Home Projects

4 Commandments of Smart Renovating (By Someone Who Kicked Their Remodel’s A**)

updated May 3, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

When you see where this minimal and modern guest suite and family remodel started, it’s hard to believe where it ended up. But through a ton of hard work, a lot of DIY and an intense attention to detail, Suzanne and Peter were able to renovate their 258-square-foot garage on a tight budget. Suzanne details much of the remodel in their tour, but she has more wisdom to share. Below, in her own words, are some of the most important things to remember when you’re taking on a renovation.

Follow Topics for more like this

Follow for more stories like this

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

#1: Take it one step at a time and keep an open mind

While it’s useful (and required) to have an overall plan when installing electrical, plumbing and framing, we found that we were often changing course. Sometimes the plan dictated our purchases and other times the purchase changed the plan. Things that were costly to change or dictated by code were off-limits. But other things, like the window-to-door project, were changed last minute — we found the amazing Bonelli window for next to nothing. Our inspector allowed us to amend our plan to replace two smaller windows with a large one. That’s just one example of the many adjustments we made.

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

#2: Get a permit

I’ve done projects without permits and unless you have a relative in the building department, it’s not worth the stress of being caught. The only thing we saved [when we didn’t get a permit] was time…and not much at that. Sure, dealing with planning and building departments is a pain and stressful in its own way, but having a permit allows you precious flexibility…like the flexibility to sell your home for its full value. If it’s not on public record, lenders cannot count the additional square footage for valuation. It also gives you flexibility to participate in the sharing economy [i.e., Airbnb]. If your space is not permitted, you will not be able to get the necessary license to operate (if one is required in your city).

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

#3: Check Craigslist, eBay, salvage/re-use yards and Next Door before purchasing new

We saved thousands of dollars this way and avoided using “new” resources that only feed the cycle of consumption. We weren’t perfect in this regard by any stretch, but it was our top priority after budget to use things that would otherwise end up in the landfill (including those sad leftovers in the IKEA “Last Chance” area) or that had already been partially consumed (like the used rug and industry scrap fabric).

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

#4: Separate waste and dispose of it properly

We are lucky that San Francisco has very progressive and aggressive waste management laws, so we were able to send our recyclable waste (mostly wood) to our dump for sorting and down-cycling. If your municipality doesn’t offer construction debris and toxic material recycling, check the internet for local and private metal, wood and toxic recycling centers. In a municipal compost facility, drywall is compostable — it’s just minerals and paper and completely inert. Small wood scraps are also compostable.

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

Plywood can’t be burned or composted due to the binders used. Wiring and non-ferrous metal scrap (like copper pipe) can be recycled…and usually you will get paid for it! Iron and steel can go to an auto dismantler or metal recycler, but usually small quantities will not be paid for.

Asbestos and lead require remediation. If your house was built or painted before 1978, chances are it has both. Lots of flooring, drywall and insulation contained asbestos up until the ’70s. Paint definitely had lead in it until regulation made it illegal in 1978. It only takes a very small amount of dust from either source to completely contaminate your entire house, so it’s worth testing to know before you start ripping out walls.

We gave away or sold almost everything usable on Craigslist. The flake factor is high, so you have to have firm boundaries when dealing on Craigslist, but I love the fact that the old and brittle (but beautiful) framing wood got a second life as a table. And that old mirrors, light fixtures, electrical leftovers, doors and hardware all got re-used. Even that ugly carport storage tent is now ugly-ifying someone else’s space!

Thanks Suzanne!