Our family is renovating a nineteenth-century home. Demolition and construction occur weekly, if not daily. My husband devotes every Saturday and some weekday evenings to improving the home. I’m grateful he is a skilled builder, who grew up helping his dad construct their beautiful chalet-style home in Vermont.
My construction skills are non-existent. I can swing a hammer, but I’m as likely to hit my fingernail as the actual nail. When we first bought the house, I did some painting alongside my husband, but after the birth of my son, I adopted a more supportive role.
Over four years of renovations have taught my husband and I to enjoy remodeling and to appreciate each other’s roles. Before we could enjoy the process, we had to adjust our habits and expectations. For example, I no longer expect to have a perfect suburban home, and my husband has learned how to work alongside a family.
Also, our division of chores is more traditional than modern: I do the majority of housekeeping so my husband can focus on construction. I don’t require him to clean the toilets, because I recognize that he works very hard elsewhere.
Here are a few other lessons we learned while rebuilding:
1. Be flexible. Anything can happen in home renovation. A rotting floor lurking under the toilet can transform a simple paint job into a major overhaul. Don’t panic. Address each problem as it comes, and trust that the rest will be done in time.
2. Have work-zones and work-free areas. Whenever we begin a new project, we spend a few days rearranging the house so that it is still a comfortable place to live. We need space to be a family, to relax, and not to be surrounded by tools.
3. Be patient. Every project will take longer — much longer — when done by an amateur than a professional. A homeowner may have the same skills and expertise as a professional contractor, but he is not likely to have 40 hours a week to devote to the job. Don’t expect big projects to be completed over a weekend.
4. Enjoy the process. Renovating can be enjoyable. I love flipping through design magazines and imagining how we can incorporate various ideas into our home. I dream in colors, fabrics and tile patterns.
To my surprise, I discovered construction process can be as interesting as designing a home. From helping my husband, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for building and design.
Renovation gives us an opportunity to be archaeologists and learn about the history of our home. We can see how one room was divided and later joined with another. We have found an old hearth under layers of flooring, matchboxes tucked into walls, and toy cars lost decades ago.
5. Celebrate your successes. We enjoy hosting a parties to mark a project’s completion (or near completion). Renovating a home can seem like an endless chore. If you don’t mark your progress, you can easily become discouraged.
6. Define your project and set goals. Be realistic in your goals, but also be diligent in completing each project.
7. Set realistic budgets. I think it is wise to budget at least 20% more for a project than you initially expect it to cost.
7. Take breaks. Home renovating is a way of life, but don’t let be your only life. Make time for family and fun, and remember the house will always be with you.
8. Know when to call in the professionals. There are very few projects my husband cannot do; however, even he has hired contractors to cut down trees, replace our roof and tape our dry wall. He could do many of these things himself, but the professional contractors may do them quicker, better, or cheaper. You should probably call a professional if you don’t have the expertise to do a job or if doing the job will take longer than it is worth.