Author Topic: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?  (Read 5646 times)


  • Stubble
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Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« on: February 13, 2014, 07:15:04 AM »
Two big projects that I'd like to do myself but hesitate:

Bathroom: Change tiny shower for glass plates and ceramic + rain-style showerhead. Also heated floor at shower exit and in front of the sink.
I'm sure I can figure out 95% of it reading books and Internet searches. But what if something unexpected comes up or I screw up? Family can't live without a shower for more than maybe 1-2 days.

Kitchen: I'd like to remove a wall and redo all cabinets. Not sure how to handle straight cabinets and not so straight walls and don't want to live in a revonation zone for weeks while I tinker trying to make things line up and look good.

How did you guys learn to deal with the unexpected stuff? Everything that is not covered by books or the usual screws up that could be costly like maybe doing something wrong with heated floor and then ceramic is installed and you are out of luck.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2014, 07:24:46 AM »
I think its really important to plan on living in a renovation zone for a couple of weeks if you're doing it yourself.  Do you have a second bathroom or a backup plan for food for a few days?

We learned most of it via internet searches and I have on friend who slow flips his primary residence every two years, buying something deep in distress and completely rebuilding it himself to supplement his income.  Its been very helpful having someone to ask random questions to.

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  • Bristles
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2014, 08:02:42 AM »
An invaluable resource for project-specific advice:  It's a fantastic community of pros, DIY-ers, and people who hire everything done but plan/research well.  I've posted countless "how do I overcome this glitch" as well as project threads, and never failed to get the answers I needed. 

For tiling, visit, which is like gardenweb on steroids (way more pros) specifically geared towards tiling. 


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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2014, 08:52:32 AM »
Welcome to home DIY projects!
Rule #1) Something will always go wrong, and it will always take longer than expected.  If it doesn't, it's just because you didn't notice what went wrong.

That said, i've found DIY home projects to be very rewarding.  I also remember often repeat a mantra that MMM gave (he was talking about car repair, but it works here too);  basicall, whenever you get stuck sit back and say "people have been doing this for ages, and I can get through this.  There is always a way and anything can be fixed."

ok - so for your more specific questions, I recommend John Bridge too.  BUt for an even broader overview (if this is your first time laying tile anywhere) check out:  I love Kit's charge-ahead attitude and find her blog posts hilarious. 

As for the "no shower for 1-2 days"... have a backup plan.  For me it would be swimming at the local rec center and then showering/shaving, but to each their own.  2 days doesn't give much time for things to go wrong (remember, if you are starting from scratch you'll need to do a showerpan liner /waterproofing membrane first, then have to put up backerboard and wait for your tile to set before grouting and then sealing.  The way I figure it, that'll be two full days with lots of waiting for things (like the thinset) to, well, set.

As for kitchen cabinets - it's all about planning, measuring, measuring and planning before you ever start the remodel.  Keep in mind that NO walls are straight, which is why we 'hang' the cabinets in the first place.


  • Walrus Stache
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2014, 11:10:53 AM »

The obvious answer to the meta question of "where did you learn" is ... by doing it.  It'd be awesome if you could tag along with someone that has done it before, but most of us (or at least me) didn't get that chance.

You're going to screw something up.  (Or at least I do.)  The important point is realizing you did screw it up and deciding that the screwup is not acceptable.

And like has been said: have an alternate plan.  You need to have "a second bathroom" or "a second kitchen" for both of those projects.  Now, that doesn't mean you need to go build another kitchen... but you will want to set up something where you have some minimal kitchen: sink, refrigerator, microwave.  Same with the bath.

I'm gawd-awful slow in my projects... and often when you open up something, you find it needs MUCH MORE WORK than you thought.  I've stumbled on: termites, electrical not up to code, double-french doors on exterior walls with no header, etc.  My poor wifey has been more than patient with me when I've drug out projects for months.


  • Bristles
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2014, 11:43:15 AM »
I pull you tube videos for my car. Not exactly the same but I expect there are a lot of DIY videos on there for simple items like the shower head. I did a new shower head myself in 5 min. It's not that hard as long as you have some plumbers tape.

For the more advanced things there are two things I would check. First stores like Home Depot usually have free classes and demos. Second is consider volunteering for somewhere like Habitat for Humanity. I would think you'd pick up a lot building a house in order to figure out how to tear parts of one down.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2017, 02:36:30 PM »
Anyone tried to hire a tradesman in order to learn along side of him? What would be a reasonable amount to pay versus hiring the person to do the job entirely? I think Mr Money Mustache talked about hiring someone off Craigslist to teach him certain tasks.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2017, 08:01:21 PM »
First research online, read a lot, watch videos for anything you can't visualize from text. Then just dive in and do it. None of it is rocket science. Some of the more difficult parts for me with tile was learning load calcs and how to get within required deflection limits so the tile would last and not crack, given an older structure not suitable for tile as it was. Figuring out the ideal materials was also a lot of research, and once deciding on materials an adventure to actually get them (big box stores stock jun and often can't get the latest or best materials). Add more indecision and research for a wet environment like a shower. Also the art of making up for imperfections in the base so your finished tile is level and straight.

If you're new to any DIY projects, your shower tiling project will probably be a handful and a steep learning curve. Plan to take baths in the sink or rig up an outside shower with a hose and do it when it's warm. You won't be done in a day or two for your first project. Remember you've got at least 24 hours for the thinset to set up and again at least that long for grout. I'm not a pro and only done a few tile projects but I'd give extra time for a shower before use, shame to ruin a tedious tile job by rushing to get weight on it and soak it in water.


  • Bristles
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2017, 08:23:12 PM »
100% of my renos are thanks to YouTube.  It's a great resource for all diy needs


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2017, 10:32:06 PM »
I like tiling and did some projects in my 20's. But be aware it's not very forgiving and you need to be very detail oriented. Is there a smaller project you could start with?  My first project was a tile backsplash behind the stove at my mom's condo (mathematically difficult but came out nicely). Then my not so handy brother laid some floor tiles for her small entryway. But he's NOT as handy as his little sister, so he stupidly started the tiles in the back of the entry closet and worked towards the door, instead of vice versa - leaving the cut partial tiles at the entrance instead of hidden at the back of the closet lol.

Later I tiled a bathroom floor and halfway up the walls with 4 inch ceramic tiles ( there was an antique claw foot tub). My tiling looked impeccable but my husband at the time got bad advice about the flooring underlay and the tiles on the floor tended to pop.

Not trying to discourage you - tiling is very satisfying if you're good at it. But like I said, you need to be detail oriented, mathematical helps too.And - 1-2 days to do the shower? You're dreaming. Even if demo was done in a flash, no surprises uncovered (like, say, moldy drywall underneath) it would be a big job to put up all the tile in a day. Then that has to dry before you grout the next day. Then THAT has to dry before you seal it.
Also rent a tile saw from the tile store. Trust me.


  • Walrus Stache
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2017, 10:19:59 AM »
I have size, strength, and singleton issues. Meaning, I'm not physically able to do something by myself (carry x, lift y), or it's inherently a 2 person job. I've been getting physically stronger, which helps. Sometimes I can borrow a friend, but I've also been lucky to find a handyman who charges reasonable rates and has a pretty wide skill set. Just depends on what I'm trying to do.

I learned a lot of what I know from my parents growing up. I'm able to build on that knowledge now. Research online, youtube, talking to people who've done it.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #11 on: October 24, 2017, 11:12:41 AM »
I think those projects are totally doable and you'll learn a lot from them. The advantage of doing them yourself is that you can afford to make some mistakes and still come out ahead compared to hiring. A couple of comments, definitely find a local landlord friend who you can bounce ideas off of, though a word of caution they may not care as much as you about doing things "right," just "fine enough." I had good luck hiring a handyman to help make the work go faster, and he taught me a lot. I paid him $20 an hour and he was capable to do windows, concrete, trim, appliance installation, fencing, framing, electrical, painting, drywall. That said, I'd fired 2 before him. It may have made as much sense to forgo value and get someone really good from day one, and pay them $50 an hour and really learn from their experience.

Lastly, don't discount talking to people at Home Depot and Lowe's. Some of the staff are actually pretty competent and I learned a lot of helpful procuedures talking to them. They also know the local housing stock, and so for instance, may be able to tell you some of the particular ways to install replacement windows on a house that had steel casement windows. That was a localized situation they helped with, that Youtube didn't show.

As for one other suggestion, if the projects seem big, consider hiring someone to do part. In my area, tiling a tub surround costs $300. That is crazy cheap in my opinion and a way better use of money than my spending 2-3 days on it, plus it looks so much better. Similarly, I can build cabinets easily, but it is also really simple to buy the boxes from Ikea, assemble them in an hour, and then just make door and drawer fronts.

One bonus piece of advice, since you're DIYing, you can do it however you want. i.e. use open shelving instead of upper cabinets, save yourself some time, worry less about an uneven wall, and buyers will like your kitchen better.

good luck!


  • Bristles
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #12 on: October 24, 2017, 11:30:45 AM »
"Renovation: 4th Edition" by Litchfield (former editor of Fine Homebuilding) is an amazing resource. You could also try the third edition. Both should be available at your local library.

Supplement with youtube videos and any other How To DVDs that you can also get from the library. Especially anything by Taunton Press.

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  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Where did you learn how to do home renovations?
« Reply #13 on: October 24, 2017, 11:43:53 AM »
I learnt by doing. If a friend or family member is doing something new I'll offer a hand, if I'm doing something I'll ask for a hand (selectively, many people are well meaning but a liability). And YouTube.

Two days isn't enough. A professional who had done 100 bathrooms wouldn't be able to do that. Trying will be incredibly frustrating and might scare you off work that is actually achievable.