Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Forging ahead .....

Okay, let's say you decided that bathroom or kitchen is in dire need of an update and you feel reasonable confident that you can do this project as a DIY adventure.......where to start?  Well, with 30+ years in the design and construction profession, I can without a doubt tell you the first step is a plan of action or in the professional parlay a program.

Success of any project is directly proportional to the planning that goes into it.  From the scope to the budget to the new construction and all has to work together.  Believe me when I say that a partner, wife, girl friend or family may tolerate a week, maybe two weeks without a bathroom (as long as there is another one available) or a kitchen (eating out can be fun for awhile but it gets really expensive), but much longer and you're entering a wilderness you don't want to explore.  A month,  a coldness will settle over your abode.  Two months, someone is going to be committed or arrested.  Three months, bodily harm or divorce become very viable options instead of just fantasies.  Four months or longer, the odds of finding Jimmy Hoffa are better than the authorities finding your body.

Step 1 - Define your scope of work.  Are you just going to refresh the finishes or are we talking new fixtures, new elements (shower instead of tub, new cabinets, new appliances, etc., etc..).........the extent of your project will define the elements to be considered as far as budget, schedule and whether or not you'll need permits and/or sub-contractors.  Write this out, it becomes a living document and guide to keep you on track.

Step 2 - This is the fun part.  Define what you want to achieve, this is the "dream stage".  Cut out or down load examples of finished projects that you like or that have elements that you want.  Incorporate this into your Scope of Work.......remember, I said it was a living document and you'll be going back to it time and time again.

Step 3 - Now we hit a critically point in the planning where you have to determine do you need professional help in pulling this all together or can you do it yourself?  Do you need help with the plan (construction documents)?  Do you need permits?  Do you know about the building code issues and what is required to be included in your project?  Do you know about estimating and developing a's one thing to say I want to spend $15,000 max, it's entirely another thing allocating that $15,000 into all the various elements that are included in your project.

In the professional field we use a process to insure that projects are accurately designed and costed.  In short it usually runs like this; scope and project budget, conceptual design and rough estimate, reconcile back to scope and budget, design development and refined estimate, reconcile back to scope and budget, construction documents (plans, details, specs) and final estimate, reconcile back to scope and's a dance of experience, knowledge and expertise that results in a finished package that reflects the client's desire and budget into a concise package of biddable information and direction for the contractors bidding and construction services.

Of course you wouldn't use this exact process in the remodeling of your bathroom and kitchen, but the principals are the same and quite honestly, this is the point where most average DIYer's get into trouble.  This is why I highly recommend that the average DIYer get professional help from outside to walk you through this stage.  An Architect, an Interior Designer, a Residential Designer or trusted Contractor can help you through this stage.  They can help you get the most "bang for your buck", avoid the pitfalls of surprises and get you off on the right foot.  From there you can work out the particulars or elements that will need to be done by licensed sub-contractors by your local codes and the elements that you, as the home owner can do your self.

Look there are times when I will make a road trip on my motorcycle with no plan at all short of heading North, South, East or West......... if a road looks interesting, I'll take it.  When I get hungry, I'll stop and eat.  When it gets dark, I'll look for a place to camp or for a motel room......when I see something interesting, I'll stop and take it short, I'm like a leaf floating down a stream......where ever the road takes me is where I go.......I don't recommend that approach ever to any remodeling or renovation project.

Plan, plan and re-plan..... unless you have more money than you know what to do with, have a very understanding partner or the better lawyer.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Getting to actually getting started on your DIY project.

Unless you're totally isolated from any type of mass media pushing DIY, design, or fantastic gardens, you probably have a list at least the length of your arm of things you would like to would have to be living under a rock to not have something in mind. 

HGTV and DIY channels, Houzz and Pinterest websites... heck these alone could easily fill your "to do" list with ideas and possible plans.  Throw in monthly subscriptions to Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living, Country Living, Urban Living, Ranch Living, Mountain Cabin Living, Beach Living, Lake Living, Barely Living, Walking Dead Living (hey.... Zoombies can have dreams), you can reach idea overload in a nanosecond. 

So where to begin.  First off I strongly suggest that you preform a "self evaluation" and a reality check.  If you have problems hanging a picture on the wall level, I'm betting that gutting the bathroom is a quantum leap.

I got a call late one night from the wife of a friend.........her first words were HELP!  It was a Sunday night, and Gina (have changed the names to protect the innocent) between tears and almost uncontrollable laughter described total chaos........David (again, have changed the names to protect the disillusioned) had this great idea to surprise Gina with a renovated bathroom while she was gone on a business seminar for the week. 

Now David is one of those guys who has great dreams and aspirations of being this "manly man" with the coordinated tool belt and work gloves, able to fix things and create home projects that will end up in one of those media outlets for sure.  Truth is, David took 6 hours to hang 3 photographs and then still didn't get them level like he wanted.

When I got there, his first words were "they made it look so easy on that show and did it in 2 days over the weekend, I had a whole week."  Gina left the bathroom to get another of what I gathered was one of many already consumed bracers. The least she could have done was offer me one.

Step No. 1 of Getting Started - Be realistic.  Home Improvement TV shows are staged. They aren't real, they're condensed vignettes of a whole host of activity and trades that aren't all that interesting to watch as they do the nitty gritty portions of the project.  Trust me, nobody wants to see Plumber Bob's butt crack on wide screen HD TV as he struggles to crack free a frozen supply line nut that ends up with the line breaking, him cussing and scrambling to get out of the steady stream of water soaking him that he thought had been cut doesn't make for good viewing except on America's Funnest Videos.  

The realities are those shows are staffed with a whole host of workers, from Designers who have worked weeks on the plans and ideas to the craftsman who have taken those plans and turned them into physical elements long before the cameras or host every arrived on the site.

Be realistic and honest about your skills, limitations, resources (materials, time, equipment, etc., etc..) and most important, your budget.  I always advise my friends or clients that when it comes to a renovation or remodeling project, that once you've figured your scope, schedule and budget........double it and that's going to be pretty close to what the big adventure ends up being.

Next posting, I'll discuss Step No. 2 of Getting Started - Forging the plan of success.

Oh BTW........Gina and David are still married, the bathroom was completed over the next week and the only thing it cost David was another week of vacation time and a life time worth of Gina not letting him forget it.........and he had to surrender his coordinated tool belt and gloves.  Turns out Gina is more coordinated, swings a mean hammer, looks better in the tool belt and David is getting pretty good at cooking.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I think my wife is on to me....

A good DIY project can be very beneficial in many ways.  Some are obvious, some are not so obvious and others are closely guarded secrets of the DIY brotherhood.

An obvious benefit is the personal satisfaction.  Satisfaction from learning something new, of seeing a stack of boards and lumber become a built in cabinet or being able to finally open that window that you have beat your hand against for the past couple of years, cussing the fool who painted it hiding the nails they had driven in to secure it in place..... closed!

Trust me, when you're standing on the ground looking up at that newly shingled roof that you just finished.......satisfaction washes over you like a cooling rain shower on a hot summer day.  Almost makes one just want to pound their chest and let out a primordial utterance of celebratory chants that only our long dead ancestors could comprehend.  We have challenged that beast of a house and won!

It doesn't matter that it took us 5 days more than it would have taken a professional crew to knock it out.  We did it and didn't fall off the roof like our weaker mates predicted.......ahhhh! I am man (or woman)....fear me house.  

Another less obvious benefit is that you got some exercise doing it.  Your body is better off (provided you didn't fall of the roof).  Yes, your back feels like it's never going to straighten out again..... but it will.  The swelling in your knees and hands will go down and after you recover from the heat exhaustion with some liquids, you'll feel better for the work out.  Trust me.... it's true.  Besides, it's good for a couple of days sitting around doing nothing. I would suggest that you schedule such DIY projects accordingly so that your recovery period coincides with some major football games over the weekend.

The secret benefit of DIY projects is one we don't advertise.... and I'm sure I'll get some heated comments as to why I let the cat out of the bag, but hey,  she's on to me.  What can I say?  The secret is this......there is no better justification to buying more tools or equipment than the needs of a DIY project.  There I've said it.

Replacing the shingles on the roof........."honey, you know one of those shingle staple guns with the circular mag would really make this job go faster and... oh by the way, did I mention that both Home Depot, Lowes and Northwestern Tools have them on sale today.... it just makes sense.....". Now how can she or he argue with that logic?  Besides, you're saving money on doing it yourself right.

I know it's not really fair to stoop to such tactics... but, it works, over and over and over.  DIYer's you have to think outside the box and in the long term.

Last weekend my wife suggested that we needed to photograph and catalog the contents of the workshop for insurance purposes (there have been a number of recent break ins and burglaries close by).  Better to be proactive and prepared. While peering at the tools and equipment in my garage workshop, it suddenly dawned on me.....I have become an expert in the secret benefit of acquiring many "toys" under the auspice of a DIY project.

Each and everyone that I looked at I could attribute it to one project or another.  Routers and edge trimmers that came from the counter top job I did for a neighbor. A biscuit cutter saw and bar clamps ...thank you cutting board bar top.  Circular saws (one rough cut, one finish cut.... hate to change out blades) came from a porch and siding project.  Nail guns and compressor, thank you various framing, window trim and porch projects.  Sanders, planers, 2 full sets of wood chisels, drills and drivers (cordless and corded), saws (reciprocating, flush cut, table, chop and miter ..... all project related.  Power washer, airless paint sprayer rig, rototiller, chain saws, wet tile cutter..........and I haven't even started to look at hand tools., am I good (beating chest uttering primordial chants) ......

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Introduction to Why....

Why do we need another blog on DIY topics?  Good question.  Answer - I need an outlet to maintain my sanity before I take a nail gun to every venue out there that prompted me to jump into this DIY adventure (read nightmare).  Now, I feel better and the dog is safe ...... for awhile.

Actually, I can't blame anybody but myself.  You would think that after 30+ years in the Architectural profession immersed in the realms of design, management, construction, construction management and hand holding, I would just have gone fishing on some lake with the dog and a cooler of beer when I semi-retired........... but no, I answered my wife when she asked if we could replace 4 windows. They're just 4 small, 36"x36" windows.....piece of cake, honey.  Now, we are into our 4th year of a full house remodel.  How did this happen?  I should be fishing.  I love fly fishing, but I also love renovation and remodeling work too. 

What I don't really enjoy is when a well thought out plan goes out of control. The 4 windows were replaced with a pair of french doors and two full height side lite windows flanking the doors.  That prompted the addition of a deck and it just grew from there.  Then it became "what if" and "I would really like this", and before I knew it we were making plans to completely redo our 1950's post WWII tract home that actually started out as a temporary arrangement.

Now, being the professional that I am, or was, old habits are hard to get away from, especially when they are good old habits and work.  The key to any DIY project is planning, planning, and more planning.  It starts with a vision and ends in reality.  But the steps on how to get there are often neglected or overlooked by many in their anticipation to get started.  I know this from years of experience.  So first we needed a budget, a scope of work, a schedule , the plans and an estimate to get started.  These were worked together in a reconciliation process over and over until we had the budget that matched the scope, that was reflected in the plans and confirmed by the estimates.  Good to go.  Next step, pull the permits, sign on the sub-contractors and let it rip.

One of the things you have to understand about remodeling or renovation work is that you have to expect the unexpected and learn to roll with it.....otherwise, you too shall be left with chasing the dog with a nail gun.... don't say it can't happen.  Our unexpected happened when I took a lay off from the Project Manger position I had taken primarily for the remodeling project.  We all know the economy tanked and the firm I was working with did the majority of their work for counties and those projects were funded with municipal bonds........guess how fast that dried up.  We had some young interns in the office who were just starting their careers and had young families.  I was ending my career, so I volunteered to take a lay off.  No problem, with some recalculations and doing more work myself, now that I had more free time, still good to just might take a little longer, so I adjusted the schedule and the scope.

The next unexpected came with some health issues that sidelined me.  But that is a whole other story, one I won't bore you with.  My point is've got to be out of your ever loving mind to do this DIY stuff!  No... that's not my point, it was just needed, the dog is safe again. The point is, crap (being politically correct here) happens!  Bathrooms and kitchens are not remodeled in 2 days like you see on HGTV or DIY shows.  What you don't see is all the planning, the measurements, the investigations and the pre-design and ordering....... along with the editing that goes into making those 30 minute shows.  In the real world, you're going to wait weeks for cabinets or counter tops and the tile guy or electrician can't possible fit you in till next week........or better yet, you're apt to discover that you find some pretty ugly conditions when you start tearing out stuff that you hadn't planned on and have to correct before you can move on.

The other key to surviving the DIY contagion is learning to roll with punches......unless something is falling down on you head, then don't roll, run....and take the dog with you.  

Damn, I wish I could find where my wife hid my fly rod.