Renovating Old Houses by George Nash

As with any project, time and patience are worth their weight in gold. Homeownership truly tests those limitations. For over 100 years, my Queen Anne has stood tall, proud, and beautiful. Upon purchasing her, I knew immense work was needed to restore and rehabilitate her facade and shabby interior. What I didn’t realize was that my initial 10-year plan could turn into a 20, possibly 40 year plan. Without an endless bankroll funding my projects, I needed to assume the role of handyman, electrician, and plumber. This has entailed extensive research at the library, on Google, and numerous YouTube videos. Since there are not any self-imposed deadlines and time constraints, progress has been snail-paced. Therefore, when I finally finished skim-coating and sanding plaster walls in a bathroom, I was ecstatic. My bragging rights were crushed when my daughter kindly reminded me that I projected room completion in two weeks, start to finish; those words escaped my lips over three years ago. Yikes!

My home is in a constant state of DIY disrepair. Not only do I leave a trail of tools wherever I go, I’m certain there is a coating of plaster and drywall dust on every inch of, well, everything in my upstairs. The irony is that I’m constantly working on renovation projects to make my house look exactly the way I want. Yet, my house is always a mess from half-finished projects and never really looks the way I want. However, when I remember all the projects I have completed, I feel a sense of pride knowing I am making progress, slow as it may be.

Idyllic images on Instagram and various home improvement shows have glamorized the not so glamorous life of DIY. The reality is that rehabilitation and renovation projects are not for the faint of heart. The time to do each project can really add up and chances are very high that working on a home isn’t the only thing going on. Between work or children or aging parents or activities, there isn’t much time left to focus on even more time consuming projects. Something as simple as painting a room can take quite a bit of time. Cleaning, prepping the surface, making repairs, priming, and cutting in the trim color never fails to take at least three times as long as imagined.

I’ve lived in my home for almost 10 years and it is nowhere near finished. I am totally fine with that. In those 10 years, I’ve learned how to rewire electrical outlets and lights, plaster walls, refinish hardwood floors, and fix minor plumbing issues. That is why I thoroughly enjoy DIY work. It is hands-down the best way to incorporate my creative side in the home of my dreams, while staying on budget.

But the truth is, there are plenty of obstacles to DIY as well. The before and after photographs of renovations and 30 minute television programs tend to downplay all the hard work, stress, financial issues, and total failures that can occur. For example, I saved thousands of dollars by refinishing my own floors. However, I spent a significant amount more than I had anticipated on a different project, because I didn’t have the proper tools.

One of the many obstacles people don’t consider is that most projects seem like a complete failure at some point. It is a fact that things will go wrong. Sometimes they go terribly wrong. The important lesson I learned is to keep working. There is almost always a solution to whatever problems arise. Appreciate the learning curve and use it as an experience worth going through.

Prior to any large or small DIY project, research, research, and more research needs to be completed. As previously stated, Google and YouTube contain a wealth of information. The more knowledge gained, the easier the project will be. Any skill set can be learned with the proper resources. Utilize the Knox County Public Library. They have numerous books and DVDs regarding all aspects of construction, restoration, electrical and plumbing applications aimed at different levels of expertise. Furthermore, the library can request and/or order items you might find valuable to their collection.

Some of the resources I found extremely helpful are the “Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual” by the Family Handyman. This book provides a general overview and comprehensive guide to home improvements. George Nash’s book “Renovating Old Houses” illustrates how to maintain and repair older homes, instead of gutting and replacing their valuable materials. The “Complete Book of Home Inspection” by Norman Becker will assist homeowners in evaluating the condition of items from the roof to the crawl space and everything in between. Also, “Woodworking: The Complete Step-by-Step Manual” not only includes colorful photographs, but also sequential directions. These are just a few of the many resources the library has to offer. Stop by the front desk and staff members will gladly assist you in locating the information and materials you need.

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