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Three Keys to a Successful DIY Remodel

Posted: 7 May 2013

There are three primary areas where DIY projects go astray. You can avoid these potential pitfalls by sticking the three "wells"; Plan well, Design well, and Choose well.


If you are opting to general contract your home improvements, be careful to plan properly. If you're doing anything more interesting than repairs, value good design and get design input. Take care when you choose the craftsman with whom you will work. Your choices matter.


Big DIY Problem #1: Poor Planning

Poor planning often results in long lasting projects that blow the budget.


Homeowners are often so focused on the end result that they don’t invest enough time, thought, and research into what’s involved in getting from the start to the finish of a remodeling project.


If you are going it alone, you need to be able to visualize the whole project. Thinking though the Project Plan helps to make sure that what you’re seeing in your mind is actually going to work in your home and that it can be orchestrated in a reasonable time frame.


project plan

Having a defined schedule of activities allows you to identify the order of the process so you don’t get started on one task only to discover that you should have done something else first.


If you’re going to do some tasks yourself and contract some out, your plan helps you determine what to do and when to do so, so that you can plan ahead and fit into workers' schedules. Planning ahead like this means less down time on your project.


You need to create remodeling documentation, such as drawings, takeoffs and material lists, and a schedule, as well as a detailed budget with quotes from the workers.


Once your planning documentation is complete, confirm availability of all items, including tile and fixtures. Order as much as you can as soon as you can. You don’t want to hold up progress because either you forgot to place the order or discovered too late that the items were no longer available. You will want to inspect materials when they come in, allow time for vendor screw ups, and for things to take longer than you expect to arrive.


cardboard box with shipping damage

 “Just in time” is not the best way to run a project in your home. Not just because you are doing it - we don't run our jobs at Clark Construction that way either.


We like to allow enough time for something to come, for us to discover it's wrong or damaged and turn around the order again. Fulfillment mistakes and shipping damage happen. It's part of life.


You should also have a contingency plan for those “just in case” situations. Have a second choice for materials, and a backup for your intended workers. They may be committed to another remodeling project which conflicts with when you need them, particularly if the time when you really need them turns out to be different from what you told them upfront.


In addition, if your progress is dependent on Mother Nature’s cooperation, determine how you will handle a sudden bout of bad weather.


By thinking ahead, you’ll be better prepared for whatever comes your way.


Big DIY Problem #2: Skimping on Design

It’s easy to miss a design alternative that would have been obvious to a professional designer, or to overlook certain features, like storage space, traffic patterns, and lighting.


When you’re wrapped up in the excitement of a remodeling project, it’s easy to think that you can "be the designer". Be careful if you take on this responsibility yourself. 


cut away of house model viewed from above

Don’t underestimate the value of having your space designed by someone who has already done hundreds of projects just like yours. They know what questions to ask and the important design elements to address.


They will have an understanding of project costs and the technical expertise required to successfully design the project you are considering.


We visited a home where the clients had done a DIY kitchen. They had selected cabinets that were just a little too shallow to fit their heirloom plates. Additionally, the silverware drawer was located right in front of the main work station, so every time silverware was needed, anyone working there would need to move. Ouch! These are major functional design flaws that would have easily been avoided by an experienced designer.


For additions, the trained eye of a designer allows for structures that integrate gracefully into the lines of the existing home. When driving around town, it's hard not to notice additions designed without that talent. You want your addition to look like it was always there, whether you design it yourself or someone else collaborates with you.


A designer brings a lot to the table for dealing with finishing details. Their in-depth knowledge of how things go together can be helpful. There are probably things that you would rather do with your time than learn about the intricacies of heating systems, cabinet components, appliance specs, or lighting and plumbing fixtures.


One couple ordered an expensive faucet for their kitchen remodel and then discovered that the window ledge didn’t allow for the added height. In addition to avoiding this mistake, a designer would have the knowledge of current design trends, which allows him/her to be a good source for color and material recommendations.


Another homeowner built a media center that turned out to be one inch too small for his new flat screen television. Sometimes just the fact that there's a second set of eyes to catch silly mistakes like this makes a significant difference in a project's outcome.


DIY Big Problem #3: Not Choosing the Best Tradespeople


Bad choices about who should work on your job can make it difficult for you, and impact the project's progress.


You're inviting people into your home who you will be with day in and day out for a while. It's important that it be a comfortable fit. You're going to conduct the orchestra, so put together a team who can work together and seamlessly pass the baton from one to another. You want to avoid finger pointing as various activities are completed.


Pay fairly. Price based selection is not necessarily the best way to select a tradesperson. Responsiveness to your calls, the quality of craftsmanship, speed of work, timeliness of completion, the ability to stay on your budget, attention to detail, and their interest in standing behind their work can differ significantly from person to person.


We’ve seen trusting homeowners end up with a mess because they failed to ask the right questions and made decisions on the wrong criteria. Be sure you know who you are hiring. Consider things such as: Will they show up when you need them?

How fast do they work? What is their work ethic? What are their other commitments or vacation plans while your project is going on? Are they part of another team? If they work regularly for a general contractor, you may play second fiddle to their regular meal ticket. This may test your patience, but sometimes good people are worth waiting for. Some friends told us that at their summer place they book the mason a year ahead to re-point the fireplace. He's that good and that busy. Hopefully you won't have to wait that long for anyone!


skills, knowledge and abilities on lettered cubes, scrabble-style

One of the factors that is hard to quantify when you interview candidates is whether they have the abilities and experience to be good problem solvers and think through the complexities of the job.


We have been called in by homeowners on numerous occasions when a "low bid" carpenter/contractor walked away from the project before it was finished.


This can be a nightmare, emotionally and financially. Things are done out of sequence, or details are left unfinished that they haven’t figured out how to address. We have had to reopen walls to put in pipes or wires that have been overlooked. Two steps backwards is costly! Paying a second contractor after you have already paid the first one will certainly drain the budget quickly.


In remodeling, problems happen. Making sure your guys have excelled at recovering when something has gone wrong on previous jobs. Check out their references. You'll be happy you invested this time when everything goes well.


So if you do your homework, planning well, designing well and choosing well, you can expect that, for the most part, your project will come together like you have it planned out, and the journey will be pleasant, and in line with your expectations.

Even if you follow these guidelines and complete a successful DIY project, you may decide that you'd rather have someone else run your next project, get it done fast, to budget and hassle free for you, so that you can play golf or do other things that you love. If so, we'll be here, and we'd love to hear from you.





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