Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So, what have we learned?

The following is a feeble attempt to provide some advice to those thinking of attempting their own renovation. This is not a step-by-step, but rather a list of things you might not have known about, or would be surprised to hear.

Have an architect in the family
Lucky for us, my dad is a retired architect. Granted he's probably responsible for this project happening in the first place because, if it hadn't been for that damned home improvement gene he gave me, we'd probably have bought a new house by now. but instead the sawdust in my veins caused me to convince my wife that renovating was a good idea. Let's hope I'm right. So far it's about 50/50.

Whatever it costs, you don't have enough
Some say a figure of $100 per square foot is a good rough figure when you start planning. I'd say that's not far off. But then you go to Pottery Barn, or a custom cabinet maker, or that place that sells the showers for ten grand, and all bets are off.

Turn your garage into Ikea
There's no avoiding it. You will lose at least one garage bay due to temporary relocation of crap. Stay on top of it. Don't let it get disorganized, because the moment you do you will need something at the bottom of the pile. So why mention Ikea? If you've shopped at Ikea, you know that browsing the showroom involves following a single pathway through the entire store. Use that same concept in your garage. No matter how packed it gets, make sure everything remains accessible even if you have to wander through a maze to get there. If you let stuff pile up, that wall sconce you need will be under the three-hundred pound sofa table.

Use every cubic foot of space you have, creatively.
Think about it. You have a home that needs more space. so what's the first thing you do? Make your house even smaller for the next few months. Couches get moved to the basement, toys get stacked under the crib, dogs get tethered to the piano. It's chaos. And then, when the builder asks you at 9pm on a Thursday night if he can tear down that wall in the kitchen tomorrow, you've got to find even more storage space at the last minute. Just where do you think you're going to put that collection of cow-shaped tea kettles, bub?

Here's a real example. I had to stash our entertainment unit away to make room for the demolition of a wall. So the stereo cabinet got emptied and stored in a corner next to the piano. which, by the way, is behind two couches and an ottoman. The receiver is on top of the stereo cabinet, and the speakers are on top of that. The 400-disc changer got stashed in my daughter's closet. The VCR went under our bedroom VCR, making the TV rest only inches from the ceiling. The DVD player is under our bed. The TiVo, well, that's still connected to the TV, but sitting on the floor in the hallway. The trick is to a)remember where you stashed everything, b)keep it a livable space, and c)don't expect that you will ever be done finding places to stash stuff. If Carnegie Mellon University taught me only one thing, it's that living in a two-room dorm with three fellow students, all of whom came to school with more crap than your average Wal-Mart, forces you to get creative with storage.

Get a Home Depot Rewards Mastercard
This isn't a Home Depot store card, but an actual Mastercard. A point back per dollar spent, plus 2 points for each dollar spent at Home Depot. We've done well with that. As have the good folks at Home Depot.

Get one of these
I came across this tool, the Skill iXO palm screwdriver, at a Home Depot sale. It's incredibly useful. Worth every penny.

Get a portable accordian file
You have no idea just how much paperwork is involved with this. Bids, receipts, special orders, estimates, brochures, swatches, catalogues, photos, sketches, drawings. If I hadn't thought of setting one of these up from the beginning it would be chaos. And making it portable means I can take it to Home Depot with me so that, when I come across a great sale on bathroom tile, I can whip out the sample of the bathroom vanity color to compare it against.

Another advantage of this is that you always know what you've spent, and can compare against your budget.

The disadvantage of this is that you always know what you've spent, and can spend many sleepless nights wondering how you're ever going to pay for it all.

Murphy's law always applies
As we began tearing down a wall this past week, we never once thought that there might be, say, a heating duct inside it. Naturally, there was. And if you think that last thirteen-foot piece of wire is enough to reach between the last two outlets, it will of course be six inches too short. And If you are handed a set of vinyl siding samples with three price ranges, the only good colors will be in the more expensive range.

If you're planning to replace your carpeting...
...consider potty-training your kid before the new carpets go down. It's a perfect opportunity.

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