Renovating the 100 year old farm house my mom grew up in – making it a place for us to grow old in.

These are not tips for the faint of heart – these are not tips for the folks who feel that “renovation” means picking out paint swatches. These tips are for those that are the contractors as well as the sub contractors – for those folks that understand what its like to get off of work at the end of the day, and go to work. These tips are for those folks who either wanted to do all of the work themselves, or simply could not afford not to.

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  • Discouragement is Natural. I have been blessed with a small but mighty support system. My mom and I were working on the house yesterday and she stopped only to exclaim, “This is going to be amazing! This is going to be so worth it!” It made me cry – made her cry. Remember, this is the home she grew up in. Renovations can be hard sometimes . . . okay, they’re hard about all of time – but they are worth it. Keep going, the weight of all of this might be on your shoulders and that might be hard to bear at times, but keep going.
  • Do Your Homework. There is nothing like planning to make you feel better and confident about something. When I get to the house I always have a plan of action that I jump at and start immediately. I DO NOT wander around trying to decide on what to start next. Nothing will discourage you quicker in a renovation than wandering around and looking at all of the work that needs to be done. It all has to be done. Do your homework so you can feel good about it, have a goal. Make a plan. Execute.
  • Even Cleaning Up is Progress. Nothing is pointless, even if all you do is sweep and clean up that is still progress and leads me to the next tip.
  • Clean as you Go. Expect to spend 30% of your time on the renovation doing things that don’t feel like progress at all. Cleaning up is essential, trying to work with the floor beneath you covered in shit is a total nightmare and makes it harder to start and work – especially with a nail in the bottom of your boot. Clean it up, don’t let it pile up or it will become a huge job, even if you know that all you’re gonna do is make a mess again.
  • Understand Your Help. If you have help (and I sure hope that for your sake that you do) understand their weaknesses and utilize them to their best. Have the tools and the materials you need and a clean path to whatever you plan on them helping you with that day. (Good example: During the week I oftentimes have my mom with me. She and I are exceptionally good at completing bitchy little jobs that feel pointless/hopeless but must be done. On the weekends I have my man, Joe, there to help me so I try to get the little stuff out of the way so he and I can complete the big stuff.)
  • Be Flexible. You might have drawn up one hell of a plan but something might happen that stops you dead in your tracks. Have contingency plans always. (Good Example: I went to work in the house the other day but couldn’t do it because of several large appliances that were in my way that I simply could not move on my own (despite trying my damnedest). I called my brother and dad and they gave me an eta of two hours before they could be there to help me move the stuff. So I attacked another project that I finished right before they arrived – it wasn’t what I had planned on but there is always something that needs to get done!)
  • Nothing Goes According to Plan. Not really anyway – and some things just suck even if you have the right tools. There will be some jobs that are just plain shitty and there is no manual for how to get them done. You must find a way and I grantee to you that you will and it won’t take as long as you had thought especially if you get to work on it RIGHT NOW.
  • Nothing Will Be Perfect. This is a big one with older homes, you will run into things that will never end up looking like how they show it in the books. Walls will not be straight, nothing will be absolutely perfect. You gotta go with it, change your thinking, find a way to make it work and you will. As long as it is Safe and Sturdy – you’re all set – everything else is just character. Goal number one – GET IT DONE!

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  • Be Smart With Your Time. We’ve all heard the old saying of “Work smart – not hard.” Well, this is a renovation, you will ALWAYS be working hard. However, if you are on any kind of dead line you may have to sub out some of the work, the trick is to sub out the right work according to your budget and your own abilities. (For Example: I honestly do not believe I will have the time to tape and mud all of the sheet rock by myself as that’s going to be right down to the wire on our timeline. I can hire it out for all of $1500 and see it done within a week. Now that’s money well spent when it would probably take little ole me at least two weeks alone. Meanwhile, as they’re doing that there is a ton of other work that I can be doing that could not be hired out on our budget.)
  • You’re not Superman. Ok, you might be a bit of a super hero considering this impressive renovation that you have just tackled. However, it is important to know your own weaknesses and strengths so you can utilize yourself as well as possible. I know how to run electrical so I’m going to do it. I am not comfortable, however, installing a new panel so I’m going to hire that out. The plumbing in this house scares the crap out of me, so I’m calling in my brother for backup. I know how to frame so I’m doing that all myself. Putting in the beams (and seeing the house fall down if I screwed it up) was not something I was willing to do alone so I called on my dad and brother to help me with that job. The list goes on and on, I am well aware that I am all of 120 pounds soaking wet so there are some situations where it is far safer and smarter for me to call in help. However, I am also well aware that where there is a will there is a way. Be SAFE always and be CAREFUL. Remember, you are only human and, if you get injured, who will finish the house?
  • Get Yourself the Right Tools. I can’t stress this enough and it may not surprise you (considering my own little girly stature) that I learned long ago that the right tools make for a job completed and a nightmare. Yes, sometimes, it doesn’t matter what tools you have, the job is gonna suck regardless. However, with the right tools you can literally give yourself a huge leg up. (Good example – did you know that an angle grinder cuts cast iron like butter when any other tool will just shatter it? Three hours of toiling and finally grabbing the angle grinder out of desperation (after having tried every other tool we owned) I got a cast iron drainage pipe cut perfectly and the job done.) What tools you ask? Here are a couple I won’t live without:
  • The Pick Ax – It is the only tool you need for plaster and lath.
  • The Reciprocating Saw – Buy yourself at least fifty extra blades (metal and wood blades), you won’t believe how often you will use it.
  • The Miter Saw – No one should have to frame without one.
  • The Sledge Hammer – Get a 6 or 8 pound sledge hammer and name it Thor.
  • The Perfect Hammer – I have a hammer made by Fat Max which has been with me since my last renovation. Max is a framing hammer (for those who don’t have a nail gun) but that isn’t what I use Max for. I use Max for everything. Max is almost twice as long as an ordinary hammer and much heavier, the claw on Max is straight and not curved like most hammers. He is my favorite hammer and Max rarely leaves my side.
  • The Crow Bar – I have two crow bars – one is extra heavy and stout, the other is longer. Both are good to have and I would not want to do any demolition without them.

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  • Common Sense Counts for A lot. I am well aware that common sense seems to be in shortage these days. Yes, I have seen Renovation Realities on the DIY network and been astounded at the lack of sense of some people. Common sense is imperative in a renovation. I called a pro before we even started on the house and had all power cut off completely and two outlets installed for me at the pole in the yard so I could still have power for my tools. Common sense? I would think so considering we were doing a complete gut on the whole house and I certainly didn’t feel like getting electrocuted.
  • Strength Is Not Always the Answer. My guy is a power lifter and the man is extremely strong. I called my bro for some advice on something one day (I double check my own experience and gut instincts a lot) and he told me to, “Stand back and tell Joe to swing away.” Joe picked up the sledge hammer and I got the hell out of the way! But in a renovation brute strength only works about 15% of the time and when you’re done with demolition brute strength is almost never the answer. I have noticed with my man that if he can’t use his strength to get something done – he tends to get frustrated. Strength has always worked for him in the past and it doesn’t make sense to him if it doesn’t. This seems common in men and I can’t blame them, however, this is how I’ve worked my whole life. I’m certainly a helluva lot stronger then most girls at my weight but that doesn’t mean much – most of the time I don’t have the strength to “man handle it” but I still have to figure out how to get done – which leads me to final tip.
  • There is Always a Way. Don’t get frustrated! Work with what you’ve got – just because your brute strength (or whatever) isn’t working doesn’t mean you get to just give up – stop sputtering – it still needs to get done! Find the best way to do it (regardless of how ineffective it might be) and do it anyway. (Good Example: We just attacked our screened-in porch and along the bottom half was ancient, tongue and groove hardwood that had to go. My man Joe attacked it with all of his power and might and it laughed at him. (Seriously – I swear I heard it actually laugh) He moved on to using our Reciprocating saw, getting a few feet down and eventually calling it a day in a flurry of cuss words and splinters. Watching him toil I knew instinctively that that had not been a good job for him and hoped he wouldn’t hurt himself or do damage to the house. The next night my mom and I went over there. We’re both around 120-130 pounds and she’s only 5’1″ – Joe literally bench presses both of our weights combined. We took up the two crow bars, the pick ax, my favorite hammer and we finessed the hell out of that petrified, ridiculously tough, ancient, attached with the longest nails I’ve ever seen, tongue and groove wood – and we got the two whole walls down in about an hour and a half. There are MANY ways to do things and if you’re going to get this renovation done – you’re going to need to know how to do them all. This is another example on utilizing your help and understanding their strengths and weaknesses – that was not a good job for Joe.) Side note – yes it was a real shame we had to tear out that tongue and groove hardwood, if I could have kept it I certainly would have but there was just no way – we need to run electrical in that wall and it needs to be insulated.

I really hope you the best when it comes to your own renovation project. I hope this list lifts you up a bit – I have no doubt in my mind that you can do whatever project it is that you have tackled. Humans really are incredible creatures – there is nothing that we cannot do that we set our minds to. Have some grace with yourself and with your timeline, be patient and don’t get too down on yourself as long as you are working as hard as you can. Sitting there at your desk job with your heart racing in panic because you’re getting behind on the house project is not going to help anyone – least of all you. Remember to work as smart as possible and always utilize yourself as best as you can. Sturdy – Safe – Smart.

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