Top 5 Tips for Tackling a Major Renovation
After moving his whole house and performing a complete makeover, this homeowner is full of advice
Jim lays out the master-bath floor tile.
1. Research moving a house thoroughly.
Moving a house is not like moving furniture. Before you commit, take a month or so to work out the fees involved for dismantling, reassembly, removal of overhead wires, labor for utility crews, police escorts, and charges for additional trucks. We had no idea that moving fees vary based on day of the week, time of day, the use of public roads or local paths, the house's height and width, and so on. The easiest way to get briefed early on is to consult the International Association of Structural Movers.
2. Investigate the house's condition. Get an inspection by a licensed engineer before you lay
down any money. Because we expected extensive renovations, we didn't even look into how much work we were facing up front. We mistakenly assumed that we could move whatever was still standing, without factoring in hidden damage from water leaks and termites. Luckily our walls, the critical piece in holding the house together, were sturdy planks of 100-year-old cypress, which naturally resists termites and rot. Prepare for the worst, and make sure the house has enough architectural detail to make piecemeal salvaging worthwhile.
3. Motivate friends and relatives to help. We didn't realize until at least a year into the project that simply paying the kids a token amount was the way to motivate them—and get a lot done. Meanwhile, after a friend told Sharon to quit apologizing after every work session, we found out that food, beer, and a little downtime fishing or playing cards by the lake were compensation enough for adult family and friends, including those with precious renovation experience. The volunteer help we got in scraping, painting, and cleaning saved us roughly $45,000—and brought us priceless moral support.
4. Let look-alike materials keep down costs. Sharon is a stickler for authentic details, but she recognized when modern materials could save us money. For us, adding plate-rail wainscoting in the living room to match what was in the dining room was more important than having it milled from solid wood. So we used MDF, since we planned to paint it.
5. Scour the Web for sources, trouble-shooting, and support. Sharon taught herself to strip paint, remove rust, and repair doors almost entirely online. I hated it at the time, but without her all-night Googling we would've missed a lot of great peer advice and bargains—thisoldhouse.com was invaluable for information about insulation, new windows, and exterior paint colors. By staying open to new sources, Sharon even culled helpful restoration tips from a car-enthusiast website.