Even More Lessons For A Big DIY Project At Home

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Finished basement with leather and suede couch, pillows, projector, screen, and fireplace

Think of all the money you’ll save on movie tickets if you have a home theater!

In one of my first SALT™ Blog posts, I wrote about a rather hefty DIY project: stripping and replacing my roof. Now, a year later, that project is more or less complete and I’m on to DIY part deux (admit it, you secretly love that movie).

What was on the agenda this time around? A finished basement—kind of like this one, except not nearly as nice. We started in late February, and with lots of assistance from family, we are about 75% done.

So, what did I learn this time around? Here are a few tips if you’re thinking of undertaking a big DIY project on your home as well.


Make A List, And Check It Twice

Before you start, be sure you have a plan for your project—and I don’t just mean blueprints (though those are very helpful). What materials will you need? Where will you store the materials before you use them? Where will you buy the materials? At what cost?

My father-in-law, the “foreman” and, let’s be honest, the brains behind this project, insisted on making a materials stock list. Basically, this was a detailed list of materials, size, quantity, estimated costs, and even best place to buy each. Knowing all this in advance helped us understand the total cost of the project.

So, don’t knock down (or put up) any walls or anything before making this list. It may impact your decision to move forward.

Get A Permit

If you are adding rooms, making structural changes, or pretty much alternating your house/property in any way, you’ll probably want a permit. Doing so will save any headaches if you sell your home later (not to mention, it is technically required, and I know all of you are law-abiding, good doobies).

Depending on your town/city and the extent of your project, costs will vary. We had to apply for a general work permit, which cost $50. We also had to get a second permit (also $50) for electrical work—which we did NOT do on our own. Electricity is dangerous; find a professional to do that.

Also, check with the building inspector on when he/she will check your progress. For instance, our town requires two “check-ins”: once pre-sheet rock (i.e., before you put the walls up) and once after the project is complete. Fail to comply, and you may have to redo your work, which you obviously don’t want to do for cost and sanity purposes.

Determine The “Value” Of The Project

Upgrading your home can get costly. Before moving ahead, consider the long-term return on your investment, which includes both increased value to your home (think re-sale) and added value for your lifestyle (we’ll get into this).

Before we started our renovation, we looked at comparable homes in the area that sold with a finished basement. Then, we considered our total budget. Without getting too “in the weeds” (time-value of money, future housing market, etc.), we asked ourselves, “If we sold our house in 5 years, would the renovation increase its value enough to cover the cost of the project?” Answering “yes” was important for us.

That might not be for you, which brings me to the second “value” consideration: your lifestyle. Do you host a lot of parties? Do you plan on never moving? Are you a serious homebody? If you answered “yes” to one of these, then perhaps a home renovation, especially a finished basement, is perfect for you—no matter what the cost (within reason, of course).

Only you can answer this question, but remember, not all decisions have to make complete economic sense (just don’t tell an economist).

What have you learned from a big home DIY project? Share your tips in the comments.

(Photo: noluckmurphy)

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