10 DIY Renovation Pitfalls to Avoid

By Kevin Stevens

You are a happy homeowner, but you could be happier. Why? That avocado kitchen remodel that the previous owner completed 30 years ago makes your morning coffee taste bad. You ask yourself, is this something I can do? Or do I need to bring in some professional help?

The top 10 mistakes that amateur do-it-yourselfers make, and how to avoid them:

1. Underestimating Project Complexity

Can I do this? This by far, is the first question you should ask yourself. The answer you give will dictate how well you are prepared for your project. The project needs to be looked at with a “global view” one that incorporates all of your skills, or the lack of, and the multitude of possibilities that the project may entail.

The scope of the project and your skill sets need to be aligned. Obviously, a bump-out kitchen remodel with all of its tasks is far more complex than a bathroom paint job, or installing a ceiling fan.

2. Unrealistic Budget

Unless you are very wealthy, you’ll probably have a budget in mind. To ensure that potential unknowns are covered before work begins, a 15-20 percent budget surplus will ensure that you can complete the project without having to scramble near the end if things get more complicated than you first planned.

3. We didn’t plan for that.

If you are working in an older home, there may be some physical damage that may need to be fixed as part of the project. One thing that I often see in bath remodels is water damage. The damaged area may not be huge, but still needs to be fixed. Less reputable builders may just cover it up, but I work with the homeowner for a repair that will stand the test of time, and keep their budget in line. The solution here is to keep an open mind, have the padding in your budget, and schedule and be prepared for some “what if” problems.

4. Scope Creep

This condition is more often seen in projects where a contractor is doing to the work, but it still happens with DIY projects. You may think …while your in there…can you do this…and that…Next thing you know, the project is twice as big, the schedule and budget are blown and your project is still not completed. Fight the urge to expand the bath remodel into a whole house remodel. Save a project for next time. You will appreciate the down time to recover your wits, and let the home remodel fund gain some strength.

5. Lack of Tools or Skills to Use Them

I have to admit it — I have a lot of tools. But, I use them on all types of projects. I do custom cabinetry, furniture, tile and hardwood flooring, in addition to trim carpentry, and framing. Chances are you, as a basic homeowner, will not have all the specialty tools that make a job go by quickly and safely. Since I have used these tools for years, I am familiar with the safety issues and the best way to use them. If you need to rent or borrow tools, you may have a steep learning curve, and there is no substitute for experience.

If a 250 pound 220 Volt floor sander scares you…get help. Running a floor sander can be a rewarding experience. It can also punch a big hole in your wall if it gets away from you…(see Items 2, 3 and 4 above).

6. Material Selection / Over Build, Under Build

Picking out tile or figuring what type of hardwood flooring will look great in your living room is one of the fun parts of a project. The lesson here is to balance the materials / appliances with the style and value of your home. That six-burner $5000 Wolf gas range is cool, but will it fit in your 88-square-foot kitchen? On the other hand, a linoleum tile floor just doesn’t fit with granite slab counters. Keep things balanced and equitable with the rest of your home.

7. Aggressive Timeline

Most projects will take longer to complete than you first thought. Chances are you still have your “regular job” so your project is being done on weekends and evenings — this gets old pretty quick. I was there when I added 960 square feet to my home about a decade ago. After putting in 8-9 hours at your day job, do you really want to sand drywall for another 3-4 hours? No, not really, this pattern will erode your enthusiasm, and slow you down. Plan for it!

8. Improper Sequence of Tasks

I have been called in to finish some projects that some owners started, but they ran out of steam (see 7 above). Once on site, I found that they started some tasks before others were finished. An example: Don’t schedule the carpet install before the drywall is done…it may seem obvious, but it happens. This same type of sequence holds true for just about every type of project. Research here will pay off in the end. For instance, if you want an overview of how to plan a DIY banister, check out this ebook

9. I want it now.

This is one urge that is hard for beginners to control. Your plan to paint the bath …today…after seeing a show on TV needs planning time. Before you jump in, take a step back and look at the whole room. Plan your actions, ask yourself, do I want to replace any lighting, fixtures, cabinets? Once you have the scope set, do the proper prep work, patch or repair the drywall, if needed, clean the walls, remove fixtures etc. Then get out your painter’s hat.

10. Oops, I changed my mind.

Change is inevitable and it comes with the passage of time. One experience may trigger another, and then another. Proper planning and research will keep the project in your mind for a while before any work is done. This repeated “vision” will imprint into you, and allow you to plan effectively. What you don’t want is to have a “new vision” happen half way through your project, or a few months after the project has been completed.

If you’re a brand new homeowner, before you jump into a big project spend some time living in your home. Prior to moving in, it’s safe to do some simple things like painting, but don’t start moving rooms around. Live in the space, feel the day-to-day breath of the house, the ebb and flow of the seasons. You might like the way the winter sun reaches back into the dining nook. Then after you and your home have bonded, think of how to make it more your style. It is your home, and with proper planning and some sound advice, you will fall in love with it over and over again.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the top 10 mistakes that amateur do-it-yourselfers make, and how to avoid them. The fact that you found this article shows that you have put some thought into your project and have already mastered item 9.

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Valentina R.
Valentina R4 years ago

Good advice, thanks.

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Spoorthi BS6 years ago

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Jamie J.
Jamie J6 years ago

This definitely makes me think. And I agree about the making-things-match thing - ugly linoleum on the floor and a new concrete counter-top does not a pretty kitchen make. I'll definitely need more research on the order of things to do when remodeling a kitchen...

Thank you for the information.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.