product that I could not replicate, even if they would sell me the product.

  1. really know your 'code'. you can make dangerous errors if you mess up electrics, venting, plumbing, structural
  2. you need to do tonnes of research - especially for a kitchen - do you know how to do all of it?
  3. if not, do you have a reliable guy that can come in to fix or complete things? Many trades are not keen on doing small parts of jobs or fixing a DIY's errors.
  4. if you are the GC, can you be home when the trades you do need are working on your home?
  5. do you have a good source of contractor priced building products, not HD or Lowes but a real builders store - much cheaper and pro grade stuff, not retail.

I could go on but that's enough for now :-)
caspian

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 7:39PM
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suzanne_sl

Here's my one thing to pass on to future DIYers: When it's time to bring the cabinets into the kitchen, be sure you have enough muscle. The two of us managed all the uppers and lowers, but the two not-quite-8' tall cabinets were too much. Fortunately, we had a son home to help with those, but they are heavy and tricky to maneuver into place without gouging the ceiling or trapping fingers.

Believe me, you'd never hire us by the hour, because we aren't even remotely fast, but we do great work.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 8:47PM
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williamsem

#7 from Caspian, definitely. Be careful how much "ask this old house" you watch. If I wasn't careful, I could have ended up replacing my shower surround and rub myself. Looked sooooo easy. Remove caulk, remove surround and tub, place new tub in, shim, attach surround, attach plumbing, fix drywall, all done! I at least has the sense to stop myself there!

I would encourage lots of research, a technical advisor available by phone (for me, my parents), and lots of patience. It certainly is a great sense of accomplishment when it's all done!

I hate having to trade off DIY for help due to time. My work scedule just doesn't work for big projects. But I'm learning all sorts of little things, like switching out outlets and light switches (cosmetic, not functional changes), painting doors, changing out hinges and doorknobs ( though I guess until the door can close again I can't really claim victory), installing a closet system, putting up curtain rods, etc.

And I can spackle and paint much better than the contractors guy. Our walls are crappy, but the room I painted to make into the library has walls you would swear are new. I spent days patching and sanding. The bathroom is great, but my eye is drawn to all the bumps.

I love seeing all the great DIY projects here! Very inspiring.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 9:06PM
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EATREALFOOD

I personally didn't do much DIY(hands on) but we GC'd an entire renovation including bathroom & kitchen(hired electrician,installer and plumber for kitchen only)and worked w/ one handyman for the rest. My DH ripped out everything(3 floors and 2 ceilings) himself including exposing brick wall. He also put down sheets of plywood one small piece at a time to try to level the floors as much as possible. What a nightmare.
We saved a lot of money(compared to hiring a GC for entire job) which allowed me to buy more expensive sink, DW and refrigerator and to get new cabinets.

Smallest regret: buying used cabinets for $1000. and not be able to use them. We were tired & stupid at the time.
Biggest regret: not moving out while we were doing it(space is between 500-550 sq/ft). We could have knocked it out so much faster.
It all started with fixing a few walls, new bathroom and adding molding throughout...and turned into an entire excavation.Laughing now but not funny at the time. Good thing we both have no where to go(rents too high) as divorce usually is the byproduct of these things LOL.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 7:33AM
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EATREALFOOD

Oh and if you strip down to subfloor between floors make sure you close up any holes or your cat will go looking for mice between the floor/ceiling.
It's amazing I didn't start divorce proceedings after that...

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 7:39AM
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cookingofjoy

"Be careful how much "ask this old house" you watch."
So true!!! In our first DIY, we'd drywalled everything, and even with measuring we'd always end up a little off on outlets or whatever. Then one day we're watching this old house, and the worker eyeballs an irregular trapezoid to fit in the ceiling next to a fireplace. They put it up and it was perfect! I just started laughing. And I was glad I'd seen that after instead of before.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 9:30AM
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CEFreeman

I had no choice in DIYing or not. $$.

I have learned patience.
I have learned that when I save and buy something I've decided I must have, then change my mind later? I can't kick myself over it. I learn from it and there's a good chance I'll use xxx in another way.

I've learned before I give something away, to look at things as components. Hinges, drawer glides, doors, etc., can be repurposed.

I've learned how to improvise. For example, hanging all my upper cabinets myself. Standing them on wedged drywall buckets, standing on the counter pressing my head against the ceiling was the beginning. Then, in a flash of brilliance, I took an 18" tall wall cabinet, set it on the counter, then set the ones I was installing on IT!.

I've also learned how valuable honest, reliable and talented people are.

I've been majorly screwed by my STBX, and two people I actually saved to hire. We're talking $1000s of redoing things my DH did 1/2 way. (Not mentioning the debt he bailed on, too.) It would have cost me far less had he never done the "good enough for now" in the first place.

The other two did jobs I questioned, but let myself be pooh-poohed. They both disappeared with $1000s in materials that when with them. Such "good men" horrified by the condition of my home, my DH had left me to rebuild. Uh-huh.

I've learned how very lucky I am to have three people who can do many things well and carefully. They're cost conscious and careful.

So DIYing isn't just doing it yourself, it's having the awareness (as mentioned here) of what you can do well and what you just cannot.

Read. Measure. Plan. Plan again. Measure again. Shop. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to show ideas out there. And don't be offended when someone laughs or gives you the "YOU'RE CRAZY LADY" look. Because you might not be. :) They might just lack imagination!

When I can afford to replace my appliances? I'll be reading back a couple of years here. That's my biggest DIY recommendation. Read.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 10:12AM
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powermuffin

My DIYing started when I fired my third cleaning lady because I just had to clean after they cleaned. I hired a handy man to install two electric sconces above the fireplace and then had to tell him how to do it. I have never been even 80% happy with the results of someone I hired. I am not a fanantic, but maybe I stink at choosing the people to work on my house! At any rate, I would rather learn how to do the work myself. I am very good at researching projects and committing them to memory. So that is the plan that works for us. And there is great satifaction in a job well done.
Diane

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 11:14AM
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phiwwy

There is certainly a lot of satisfaction in DIY'ing or self GC'ing.

1. you can decide where to spend extra money.
2. you eat the costs of mistakes.
3. you have little to no control over the trades because they know this is the one and only time they'll be hired by you, vs a GC who will give them repeat work.
4. ditto to all of the above.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 11:35AM
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berardmr

A drawer microwave is not only cool, but quite functional too.
Clean and streamlined kitchens are in. Clutter out.
Plugmolds
Tile 101 through PHD
Don't settle for sub-standard work. My money, my reno, my way.
Decide on your kitchen's focal point and splurge a little on it
GWers are so willing to help with the tough decisions
Reconsider upper cabinets in some cases.
There's only one star - the backsplash or the counter top.
And so much more....

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:16PM
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berardmr

A drawer microwave is not only cool, but quite functional too.
Clean and streamlined kitchens are in. Clutter out.
Plugmolds
Tile 101 through PHD
Don't settle for sub-standard work. My money, my reno, my way.
Decide on your kitchen's focal point and splurge a little on it
GWers are so willing to help with the tough decisions
Reconsider upper cabinets in some cases.
There's only one star - the backsplash or the counter top.
And so much more....

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:17PM
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berardmr

I need more coffee. Sorry for the triplicate post and post to wrong thread!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:19PM
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marti8a

donaleen said something that resonated with me when she said: "But for us, we find the work we do is more likely to turn out the way we want it. And we find it satisfying to do it ourselves. Which isn't to say we always agree or never argue."

So far we have hired out having the slab poured, the electrical, and the drywall because we either didn't have the knowledge, the skill, the equipment, or the license. The dry wall guy was excellent. Now we have to have another electrician come fix the mistakes of the first, and we are still trying to get the slab flat so we can tile.

I'm probably a bit of a control freak, but more than anything, I want it done right and from our experience and from reading here, I can see that a lot of subs just do what is fast and easy rather than doing a job that will last.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:35PM
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crampon

If you paint your trim/baseboard, rather than staining, you can caulk small gaps - stained trim requires much smaller tolerances.

In an old house, expect that things will not be square, straight, level, plumb, or true. Learn workarounds...or hire out for the tasks that are affected by this.

If self-GCing, let your trades guys know early on that you are hard to please. If you find a trades guy you trust, ask them for recommendations on other trades, and tell the other trades how you learned about them. They may not care much about a homeowner who's only going to hire them once, but they won't want to make their friend look bad.

Take time out for mental health breaks. This sounds like a joke now, but speaking from experience, after 3 months without a stove or kitchen sink, a weekend trip out of town can help you stay sane.

Demo in the summer so you can use a grill / hose outside for cooking and cleaning while your kitchen is out of service -- wish we had thought of this before demo'ing in December.

Tools I bought for this project (or already had): wallpaper steamer, miter saw, shop vac, drill, level, random orbit sander, crowbar, cats paw (for pulling nails)
Tools I was able to borrow (didn't absolutely need my own): belt sander, jigsaw, router, circular saw, Dremel, oscillating tool (aka Fein tool), sawzall
-However, I could have saved a lot of time if I went ahead and bought a belt sander, circular saw, and oscillating tool.

Lead test and asbestos test anytime there's a doubt.

When using liquid nails, make sure to use enough!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 4:53PM
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oldbat2be

berardmr - worth saying three times!

I am really enjoying this thread. We worked with an architect to redesign our home and were lucky enough to have a good builder and crew, who did a lot of the work, including hanging the cabinets (we assembled them and installed the drawers and hardware) and most of the trim work. DH does plumbing, electrical, rough and finish carpentry. Lesson learned: DH can do it but with his day job and other commitments, things take a while. When you can hire help, do so! Regarding tools, you name the tool, we have it (sigh) in the basement. Actually - another lesson learned. As we were putting together the cabinets, DH borrowed a nail gun (we have since purchased one). This is a tool he cannot believe he has spent his adult life without (and he has helped shingle quite a few homes in his life). So - add a nail gun to your list of tools; buy or borrow.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 10:24PM
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corgimum

oldbat2be- I just got a nail gun for my birthday! I'm planning to install new baseboards throughout the house and also some trim in the dining room. It's the first tool I can call mine.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 11:59PM
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oldbat2be

Hah! OT but it's your thread... have you picked out/designed your baseboards yet? Our house was built in the 60's and I am astounded by the difference in the original baseboard and our new baseboard; the larger baseboard makes the 8' ceilings look so much taller.

Original baseboard:

New baseboard:

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 6:26AM
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corgimum

So how tall are your new baseboards? I have picked some out but have not purchased them yet. I am looking at 4'' tall colonial. The previous baseboards were 3'' tall colonial. My ceilings are also 8'. Your new ones look great!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 9:32AM
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EATREALFOOD

corgimum--congratulations on your new nail gun !!!
(that's the way I feel when I get a new piece of cookware)

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 10:13PM
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oldbat2be

They are a little over 7 1/2" tall, 2 pieces. Lower is 5 1/2. Let us know how they turn out, and have fun with that nail gun. Best, oldbat2be

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 5:19AM
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rmtdoug

Anyone reasonably physically fit can do DIY. If you don't believe me, start small. Go to the smallest closet in your house and gut it down to the studs, including removing the flooring, if possible, and any doors and trim. For extra practice, try not to destroy any trim, shelving, flooring, etc, when removing. Take as much time as you need. Learn how it was put together. Inspect how it was built.

Now put it all back together better than it was before. This is an important distinction; it must be done better than it was. Read, Read, Read!!! If you mess up on something, start over. Keep in mind you are doing this to learn how things go together and to hone your hand/eye skills. Learn and understand why certain materials, nails, and screws were used. Get the proper tools to do each job but don't go overboard. Buy the middle-priced tool; they are the best value. Used is always a good option for construction hand tools and basic power tools. When finished, you will have the basic skills and tools to redo any room in your house.

This project should take a beginner at least six months and maybe even a year, depending on your schedule, but it will be time well spent.

Oh, my lessions learned? You never really save money once factoring in your time. DIY is about personal satisfaction. It is very much worth doing.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 1:25PM
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rmtdoug

Anyone reasonably physically fit can do DIY. If you don't believe me, start small. Go to the smallest closet in your house and gut it down to the studs, including removing the flooring, if possible, and any doors and trim. For extra practice, try not to destroy any trim, shelving, flooring, etc, when removing. Take as much time as you need. Learn how it was put together. Inspect how it was built.

Now put it all back together better than it was before. This is an important distinction; it must be done better than it was. Read, Read, Read!!! If you mess up on something, start over. Keep in mind you are doing this to learn how things go together and to hone your hand/eye skills. Learn and understand why certain materials, nails, and screws were used. Get the proper tools to do each job but don't go overboard. Buy the middle-priced tool; they are the best value. Used is always a good option for construction hand tools and basic power tools. When finished, you will have the basic skills and tools to redo any room in your house.

This project should take a beginner at least six months and maybe even a year, depending on your schedule, but it will be time well spent.

Oh, my lessions learned? You never really save money once factoring in your time. DIY is about personal satisfaction. It is very much worth doing.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 1:26PM
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