Thinking about a DIY Home Renovation? Avoid These 14 Common Mistakes

If you’re thinking about renovating your home, my recommendation is to consider the help of a professional interior designer.  If you try to tackle a renovation project on your own, you can easily end up wasting time, money and patience.   However, if you’re feeling adventurous here are a few tips to help you avoided the most common mistakes.


Not Doing Enough Research

Talk to friends, family, real estate agents and construction experts before you start your renovation. You want to have a clear understanding of what to expect during this process from others who have been through this process. Get recommendations for contractors from sources you trust. Collect photos, and magazine clippings to help develop your design ideas.  Make sure you have a copy of the blueprints for your house from the city, even if you don’t think you will need it. 


Failure to Anticipate Stress and Chaos

Before you start, make sure everyone involved has a clear understanding about the entire process from beginning to end.  Knowing up front what to expect and how long the process should take to complete, can help tame some of the anxiety levels in the household.


Setting an Unrealistic Budget

People often underestimate the cost of a renovation.  Even if you think that you have done all of your homework by getting bids for materials and labor, you need to pad your budget for the “incidentals”.  You never know what you will find when you start demolition and you or your contractor discovers something going on behind a wall that was not expected.  Think of a padded budget as your safety net. You don’t want to be in a situation where you may not have the extra funds to complete your renovation. Depending on various factors, I recommend padding your budget anywhere from 10%-30%.  


Trying to Stretch the Budget with Cheap Materials

If you can’t afford to do the renovation using quality materials, wait.  It will only end up costing you twice as much, in having to redo work when the cheaper materials fail.  Here is an example: You’re making a decision about your new kitchen cabinets. Should you go with the higher cost 100% real wood cabinets or the lower cost MDF (medium density fiberboard) cabinets to save money?  Don’t be tempted into making this common mistake.  MDF is a type of particleboard found on lesser quality furniture.  MDF is about as cheap as you can get and it will fail on you no matter how careful you are not to get it wet. Moisture and humidity will make MDF cabinets warp and sag. Go with the 100% real wood cabinets.   


Not Making Safety a Priority

After you have knocked down several walls with a sledgehammer, is not the time to start thinking about Lead Paint and Asbestos.    If your home was built before 1978 chances are it will contain some asbestos and lead paint in both inside and outside the home. Asbestos can be found in the insulation wrapped around plumbing, air-condition/heating ducts, in the underlayment of flooring, in the plaster of lath and plaster walls and ceilings, and lastly in "Popcorn" ceiling texture. If your house has "Popcorn" ceiling texture and, it was built prior to 1978, then it most likely has asbestos in it.  Both Lead and Asbestos are toxic and require a professional to remove.


Inaccurate Measurements

It’s important to take accurate measurements to plot an accurate floor plan or diagram. You know the saying “measure twice and cut once” it’s true.  Dimensions that are off “just a bit” are usually the cause of major headaches, work having to be redone, and large sums of money coming out of your wallet.  If you’re not sure how to measure or have a hard time following directions, ask someone to help you.  


Skipping the Prep Work

It’s a necessary part of the process that will help you achieve the best end results.  So get plenty of the blue painter's tape, sand paper, drop cloths, primer and whatever else you may need to do it right the first time.  


Using the Wrong Type of Paint

Choosing the wrong paint for a project is a common mistake. There is a paint for just about every type of surface. Know where to use the appropriate sheen of paint. Basic rule of thumb is flat for ceilings and walls, semi-gloss for trim moldings, and bathroom walls.    Just as there’s a rule of thumb about mixing beer and liquor, there’s one about how oil- and water-based paint interact. You can cover old latex paint with new alkyd paint, but the reverse is highly inadvisable.


Overlooking the Lighting Plan

Lighting is one of the most overlooked and yet important features in a home.  Lighting can completely change the mood or ambiance of a room.  In my designs I always incorporate three main types of lighting, General lighting, Task lighting and Accent lighting.  For example: In a kitchen your general lighting could be the recessed ceiling lighting around the room.  Your Task lighting may be the lighting that helps you perform a task such as over the range or food prep area. Your accent lighting is the over and under cabinet lights, or interior cabinet lights for cabinets with glass doors.  Make sure you have a good combination of these three lighting types in your design.    


Going Too Trendy

Trendy means that it’s “short term”.  If you’re the type that likes to redo the same room over every few years then go for it, make the room as trendy as you like.  Personally I prefer to design rooms so they can easily evolve with our lifestyles.  Skip the purple bathroom wall tiles and matching waterfall vessel sink. Choose wisely by selecting design features that are timeless.


Ignoring Your Home's Style

The interior design of your home should complement the architecture of your home and its surroundings.  Example: You love contemporary décor. You live in a home with Mediterranean architectural elements. You would not want to furnish the home entirely with contemporary décor.  Instead, I would recommend a good mix of contemporary pieces with traditional pieces.  The end result will be more balanced and visually pleasing.


Overbuilding for Your Neighborhood

The biggest mistake people make is when they over improve their home. Example: Say you have a $100,000 house surrounded by other similar $100,000 homes in the neighborhood.  You renovate this home and spend $100,000 on remodeling.  You installed a high-end kitchen, marble floors, walnut trim molding, faux finished the walls, and so on.  Do you think you can sell this home for $200,000? Nope, unfortunately you still have $100,000 (+/-) home that you have spent $200,000 on, located in a $100,000 neighborhood.  Over improving a home is fine if you know you're going to stay in your home until you retire, you can pretty much improve to your heart's content. Talk with a realtor in your area about your renovation plans. Ask the realtor to give you an estimate of your homes current market value and the projected market value of the renovated home. This is the best way to logically decide if the renovation is going to be cost effective or not.   


Avoiding Permits

The bottom line is if you do perform work without a permit it will come back to haunt you. Un-permitted and un-inspected work can be dangerous. All too often we see improper wiring, plumbing and construction methods used by people taking shortcuts.  If something serious happens to your home, because of these shortcuts, your homeowner's insurance may not cover it.  If the city discovers work that was completed without a permit, they can make you redo all of the work in addition to the fees they will hit you with.


Not Using “Eco Friendly” Green Materials

Going green is a very smart investment when considering a renovation.  The demand for green products such as LED lighting, Low VOC Paints, as well as highly renewable sources of material such as Bamboo flooring is on the rise.  Most people think that it will cost more money using green materials.  This is not necessarily true.   LED lighting might cost more than conventional lighting, however your electric bills will be lower each month.  Bamboo flooring typically cost less and is an attractive flooring because of its physical similarities to traditional hardwood floors.

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