February 27, 2017

Renovating 101: things we learned ripping a house apart

**disclaimer: this blog post will be showcasing some decidedly un-bloggy type pics. Yes, some of them may even be slightly (or not so slightly) out of focus. But in my defence, I wanted to keep it real, because renos are real life

My husband and I have a small addiction to the PBS show “This Old House”. Our Sunday morning ritual involves coffee, Norm, Tom, Roger, Richard, and Kevin O’Connor (our couch does get a bit crowded). We’ve seen every season, downloaded back episodes, and will sit there and be like, hey, remember when they installed that tongue and groove whatever and it was totally amazing? We also like shake our heads and be all judgey when homeowners make bad decorating decisions. Pfft…like who would put that paint and fabric together. Lame.

I know, we’re pretty cool like that.

I don’t think either of us ever thought we’d be people who have a dumpster in our driveway on a semi-regular occasion, or nod knowingly when people talk about improper wiring. It just sort of  happened. It was our teeny, tiny powder room, where the ceiling fell in because the bathtub plumbing above had been slowly drip-drip-dripping on that ceiling for a bajillion years, until one day, there was this giant bubble in the ceiling, bigger than my head, and then we popped it, and there was water, and mold, and gross mess. Everywhere. And instead of giving up and burning the place down, we put on protective eyewear (because we are super safety conscious), raised our wrenches, and said we got this. 

And the rest, as they say, is history.

renovating the bathroom

Know what that is? That, my friend, is a wasp’s nest. In our bathroom wall. It ran all the way from the main floor powder room, up to the ceiling of the second floor bath. The same wasp’s nest, I might add, that we had exterminators come to deal with. Twice. And yes, it still had real live wasps in there who were very unhappy to be disturbed. 

We almost completely renovated our first home together before finding the house of our dreams: an 1885 brick beauty with original floors, baseboards, trim, and stairs. Oh, and did I mention the stained glass?? Yup, we were pretty lucky with this little piece of paradise, but it meant leaving our first home behind. The one we sweated over, rushed to the ER over twice, and loved so so SO much.

And now, we’re facing a new challenge: renovating a century home, while paying homage to its original beauty and workmanship. Thankfully, this time, we’re going at it with a bit more knowledge under our belt. And even though there is so much information out there on the interwebs on how to renovate, there are some things no one ever warns you about when you’re DIYing your way to house love bliss!

The DIY renovating secrets no one tells you

the realities of home renovations plus a list of some home reno essentials!

I bathed her for at least a week like this: then we moved to the basement and I bathed her in the shower pan of our walk-in shower. #real.

All those renovating shows on TV are awesome but nobody really tells you the reality of living in a renovation: renovations are messy!! Even if you try to contain the project to one room, there’s always overflow. If you were to come to my house right now, you’d understand. We’re renovating the mudroom, but my whole main floor looks like a crime scene. Seriously, we could be robbed and wouldn’t even know. And it’s only the mudroom!! Really big renos like a kitchen have even farther reaching messes: like continually tripping over the whole contents of your kitchen that are now, oh-so haphazardly dumped, in your dining room, living room, hallway, and stairs.

Another thing no one tells you: renovations take a long time! When you first sit down and plan, you’re so optimistic and are like, this’ll be so easy! We’ll pound this out in 6 weeks flat, then have a renovation party. Next thing you know, you’ve celebrated two birthdays, Christmas, and a pool party, and you still don’t have a stove to cook on. That’s real life. When you renovate yourself, you are working around your life. Your job, special events, sicknesses, or even just relaxing all become these things that get in the way of your optimistic timeline.

the realities of home renovations plus a list of some home reno essentials!

See this floor?? My daughter lay all over this dirty, disgusting floor during our kitchen renovation. Se did it everyday. In her pyjamas. And lived to tell about it.

So after completing a house together and, mostly, still liking each other, I thought it’d be fun to share the top three things that we couldn’t live without in a renovation. But interestingly enough, when I asked him for three, we ended up with two lists that were totally different.

Kind of like us.


Our three renovating necessities

the realities of home renovations plus a list of some home reno essentials!

(keep in mind you really do need a million different things, these are just our faves!)


The Putty Tool

I need a putty tool**. The 4 “ scraper is my jam (my 6 year old thinks everything is her jam. But the putty tool is mine). I like picking stuff. You know that endorphin rush you get from picking a beer label off in one go or when you got sunburnt as a kid and peeled the skin off in a big piece (no, only me?? Nevermind then). I use a putty knife for everything. Like peeling wallpaper, scraping paint, lifting peel and stick tiles, actual puttying, everything. I like to have one around when I’m renovating. Just in case.

**a putty tool is also awesome for scraping chicken poop of the poopboard, roost, and coop floor. But don’t use the same scraper for the coop and house. ‘nuf said. 


I also need a realistic budget. I like to actually sit down and price things out, have a small panic attack, throw dirty looks at my husband, recalculate the cost again, lose sleep for a week, then look at our bank account and decide that it’s probably doable. There’s this sort of strength in knowing you’ve capped your project with a dollar amount. Even if we end up going over a little bit, we know that on the next job we probably won’t, which feels almost as good as peeling things with the putty tool.


Beer is important for two reasons. 1) well, it’s beer. And beer tastes good. Especially when you’re covered in plaster dust. 2) When you start renovating something, inevitably a friend or family member will come by to help (at least that’s the hope!). Everyone digs a renovation and if you have a surprise guest who wants to help demo a wall or haul a busted old freezer up two flights of stairs, they’re gonna need a beer or two in thanks.

the realities of home renovations plus a list of some home reno essentials!


The Impact Driver/Drill

A good drill. You can buy a lot of great drills for a reasonable price. Keep in mind, every single project you do will most likely need a drill, or a hammer (which is another reno standard). If you can swing it, buy the drill and impact driver set. And don’t skimp! His one drill and one impact driver lived through an entire home renovation, two deck installations, a pool shed, a chicken coop, a 1970’s Boler restoration, plus countless smaller projects. With drills, you really do get what you pay for. Oh, and make sure whichever drill you go with has a backup battery. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a job only to have your battery die, and then you have to sit there and wait for it to charge (and drink all that beer you were saving for guests)

Resources (a.k.a actual people who know how to do stuff)

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one starts off knowing everything. When you start a renovation, you don’t always consider the secrets hiding behind the walls: the sketchy electrics, the bad plumbing, mould, asbestos, or worse. Some things are simple fixes: things you can totally do yourself. That’s where asking for help comes into play. Get to know your local hardware store. If you find a retired plumber or electrician working there, it’s like striking gold! They love pictures, so grab a few shots of the problem with your phone and get advice! Remember, advice is free! If the problem is too tricky for a novice, they’ll most likely tell you.

Someone who doesn’t think you’re crazy

Have a like-minded partner. It takes two to renovate. Okay, well, not really, but if you are living with someone in some sort of partnership, you will both need to be on the same page so the renovation is as painless as possible. Some of our worst fights have taken place in a torn up kitchen, or while we were covered in paint, spackle, or up to our ankles in water. And we both wanted the renovation! Any changes to the home causes stress (even good stress), which can lead to heightened emotions and arguments. Add to that not having a working stove, or shower, or both, and it can be a recipe for disaster. If you both know what you are undertaking, and are both prepared to deal with the inconveniences renovations bring, you’re already farther ahead of the game!


So, here’s the thing: follow along with us as we renovate our old house. We’ll share a few tips, some fails (so hopefully you won’t have to!), as well as some easy green ways you can save a bit of money while keeping your joint eco-friendly.


Happy gutting!


  1. dipdiva - 1 year ago

    UMMM, that wasn’t a wasp nest it was a wasp high rise, high density, high threat community! WOW glad it is gone now.

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