Refurbishment: Do It Yourself but don't hurt yourself in the process
My mother is very handy, and I learned so much from her about doing things myself. From putting IKEA flat packs together, to painting, I've seen her do it. Growing up, I was so uninterested in Doing it yourself (“DIY”) until I finally became a flat owner. The financial reality hit me, and with limited funds, a new passion for DIY was born.
After my 5 years of homeownership, I have come to the conclusion that B&Q and the likes make more money from DIY amateurs like than the professionals. This is because the Skilful cutter does less cutting which is a famous Chinese proverb.
Determine what you can and can't do
If you're anything like me, I think with a little bit of planning and thought I could do anything. When starting on the refurbishment of my first flat, I started ripping everything apart. I got so far in the process of destruction that practically everything was taken down in that flat. With my youthful zeal, I did not take time to count the costs of the things I was ripping out and which eventually needed to be replaced. After ripping everything was ripped out and then looking at the cost of replacement, I quickly saw that I had bit more than I could chew.
Smashing tiles, removing carpet, stripping wallpapers whilst scrapping the walls is what the life of a self-doer involves. Remember that everything you remove will come at the cost, so do not get ahead of yourself. So if you have a small budget, make sure you focus on only crucial elements that matter to you. Do not be like me where I removed everything and then started looking at costs from the end.
I even decided to remove two old storage heaters without researching how much they will cost to replace. When it was removed and disposed of in my local skip, I then discovered that it would cost £850 each to replace them. I was shocked and sighed with personal disappointment.
These examples show that projects of passion sometimes defy logic and rationale. You have to be realistic with what you want to do initially and perhaps do your home renovation over a more extended period of time. So I would advise planning things out before starting the stripping process. Win the war with your brain first and then use your hands, not the other way round.
My bad experiences with DIY
I have had a number of bad experiences which by God's grace were not fatal as I would not be writing this article today. Flooding, electrical hazards, inhalation, overworking are things I have experienced in my riveting DIY journey.
When we first bought our first flat, I was excited and used my imagination to mentally design the space I wanted to live in. As mentioned in my previous post on buying my first flat, I bought a number of items from John Pye auctions which included a jacuzzi bath, vanity sink and toilet for a very competitive price. The jacuzzi bath I bought was bigger than the previous bathtub in my flat, which presented a massive problem for me. So I virtually had to cut into the non-load bearing wall stud portioning wall (there was a mirror there) to make it fit. My mum just could not understand why I did that, but I was determined to install my brand new jacuzzi bath. In hindsight, this was not the right decision, but I learned that there is always a solution to most problems. As they say, you never know what you can do until you are in it
During this same refurbishment, I accidentally cut a live wire which could have instantly taken my life. For your safety, try to avoid working on electricity and water. Electricity because it can kill you instantly and water because your house can become flooded quite quickly. Get a qualified electrician to do any significant electrical works and a plumber to help you connect your water appliances.
In another example and when we had bought our second home, I had removed a massive sofa bed from my first flat. In that process, I destroyed the lights in the landing, which again caused a mini electrical explosion when the light was turned on. I called an emergency electrician who charged me £150 an hour to fix the problem. With the invoice at the end, I thought that I must be in the wrong trade.
My good and not so bad experiences
Irrespective of the near misses I experienced on my flat refurbishment, the finished product was exquisite. Between my wife and family, we had removed everything and refurbished the whole flat on a budget less than £5,000. We painted the walls, skirtings/ ceilings, installed new panel heaters, new lighting and had a brand new bathroom. If we had got a workman to do the work, it would have easily cost us £10k-15k. DIY is a cost-saving exercise, and the emergence of YouTube has meant that we can learn, take part and create the homes of our dreams on a budget.
In our second home, which was a lot larger than the first, my wife, mum and I repainted every room. We even repainted our front door and garage door to give the home a new feel.
Flooring in our new home
During the first lockdown in 2020, we decided it was time to change our downstairs flooring. The existing flooring was a mixture of carpet, laminate floor with the majority being porcelain tiling. Whilst working for Countryside properties, I came across a fantastic floor covering called Amtico and thought this would be what we will use.
The supplier and fitter said that I would need to clear the flooring myself, and they will simply come in and install. With my wife keeping our daughter entertained during numerous evenings, I had to move everything downstairs into the garage with some help from my lovely mother. I thought to myself, removing the tiling won't be so bad. When I started, I used a hammer and chisel, and the constant pounding was torturous to my hands and knees. It was as if I was hitting cast metal at full force with no avail as the tile adhesive was so hard to break.
With persistence, I got most of it out but not without minor injury. The workmen said they needed the flooring to be smooth and flat, so I then decided to invest in an SDS drill to clear everything down to the sub-base. It was a moment of joy when I look back and the mountain of work I completed.
With this new SDS machine, I was on a roll, but I did not appreciate the temporary damage to myself due to the constant drilling. Hours of drilling concrete left my hand aching, and I didn't appreciate the destructive impact of not soiling the ground with water to stop dust from rising and wearing a face mask. My disregard of the face mask left me with mild chest pains due to the inhalation of the dust. My mother bought me a mask to protect me against the dust. Professionalism should never be left at your front door, and you should always utilise your knowledge on personal DIY projects.
Whist drilling, I created some massive holes near my sliding doors and in parts of the house. I think this was how the home was constructed, but I was left to deal with the problem. I was worried and thought about what I am going to do. My neighbour said I should buy some quick-set concrete and pour it into the hole, I did this, and the rest was history. I feel that we all learn more when we are in problems and its good to keep your head ticking.
The floor installers came and were impressed by my work. We now enjoy a water resistance flooring which my lovely daughter pours water, drink and food on it on a daily basis.
Safety should always come first
Personal protective equipment (“PPE”) is not something that should be taken lightly. Before you start on ANY project, make sure you have the right PPE. Hard books, impact-rated visors, gloves, hard hat etc should be used to protect you against accidents because they do happen.
Know whom to call and when.
As mentioned above, you have to know when to step aside and let the pro's do their job. I always use an electrician for more complex electrical work and a plumber for anything to do with water. There is a famous Chinese proverb which says the skilful cutter does less cutting. From a DIY perspective, the pro's know precisely what they are doing, whereas if you do it yourself, it is likely going to cost you a lot more if things go wrong. I love to learn and experience things, but as I am getting older, I am also mindful of the effective use of my time.
Do not bite more than you can chew and do not start what you cannot finish. Try to work backwards whilst counting the cost of your ambitions. Perhaps if we did this, we might not have encountered some of the hiccups we did. Working backwards will let you know quickly what to start and what to leave for another day.
Make sure you wear use the correct PPE. A lot of people think that PPE is exclusively used on building sites, but that is far from the truth. When doing small renovations projects at home, be sure to use the correct PPE as it will potentially protect you against harm.
Finally, DIY presents an excellent opportunity for you to learn about how buildings are put together.
Rest in peace to Christopher Brantuo, Captain Tom and everyone who has lost their lives to this devastating pandemic.