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Five Renovation Truths for the DIY Enthusiast

TYEE LIST #4: East Van's Lez Renovate's top home makeover tips. Crack out the safety googles.

Jacqueline Gullion 3 Mar

Jacqueline Gullion is Cool J of Lez Renovate, a webtv series chronicling the renovation of an old East Van bungalow with LL (Laura Lee Schultz).

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LL and Cool J of Lez Renovate share tales from the lumberyard.

We are two East Van gals with no background in the trades, who have now spent the last two years pouring time, money, blood, sweat and tears into the renovation of Georgia Cottage -- a little bungalow built in 1929. We first worked on our basement suite nights and weekends for six months.

Now we're wrapping up an 8.5 month project to replace our mouldy bathroom. Learn from our mistakes!

1. DIY can strain the relationship between co-renovators.

In the old days, we would go to rock shows and host friends for brunch in our cute rented home. We led interesting lives as musicians and activists. Then we got The House. Good-bye rock shows and brunches. Hello, lumberyard!

Harsh words and ill feelings may have been exchanged over the quality of the DIY, the rate at which work was progressing, and the need to shower at the community centre. Luckily the liberal application of laughter, brunch, and in-floor heating in our new bathroom has seen us through. So far.

2. To maintain any actual friendships, curb the talk about curb appeal.

It's a privilege to own a home (or mortgage) in this city. So, though very proud of our DIY accomplishments, I limit myself when asked how it’s going: "Oh you know, the usual tinkering with my house." Somewhere between reading the DIY blogs and tweeting pics of new deck plans, I commit to skimming the news to have something else to discuss at a party. I ask friends sincerely how they are doing, not only to gauge if they are over the flu and ready to come help again. When mingling at a party, I aim to meet new people, not only to flirt with tradesmen who might give free advice.

3. Music makes it better.

A song in the heart helps keep a renovation going when the in-laws will arrive in six hours to an un-grouted shower.

The drywaller we hired brought his own blaster to listen to classic rock all day. LL got us through the cold dark nights in the gutted basement suite with her catchy improvised theme songs: singing along to "Pony Wall, I love you and I hate you" helped me when checking incorrect measurements. A long weekend spent tiling instead of at Pride parties at least had one "Mortar Mixing Minute."

4. You won't believe how much you are going to underestimate the time and money the reno project is going to require.

I know you think you have a great plan, sound research, a good source of materials, and excellent sub-contracted tradespeople. As my dad would say, "Every generation has to learn that the stove is hot."

In every project, I had to learn that I should take my maximum time estimate and multiply it by five to 10 weeks. I blame the expression: "While we're at it we should. . . [insert additional unplanned task like tearing out, insulating, and drywalling 750 square feet of ceiling.]"

If you meet anyone who did their own reno and it came in on time and budget, tell them Lez Renovate thinks they are lying. Or needs their help on Georgia Cottage.

5. There is a reason why most reno activities are called "skilled trades."

No matter how many YouTube videos we watch, nor how many times we glance at Rosie the Riveter promising "We Can Do It," nor how many Facebook friends give us unsolicited advice, every reno project we undertake is a First.

First time I used a reciprocating saw, I also cracked a water pipe. First time I used a propane torch, I was afraid of burning the house down. First time I bought a diamond blade for my angle grinder, I heard two stories of the blade coming whipping off. First time I cut into the siding of my house with the circular saw, I hit a nail and the blade came loose and I didn't know how to tighten it.

There is a reason why plumbing, carpentry, electrical, gas fitting, and even drywall and painting have four-year apprenticeships. Those apprentices also make mistakes the first time, but by the time they are unleashed on my house, they are pros! So though we watch a lot of videos, we hire the pros where we need to, always wear safety glasses and keep on singing.You may want to keep renting.  [Tyee]

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