There was one main home renovation lesson that I learned along the way during the 15 months we spent getting our old home ready to live in. My grandparents’ one hundred year old farm house had seen nothing resembling a renovation since they added indoor plumbing back in the early 1950’s. It was not a small task (as anyone who has ever done such a thing will tell you) it was not without its incredible ups and downs (mostly downs) and its not something I ever want to do again – at least not under the deadlines that we had placed on ourselves. (Someone, who shall remain nameless because it was most certainly me, decided that we should have our wedding in the backyard so everyone could see the “finished” house – I was literally painting kitchen cabinets two days before the wedding! Who does this to themselves!?)
Of course the renovation is still not entirely done – what’s that thing they say about a house never being done? – the basement remains just sitting there, reminding me every day that its time to sheet rock. The main house still needs three interior doors and a few closet doors but, mostly, it is done. So, what was the number one home renovation lesson that I learned?
Do not despair when things don’t go perfectly to plan!
Seems so obvious and simple doesn’t it? Well, it is really not. Joe and I did literally 98% of everything to this home almost single handedly. Joe hung the majority of the sheet rock, I did all of the taping and mudding. We both painted the interior of the entire house (with a little help from my family) – we both hung all of the beadboard on the ceilings and put up all of the trim. He did the majority of the gutting of the entire house while I did the majority of the clean up (thank you to my mom for helping me shovel and shovel lath and plaster and ancient insulation). I did the majority of all of the new framing throughout and that turned into a much bigger job then I ever imagined but, dammit, I can put up a wall now in ten minutes flat! (And my poor back will probably never be the same.)
I did almost all of the electrical and plumbing throughout the entire house, Joe helped me some but I had experience in both areas, he broke up the concrete in the basement so I could run the drainage pipes and add a kitchen and bathroom down there. (Not to mention Joe hacked through our two foot thick foundation to put an egress window in down there too) Nothing was saved of the old plumbing or old electrical, I ran all new everything for three bathrooms, two kitchens, two living rooms and four bedrooms. We also put up a two car garage together and Joe (with a little help from me) covered the entire house and garage in all new siding. We also installed all new windows throughout the entire house (17 in all!!) and 5 new exterior doors. All while working full time jobs besides and, in the beginning, Joe was living thirty miles from the house so he could (much to his horror and frustration) only really help on the weekends.
I was an absolute insane animal and was there after work just about every single day for all fifteen months straight – and I am ashamed to admit I more then once played the martyr card. We also refinished and/or added and then finished all of the wood floors throughout the house. I know there’s more lol but that’s the big stuff without telling the dozens of horror stories, like having to take the new master bedroom window back out so we could get the shower up there because there was no way it was going up our stairwell. My fault. Silly me, I had worried the bath tub wouldn’t go up there and got it up there months ahead of time, the shower… well I never thought the shower would be a problem. The flip side of the story was that I had measured wrong and had actually put one window in four inches too far to the left so being able to take it out meant that I could fix my screw up. We did all of this all alone, just him and I, or entirely alone: just me putting up a wall at 11 o’clock on a work night.
Along the way I had a few entirely epic, totally lost my mind, I can’t do this anymore, I’m going to do this if it kills me and its definitely going to kill me, atomic, complete and total, melt downs. Joe had his share of ups and downs too but I think I took the cake when it came to utterly and completely losing my mind a couple of times. When I tell people this they totally agree that its understandable but then I remind them that gutting and renovating my grandparents’ one hundred year old farm house was entirely my idea and when “we” started on this adventure Joe and I weren’t even a year into dating!
So, why is my number one lesson not patience or making sure to own a miter saw or a reciprocating saw or keeping sharp objects away from yourself when you’ve lost your mind? Because, in the end, no matter how many tools you own, no matter how many lists you make, no matter how prepared you are (and I was prepared, I planned this renovation for over a year before we began and I’m still kicking myself for not doing some things differently!) when you start a job like this things are going to go wrong somehow. And its probably not going to be a big “wrong” its just going to be something as simple as breaking a pipe off and having to go back to the store for the 11th time. Or not being able to find the right bit for the 3,792nd time. Or, maybe you bought the wrong screws, there are THOUSANDS to choose from. In the end, it probably won’t be a very big deal and everything is fixable, every mess can be cleaned up but when you’re already at the end of your rope, already having spent countless hours on your stomach, already crawled forty feet, in the dirt, in the crawl space in the dead of night, to find out that the length you cut the electrical line is literally two inches too short, it can sure feel like the end of the world.
My number one home renovation lesson is absolutely to expect SOMETHING TO GO WRONG. You just have to expect it and it’s not about being a “glass-is-half-empty” kinda of gal, no, it’s actually about being a realist. Over the months Joe and I both became scrappy and learned how to work with things going “wrong” (mostly because atomic meltdowns are exhausting and time consuming and after fifteen months of renovation we just didn’t have the energy to get upset anymore, or I should say “I” because Joe is the coolest most easy going character ever in the history of men in my life – which is why I married him) but when you’re just starting out on any project bumps along the way can really feel like earth quakes. If you’ve watched dozens of youtube videos and hours of the DIY and HGTV channel – I’m telling you right now that they’re lying to you in how smooth things actually go. There’s a reason why even old carpenters (with years of experience) will still put a level on something and exclaim in astonishment, “Holy shit! Put a screw in it – its level!”
Honestly, any work you do with wood or on your home will be so entirely based on your own millions of itty bitty circumstances that there is absolutely no way to know exactly what you’re going to find until you get there. Give yourself a break, plan as thoroughly and completely as you can and expect to NOT be able to foresee everything! You will get there and things are probably not going to go smooth AT ALL. Like in life, my number one home renovation lesson is simple: take everything in stride, it may take another run to the hardware store (and you will want to hit something, maybe especially the incredibly clean and cheerful girl behind the counter who will never know what its like to reach into a septic pipe to make sure its cleaned out) but you must learn to not despair, to keep perspective, everything is fixable, every project can be finished (and will get finished) and is doable. Quite honestly, sitting on your butt crying in the dirt (which is ok because we do all need a good cry from time to time) is just wasting more time when you could have fixed it and finished it already!
Number one home renovation lesson: things will go wrong, don’t despair!