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DI(wh)Y? Home Renovations

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Doing the renovations yourself to save some dough

diwhypicHome ownership is a lot of work especially when it comes to maintaining your home or home renovations.  You have to pick out your paint colours, figure out the “feel” that you house will have from top to bottom, upkeep the property, change filters, change bulbs, repair, build, replace….it is simply exhausting.  If you are reading this blog, chances are you are interested in budgets and personal finance so you aren’t so loaded you can just buy your way through life.  Even if you have a list of friends and family in the trades chances are you are going to have to fork out some cash at some point for some work at your house.  This is where the Y/Why? comes in in DIY.  There are so many things you can do with a bit of elbow grease, a bit of preparation and a bit of inspiration – so why not save some money.  I’m going to focus on things that I feel you can do yourself without a degree in design or being a licensed contractor.


Hiring a professional painter has its benefits – if you’ve ever watched a true pro cut trim it is a pretty amazing sight.  If you are doing your whole house, or a wall that is 20’ high chances are you are going this route and you’ll have to bite the bullet.  If not, the bulk of your rooms can be done in a weekend, without much training and for significantly less than hiring a contractor.  The key to painting is prep.  Do not cut corners when taping, take your time and make sure you don’t have any exposed areas.  When Sarah and I painted our first room in our house (we picked the powder room), we (okay…I) did an awful job taping the ceiling.  Luckily we picked such an awful colour the room immediately went on our “repaint” list and eventually we’ll correct the patches of brown on the white ceiling.  Also make sure you pick the right colour – for us we thought we were going with a beautiful dark tan…what we got was a gross looking brown.

Hot Tip: Instead of testing paint samples on your walls, get some small pieces of drywall.  Prime them and paint each piece with the samples you are considering.  Lean the samples on walls and check on them throughout the day to see how the natural light plays with the tones.  Painting right on the wall can leave you with patches that can be really hard to cover up. (Sarah asked to me to tell you that I know this from experience).


If you are able bodied, you should really consider doing your own landscape work.  When Sarah and I decided to rip out our backyard and put in a patio we immediately assumed that we needed a professional to do it.  We got a few quotes and found that to get a 15×20 foot section of patio done was going to run us upwards of $10K.  We aren’t talking about a crazy professional deck with a water and fire feature – this was some grading and patio stones.  So we decided to do it ourselves.  I’m not going to lie, this was one of the most grueling projects we have taken on – but with the cost savings it was more than worth it to fight our way through.  The big thing is to not be afraid to do this type of project yourself.  It may seem overwhelming to do the grading, but with some Google research you can definitely handle it.

Hot Tip: High performance bedding (HPB) is a life saver with any type of patio work.  It is easy to use and doesn’t require you to dig incredibly deep to set up your base.  Go to your local garden center and let them know what you are doing, and what the dimensions are.  They are generally pretty good with letting you know what materials you’ll need.  If possible, get a yard of your materials.  Think about it like shopping at a bulk food store instead of getting individual packages.  For smaller stones or HPB see if they can deliver it in a large yard waste bag.  That way, once you empty the bag you can fill it up with the yard waste you have from digging and get them to pick it up (for a fee, but they are usually reasonable with this cost).

Basement Renovation

There are plenty of signs up in our neighbourhood selling a finished basement in 2 weeks or less.  While there are some parts of a basement renovation that you will likely need a professional for, like electrical and drywall taping – you can save a ton of cash taking on the work yourself.  Chances are you will take a lot longer than 2 weeks, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  These “run and gun” outfits have their benefits if you are just throwing in something functional – but a basement renovation is your opportunity to extend the livable space in your home without heavy construction.  Take your time making decisions on your flooring, putting in a bathroom or not and most importantly the layout of the room.  As tempting as it might be to throw money at the problem to get it over with, you have an opportunity to customize a space the way you want.

Hot Tip: If you have the ceiling height, I’d recommend considering doing a drop ceiling over drywall.  Ceiling tiles are considerably nicer than the ones in your generic office building.  Drop ceilings give you the flexibility to add things yourself later like speaker systems or new lights without having to poke holes and be left with painting and patching.  This may not be the look you are going for – but don’t rule it out thinking your new space will look like a cubicle.

More and more people are going the route of home renovation over moving these days, especially in the Toronto region where we are from.  With the cost of moving, realtor commissions and general headaches it is becoming much more popular to make your current house into a new house.  It is incredibly tempting to go the easy route, whip out the cheque book and hire someone to do it for you.  No matter how good the contractor is NOBODY cares as much about your space as you do.  So, as long as you do it properly and most importantly safely – strongly consider taking on as many tasks yourself as possible.  You’ll end up with space that you can be incredibly proud of, save a ton of money and might even learn a few things along the way.

“Plan B is only for people that give up on Plan A” – Bryan Baeumler (TV Personality/Contractor)

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  1. Apathy Ends says:

    I do as much as I can around our house, generally shy away from electrical and major plumbing issues though.

    Landscaping is a tough job physical job, but it’s not hard to make everything look good. We always do that ourself even though I regret it halfway through

    • Couple of Sense says:

      I think it is fairly common to stay away from electrical and plumbing – if you aren’t 100% sure about what you are doing you can cause a lot more damage. The other big one is mudding and taping for drywall work – to make it look good is almost an art form. I get what you are saying regarding regret when landscaping, I have a new found respect to any one that does that day in and day out.

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