When Alex Haggis was a little boy, his father took him into the basement of his grandparents’ house, gave him a hand saw and a small board, and said, “Here, cut this piece of wood, son.”
From that early introduction to woodworking, progress to Craftsman projects, hobby woodworking and… well, check out the handyman’s largest scope of work:
During a major renovation of his family’s home, he excavated the basement, did the wiring, installed floors and finishes, painted the inside and out, and created custom cabinets. He even made a little window for Goldendoodle Ruby in the privacy fence he built. This is only a partial list.
Haggis, who hired a contractor to do the “heavy lifting” during the seven-month Reno home project, estimates he saved $175,000 by doing much of the work himself.
“I’ve always been handy… and I can do a really good job because I’m willing to put in the time,” says the East Yorker, a mechanical engineer by profession.
The Haggis spent “countless hours” working evenings, weekends and holidays while converting their 800-square-foot brick bungalow into a two-story home with more than twice the living space. The rebuild was completed in mid-2019, just before he and his wife Katherine welcomed their firstborn, Elise, who is now 18 months old.
While Haggis may be the do-it-yourself superman, he epitomizes the growing interest of homeowners and renters tackling their home improvements as the price hikes of just about everything continue to take a toll on budgets.
You don’t have to be able to install longboards in one fell swoop (Pilgrim doesn’t even claim to) to save hundreds or thousands of dollars on salvage, repair, and redo.
“The biggest limitations are time and experience,” notes Ryan Meagher, chief estimator and director of business development at Inc BVM ContractingInc., the Toronto-based family business, hired Haggis for his project.
The 25-year-old company recently added a DIY renovation planning service to its suite due to “a looming recession and skyrocketing interest rates,” says Meagher.
Although a BVM’s primary focus is home construction and renovation from start to finish, he points out that running your own project can cut costs significantly.
The money you save depends on how much you want to learn and the jobs you tackle, says Meagher, who rates the average experienced trader at $50 to $100 an hour.
Based on his own experience with plumbing, tile, and flooring while converting his Prince Edward County home into a bed and breakfast, Meagher notes that using your own elbow grease can save up to 50 percent on cost.
He notes that making cabinets, countertops, floors, and small bathrooms are good items for personal to-do lists, but he cautions that electrical, plumbing, and structural work is best left to professionals.
In Haggis’ case, installing the electrical system himself—saving 75 percent of a $40,000 job—was made possible thanks to the help of his father, a retired electrician.
The biggest challenge over the months has been “finding the stamina to stay committed,” he says, admitting he “ran out of steam” to finish the basement bathroom.
But through a 50-50 partnership with his wife, who helped dig out the basement and choose paint, materials, and finishes, the family has a home that’s “completely our own.”
In addition to the cost savings, Pilgrim gained “a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride in having accomplished the work myself.”
Small, hands-on projects like refinishing your furniture bring similar rewards, according to longtime creative DIYer Erika Coulson.
“My house is completely recycled. I don’t own anything new.”
Using tricks and tips she’s learned from online videos, Coulson transforms everything from old dresser mirrors to vintage table lamps—pieces you find at thrift stores, on the Facebook Marketplace and even on roadsides.
Coulson is such a prolific “furniture artist” that she’s been lately She opened her own store called Flipping Beautiful in downtown Coburg.
She sells wood furniture and home accessories she’s made with paint, self-adhesive wallpaper, stencils, and new hardware. It stocks parts for customers to make themselves.
Coulson is quick to provide advice and guidance, praising the ease of Fusion Metallic Paint for the metal, plastic, and woodworking industry. “Makes projects quick and easy.” Selling for $28 for a 500ml jar, Fusion comes in 53 shades.
Showcasing some pieces for sale that she recycled using paint and basic woodworking skills: apothecary cabinet made from two stacked ash nightstands, $225; The mirror is turned upside down and a $125 shelf is added on it; Hardwood desk cut in half to make matching nightstands, $240.
Unfinished pieces range from small tables, $20 to $40, and a set of four dining chairs for $100.
For client and DIYer Ali White, a Fusion paint job in pale mint was just a renovation of her great-grandfather’s old wooden desk.
“I want it to be quick and easy to renovate,” explains White, who is trying to limit costs after driving Reno home.
“Thirty-one dollars with taxes, and I don’t have to pay anyone for the work—sounds like a pretty good deal to me!” She says about her purchase of paint.
Drawing turns out to be “the first place to start” for fans of the experiment, according to expert Zach Yurkowski. “If you make a mistake, you can always redraw.”
Tiling is also “fun” along with shiplap, wainscotting, flooring and other “cosmetic” projects, says Jurkowski, a Lowe’s collaborator known as Host of the home improvement how-to series, The Wall.
“It’s possible for anyone to jump right into DIY,” says Chief Montreal-based MTL Contractorscomparing it to baking a cake where you start with the recipe, learn the basic steps and go from there.
“Don’t be afraid to try anything as long as you’re armed with good information,” he encourages beginners.
A helping hand or a helping hand
Some tips, tricks, and resources for DIYers:
BVM Contracting Representative Ryan Meagher: Be realistic. Doing it yourself often takes two to three times longer.
Experienced DIYer Alex Hadjis: YouTube is a great resource for tutorials and learning about new materials.
Professional contractor dreamcatcher Gorkovsky recommend using High quality materials and tools, no shortcuts. And call in the pros for the big stuff.
Upcycler Erika Coulson: Preparation is key to refinishing furniture: “Wash, sand, then paint.” Ironing the loose veneer over a damp cloth softens the glue so it can be re-attached. Cracks and gaps can be covered with bondo wood filler.
For annual memberships starting at $55, the non-profit organization Toronto Tools Library Offers a large variety of hand and power tools for Renault repairs and other projects.
Home depot canada deals Free virtual workshops on different topics. Registration required for one-hour sessions that are live monthly.
Lowe’s offers ideas, inspiration, and how-to online and in-store, for everything from design tricks for renters to creating your own home office desk. Registration is required for Free virtual and in-person workshops. Lowe’s also provides helpful information and tips Home improvement youtube channel.
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