If you’re planning on doing some home improvements but you’re worried about the cost, one way to take the pain out of a budget renovation is to DIY what you can. But what if you’re not sure what to work on and what to leave to the experts – or where to find advice and help? Natasha Dickins, former editor of Handyman magazine and DIY TV presenter, is a home reno expert. Here are her top tips on how to save.
The ease and success of a DIY home renovation depends on your skill level and how much time you're prepared to put into it – which of course affects your budget. It also depends what you're physically capable of. If, for example, you have a bad back, then getting up a ladder to install gutters or paint a ceiling may be out of your comfort zone. Painting is one job that instantly transforms a room – it isn't expensive and it's not so scary because it can be changed later. But it does take patience and elbow grease to clear out the rooms, prepare the surfaces and physically paint. If you're pretty handy with a drill and drop saw, then you could lay a floating floor, replace skirting boards, install a skylight, put up shelving, install a new sink, or assemble a flatpack kitchen. There are also tonnes of little jobs that don't require great skill if you make the effort to find out how they're done, like cleaning windows, replacing flyscreens, changing door handles, hanging a mirror and even sanding floorboards.
Legally you need a plumber to do the water and gasworks, and a sparkie to do electricals like installing new power points and lighting. Avoid doing anything on the roof and major tree lopping, as you need a harness. For projects like laying concrete, tiling or cutting marble, if you don't have the specialised tools and you're not skilled then it can be expensive to fix if you stuff it up. Also, if a job requires a tool that you're not comfortable using, like a wet saw for cutting concrete, or a chainsaw, then it's best to call in an expert.
Volunteer to be the on-site runner or assistant for the plumber or builder. While they may have an apprentice in tow, you can be available for moving out rubbish, keeping the site tidy and doing some of the painting. You can also make sure your tradies have everything they need. No matter how prepared they are, there's often a trip to the hardware store to pick up a light switch, change a plumbing fixture or replace a broken tool. You could do this and bring lunch back on the way, and save paying them for two hours of running around. Get involved with the project management if you can, doing things like organising the decking purchase and delivery, ordering the skip yourself or doing a ring-around for quotes, which saves your builder time – and saves you money.
I did a community college course on Working with Wood about 10 years ago. It taught me all about Australian timbers, and gave me basic woodworking skills for jointing, sanding and finishing. It was lots of fun and I now translate that knowledge into renovating projects like sanding and finishing a floor. As well as community and TAFE colleges there are local woodworking workshops, and look out for hands-on presentations at your local hardware store. Getting your hands dirty is a good way to learn and practise your skills – for example, if you need a specific piece of furniture, you can go online to find a course that can help you build it. It'll familiarise you with the basic tools like a router, circular saw and drill, and you'll end up with a collectible piece to keep. YouTube is also a great source of DIY instruction, but choose credible channels that are sponsored by brands, as they have genuine experts presenting. Also remember that American content isn't the same as Australian for measurements, electrical and plumbing – they can legally DIY plumbing whereas we can't.
I really like using hipages to put the word out to local tradies. It's growing every day and is very efficient. Houzz.com.au has lots of useful articles on specific reno projects, from choosing flooring to designing a bathroom. The bigger real estate websites such as domain.com.au and realestate.com.au also have great renovating tips. You can use whatever social media channel you like to operate on for support. For example, Facebook might have mothers groups in your local area, which tend to be diligent about doing their research and finding non-threatening, dependable tradies. Instagram is another means of finding tradies who are usually younger, very thorough and proud of their work, and they use their social media as a portfolio. Just search hashtags like #concretebench, #kitchenreno, #aussiereno and #australiantradies. If you're after specific furniture or installation, like a bespoke dining table or kitchen island or a custom wardrobe, then go to Etsy. Second-hand goods websites can also throw up surprise stuff – and you can find everything from new loos for $50 (instead of $500) to entire kitchens! For more tips and tricks, follow Natasha’s daily design and furniture building journey on Instagram @littleredindustries and @littleredreno, where she’s just started her own DIY refurb of a classic 1970s Aussie home.
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