DIY Home Improvement the No-Regrets Way

Simcha First/by permissionDoing your own home renovations and repairs may sound like a great idea, but do-it-yourself doesn’t always work out quite the way we’d like it to. Make sure you don’t end up with regrets … and maybe even a major disaster area in your home … by learning these strategies for successful DIY.

Do your research. Do your homework and find out as many details as you can about your planned project before you begin. The internet is an obvious source of information, but pay a few visits to home improvement centers or suppliers’ showrooms as well, to get a clearer sense of how the materials you’d like to use will actually look and feel.

Conform to code. Find out the stipulations of your local building code and follow them. Depending on the nature of the job, DIY projects may require pulling permits just as if you were working with a pro remodeler – the difference being, of course, that in this case, you will have to take care of the necessary paperwork yourself.

Plan ahead. Winging it can be exhilarating. More often, though, it will turn out to be just plain frustrating, for example, when you find out that the wood flooring you just tried to varnish should have been sanded first. Plan ahead and make an orderly list of all the steps you’ll need to follow.

Line up your space. Are you planning to take on a large-scale home improvement such as refinishing your kitchen cabinets? Good luck. Make sure you have plenty of physical space available, both to work on your project and to leave all the bits and pieces overnight or for a few days, while you take a much-needed break.

Buy quality materials. Just as Grandma always predicted, cheap does tend to be expensive. Not only are cheap materials usually less durable (and often less eco-friendly), they are frequently more difficult to work with.

Measure meticulously. As a home sewer, I know the old maxim, “Measure once, cut twice” very well. But as an occasional home DIY-er, I consider that rule even more important. Home improvement materials are costly, and generally, ceramic tiles are not as forgiving as a length of cotton knit.

Ensure you have backup available. Although it’s been said before, this is definitely worth repeating: things can (and do) occasionally go wrong with even the most carefully planned do-it-yourself project. Avoid putting on your DIY hat on a weekend or holiday, when extra supplies or emergency help from a qualified contractor are hard to find.

Know your goals. Are you knocking together some fast 'n' simple shelves for your family’s storage needs? Fine. However, should renting or selling your home be on the agenda, you will probably want to go for a more polished looking project.

Have (more than enough) cash on hand. Besides looking for a sense of personal satisfaction, you’re likely taking on this home improvement project to save money. Remember that while DIY tends to be cheaper, it isn’t free. Calculate your costs realistically. And as you would with a professional home renovation, set up a reserve fund of 10-20 percent in case the work goes over budget.

Organize an oasis. When you’re undertaking a DIY home remodel of gargantuan proportions, we can guarantee one thing: there will be mess, noise, and upheaval. So start by creating a retreat – a cozy corner indoors (or out in the yard if it’s warm enough) where you, your family, and pets can go to chill when the chaos gets to be too much.

Invest in the future. Do you foresee more DIY in the months or years to come? Then it pays to invest in good quality tools that you will be able to use again and again. Another useful way to plan ahead is to order a few extra flooring planks or what have you, to simplify matching for future repairs.

Laura Firszt writes for

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