Restore your house and keep your sanity

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Uncategorized

If there was ever a time when best-laid plans go awry, it’s during an old house restoration.

The first time I embarked on renovation of a home, I thought I knew what I was doing. My grandfather was a carpenter; I practically grew up on construction sites. I even had my own little hardhat, just my size, and I was driving nails about the same time I was learning to write my name. So I was absolutely certain I knew what to expect when it was time to venture into my own adventures in home improvement.

A bedroom renovation. Image credit: 1912bungalow.com

All of that confidence–or was it arrogance?–disappeared within two weeks of contracting for the new porch. It should have been finished by that point. Even the contractor said so. Instead, I was still trekking out my back door in order to get the mail, because my front door was completely unusable. When I signed the final check, the porch was done, and it was a long six weeks later.

Lessons learned in old house restoration

The lesson of patience is one I have learned time and time again–in fact, it is something I am reminded of every time I start a new project. That’s just one of the facts of home restoration to keep in mind in order to keep from losing your mind. Here are a few others:

  1. Work on the essential areas first. Keeping your sanity requires having a sanctuary in the middle of all that construction mess. Choose a few rooms that are “must have” areas and work on those first. You can live in that area while the rest of the house is a construction zone.
  2. Got a timeline? Triple it. No matter how well you plan, something is bound to veer off-schedule. It might as well be the cardinal rule of old house restoration, so rather than fight it, simply give in and accommodate it by planning much more time than you think you will need. You will not regret it.
  3. Be prepared for surprises. When you are dealing with an old house, surprises are around every corner and under every layer of old paint. Don’t be surprised if a simple job turns into a complex, expensive project. That cabinet refacing might be going great until the contractor finds the rotted wood underneath the sink–and then you have a much bigger issue than what kind of hardware you want for the drawers. Make sure your budget is prepared for it, too.
  4. Know your limits. It can be very easy to look at a project and ask, “How hard can it be?” It isn’t until you are deep into the work that you realize you don’t have the skills required to make it happen. For instance, you might know everything anyone could possibly know about the best replacement windows, but don’t let that confidence spill over into thinking you can install them on your own. Though there are some things that homeowners can do, most big jobs around the place will require a professional contractor.
  5. Never stop learning. Watch what your contractors do. Ask a ton of questions–they are a captive audience, after all. Do plenty of research into restoration techniques. As time goes on, you can learn how to plaster that wall or the best way to remove the delicate antique trim for refinishing. What you learn on one project can be applied to another, and soon you just might become quite handy around the house.

Finally, remember to make patience your mantra, because you will need it! Do you have other tips for keeping your sanity when the house is an insane place to live?