The number one lesson I learned during my home renovation

Dec 31 2015
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There was one main home renovation lesson that I learned along the way during the 15 months I spent getting my 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 such deadlines.

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!

The number one lesson I learned during the 15 month renovation of my grandma's 100 year old farm house

Seems so obvious and simple doesn’t it? Well, it is really not. Joe (my now ex husband) 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.)

The number one lesson I learned during the 15 month renovation of my grandma's 100 year old farm house

I did almost all of the electrical and plumbing throughout the entire house, Joe (my now ex husband) 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. 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 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 my 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.

The number one lesson I learned during the 15 month renovation of my grandma's 100 year old farm house

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!

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.

The number one lesson I learned during the 15 month renovation of my grandma's 100 year old farm house

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!

The number one lesson I learned during the 15 month renovation of my grandma's 100 year old farm house
The #1 lesson I learned during my 15 months of home renovation renovations remodel remodeling a 100 year old farm house of my grandparents diy do it yourself

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  1. Alice
    December 31, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    You so impress me! I have always done as much as I could around the house myself…but my daughter and you both have skills I never mastered. All new plumbing and electric? Ya gotta be kidding me! YOu go girl.
    Your newest fan.

    • December 31, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      Oh thank you so much Alice! I had renovated a house before (and passed inspection) so the new plumbing and electrical didn’t scare me too much but oh my gosh did the plumbing drive me crazy! May I NEVER have to run another pipe again in my life! It was one last plumbing pipe that actually drove me to my absolute worst melt down, but, ya know, you live and you learn and now I know I never need to do that again in my life! 🙂 But its all good skills to have for sure!

  2. January 1, 2016 at 12:45 am

    You and your hubby have skills most of the world lacks! I wish I had your skills cuz I want to reno my husband’s grandparents’ farm house – it is only 86 years old. Don’t know if it will ever happen, but I can dream! You are both amazing!

    • January 4, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Oh I so hope you get the chance to dive into your grandparents’ old place! The renovation was a hard fifteen months but I wouldn’t change it for the world! Good luck and thank you so much for commenting!!

  3. Karen
    January 1, 2016 at 1:37 am

    Best post I have EVER read on DIY!!! So true! But can I ask how you ever taught yourself plumbing and electrical? Even if I had to wire and plumb a house for the first time, I would have to know how. I don’t see how you can learn as you go on these two. Please enlighten! Thanks for this post.

    • January 4, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      I grew up in a real diy household, my dad built log cabins and several homes throughout my child hood as well as an 18 hole golf course so doing things myself was entirely natural to me. On the golf course I did a lot of irrigation work both with electrical and plumbing so the next step into my residential wasn’t a big stretch though there was still a lot to learn! I bought lots of books lol. But, truly, neither electrical or plumbing is rocket science at all neither is it terribly hard work, more time consuming then anything. Thank you so much for commenting!!

  4. Susan Walsh
    January 1, 2016 at 6:32 pm


    I just finished reading your recent blog about your and Joe’s journey in redoing your grandma’s house. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. I started reading your site a few months ago. I’m sure I’m more interested since I’ve been in your home and know you guys but it’s fun to read your stories and to get new ideas.

    Miss our neighbors but we do love being in AZ during the winter months. Our best to you and Joe and say hi to your Mom.

    Happy New Years!

    • January 4, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      Sue, thank you so much for reading and stopping by here! Its always good to hear from you. I’m very jealous that you’re in AZ! The weather hasn’t been bad but some real cold stuff is on its way :/ Happy new years!!

  5. Lisa
    March 22, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Tarah, I also have a home built in the 1920’s. I would love to take out a wall, back then all the rooms were so small, to combine the kitchen and dining area. Anyway I noticed the flooring with the flowers on it and was wondering if you found any asbestos in that. That is the almost the same flooring I found under the carpet. Girl after my own heart, don’t pay to have someone do something you can do or learn to do on your own!!

    • March 24, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Hey Lisa, honestly we never got anything tested for asbestos we just carefully took out EVERYTHING. I know the old insulation was extremely harmful to breathe so we just took very careful precautions, full masks, gloves, totally covered from head to toe and we let everything really air out. We were as careful as we could possibly be, I know some of that stuff is really nasty! Yup, I just can’t bare to pay someone else to do something if I think we can do it ourselves! Thanks for commenting!

  6. June 2, 2017 at 6:10 am

    I am so happy to find your blog! We are actually in the process of trying to renovate my family’s old farm house (110 next year!). I’m impressed you did the electrical and plumbing – electric is our next big project because the wiring my grandfather installed after WWII just isn’t going to cut it anymore!

    • June 2, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      Natasha, I much preferred the wiring to just about any other job in the house, plumbing was also my nightmare: I also felt like I was at the edge of just not being quite strong enough to get it done properly! Thanks for coming by and GOOD LUCK!!

  7. Judi
    September 30, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Hi again Tara

    Just been catching up on some more of your blog when I found this post, and oh boy, you’ve REALLY nailed it (‘scuse the pun, lol). As you know I’m currently working on building a new kitchen, and the other day while glueing a door together, everything happened at once – a delivery – the postman, you name it. Having been distracted, I then realised that I hadn’t placed my glued part in the right place, and it was stuck firm! Grrrrrr! I just lost it, for the first time in 18 months of DIY everything, I totally lost it! Then when I eventually calmed down, and faced the fact that at worst it was a piece of plywood wasted, it all seemed SO silly, but hey, you KNOW how that goes!

    Hugs Judi in the UK

    • October 2, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Oh Judi I really do know how that goes! It when everything happens like that that one realizing why someone “goes postal” from time to time lol because its not just one little thing its that little thing on top of about a thousand others and there is only just so much a person can take!

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