How To Finish Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation Projects

by Mike Holman

Most house or condo owners have experience with doing some sort of do-it-yourself projects fixing up their homes.  Maybe this year you wanted to take advantage of the renovation tax credit.  Whether you were painting a room, redoing a bathroom or fixing up your deck, you probably noticed that some (or all) projects are hard to do and especially hard to finish.
I think one of the big problems diyers have is lack of experience so they don’t know how much work and time is involved in the task they are planning to do.  I know that I get frustrated when something is taking a lot longer than I had thought.  If it takes me 80 hours to build a deck then I’m ok with that but if I think it’s only going to take me 40 hours then I will be getting pretty annoyed by about hour 50 when it’s nowhere near completed.
Once you have painted a room or two then you probably get the idea that your estimate should include things like:

  • trip to store to buy paint/supplies and wait while it is being shaken
  • moving furniture
  • removing painting/hangings
  • repairing drywall
  • priming
  • painting
  • 2nd trip to store to buy something
  • painting again (2nd coat)
  • rehanging stuff
  • put back furniture

Whereas your original estimate involved the following task:

  • buy paint
  • 1 coat of paint
  • done

The problem is that a lot of DIYers will do a particular project once and then never do it again.  Or they don’t do it again for many years and forget a lot of the details (and pain).  An example is a new deck.  If you decide to build a new deck for your house – it’s unlikely you will do another one unless you move to a new house so you just don’t have the experience to be able to estimate the time needed to finish the project which can lead to frustration.

Lack of fitness

Another stumbling block to finishing a project is fitness and stamina for physical labour.  Let’s face it – a lot of us spend our work hours sitting in front a computer, in meetings or some situation where we aren’t doing physical labour.  Even if you do exercise outside of work then it’s likely to be a specific type of exercise and for a limited time.  Many weekend warriors try to budget a lot of time for a project on their days off – typically on the weekend.  The problem is that although you might be able to budget 10 hours on Saturday and 10 hours on Sunday for a tiling project – your body will have other ideas.  I remember when I was getting my first house ready for sale I created a “time budget” where I would work 7.5 hours on Saturday, 7.5 hours on Sunday and 4 hours on two evenings during the week.  It didn’t take me long to realize that in fact I wasn’t putting in those hours.  Saturday morning I would put in a good 3 hours before lunch which was quite productive.  After lunch however it was a struggle to get going again and I often would only get another hour or maybe even 2 hours of good work accomplished that day.  Instead of doing 7.5 hours I would usually only do about 4.5 hours.  By adjusting my expectations and work schedule I was able to plan better.  I would only plan to work in the morning and then just do a bit in the afternoon.  Then I would just doing something completely different ie tv & beer.

To all those frustrated workers I have the following suggestion:

Get some help

Having friends give you a hand or hiring cheap labour is a great way to make a project more palatable.  Yes, it might cost more but it’s likely still cheaper than hiring a contractor to do the job and you will still get the satisfaction of doing the job yourself (sort of).  You will feel much better about a project that you finished with a bit of help than a project that you didn’t finish all on your own. 🙂

This is a lot easier to do for some projects than others.  As well, some people have good networks of friends/relatives who have time to help on projects whereas others will have to pay $$ to get some labour.

One thing to keep in mind with cheap labour vs friends is that you can get the cheap labour to spend all of their time doing grunt work whereas your friends might want to share the dirty jobs and expect you to do some too.

This can be done for non-reno projects as well.  For example I’ve hired students to help with waste disposal and cleaning.  Maybe you need to go through your basement/garage and organize things.  Having someone to help (and do the bad parts of the project) can really increase your morale and get the project finished.

This takes a bit of organization.  You have to have some sort of plan in order to use the labour effectively.  If you hire 1 or 2 workers and they spend most of their time with nothing to do then you are wasting your money.  Hiring help works better for larger jobs where there is enough physical labour to keep someone busy most of the time.

Another benefit of hiring help is that it will keep you on track – left to your own devices you might get bored/tired after a couple of hours and take a break that lasts for several years.  Having someone there will help you stay on task.

Some jobs which are good candidates for hiring help.

  • most landscaping projects.
  • new lawn
  • major garden reno
  • deck
  • patio stones
  • fencing
  • drywall
  • painting
  • kitchen cabinets

All these projects could benefit with extra hands.  They are large enough projects with a major labour component.  Tasks where a lot of strength is needed might also be a lot easier with more help.

Projects where you might not get as much benefit would be smaller projects that you can handle yourself.  Ie painting one room only.  More skilled projects like plumbing, electrical, tiling probably won’t benefit as much with extra hands around.

What do you think?  Would you ever hire some cheap labour to help move gravel and patio stones around for you while you do the fun parts of a new patio?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Million Dollar Journey

Thanks for the link Mike. In my opinion, I like to hire help on parts of the project that I don’t enjoy doing and take a lot of time. For example, plastering and sanding. 🙂

2 Four Pillars

MDJ – Yes, that’s a great idea for a larger project. Just completely outsource the parts you don’t like.

3 guinness416

Home maintrnance/reno is one area I definitely wish my dad wasn’t 3,000 miles away. He’s good at phone support though!

4 Four Pillars

Guinness – that’s funny. I’ve done more than a few fixit jobs which the help of pictures from the internet.

5 nobleea

what happens if you hire someone for labour work and they get injured? do you have WCB? will your house insurance cover you?

i would rather do it myself, get friends involved, or hire a contractor to do everything and i can help them out.

6 Mr. Cheap

The only big reno projects I ever attempted was my condo, and I quickly freaked out about what I had to do (and how little I knew about it) and called in the pros…

7 Alexandra

My (then) fiancee and I installed new laminate flooring in our condo about seven years ago. We almost didn’t make it to our own wedding. Since then we decided that hiring someone is infinitely cheaper than the divorce that would take place if we ever worked on a home inprovement project together again.

8 Four Pillars

Nobleea – I have no idea. Good point. I don’t think it will matter if the person getting hurt is a labourer or a friend – you could still get nailed.

I wonder if regular house insurance covers this?

Helping out a contractor isn’t always a good idea – one guy told me he charges more if the client wants to help. 🙂

Mr. Cheap – It is hard to get started with reno work on a place you are not living. Just too much hassle.

9 Melanie Reformed Spender

House insurance does normally cover accidents in those cases, but you’d have to check your policy to be sure.

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