This post is about all the lessons learned about DIY since we have started work on our home. We have finished just one room out of nine in our new home (grand reveal coming soon!), but I feel like I have learnt a huge amount about DIY renovations in the process, and as we embark on the next big project (the bathroom – you can see some sneak peeks in my Instagram feed on the right) a lot of these lessons had already faded in my memory, so I thought I would make a note of them and share these things so that you can learn from our mistakes (and from our successes!).
When we lived in our rented home before buying this house, Ste and I used to love DIY. There wasn’t an awful lot we could do because it was rented, but the landlord was lovely and let us make some improvements. Our favourite weekends were spent with a trip to the DIY store and then working on a project together, before admiring our handiwork over a beer. My love of blogging our DIYs started about then, and hasn’t gone away. When we started looking for a house, we both agreed we wanted somewhere we could completely renovate ourselves, thinking we’d have the entire place completed within a few months. Ha! It hasn’t quite happened like that, and the daunting task of an entire house to do up is quite something, but we are loving it, and we are getting there, albeit slower than we imagined.
Here is what we learned from our first whole-room renovation of the guest bedroom.
1) There will be dust
So much dust. You will think you have it contained. You do not. You will be finding a layer on everything in the house even if you hermetically seal the room you are working on. Your eyes will be shedding dust at the corners. Your hair will feel as though you’ve covered it in cement (because ancient plaster dust + water = something very similar). Certain items of clothing will be binned. Bottom line is, prepare yourselves, dust is coming.
A practical step to avoid some of the cleanup is to put away everything on shelves and nicknacks etc in adjoining rooms so there is less to wipe down afterwards, but realistically you cannot pack away your entire house, and even if you did, you’ve still got dust on the walls, floor, ceilings…you get the picture. If you are planning on removing walls and sanding floors, invest in a dust vacuum. We bought ours in the sale at B&Q for £40 and it has been worth its weight in gold (and it’s pretty heavy). We will be using it for all the other rooms too so this has proven to be an awesome investment. You can attach it directly to your power tool so the dust barely even gets into the air (well, sort of). Brilliant.
2) Your house will become a building site
We were only working on one small guest room. It had practically nothing in it, or so we thought. Yet somehow the house was filled with the objects we needed to remove to get on with the job. There was a bed in the corridor, a wardrobe in the dining room, and the other spare room was stuffed to the gills with the bedding and curtains and everything else that came out of the room, not to mention power tools that we’d been using and cans of paint. Suffice to say, that unless you live in a giant house where you can neatly stash everything in one corner or your garage, your whole house will unavoidably become involved. And as for cleaning – well, when you’re carrying buckets of plaster and brick dust down the stairs on a regular basis, that all seems a bit pointless for a while! (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
3) You will go to B & Q/[insert local DIY store here] a lot
Every single time we’ve settled into a day of DIY, thinking we’ve got everything we need ready, we’ve realised there’s something missing and have to do a B&Q run. One time it was for an allen key to disassemble the bed we only assembled a couple of months before, but could we find the little bugger? Nope. So now we have a huge set. And that same trip yielded some chalk paint, a plumb line, some wallpaper scissors, a new bucket (because the plaster set in the other one and now we can’t get it clean) and numerous other bits and bobs. If your local store has a loyalty card, get one.
4) Amazing sleep (despite all the coffee)
You will learn the pleasure (if you are not already familiar with it) of getting into the bed at the end of the day and every single one of your muscles sighing in unison at finally being allowed to relax. DIY is physical and your body will curse you. At one point I had no skin on the knuckles of my left hand and I didn’t even notice when I did it. Such random injuries will be common, as will blisters, and bruises. I really should not have gone out in a short skirt the evening after spending the entire day on my knees scrubbing the floorboards with white spirit to remove old paint splatters. The friction burns got me some rather funny looks.
And know there will be a lot of coffee drunk. A lot.
5) You will have disagreements
Our spare room was not a particularly huge project, but it was hard work and there were times when Ste and I had differences on how things should be done or in what order, or we were just plain tired or fed up. A memorable conversation occurred when Ste brought in a can of paint and plonked it down on the floor. I wasn’t sure whether it was for the windowsill or ceiling, so I asked: “What sort of paint is that?”, Ste replied: “White”. Me: “No, I mean what type?”, Ste (sarcastically): “Liquid”. Easy to laugh about now, but at the time I could cheerfully have murdered him. (It turned out to be satin and intended for the ceiling). Then there was the ‘discussion’ which ensued when we pulled up the old carpet and realised the floorboards underneath were in really great shape. Ste wanted carpets because he thought bedrooms need it to feel cosy, but I have always wanted gorgeous floorboards and was very reluctant to cover them up. In the end the price of carpeting the room and my promise to buy a cosy, fluffy rug meant floorboards won out, but it was touch and go for a while. We made sure we ended each day of work taking stock of all the great work we had both done and managed to remain in love for the duration. So that’s good.
6) It always takes MUCH longer than you think
We thought the job would take us a couple of weekends. One to strip the old paper and rip out the carpet, and one to re-paper and paint. In fact, we spent about six full weekends on the job, and numerous hours in between times. After stripping the paper it was apparent the plaster was knackered, so then we decided to strip back to the stone and re-point. The removal of the built in wardrobe meant re-plastering was necessary to level the wall off. Pulling off the wallpaper pulled the side of the fireplace away, etc etc. Almost every task had a small complication that meant it all took much longer than expected. Allow four times as many hours for the job as your originally think you need, and that way you can only be pleasantly surprised it took less!
7) Call in the experts if you need to/it’s cheaper
There were two instances where we needed to call in the experts. To seal off the chimney we really needed a professional to ensure it was done properly, and then we accidentally cut through a gas pipe which warranted an emergency call out to fix, because fiddling with gas yourself can void your house insurance. However, had we wanted to go with carpet, we were going to get the suppliers to fit it for us as well. We probably could have done it ourselves, but for the amount they would charge we would have spent more in new tools required for the job, so it was not financially worth it. Be sure to check that the cost of materials and equipment doesn’t surpass the cost of getting someone in to do it, and most probably do it better than you. Not everything has to be done yourself!
8) Filler is your best friend
This is probably a controversial one, and I might get some comments to the effect that we’ve botched the job a bit, but I’m afraid with a house as old as ours (it dates from the 1800’s) you will get random holes and gaps and a lot of old rawl plugs in the walls from all the occupants over the years. All of these holes and cracks and knocks need to be smoothed out before you can paper, and filler will be your saviour. Embrace it (or resign yourself to having all the walls skimmed with plaster (and probably watching the plasterer use filler before he does it!)).
9) Don’t buy furnishings until you’re finished
I had my colour scheme in mind for the room which involved greens, cream and brown/wood highlights. Originally the room was going to have cream carpet, but when we decided to keep the floors bare wood, it changed the balance of the room so that the duvet cover I’d bought would look too dark against the rest of the room, and I had to exchange it. I had also almost painted the bedside table brown to darken the room a little, which wouldn’t have worked with the wood floors at all. Patience is truly a virtue in this situation, wait and see how the room actually turns out before finishing it, rather than imagining it and choosing things that won’t quite fit. Oh, and measure. Twice.
10) You will be over the moon with the results
Even if there are a couple of minor little issues you didn’t quite get right, the overall sense of achievement you will feel from having done it all yourself will be huge. Even if it’s just a small project like re-wallpapering, every time you go in there you’ll have a little smug moment thinking “I did that”. It is a brilliant feeling to be actually creating your home yourself, and it’s a little bit addictive. You’ll find yourself wanting to do more, but at least the next time you’ll be prepared for all of the above!
Any other DIY lessons that should be shared? Feel free to add yours in the comments, and share this with your DIY-enamoured friends who might be pleased they are not alone!