Have you ever heard the expression, “when it comes to home renovations, you can choose two of the following: Right, Fast or Cheap”? If something is done Right and Fast, it ain’t going to be Cheap. And if something is done Cheap and Right, it ain’t going to be done Fast. And if something is going to be done Fast and Cheap — well, you get the idea.
For the past two years, we’ve been choosing Right and Fast. Right because we plan to be in this house for a long time and Fast because it’s hard to leave a project in a half-done state with a young child around. We’re really pleased with everything we’ve accomplished so far — but we’ve also spent $99,530.65 of our $100,000 renovation budget. Between a few surprises (like having to spend nearly $10,000 on seismic upgrades) and a few conveniences (like having certain trades return over and over again rather than tear our whole house apart at once), our budget is tapped, but the project list is still going strong. Funny/depressing how that happens with old houses, isn’t it?
Pierre and I both have a hard time going over budget — a number decided on in saner moments is always treated as law — so our house has reached the end of the road as far as freewheeling spending goes. It doesn’t mean all work stops, but it does mean this year’s list is comprised of just a handful of projects that we can do mostly ourselves. We’re now going to be choosing Right and Cheap, which means no more Fast.
Budget aside, it’s a good time to scale back on renovations, really. Our second (and last!) baby is due to be born in a couple of weeks, which means we want our main project this year to be adjusting to a new family rhythm and soaking up the first year of our second baby’s life. A few months ago, I wrote a post on how I prioritize house projects. I’m following my own formula here and, from our Master List, have chosen just a few projects that are on the simpler and less expensive side, while still adding value to the house and to us, the people who live here.
1. Replace the Tub/Shower Fixtures
We didn’t really renovate the bathroom in any substantial way (read: no demolition), but with new paint, new hardware, new woodwork, a new light fixture, a new door, new toilet, new sink, new countertop, new faucet and by replacing our dated shower doors with a curtain and painting some fun floors, it’s looking pretty cute. The one thing that still sticks out to me as “dated” are our chrome tub/shower fixtures. I ordered some matte black fixtures on (appropriately) Black Friday and fingers crossed everything is an easy swap. The new trim kit (about $850) came out of the 2018 budget (and so is included in that $99,530.65 number above), but the cost of the plumber will go on my 2019 sheet.
2. Pour a Pea Gravel Patio
We got some good work done in the backyard in 2018, but we still have lots we’d like to do back here. In 2019, we’ve decided to focus our efforts on redoing this cracked patio, breaking up and removing all the existing concrete and replacing it with pea gravel for a simple ground-level seating area. We’ll square off our vegetable garden while we’re at it (it’s weirdly P-shaped right now) and extend the patio area slightly so the veggie patch and patio are in line with each other.
3. Drywall the Hallway
This little area sticks out like a sore thumb on our otherwise-finished main floor and crossing it off our to-do list would mean we’re pretty darn happy with the way things stand inside the house, so we’ve decided to tackle it this year. The plan is to tack new drywall over the old plaster on three walls, tape it, mud it, sand it, paint it and then add historic-looking trim to match what’s on the original fourth wall. I’d also like to refinish the tiny square of original fir flooring that’s inside the hall closet to match our refinished floors in the nursery. I’ve been saving some art (for nearly two years!) for this space and can’t wait to finally “unpack” our last box. And with our den/office becoming a nursery last year, I just might create a cute little workspace in this area, which can double as a homework space down the road.
4. Organize and Electrify our Basement
While our basement is a far-cry from the hoarder’s paradise it was when we moved in, the organization and lighting situation down here leaves a lot to be desired. That became especially apparent when we went to unpack our Christmas tree a few weeks ago, only to find the cardboard box we’d been storing it in was soaked-through with black mold. While we have no plans for the basement to ever be livable/finished square footage, it would be nice for everything to be neatly labeled and up off the floor, ideally in plastic bins instead of cardboard boxes. We’d like to remove any non-structural walls, move all storage (shelving) to exterior walls to keep the basement as open as possible, clear out inactive wires and generally just make it a little less scary down here. That’s a quantifiable goal, right?
5. Attic Window
Our attic window is original to the house, but someone painted over it long before we slapped a fresh coat of paint on it last spring. It’s appearance is seriously offensive to my father-in-law, who offers to pay for its replacement every time he visits. Last summer one of our insulation guys broke one pane on an original window in our basement and we were able to get it fixed cheaply and quickly by a company that specializes in historic homes. I’d like to bring them back to replace this window. This is a completely cosmetic, non-essential, non-functional project — we can’t even access our attic — but in a year where were cutting back on spending, I feel we might as well make my father-in-law happy and make one tiny aesthetic improvement that doesn’t involve spending our own money.
6. Replace Tops of Our Front Porch Steps
Whenever I take a photo of our house from the street, my eye goes straight to the tops of our front porch steps — in all their walnut brown and shingled glory — and it’s a quick and easy project to replace this little bit of wood, especially if my dad helps when he visits in March. I’d like to stain the new wood to match our handrail, which is a pretty, weathered golden colour that jives nicely with our teak porch furniture and eventually (2021?) use that same stain on our back deck.
7. Paint the Kitchen Floor
When we first bought our house, I planned to paint our kitchen cabinets. But after changing the hardware from brass to matte black, I grew quite fond of the honey oak and we began to make design decisions that would allow us to keep them as-is. Oak, unlike say, maple, is a notoriously hard wood to paint anyways as the grain is apt to bleed through all number of primers/coats. All the while, I wasn’t really sure about the floor — what tile goes well in a historic home with oak cabinets, white appliances and a quartz countertop? Without really having a better option in mind, the 1993 linoleum stayed in place — and now it’s way too inconvenient to replace it. Luckily I tried something on the vinyl floors in the bathroom recently that I’m really happy with and I think we’re going to give that same process a shot in here, with the added protection of a polycrylic top coat since we’re more likely to track dirt through the kitchen than the bathroom.
All in all, this list looks a lot like our 2018 list — seven tasks — but I assure you it’s far from it, both in scope and in expense. For starters, this list of seven projects is just that — seven projects — whereas our 2018 list was more like 25 projects disguised as seven projects. Our 2019 projects are all pretty well simple DIYs, too. We’ll need a plumber for the bathroom fixtures and our carpenters to help with the hallway, but that’s a few days of trades in the house as opposed to years’ past, where it’s felt like some folks might as well just move in with us. And while there are definitely projects left for future years, it feels like we’re coming down the mountain here, with way less left to do than we’ve already done. That’s a great feeling — 2019 definitely feels like the year we finally get the house into the sort of “move-in condition” that will make Pierre love living here as much as I do.
What’s on your renovation hit list in 2019?