Tag Archives: renovation

DIY Home: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Bought a Fixer-Upper

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

We are on our third year of renovating our 1940s New England Colonial fixer-upper and have learned quite a bit along the way.

From the likes of this blog you would think all we’ve been doing is gallivanting around all summer swimming at the beach and eating ice cream! Such is the impression of the internet – the truth is we’ve been doing a LOT of work lately. Hopefully I’ll get to posting about it someday soon.

The first year we were wide-eyed and naive newlyweds attacking each project with gusto. The second year we were weary and sprouting gray hairs. In our third year we’ve started to plan our exit plan. As in, renovation wrap up. We’re hoping sometime in year 4 will turn into regular house maintenance projects for us. (Could that possibly be the dim light of a normal life at the end of this tunnel?)

I hope it doesn’t sound like I am whining, I love our house and we are extremely blessed in this home. : ) It has, however, been a lot of work and these are some thoughts I’d like to share with the rest of you who are considering it!)

Here’s a list of what I wish I knew before we bought a fixer-upper.

(and a few photos displaying the crazy adventure we’ve taken!)

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

1. Old houses are… OLD

Living in Boston, where there are plenty of properties dating back to the 1800s, owning a 1940s house hardly sounds decrepit. But let me tell you, it’s certainly old enough.

The problem with old houses is, well, they’re old. The house has long-settled, so none of your rooms are square. The house was built when standardization didn’t exist, so you have to custom-fashion your dry-wall so it’s the same depth as the rest of your house. Old pipes, old wires, old plaster… all waiting just for you!

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

2. Everything takes longer and is more expensive that you think. No, Seriously.

As two over-eager and frugal minded people, I expected we were above the curve on this general expectation regarding renovations. I remember when I’d watch Flip That House and smugly thinking we would manage a renovation budget unlike some of those yahoos.


It takes longer because suddenly your permit was rejected, Home Depot won’t have the item you need in-store for another two weeks, the weather has been too humid for X project. It’s more expensive because your house is built on-top of granite and you need to hire rock-demolitioners to destroy your front yard so you can run a wire.

Unless you take out a construction loan, you’ll need the means to make it happen. Make sure you have the resources to finish a project before you start.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

3. Your passion for DIY comes and goes in waves

Plain and simple: sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not.

You must persevere and accept. Otherwise you’ll live in an eternal construction zone. Picking out paint colors and hardware? that’s fun and over in about .02 seconds.

Ripping out drywall and insulation at 2am because you’re on a deadline? That’s about just as fun as it sounds.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

4. Flexibility is the Key to Success

That’s a motto I learned on a missions trip back in my freshman year of high school and I repeat it to myself often. DIYing means putting up with a lot. We lived without a fridge for a month, and then lived with it smack dab in the middle of our kitchen for another 3 months.

I can fall asleep to the sound of power tools.

While it’s easy to dream and scheme, you will learn that some things just can’t be changed. That wall you wanted to remove for your “open-floor plan” might just be load-bearing. Your floor joists run East to West so your toilet can only go one of two places.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

5. Goodbye Relaxing Weekends

Unless you’re an heiress with a penchant for power tools, it’s pretty likely that you have a job. You need a way to pay for all those power tools, right? That means all our projects either have to happen on weeknights at 8pm, when I’d rather put my feet up and watch a re-run of The Office, or on a sunny Saturday when I’d rather skip down to the beach. Oh yeah, and normal life obligations like laundry, groceries, socialization and errands are still going on too.

Lots of people will tell you how they also have a fixer-upper and have had to “paint and put new lights in every room.” And inside your head you will laugh wickedly.

5B. You are giving your husband the excuse to buy every power tool under the sun. Consider yourself warned.

Don’t let a DIY house scare you away – there are also MANY PERKS, but sometimes I wish I really understood these things before we were ankle-deep in plaster dust.

We’re on year three of this house – and we definitely thought we’d be done by now. But, we’ve also been able to do a lot more than we ever thought we’d be able to. Pros and cons.

Are you DIYing your house? What’s your favorite, and least favorite, parts? Have you ever wanted to?

Before and After: The Family Room (Buh-bye Wood Paneling!)

Silly me. I forgot to share a before and after of the Sunroom-turned-Family-Room.

Once upon a time, people loved knotty wood wall paneling, drop ceilings and linoleum floors. And strange uncomfortable built-in benches.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

I must say, this wood paneling was in GREAT shape and really quality stuff. Part of me hated taking it down, but Moose convinced me *and he was right, per usual* that we needed to re-insulate this room.

This paneling had a happy ending though! Our neighbor ended up taking it all to do something in his basement!

But now when I sit in the middle of our (empty) new room… every painful moment of removing mouse-poop infested insulation was worth it.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

It’s hard to believe this is the same room! The room was completely gutted, STARTING with the built-in bench you saw above.

Since the room is built on a concrete slab there was no heat in the room. We added two baseboard heating units (one of which you see above) and can now control the temperature in that room separately from the rest of the house.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

We replaced all of the windows, and installed new window trim to match the rest of the trim in the house.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

When we gutted the room, we exposed the back of the fireplace – thus my many DIY distressed brick posts!

Tips on a DIY Whitewashed Brick WallBrick Wall Tutorial: Tinting a Brick Wall

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

Here you can see the original door from the living room. Also notice that the original room was a step down. When we redid the floor we built a new sub-floor to rise the height of the floor, so now the flooring is now the same level.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

And looking back at this one door…

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

…it looks so skinny compared to the new french doors!

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

Since we have an older home, we don’t have a naturally open floor plan. Adding in these french doors definitely makes the spaces feel more unified.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

I still have nightmares about removing these ceiling tiles.

If walls could talk they might say, “Ick-Ew-Gross”.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled SunroomOur new smooth walls and ceiling are plaster. And the ceiling fan was replaced with recessed lighting.

(And we installed about 10 extra electrical outlets along the way! That’s the royal “we” by the way.)

And here you can see the beautiful new crown molding installed by Moose! Painted by me – I have to get some credit somewhere, right?

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

This was the first room we’ve starting doing molding in and he did an AWESOME job! Now for the rest of the house! ; )

Not only was the original floor a step down, but it was a disaster! The old linoleum was cracking and breaking off of the concrete slab. Not much to miss here!

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

To finish off the room, we continued on with our honey-colored hardwood floors that are in the rest of the house.

Before and After: Renovating a Wood Paneled Sunroom

This room has by far been the biggest “change” – I guess that’s what happens when you gut a room!

I remember walking into this room on the first day we looked at the house – we had so many visions for it then. It’s hard to believe nearly two years have passed and the vision is finally coming to life!

We’ve ordered a couch for the room, and when that comes our television will be moving over there! We’ve talked about some DIY attempts at furniture making for this room… so I will have to keep you posted on that!

Read all about how we DIYed Family Room:

Who doesn’t love a good before and after!

By the way – it’s National Library Week! Get on over to your local library and check-out a book, pay your late fees or listen to the Story Lady read a book! Celebrate and read!

Sunroom Renovation Progress (There are Real Walls People!)

First of all, thank you for all the Italy travel advice. You guys rock! Keep it coming!

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLively

The sunroom is quickly  growing up to be the family room. There’s a lot to catchup on.

The last time you saw this room, we had completely gutted her. Read about it here. (Want to know how fast time goes? I posted about gutting this room THREE months ago. It feels like yesterday.)

No more solid wood paneling. No more drop ceiling panels.

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLively

There has been more done in this room than I can probably explain – in all honesty, after the demolition, I have not been very involved. Moose has been doing a lot of work in conjunction with some professionals. This non-DIYing is very exciting and feels so fast! It feels like this room has come together overnight!

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLively

This is the doorway we have had for the last 1.5 years. And now it looks like… (drumroll please)

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLivelyall pics are from my phone. and it’s dark. so they aren’t that great. oh well!

First, we got our french doors installed!!! I am thrilled and I love the way they open up the two rooms together. Because we have an old home, an open floor plan isn’t really an option for us and this really brings the spaces together. This is a load-bearing wall, so they also needed to install a header – definitely not a DIY job for us.

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLively

No more ancient broken windows with rotting sills either. When we put new windows in our house 2 summers ago, we did every room except this one to delay the cost (because this room boasts a whopping 9 windows). We got our new windows installed and they look great!

The old (GROSS) insulation was ripped out, and we had a professional come in and blow foam insulation. While the upfront cost is definitely more than rolling the traditional stuff out ourselves, it will pay for itself in the next two winters. Boston winter ain’t got nuthin’ on us.

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLively

You might also notice the floor has been raised. This room was built on a concrete slab, so it was a step-down from the rest of our house. We had insulation rolled on the floor and then then built this subfloor on top of it – this also greatly contributes to the feeling of an open floor plan. Hardwood floors to match the rest of the house are to come.

The room has been run with all new electrical outlets, cable hookups and our ceiling has been outfitted with can lighting.

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLively

We have walls! Real walls for the first time in this room. This was really the kicker for me. It feels like a real room now, and it’s such a huge change to look across this living room and not see a dark pit. This was definitely another job for professionals – since we own an older home, nothing is level or square. These walls and ceilings are plaster, not plain old drywall.

The brick wall is still up for debate. We have left it open and are going to decide how we feel about it as the room comes together. More on the brick wall this week!

And just because it makes me feel good, let’s look at the before again:

DIY Home Renovation - DesignLively

We’ve come so far!

Next up for this room? Lots of painting, installation of all the window and door trim, and the floor.

Drywall, thou art not my friend

On the heels of this project:

DesignLively - DIY Renovations

Drywall, thou art mine enemy.

Or frenemy, because I like new drywall.

DesignLively - DIY Renovations

Bathroom medicine cabinet? GONE!

DesignLively - DIY Renovations

Door molding? Bedroom wall? BAM!

Our walls are shakin’ in their boots around these parts.
Happy Saturday!!