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DIY: Plan A Home Remodeling Project—Effectively & Easily

Updated on January 11, 2009

There comes a time in the live of every house when a remodel is ‘just what the doctor ordered.' We're not referring to a new paint job or even new wallpaper. No, we're talking about a true "dream it, tear it down & replace-it-with-something-different" project.


Let's first discuss how many go about "planning" a remodel project. (For clarity, this is NOT the way to do it!) You and your significant-other are sitting around one day and you decide to make some changes. "Great! Let's do it!" you say. Off to Super-Duper Home Center to buy the supplies. "Hi, Friendly-Salesperson, we want to remodel our house! What do we need?" "No problem," says Friendly-Salesperson, "grab three carts and I'll help you load everything you'll need." On the way home the two of you are full of excitement and can already picture your new [whatever.] Once home, you unload your precious cargo, placing it in the only warm & dry place you have...the center of your living room. The next morning you wake up, hammer & crowbar in hand and off the two of you go. Within an hour the two of you are fighting like a cat and a dog, the house is a wreck, the pile of new materials is covered in debris and you realize you're in WAAY over your heads. The bad news is...the real disaster is only beginning.

"Give me a break, Turpen" you say "I'd never do it that way." Maybe you wouldn't but I've seen many who do it almost exactly that way.

Kitchen Remodel
Kitchen Remodel

The List

Let's get to it. Here's a very simple, very effective way to effectively plan a remodel project and.....(ready?).....have FUN doing it!

  1. Write down your expectations. Write down, in great detail, exactly what you want your project to look like when you are all done. (Note: This is the single most important step and, in my opinion, the reason so many projects become money-pits and disasters of every type.) Make sketches, lists, write long awkward sentences...whatever. Just think it through and write it down. Go to the Public Library and look at all the "House-and-Home" type magazines. (If money is no object, to the Barnes and Noble and buy a bunch of them. Be smart, use the Public Library!) Get out your little scissors and cut out pictures of examples of what you want. Paste them on sheets of paper with notes and arrows highlighting the features you like best.
  2. List the steps. It's simple, but important. Take each aspect of your project and make a simple list of the steps. Okay, so you're not an expert and you don't know each and every step. That's fine. Make your list as best you can. Getting every step perfect isn't as important as the process of thinking through each step. Don't get carried away with this. Simply list the key steps. For example, let's say you're going to install new kitchen cabinets and countertop. Your list may look like this:
    1. Have new kitchen designed at Lowe's or The Home Depot (Author's note: Lowe's pays their design experts on commission basis; that's both good and bad. Good because they are generally better qualified; bad because they may tend to first specify more expensive materials.)
    2. Place order for new cabinets and countertops (get firm delivery date.)
    3. Remove countertop (don't start until new cabinets are in stock.)
    4. Remove cabinets (save for installation in workshop)
    5. Install new electrical wiring for under-cabinet lighting.
    6. Install new cabinets
    7. Replace water supply and drain lines
    8. Install new countertop & backsplash.

You may want to show your list to someone who has done this before or, at the very least, to the kitchen designer at your home remodeling center.

  1. Next, Work up materials list. Make a list of every item you can think of that you may need. Don't forget the "little" things, like screws, nails, etc.
  2. Decide what you can do and what you can't. There are some things you may definitely want to contract out. Like electrical and perhaps plumbing. However, if you're so inclined you can handle most home projects yourself. There are a number of excellent resources. Here are a few of my favorites:

And, of course there's some excellent Hubs on home remodeling projects. Do a Hub search on "home remodeling" and you'll get a great list. Here are a few that I especially enjoyed:


And there are many more great Hubs.

  1. Get material bids (delivered). If money is no object, just go ahead, visit your nearest building supply company and place your order and pay them to deliver it. However, let's get real. Why give money away? (If you have more than you need, consider supporting a good charity!) Here's an easy way to save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on your DIY project.
    1. Assemble your materials list. No need for anything fancy, just make it as complete as possible. Make several copies.
    2. Note clearly at the bottom of this list: "Include all delivery charges, taxes, etc."
    3. Deliver your list to as many building supply centers as possible. Include the "big box" centers (The Home Depot, Lowes, 84 Lumber, etc.) but be sure to include the smaller ones as well. Often the local building supply stores will offer prices that are competitive to the big guys and often will beat them. And, let's face it, isn't it good to patronize the smaller local retailers? They are your neighbors, pay local real estate taxes and help maintain a good quality of life in your community. Give them a fair chance. In my small town here in southwestern Virginia we have a building supply company that almost always beats the big guys, in price and in service. At the big box stores, do directly to the "pro services" or "contractor" desk. The staff at these desks are usually the most experienced and often are paid partially on commission. They know how to competively price large projects. When you deliver your list, let them know you need their best price and it should include all additional charges, such as delivery, taxes, etc. If you're near a State line, shop stores in both states. Sometimes there is a nice savings in sales tax, especially if they deliver the materials to another state.
    4. Once you get the price quotes from several suppliers, carefully compare them BY LINE ITEM, especially the higher priced items. Highlight or mark the lowest prices from the various quotes. Yes, you CAN pick and choose. Don't get silly with this but you will likely find that you can easily split your order between two or three supplies, ordering the lowest priced items from each. (Note: Some find this tactic offensive. "The supplier quoted based on the entire order, I don't feel right reducing the order now." I understand. I've lived BOTH sides of this. The fact is, most of the prices the supplier quoted are the same as he would have quoted if you had come in with a smaller order. Even so, if he wants to, he can simply tell you the quote will change since the order is smaller. You're not forcing them to sell you the materials at the lower price. They can decline. I've never had this happen. The store will be pleased to get your order, regardless of its size; and you'll be saving a LOT of money.
  2. Pull in favors from friends with skills. Okay, so you have your sources all lined up and you're ready to schedule delivery. WAIT, NOT YET! Who do you know with construction skills? Friends, neighbors, friends of friends. What you're looking for is knowledgeable people who can help you. Perhaps they can review your plans and/or material lists (obviously, it would be best to get them to do this before you send your list out to bid.) You also would like to locate friends who can assist you with certain aspects of your project (or even all aspects!). Personally, I don't like to ask for free labor. I've found it best to ask in a way that gives them an opportunity to quote their price. I call this "indirect recruiting." For example, I have a friend whose son is a licensed electrician. I might tell my friend about my project and say to him "Frank, I'm planning a little DIY project and need some help with planning the electrical part of it. Do you think your son might be willing to give me a little direction?" Or, I might say to a friend who has good knowledge of installing tile & grout, "I know you have a lot of good contacts, do you know anyone who may be able to give me a hand installing a small tile & grout job?" More often than not, they'll volunteer to help. This indirect recruiting method allows the friend to gracefully get out of helping if he so desires.

Begin your DIY project and HAVE FUN DOING IT!!


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      6 years ago

      A homeowner with good fix-it skills may be able to do some of the work on the renovation such as:

      * Removing old fixtures and finishes.

      * Caulking or repairing roof and window leaks.

      * Installing insulation.

      * Air-sealing the building.

      * Painting.

      Consider a professional renovator for structural changes, finish work or to undertake the complete project management. If you are doing it yourself, you will still need to hire subcontractors to carry out the electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation work. Depending on the nature of the project, you may also need to hire other tradespeople to do roofing, window and door installation, install cabinets and flooring or paint and do drywall finishing. Remember to obtain all necessary permits, sign a written contract, ensure that workers use safe working practices, have professional licenses where required and are covered by workers’ compensation. Protect yourself, your family and your home.


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