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Learn How to DIY Renovate

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Our Renovation Journey: Q&A

Dog on top of renovation rubble

Yesterday I shared some before and after shots of our 5 year house anniversary and 5 whole years of renovating! It's both flown by and been a bit of a drag, but here we are, five whole years later - still renovating, still blogging. Not many changes eh?

I asked on Instagram if you guys had any questions for me and I got a fair few, so thought I'd compile a 10-part question blog post answering them. From tool recommendations to tips on controlling dust and dirt to managing costings - I'm sharing 10 answers to 10 questions. So keep reading if this kind of thing interests you...

Q1: Do you have any tips for dealing with reno dirt and dust?
I think this is my least favourite part about renovating - the dust and dirt are truly inescapable! I highly recommend investing in a builders/DIY vacuum. Not only will it prolong the life of your household vac, but they're 10x better for dust and rubble etc, and they do a much better job at collecting it without clogging up the filters. Many of them also offer other features like being able to attach your tools straight to them (meaning you can collect sawdust the minute it's made) and many can also hoover up liquids too. We have the Karcher MV2 which is now 5 years old and still going strong! If you're renovating long-term, definitely get one, you won't regret it!

Aside from a new vacuum, if you're renovating room-by-room like us, you can buy dust-guards that are basically plastic zip-doors to keep the dust from escaping the room. I think these are really good if you're working nearby to a finished room and doing this, means less surface area to clean up!

I also recommend keeping carpets down for as long as possible. They'll keep your floorboards protected and it means you won't have the mammoth job of cleaning them at the end (plaster and mortar in floorboards is a pain in the arse!!), you can simply roll up the dust and chuck it away. I know it sounds gross to keep a dirty carpet, but it works out so much easier, in my opinion!

Generally, though, I think my best piece of advice is to not stress about the dirt or dust too much. Do what you can to control it from taking over the house and try to keep on top of the 'bulk' of it, but don't feel like you need to keep a perfectly spotless house whilst renovating. It's really a waste of energy. Do what you can and save the mega clean for the end!

how to cut a ceiling for roof window

Q2: Do you find it hard to manage reno costs? And what do you include in your budget?
We budget a monthly amount into our renovation, straight from our paycheques and we treat renovating like an on-going bill, similar to paying monthly council tax or something. I keep track of absolutely everything we buy (whether it's just screws, paint, tools, or larger stuff like kitchen units) and make sure we're never overspending on our monthly budget. Many of the larger items we buy are things we've saved for a few months to get. I'm pretty old-school when it comes logging everything down, I have a book and I tend to update it weekly with stuff we've bought. We only ever buy stuff from one set bank account, so that helps for keeping track of everything too.

It can be hard trying to prioritise things to buy when obviously there is so much we need. Our monthly budget is quite small, so it really doesn't stretch that far, which can be frustrating. When there's no money, there's no progress. We definitely have to make sacrifices - it's why our conservatory floor is simply painted, why we only have one new window (and not the rest) and why the living room has basically come to a standstill too.

During the kitchen renovation, we did, however, decide to take our a home improvement loan. The rates on these are so much better than personal loans and without upfront cash, I think the whole thing would have taken 10x longer and it probably still wouldn't have been finished! The interest was really low, so it actually just made sense. It was a fairly small loan (almost fully paid off now) and we really stretched it to include as much as possible - splurging on a few luxuries which would have otherwise taken years to afford - like the log burner, electric underfloor heating and limestone tiles.

galley kitchen renovation

Q3: What're the best things to scrimp/splurge on?
I'm not a huge spender, so the questions I ask myself when looking at high-priced items/installations are generally - will it last long enough to warrant the cost? Will it be used enough? Will it make a big enough difference in my life? And can I actually find it cheaper somehow?

The things I think are worth splurging on, are stuff that will make a huge difference to the overall feel/use of the room. Or otherwise, an investment that will see your money return. For us, this included things like our roof window which has added so much extra light into the room! And that's something we wouldn't have been able to do in any other way. Our uPVC sash window was also a splurge (although also a bargain!), but I think it will add value to the house. And we're now draught-free too, which is also a bonus! Our limestone floor was also a bit of a splurge too, but the natural stone will truly last a lifetime.

The things we generally scrimp on include appliances - both our extractor fan and dishwasher are the cheapest you can find, and our cooker is secondhand. I also scrimp on the decor/finishing items of a room too as I really don't think you need to overspend on paint, expensive coffee tables or rugs to make a house feel like a home. One spillage and I'd be crying. These are the kind of things I have always bought secondhand / or made myself.

Q4: Are there any particular renovation stages you're glad you did, or wish you had done at the beginning?
If we had had money for a boiler, then I definitely wish we'd done this at the beginning. It's such a big installation job that requires work in every room - once rooms are finished, you really don't want to go back and undo some of that work. Or even make mess. We didn't have that money though, so it is what it is, but if you can afford this kind of work straight away - definitely do it!

A re-wire would have been useful too - the route of our cables is a total mess. We've been altering cables in each room as we go, but I think re-wire from the start would have been much easier. It would also have got all the chasing and dust out the way too. But again, not stuff we had money for.

I'm definitely glad we did the bathroom first though. At that time we had two bathrooms, so we could use the second whilst the first wasn't working. To have done it later after we removed the second would have been a nightmare! It was also nice to have a finished bathroom when the kitchen was in total chaos. It helped to stop us feeling like we were totally living like squatters.

how to install a freestanding slipper bath

Q5: When do you hope to finish your renovation?
In the next five years hopefully! I mean, sooner than that would be great - but in an ideal world, we'd quite like to add a dormer to the attic, which is £££, so we're not expecting that to happen anytime soon. Possibly ever - who knows.

The next job is the basement, which is also a huge job, so I anticipate that will take us at least a full year too. I'd like to say in five years it will all be done and dusted. But you know, when you're relying on time and money, you never know what's around the corner...

Q6: Do you ever get fed up with the work and wish it was just done already?
YES! Sometimes, occasionally, fairly often. The work itself doesn't really bother me, it's the amount of time it takes and the sacrifice you have to give elsewhere in life. DIY renovating is such a long slow process, it feels like you're not actually living a whole lot. It's just work-work-work. I enjoy it, but at the same time, I wonder if I'd enjoy doing other things more. You know?

It's a hard balance for sure. But in the end, I do think I'd probably be quite bored if I didn't have a project of some sort on the go, haha.

Q7: Do you have heating and if not, do you plan to add it?
When we moved into this house, we had a very dated back-boiler. It lived in the chimney behind a horrendous-looking gas fire. It was inefficient and didn't really work properly. Old back boilers can't be replaced, so it means putting in a new boiler, which would involve moving a lot of the pipework - which is a large cost of boiler installations. We had quotes in the region of £3000 which was money we just didn't have. We never had heating in our old house - so we've just lived without.

Will we ever add it? I'm not sure, honestly. A small part of me wants to say yes, but realistically will I be willing to drop £3000 on a boiler when we've spent the better part of almost a decade without? I don't know. We need a new car desperately (a secondhand, cheap one, but still £££), so I would certainly prioritise that over a boiler. That may sound silly, but we need a car, we don't need a boiler, we'd just like one. Who knows - I guess it depends where life takes us financially...

old back boiler in victorian house

Q8: What has been the hardest part?
Definitely living without a kitchen for 18-odd months! The chaos and dust of renovation life are tough enough, but having nowhere to cook, eat proper food, or even wash cups for such a long time was incredibly depressing. For 18-months we were exclusively eating microwave meals, which were so horrendously unhealthy and there's such lack of choice, it was just the same crap day after day.

We didn't have a tap or anywhere to wash downstairs either, so we survived solely with plastic cups and plastic cutlery, which I'm not too proud of. Plastic waste and all that. I think we both just had an ongoing feeling of being desperate to get basic amenities back. I mean, we didn't have heating either remember - we really were just living like squatters. It felt almost shameful at times.

During this part of our renovation, it was also impossible to have people round too. The way we lived was pretty embarrassing and the only plus side was that we did have a shower/bathroom. I think if we hadn't had that, I may have lost my mind.

Q9: What tools have you found most useful? Any worth investing in?
Oh gosh, so so many! We've bought so many tools during this renovation, we're now literally running out of room to keep them. For demolition and building work, an SDS drill is so useful. We've used ours for simple stuff like removing tiles, bricks or plaster. It can also chisel out parts of the wall and drill big-ass holes for things like pipework/fans. If you get a paddle attachment you can also mix up materials like tile adhesive, plaster or mortar - it just does so much. We have the Titan SDS from Screwfix, it's cheap(ish) and definitely a worthwhile buy!

A mitre saw is also so so useful when it comes to building frames or fitting skirting/architrave. It's a quick way to cut wood to precision, whatever the angle. We didn't have one of these when doing our first renovation and I can assure you - once you have one, you'll never be able to go back. We have this one by Evolution.

Other useful tools include our plunge saw, which we've used to cut worktops, kitchen panels and any long sheet material. The multi-tool is also a great little tool, especially for awkward spaces. I think maybe I need to do a whole blog post just around my fave tools, haha.

titan plunge saw in use

Q10: Do you ever get fed up of not having a finished house?
Strangely, no. The lack of a finished decor doesn't bother me at all, but the dust/chaos that renovating brings does annoy me. Not having a place for everything to live yet is probably the thing that gets to me the most - still living out of boxes and therefore misplacing things. Yep, that's the stuff that bugs me! I can live with the dated decor though. Retro carpet doesn't bother me one bit LOL.

Soooo I think I'll leave it there! Thanks for all your questions, I had a few more, but I think I've kinda answered them in the ones above and I'm conscious I've written quite a lot. I hope this was helpful/interesting though - if there's anything else you'd like to know, feel free to drop me a message/DM.

Kezz X

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