Monday, September 29, 2014

DIY Lessons

When we first started planning our guest room redo way back in April, we figured this would be a good sort of starter job for us to test our DIY skills on. Since we knew we were bound to make some mistakes, we figured it would be best to make them on this small, seldom-used room, so we'd know better by the time we started working on our most-used living spaces. And for this purpose, I must say, the remodel is shaping up to be a remarkable success. We've only been working on it for a week, and we've already made enough mistakes to learn several very important lessons about this kind of DIY job. So I'm now planning to share them here, in the hope that maybe you can learn from our mistakes without going to the trouble of making them yourself.

Lesson 1: Plan for the unplanned.

When we first started planning this job, we figured it would probably be a fairly quick one, since it was a small room and didn't need any major changes. All we had to do was pull some nails from the wall, patch the holes, prime and paint, and then bring in some new furniture and artwork. How long could that take?


Turns out, the answer to this question is "A lot longer than you expect." Because no matter how simple a job looks on the surface, there will invariably be bigger, more complicated jobs hidden below the surface, which won't come to light until you actually start getting your hands dirty. Like, for example, the chunks of the wall that are actually made not of intact wallboard but of crumbling filler, which you can't see until you start pulling nails out and find large chunks of the wall coming with them.

Sometimes, it's true, these hidden problems turn out to have fairly quick fixes. For instance, one of the two windows in the room had a seriously wobbly windowsill, and Brian feared that the wood might have warped due to water incursion or maybe suffered insect damage. However, when he actually pulled off the windowsill to examine it, he found that the wood was mostly intact; one of the two pieces had a crack in it, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with wood glue. It was the wallboard behind the sill that had mostly rotted away due to water damage. Fortunately, this was a problem Brian already knew how to fix: just cut out the damaged parts, cut some smaller pieces of wallboard to fit the hole, and screw them into place. So we dodged a bullet there by not having to attempt to build a whole new windowsill from scratch. But it could just as easily have turned out the other way.

So the lesson we've learned here for future DIY jobs is always to allow more time for them—a lot more—than it actually looks like they should take. When the time comes to redo the bedroom, for instance, I'm going to assume that we'll need to set aside a full week for it just as we did with the patio last year—and that we might still be sleeping in the guest room after that week is out.

Lesson 2: You cannot remove just a small patch of paint (at least not from a wall that was never properly primed).

In the picture I showed you last week, we had a large, irregular, vaguely map-shaped section of paint peeled away underneath the soon-to-be-removed windowsill. At that point, I thought we'd peeled all the paint we'd need to peel in that room. But nope, turns out it's like potato chips: you can never stop at just one. The more nails we removed, the more sections of paint came out with them, and as we peeled at each newly formed loose edge, larger and larger sections of wallboard were exposed, and the peeled-away areas joined up with each other, until we ended up with more wallboard uncovered than covered. Unfortunately, there wasn't always a clear line of demarcation between spots where the paint was well adhered to the wall and spots where it wasn't, so one minute I might be peeling away a big sheet of loose paint from the wall, and the next minute, I might find myself tearing a chunk of paper from the wallboard because there was one little spot in the middle of the sheet of paint that had managed to stick to it. All of these spots will, of course, have to be patched before we can get started on priming and painting.

The moral here, I guess, is to try as much as possible in future jobs to minimize the amount of paint we disturb. And the best way to do that is to heed the next lesson:

Lesson 3: Don't pull out a nail that you could push in.

The main reason we did so much damage to the walls in the process of pulling out all those nails is that in some cases, nail heads that appeared to be bulging out of the wall actually turned out, once the paint was scraped away, to be buried pretty deeply in it. I thought perhaps the best thing to do would be to simply spackle over them, but Brian pointed out that if they'd pushed their way out of the wall once, they were bound to do it again, because they obviously weren't well secured to it. So at that point we figured the only way to avoid this problem was to pull them all out—which often involved gouging out big sections of the wallboard to expose the edge of the nailhead so we could get the pry bar under it—and replace each one with a wood screw.

Now, this worked, in the sense that it got the walls secured back in place, but it was a lot of work, and it created a lot of big holes that would have to be filled and sanded later on. It was only after we'd done this with about three dozen deeply buried nails that we figured out that we could simply add wood screws without removing the nails first. That would fix the wallboard in place so it wouldn't bulge out, and once it was secure, we could just pound the nails in to hold them down. Oops.

So, that was a lesson learned the hard way, and one that left us with about three dozen holes in the wall, but at least we figured it out now. Next time we tackle one of these bedrooms, we won't bother pulling out nails; we'll just add screws next to them, and then bang the nails back into place.

These are the first three lessons we've learned from this remodeling job, but I'm sure they won't be the last. We've still got a wide array of tasks in front of us—mudding, priming, painting, replacing the windowsill, replacing outlets, painting the heater covers—and I'm sure each one will have its own lesson, or set of lessons, to teach us. But at least with any luck we'll learn them all now, and we'll have them down by the time we tackle our next room.
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