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How To Update Your Home Without Major Renovations

Home repair guide

It’s undeniable that part of why we vacation is to pretend for a while that we live somewhere better. A place with well-considered design, ultra-modern appliances, and impeccable upkeep, bearing no signs of the normal wear and tear that makes home ownership practically a second job. That moment when you step into your Airbnb rental and sigh with satisfaction — that’s the moment when the vacation really starts.

So it only makes sense that, with travel largely restricted this year due to COVID-19, many homeowners are using their unplanned “staycation” as an opportunity to make their home feel more like the resorts they aren’t visiting. A survey by Groundworks showed that between 34% and 50% of homeowners ages 35 to 44 are using the money they would have spent on vacation to fund home improvement projects — everything from basic structural repairs and outdoor landscaping to putting in new entertainment spaces, pools, and even home gyms.

After spending the last several months on lockdown, we’re all seeing ways that our domestic spaces could use some TLC. Whether it’s a ragged screen door or a leaky bathroom fixture, stained carpeting you’ve intended to replace since buying the house, or walls and room dividers that make you wonder if the original builder was playing a practical joke, the little “quirks” that you used to ignore have become glaring flaws.

Even if you love your house, not being able to leave it has made you see all the ways it could be even better. A kitchen facelift, built-in shelving for your entertainment system, a deck built out with multiple levels, a partial roof, maybe even a fire pit … sorry, I get carried away just thinking about it.

So why not join the movement, and take this opportunity to make your home feel a little more dream destination-like?

If your answer is “because I don’t know how,” that’s OK. It’s a lot more common than you might think for the modern guy to be fairly clueless when it comes to home repair. Unless your dad was a fix-it whiz and took the time to apprentice you into his skills, many of these tasks will be new to you.

However, it can’t be denied that learning to do your own home improvement brings a tremendous level of satisfaction. Moreover, it’s kind of addictive — each successful endeavor gives you the audacity to try something more ambitious. And even failures along the way feed the drive: Figuring out why it didn’t work and finding a workaround makes the taste of victory even more sweet.

Great Resources for Your Home Improvement Project

Looking for inspiration? The DIY Network combines footage of envy-inducing home builds with highly practical how-to’s.

If your style of learning is less visual and more hands-on, keep the House Improvements YouTube channel at the ready as you embark on your project. It includes easy-to-follow instructional videos on just about every basic home project you can think of.

If you’ve been trying the same thing for hours without success, cut the frustration short and consult the Home Repair Tutor, which offers step-by-step guidance on basic repair jobs.

Wishing you had an avuncular pro you could call on for help? Look no further than Ron Hazleton’s YouTube channel, where a real-life “Tim ‘The Tool Man’ Taylor” character (without the grunting bravado) demonstrates several different methods for tackling a job so you can figure out which approach works best for you.

While you can certainly find a good selection of home upgrades at retailers like Lowe’s or The Home Depot, we’re suckers for the timeless pieces from Portland’s own Rejuvenation. This well-curated wonderland specializes in beautifully designed, high-quality options for lighting, plumbing, hardware … all the details that make your home distinctive.

What You Need to Get Started

The obvious first step is tools. If you’ve ever hung a picture or put together an IKEA end table, you probably have at least a hammer, a screwdriver, and maybe even a pair of pliers lying around. To find out what else should be in every guy’s tool kit, we consulted Craig Winer, co-owner and senior vice president of heritage tool maker Garrett Wade. Beyond those initial basics (to which he added a decent tape measure), Winer says, “the tools I use most are a Japanese handsaw, a good ratcheting screwdriver, a parallel adjustable wrench, a portable hand drill, a set of every drill bit and driver known to mankind, a socket wrench with common sizes, a level (I prefer 2’ length), a multi-meter to check outlets, and a nice tool bag to keep my most used tools at the ready.”

The next thing you need is an idea. You can probably list ten things right now that bug you about your house, but how to improve them is a different story. And before you start saving episodes of “Property Brothers” for inspiration, let us stop you right there. Those full home makeovers require months of planning and years of experience to execute. So save those projects for another year, when you’ve got some experience under your (tool)belt.

For noob home improvers, the key to success is starting small, simple, and safe. “I think the biggest bang for your buck is making small electrical changes,” Winer advises. Little things like changing out a light fixture, installing a ceiling fan, or even just putting in a new wall switch, he says, offer that Wow — I did that? factor that makes home improvement so rewarding. “Even though it’s pretty simple, people often see it as magical.”

If electrical work feels like too big a learning curve for your first outing, you can even start with something as low key as painting or spackling a wall that needs a refresh. “You can’t really go too wrong, and it makes a big difference in making your place feeling like your home,” says Winer.

For guys with a touch more know-how, Winer advises taking on a light construction project—a bookcase in your living room, for instance, or a raised garden bed in your yard. “You can also decide how simple or complicated you want the construction to be, so it’s a great project that you can tailor to your skill level.”

Finally, you’re going to need some methodology to get started. Even if you were the type of kid who could build sophisticated Lego structures without a guide, home repair and improvement is a different animal. (Starting with the fact that Legos never electrocuted anybody, or caused a bathroom or basement to flood.)

Fortunately, small home projects are easy to accomplish with a basic instruction manual, a YouTube tutorial, or a combination of both. (In fact, we recommend reviewing a few different YouTube videos around your desired project, in order to get a big-picture sense of the problems you’ll be solving along the way.) There are also plenty of project “kits” you can buy, that include tools and/or materials for basic home upgrades.

Deciding What To Do Next

Man painting house

As daunting as it might sound to go from an inexperienced hammer dangler to your first successful home improvement project, many of these small projects can be accomplished in a short amount of time, from a weekend to even just a few hours. Once you’ve had a few successes, prepare yourself for a wave of unprecedented and (possibly a little unwarranted) confidence. You might feel ready to upgrade your bathtub, retile your shower, or replace your flooring. And then it’s on to really ambitious stuff, like knocking out walls, bumping out a ceiling, building an addition … got carried away again.

Whether you fall victim to home improvement hubris, or simply catch the weekend project bug, a common issue for budding home improvers is deciding what to tackle next. In fact, one of the downfalls of learning how to execute simple home repairs is the tendency to start projects that you never finish.

To avoid that fate, bring some practical sense to your artistic ambition. As Winer advises, “You need to balance how much the work improves your home and how much time it takes to get it done. Painting is a quick and easy win, while repairing a sagging deck is a ton more work and can easily take over many weekends and cost a lot, and it requires a fair amount of skill.” So before you rip out your entire bathroom or kitchen floor, try replacing the fixtures and see how that small change impacts the way you feel about the room. If you want to “open up the space” in your living room, try putting together a built-in entertainment center before you knock down any walls or cut a hole for a skylight.

Finally, take some time after your project to let the changes you’ve made settle in. Live with them for a while to see how well they perform, both functionally and aesthetically, before you go on to the next big thing. After all, living is what your home is for.

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