Just One Room: Starting Your Home Improvement Journey

When it comes to many elements of home improvement, you have a choice between trying to do it yourself and hiring someone else to do it. There are advantages and drawbacks to both approaches, and you may, like many people, ultimately decide to choose a mix of both. However, one way to test out your DIY resolve is to choose a small and more low-stakes room in your house–a utility room, perhaps, or a small guest bedroom.

Knowing the basic steps can also help you determine whether the pros you’ve hired are doing the job right.

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Make a Wish Board

You can call it whatever you want but start collecting pictures of rooms you like that will help you decide what you want to do differently with your own. This can be particularly helpful for anyone who feels as though they don’t have a strong design sense. Often, you’ll find that you know what you like when you see it even if you weren’t necessarily able to visualize or describe it beforehand. Go ahead and include photos of rooms that aren’t necessarily realistic in terms of whatever budget or architectural limitations you have to work with. You may still be able to get inspiration from them and use some of the ideas. If you want to make your bedroom look classy that doesn’t have to mean spending a ton of money.

Review Your Budget

One reason to go the DIY route is that it is cheaper, with a few caveats. First, if you make a huge and terrible mistake, it may be more expensive to fix it than it would have been to hire a professional in the first place. That said, that’s why you’re starting with a part of your house where common beginner mistakes won’t have serious consequences. The other consideration is time.

This is a cost to be budgeted as well, and if spending time on this project is going to make you miserable or take you away from actual paid work you need to be doing, DIY might not be for you right now. Whatever you decide, you’ll need to take a look at your budget. In starting small, you don’t need the kind of massive loan that you might get from borrowing against your house. A better option than either than or a credit card would be a personal loan. Having low interest loans available will nearly always offer you a better repayment deal, and you have the opportunity to shop around for one that works for you.

Review the Work

The two jobs that should be generally left to pros are plumbing and electricity, so if you have a sink you need moved in the utility room or a small electric wall heater you want to get rid of in the bedroom, a plumber or electrician should be your first port of call. Beyond this, what do you want to do? Is there old carpet that you’d like to pull up and replace? Do you want to repaint? Make a list of the jobs that you want to do, or that you want someone else to do, and go from there.

Flooring

It’s best to start here because this job kicks up dust, and you’re likely to ding your freshly painted walls if you do it second. If you have carpet or other floor covering down that you hate and you are like many homeowners, you don’t know what’s under it or what condition it’s in. The first step is to get remove the baseboards in the room. To pull up carpet, you’ll need some gloves, knee pads and perhaps a dust mask along with some duct tape, pliers, and a utility knife. Old, damaged carpet might be easier to rip up than newer. You’ll need to cut it into strips as you go and roll it up with duct tape. You may also need to go over the floor after you’re done and pull up carpet staples. Laminate flooring can be a bit more complicated and require more tools. At this point you can have a look at the state of the floor. If it is damaged, again, this is where you may need to bring in professionals. If it’s undamaged and it’s wood, you can rent a sander, sand it down, and then treat it. Alternately, you may decide to lay new carpet or tiling.

Walls

Whether you’re going to repaint or use wallpaper, the preparation steps are similar. You may need to remove all coverings for electrical outlets if you want to be thorough. You should thoroughly wash the walls. Next, you need to smooth it out, getting rid of any old nails and filling in imperfections and bumps. Even if you are ultimately planning to use wallpaper, depending on what kind of walls you have and what kind of paint is on them, you might have to paint before you wallpaper. If you’re tackling this as a DIY job, be sure to do some research on how best to approach it. Once you repaint and replace the baseboards, you’ll have done the basics on a complete room and will know whether you want to proceed.

Erin Emanuel