When we bought our home in Portland two years ago, much of its charm was buried beneath dirty carpet, wallpaper, vinyl linoleum, and dingy paint. Even though we only had half a notion of what the process would eventually entail, we wholeheartedly embraced the challenge of peeling away some of the layers our little house had accrued since its construction in 1951, especially given that these “features” were probably what allowed us to afford the home in the first place.
From the day we moved in we have been swept up in working to transform our house and its surrounding yard into a place we love to live, as well as a way to subsist more self-sufficiently in the world. We’ve painted every wall and every piece of trim, ripped up and replaced carpet, refinished the hardwood floors, remodeled the kitchen (with help from a great contractor), and finished many other seemingly insignificant (though somehow always challenging) projects.
In February, though, after doing some demolition on the cabin up in Cloverdale to see what exactly was underneath those mysterious walls (turns out dead rats, beer bottles, hand tools, rotten studs, and filthy insulation) we started to feel a little overwhelmed. There were still a number of loose ends that needed to be tied up at our Portland homestead, and it was becoming all too clear that our forest house was not just a cosmetic fixer but instead more of a complete structural overhaul that will take years if not decades to complete. So, we decided to pull back and devote the spring to finishing what we had started in the city.
After six weeks without a shower, many hours of YouTube videos, and less money in our pockets, our list of projects in Portland has an end in sight. We have a freshly DIY remodeled bathroom, two guest rooms (that we’re thinking about renting out on Airbnb), a working hall light, matching door knobs, and most importantly, a house that is organized and ready to support all of the day-to-day tasks we are trying to keep up with.
We’ve realized in all this that the projects never really end when you own a home—at least for us, which probably has everything to do with our approach to stewardship—but we’ve got to say, we’re feeling quite a bit more knowledgeable and very excited for what is next to come. So, here's five important lessons we learned from DIY remodeling, just in case you’re gearing up to do any home work in the near future.
Always double (or triple or quadruple) the time you think you’re going to spend on a project. It always takes us MUCH longer to complete a project than we think it will. As much as possible, try to plan on things going wrong.
Professionals are professionals for a reason. We’re all about learning new things and doing things on our own—it’s kind of our MO—but it’s important to know when to call in the plumber or the electrician or the general contractor. These people have licenses and tools and experience that can save you, and they deserve every penny you pay them, especially the good ones.
Eat before you start working. Also, eat during work (snacks and beverages both, please). It will save you plenty of unnecessary arguments.
Don’t shout. Believe us, you’ll never want to yell at your partner or yourself more than when you accidentally compromise a copper solder inside a freshly tiled wall that you spent the last seven evenings building, and to which you now have no access, and you can’t turn the water back on until you fix it and it’s 6 PM on a Thursday night and you haven’t had a shower in your own home in six weeks. But try as hard you possibly can to walk outside, sit down, have a beer, and remember that some people don’t have a shower at all and everything will be okay, because you’re calling a plumber in the morning.