Cheap Ways to Remodel a House
From outside, no one knows we test missiles here.
Do House Repairs Give You a Headache?
When most people think of remodeling a house, they get a headache. If you’ve ever attempted to do some sort of remodeling project for the first time, you learn that you don’t own the right tools. Even if you think you own every tool known to man, there’ll be some sort of super-specialty tool you’ll use once for 5 minutes that you have to have. It will also cost a large pile of your local currency to own.
Tool Rental and the Evil Floor
Tool Rental Saves Money When Remodeling
However, you can also check around and see if there are local places that will rent tools. Often smaller contractors don’t own some of the more expensive tools that are only called for occasionally. Floor sanding is one of these things.
If you try and sand an entire room with a small belt sander, it’ll take forever. I assume it will, ‘cause my wife and I went, “How long would it take to sand this floor with Doug’s little belt sander?” The answer was: we went and rented a big drum sander.
The room we picked to refinish was rather strange: it had a laminate floor over a hardwood floor. However, the hardwood had evidence (and residue) from what appeared to be both carpet and tile. Since our house was built in 1947, there was no way to tell how many layers of glue, epoxy, and who-knows-what were on top of the hardwood.
If we’d picked any other room in the house, we’d probably have been able to sand it in a day. However, it took two weekends of working like a maniac to get rid of the black crud of the ages and expose the wood. By the time I was through sanding, I could say to my wife, “I really like that tiger-striped board,” and she would know exactly which one I was talking about.
In the end we refinished two rooms, the one with the laminate and the master bedroom. The total cost for the refinishing—counting our time at $0/hr—was probably under $250. I cannot even begin to estimate what it would have cost to have had this done by a contractor--$1000 or more for the bad room if they even would have touched it is my guess. Both rooms turned out great.
Don't Fall Through Your Ceiling!
Lower Utility Bills Through Remodeling
We then moved on to making it a little cheaper to live in the house. We were a bit concerned when we moved because the new house was twice the square footage of the old house. It wasn’t that the new house was gigantic; it’s that our first house was tiny. It was almost impossible to sell our first house because of it’s size.
I decided that the best two things I could do to reduce bills would be to add insulation to the attic and to install an exterior tank-less water heater. I chose to go with a roll-in insulation instead of spray in just because it looked easier. From what I read, the concern about putting roll insulation over older insulation was that you would compress the old insulation and make it less effective.
My reasoning was that the amount of compression that happened would be negligible, so I went full steam ahead with the insulation. While I can’t say how it worked in terms of improving the previous heating and cooling costs—we never saw the old bills for before we did the upgrade—my feeling is that we made a tremendous improvement, as the bills were about the same as they had been at the old house.
The only thing that happened that was dangerous/stupid and preventable was that I tripped and fell through the ceiling. That led to a ceiling repair, but no medical bills. The only advice I have is this: slow down, watch where you put your feet, and remember where stuff is buried under insulation that you’re walking on.
As for the hot water heater: unless you have experience with plumbing black pipe, leave that part to the professionals. My father and I got it done easily, but we'd both been down that road before.
Bathroom Wall Addition and Tub Enclosure
Bathroom Remodel's on the Cheap
The final thing we’ve worked on lately is a partial bathroom remodel. The original porcelain bathtub was discolored enough that it couldn’t be made to look clean. It would be clean, but look dirty. The tiles immediately over the tub also looked horrible and I feared that they would be mold-bearing walls.
I had to remove the tiles from the wall and the cement that was poured behind them. I then removed the tub, toilet, and tore down the old storage closet that was too deep to be useful. I had to then sheetrock the walls and build a partial wall between the tub and toilet for the new tub enclosure we’d picked out.
Installing the tub and enclosure were easy to do. I did have to lengthen the copper pipe that led to the shower head, as it was installed at chest height for my wife and I. I did learn the importance of REALLY cleaning old copper before soldering/sweating it. I’d only sweated new pipe before, so it took me a little while to understand how clean it needed to be.
That’s a key—when you’re working with a lot of these things, if the instructions say clean, they generally do mean CLEAN. They don’t mean, sort of wiped off. Believe me, you don’t want to do something 2 or three times because you skipped a step that would have cost you an extra minute or two.
Leveling the floor was a bit of a challenge. The tubs of “Floor Leveling Compound” that I’d read about were next to useless: you had to spend forever to stir them. When they dried, they were just sandy spots that barely stuck together. The best luck I had was just using shims under the plywood floor panels and a level. I then did what the tile adhesive instructions said not to do—used thicker adhesive in spots to help level the tiles as I laid them in.
While I still have to lay the tile back on the half-wall I built to be finished with the job, it took about a week of labor to do. Mind you, it was spread over about a month. You’re always waiting for something to dry. It made me understand why construction seems to take so long sometimes: almost everything you touch has a 24-48 hour drying time.
We bought an off-the-shelf kitchen pantry cabinet to use for the towel closet. It took a little cutting on the wall to make it work, but we now have some shelving that’s actually useable.
The entire bathroom remodel—tub, enclosure, glass sliding doors for the tub, wall, new floor, and new closet will come in at under $1500. We could have gone with cheaper components or skipped something like the glass doors and come in cheaper, but we wanted something we’d be happy with. Since the local ReBath franchise had given us about a $5000 quote for the tub alone, I cannot even guess at how much this would have been if we’d hired it out.
Oh, and go watch The Money Pit before you get started. It’ll keep it all in perspective. And no, I have no desire to remodel anything right now, thanks.