Skip to main content

Getting Oriented to Home Improvement

Review this basic advice if you're considering undertaking a home improvement project for the first time.

In this article, you will find:

Your skills, time, and money
Your attitude and your family
Local codes

Your skills, time, and money

Getting Oriented to Home Improvement

Got a bone to pick with the old home place? Been bugged beyond belief by the abysmal taste of former owners? Been hankering to rejuvenate/renovate/remodel the bathroom/kitchen/living room? Professional help is only a phone call—and a hefty check and some unexplained delays—away. My guess is that you're considering the path less traveled—doing it yourself.

Welcome to the field of home improvement—projects that are larger than home repair but smaller than remodeling. Home improvements make your home a nicer place to live in, without usually expanding the overall size or causing the valuation to skyrocket. Home improvements seldom require shiploads of capital or months of effort, and many projects are modular: You can do one to satisfy a particular itch, or you can do several and renovate an entire room.

I'm convinced that many people who doubt their ability to work on their own houses can do a fine job, given enough time, tools, and advice. I can't give you time. I won't give you the actual tools, but I will give you plenty of advice. In the articles I've written, I reveal some of the tricks I've learned in 35 years of working on houses. I show you how the pros do it—but only when their technique is appropriate for a novice. I show you tricks that the pros disdain, but that you can use to do a better, faster, safer job.

Read on to learn how to make the home place a better place!

Your Skills and Your Project

Do you have the skills and tools for a given project? It's sometimes hard to know, because home work crosses boundaries. You work on some drywall, and suddenly you need to do some electrical work. You do some plumbing, and suddenly you're hauling out the drywall tools. You plan on some painting, then realize you need to repair walls or molding first.

If, after reading about the relevant aspects of the task, you're still foggy about what's required, read books focused on a particular topic, or talk with capable friends. Better yet, volunteer to help friends who know what they're doing on their projects. You'll learn buckets, and they'll get the benefit of a willing helper.

Spending Time, Spending Money

It's hard to anticipate the cost of any project. You may try to estimate the price of the major materials and incidentals, then multiply by two or three. You may come in under budget, but you are just as likely to spend more.

The same goes for time: Think about how many hours a project should require, then multiply that by two or three. After all, a memory lapse in the store will entail a return trip for those forgotten screws. A wiring snafu can set you back hours, as you, for example, move an electrical box to a better location. But here's a different way to think about time. You're learning something new—a skill that will pay back on the next project. And building, like other skilled work, can be fun!

Join the Family

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.