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Reviving Your Old House

This guide is about the romance of reviving old houses. It is written with the hope of passing on to you the thrill of participation in history, along with the wonderful satisfaction of owning a piece of history and , through renovation, giving it the unique stamp of your own personality and abilities. It isn't a contractor’s guide to renovation nor an architect’s guide, but it's a manual of tips that I have learned from my own experience. I hope that my descriptions of what has worked for me will make it possible for you, the owner and budding craftsperson, to do a satisfactory job of renovating your own home.

You can do it, as thousands of others have been able to do it. You don't need to call in architects and building contractors, the federal government, and three foundations as if your intentions were to restore the Library of Congress. With today’s resources and marvelously improved building materials, you can do a better job with your lack of experience than many tradespeople did just a few years back. In fact, you can probably do a passable job of renovation without this guide, but reading it will save you countless hours of trouble, many dollars in building materials, and a considerable amount of embarrassment at having made an unforgivable mistake in the process of renovation.

Many of the tips in this guide have grown out of my mistakes as a builder when I was a young man. Others have come out of my experiences—both successes and mistakes—in renovating my own home. Still others have grown out of observation and reports of many people’s restoration and renovation projects far and wide. To some degree, skill as a builder isn't just the ability to work with tools, but it's the accumulation of knowledge of what will work and what will not work in a specific situation. In short, I hope to give you some of the wisdom of my own experience.

Always I have given attention to cost. Those people who go about renovation as if they were going to restore the Chartres Cathedral usually aren't troubled about the high cost of their methods. But I assume that my readers are very concerned about limiting high costs: For the average home renovator, costs have to be kept at a minimum. It is my hope that the reader will be able to afford an old house and find that, although its maintenance costs may be slightly higher than those of a brand-new, ubiquitous developer’s house, the benefits will be well worth the strain on the budget.

In most human endeavors of any great moment, the task being contemplated often seems impossible to accomplish. Often, how ever, individuals who are pushed into a course of action or who have themselves impulsively rushed headlong into it, discover that they have resources of ingenuity and perseverance that they never dreamed of. It is my hope that you will find these hidden resources in yourself as you take on your own renovation project.

Can you really renovate your own house when you have no experience in building?

Numerous factors prompt an overwhelming “yes” to that question:

• Advances in building, plumbing, and electrical products that favor the do-it-yourselfer

• Relaxed building codes that allow the use of these easy-to-use building products

• Great new tools at lower prices to do a good job with less skill required

• More information available

How do you get the time necessary to renovate a home:

This is perhaps a more pertinent question than whether or not you have the ability to renovate. If you really want to do it, however, you can find the time to do so. Take heart in the fact that the existence of labor-saving, leisure-creating devices have given the average person more time for “doing-it-yourself’ than ever before. Consider:

• Simplifying your lifestyle

• Throwing the TV on the junk pile

• Making your house your recreation

• Scheduling a renovation vacation for the whole family

• Inviting friends and relatives to join you for a renovation weekend

• Taking a leave of absence from your job, if possible—you’ll pay fewer taxes, travel, and entertain less, and have less stress

Can you really save by doing your own renovation?

• Over the cost of contracted renovation you may save as much as 70 % . Over the cost of hiring day labor you may save as much as 40 to 50 % .

• You save the dollar value of your time that would be spent dealing with employees.

• You may save 50 to 90 % on materials, because you have the flexibility to plan, look, wait, and improvise.

• You can save by using second-hand materials, which aren't cost-effective at high wages and which tradespeople often will not willingly use.

• When you pay workers you are paying them with pre-taxed dollars. If you cut back on your employment and do most of the work yourself, you pay no taxes on the value of the labor.

Hopefully, the answers to the above questions will result in a resounding “yes.” You can do it! You can renovate your own house. It will yield:

• Great savings

• Great personal satisfaction over and above that of merely owning an old house

• Family pride in the family home

• An example to your children of such values as thrift, hard work, responsibility, and respect for history

• Considerable financial equity in most cases, providing security should you have to relocate or liquefy your assets

• An absolutely unique place in which to demonstrate both your skills and your philosophy about life.

Next: First Steps
Prev: Reviving Old Houses -- Introduction

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