Isobel King April 18, 2012
Serial renovators are full of sound advice for the novice and the first rule is: don't delude yourself you're a natural.
Broken pipes, sagging ceilings and bruised egos are some of the lesser casualties of projects gone wrong, and if you believe the stats, around half of all DIY projects end in disaster.
Paying to fix a botched job – and dealing with smug tradies – will quickly wipe out any potential savings and brownie points.
So question whether you really have the time, tools and ability to pull off a major DIY project or renovation before you reach for the sledgehammer. And heed the following advice from those who have survived it.
It's a fact: your planning and project management skills will make or break a renovation – as well as a marriage. So quit now if you don't think you're up to it. Research should be exhaustive and your plan as detailed as possible. Divide your wish list into three categories: essential, optional and desirable. Then get out the red pen.
Work out a time line and budget, allowing for a 20 per cent contingency. Make sure you get any required planning approvals and owner-builder certificates.
You'll have a better shot at domestic harmony if you divvy up the major tasks: one manages the budget, the other oversees the tradies and timeline. And both share the drudgery of chores and daily clean up.
You need to ask the question. There are fewer surprises when you build from scratch, so it doesn't always make sense to renovate. Determine if the structure is sound and consider the resale value of your endeavours.
Perhaps consult an architect, building designer or even an experienced draughtsperson who can advise you on the merits of the project you're considering.
Build good relationships with neighbours and tradies; fall-outs invariably cost time and money.
Alert neighbours well in advance to particularly noisy or intrusive phases of the reno.
Rely on recommendations, not the lowest quote, when choosing your team, as an alluring quote can quickly spiral when unforeseen problems surface.
And always check their credentials. Proper coordination and liaison with your various tradies should avoid unnecessary repeat visits – the idea is to get as much work done in one hit without creating a traffic jam. This is where your time line is critical.
Topping the list of most common DIY accidents are falls from ladders and roofs, and injuries from power saws. If you're knee-deep in rubble, you not only risk accidents, but you'll misplace tools and lose items. And keep delivered materials in a safe place so your expensive new basin isn't smashed by a random swing of the hammer.
A cautionary word on asbestos. New figures show an alarming rise in cases of malignant mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos during home maintenance and renovation, so educate yourself on what to look for and call in the professionals if you're in any doubt.
The worst mistakes happen when you're not around to prevent them. Light switches and power points in the wrong place; tiles cuts in the worst spot; incorrect materials delivered; plumbing on the wrong wall... the list is endless and they've all happened.
Try to keep a discreet presence on site as much as possible so you can keep a watchful eye on progress and are available to answer questions on the fly. It's also much cheaper if you can run to the hardware store to pick up a missing floor waste than pay for your plumber's time.
Purchase off-the-shelf items wherever possible. The minute you start getting items made to measure the price soars.
So if you're planning a renovation bear this in mind for everything from windows and doors, to vanity units and shelving.
And a handy piece of advice: if you're planning a bathroom from scratch, tailor your internal room measurements to the size of your tiles. That way, you'll save a fortune in off-cuts.
It's far cheaper to lay new wiring and plumbing during construction than it is retrospectively. In planning phase, think where things like desk computers, phones and stereo equipment will live, even if you're not planning on purchasing them right now. You'll avoid unsightly, exposed wires and trailing extension leads down the track.
Sometimes it's worth adding the shell of a spare room that can be converted later into whatever you need, and use it as storage in the interim.
It's expensive, unnecessary and guaranteed to get your workers offside.
And in worse case scenarios, you'll have to go back to council to amend your plans, causing lengthy delays.
Finalise your plan and then stick to it.
This goes for everything from the type of toilet you choose, to the height of your stacking glass doors, size of your tiles and type of insulation. It should all be decided at planning stage.
Shop around for fittings and finishes well in advance, even if you don't have them delivered straight away. Take advantage of specials and trawl the internet for bargains. You don't want to be caught at the last minute dashing out for taps on a Sunday when the only store open is the expensive designer store on the corner.
Don't assume doing it yourself will automatically save money. Buying or hiring tools is a major outlay. Unless you're very experienced, you'll be learning on the job, making mistakes and paying for expensive fixes if something goes badly wrong.
The job will probably take triple the time it would if you called in the pros, and life as you know it will disappear in an unforgiving haze of sweat, dirt and dust. If you're still up for it, good luck.
This information is general in nature. Each project will have its own list of tools, equipment, skills and safety issues to consider.
Please consult with experts to ensure you are working safely and that your finished project will be safe and functional.