Thursday, April 9, 2009

Blogaround Weekend: April 11-12, 2009

How to beg, borrow, rent, or steal your way to the right tool for the job.  Okay, I'm kidding about the "steal" part.  From one of my favorite personal finance blogs, Bargaineering.

As my Organizing Idol, Niecy Nash, would say, this sounds like mayhem and foolishness.  At least financially speaking!  From

I admit to a bit of cork-skepticism, primarily on the basis that it seems like it would be incredibly difficult to keep clean.  But -- $2.50/sf!  Worth a look.  From Ecoki.

Now that I am no longer trying to buy a house in California, I think that Lovely Listing is the funniest blog in America.

Blog of the Week:  Save the Pink Bathrooms.  Featuring an homage to "Mamie [Eisenhower] Pink."  Ah, memories.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Frugal Friday! Top Ten Thrifty Sources for Renovation Supplies

1.  Habitat for Humanity ReStores:  Used and surplus building materials for sale, with the proceeds supporting HfH's good works.  Locations in 48 states and 9 Canadian provinces.  A win/win.

2.  Architectural salvage lots:  Yes, there are spendy items at some lots.  But, like any "thrift" type retailer, there are also diamonds in the rough, if you set aside the day to find affordable and unique window, doors, gates, and other architectural elements.  Try places like Pasadena Architectural Salvage in Los Angeles, or for a nationwide listing of architectural and hardware salvage shops, check out this article in Cottage Living.

3.  Reusable building materials exchanges.  One example:  the King County (Washington) Solid Waste Division maintains an online Reusable Building Material Exchange that offers free paint, free doors, and a $100 vintage sink, among other materials.  Other counties in Washington State maintain a consolidated page, the 2Good2Toss Network, with similar deals.  Thrifty renovators in the Northeast can check out the Maine Building Materials Exchange.

4.  Oops! paint -- that is, paint that was mistinted or returned (unopened) by a previous customer to your local hardware store, Lowe's, or Home Depot, and offered for resale at a steep discount.  Not the best choice for a large paint job (you may not be able to find an adequate quantity), but for small hallways, powder rooms, or a small kids' room, a little bit of flexibility can save you a lot of money.

5.  Demolishing your old deck to build a new one?  Re-use your own material and rebuild with your own, very locally sourced, salvage lumber.

6.  Although availability can be hit-or-miss, and you have to have a lot of tolerance for ... flakiness, Craigslist can be a great resource, particularly for landscaping materials such as fill dirt and decorative rocks.  

7.  Granite remnants.  Perfect for smaller-surface projects (e.g., bathroom vanities), at a substantial discount.  If you're purchasing a full-size piece of granite for a larger project, the retailer may even give you remnants for use in your smaller projects for free.  Free!  Granite remnants are generally available from granite retailers; they also pop up with regularity on Craigslist (see #6).

8.  Just say no to replacing those laminate counters.  Okay, this breaks my no-HGTV rule.  But re-painting a laminate counter will give you a completely custom look that won't break the bank.  There are no guarantees, though, that the three-week curing period doesn't break your spirit.

9.  Modern, attractive, solar-powered outdoor lighting.  $7.99 a pop.  Ikea, I love ya.

10.  Demolition sales.  One step "scrappier" than visiting an architectural salvage lot, thrifty renovators can find even bigger savings visiting actual, to-be-demolished homes that are sold piece by piece.  Typically these sales are held for one or two days on the weekend at, obviously, rotating locations.  Some of these are run by charities such as Habitat For Humanity, others are run by private companies.  To find one in your area, search for "demolition sale" plus your approximate location. 

Torn Between Two Renos

It's not falling down around our ears, but our house could use a lot of work if we want to stop feeling like we're living in Levittown 2009.

It's no exaggeration to say that every. single. room. in the house needs work.  Not to mention the outside -- who in the world thought it would be a good idea to put mini-palm trees in an Oregon front yard?  Worse yet, the outside is faux-Craftsman, while the inside is a bizarre combination of Home Depot Clearance Aisle and Colonial.

Which leaves us torn between two renos.

Project Number One:  Continue the contemporization of the open-plan main floor, started last summer with the installation of shiny, sexy black hardwood floors, by ripping out the yellowish Colonial-style turned balusters that came with the place and replacing them with something sleek, probably involving brushed nickel and enough cable to choke a horse and pass a building code inspection.  The pros?  It will be gorgeous and we will enjoy it every single day.  The cons?  This is the kind of project that will need to be *completely* outsourced, and probably pretty expensively.  Not exactly thrifty.  And it will be difficult to find somebody to design and execute the vision.

Project Number Two:  The terracing of our nearly vertical lot, which is 1/4 of an acre, yet so steep and choked with hunks of tree that the kiddies have less space to play outside here than they did on our postage-stamp sized lot in Los Angeles.  If you believe the home improvement industry, this is the kind of project that has great potential for an actual return on investment.  Moreover, aside from the portions of the project that require heavy equipment (i.e., serious earth moving) or critical safety skills (i.e., properly installing retaining walls), landscaping projects generally provide the thrifty home improvement buff with some serious money-saving potential.  Clearing the lot of trees, brush, and baby toys pitched off the deck last summer?  Has "put your teenager to work" written all over it.  Seeding or sodding once you're nice and terraced?  Easy peasy.  Planting?  You can handle it yourself -- or you can hire a garden designer for the limited task of drawing the actual design and suggesting appropriate plants, while doing the actual purchasing and labor yourself.  There are lots of money saving options.  So on paper?  Landscaping seems to be the project of choice.

But.  Unless you live in Southern California or some equally mild climate ... the inside project is something that will be enjoyed every day of the year, and the landscaping ... will not.  And the inside project will have to be done sooner or later.  I can't imagine trying to sell a house that is half contemporary/sexy shiny black floors, half yellow Colonial balusters, and all bumblebee...

Confessions of an HGTV Dropout

My name is the Thrifty Renovator and I was an HGTV addict.  Like many property virgins, after buying my first house my previously fun- (and spending-) filled weekends quickly metamorphosed into marathons of such programming as  House Hunters (domestic and international), Design on a Dime, and Divine Design.  God help me, I even appeared on an episode of Landscapers' Challenge.  I had a bad case of the renovating bug but, after spending what would have bought a McMansion in a more sane part of the country, wanting wasn't going to be getting.   My episode aired, I got a cute patio and an empty bank account out of the experience, and for the next few years my renovations were pretty much limited to fixing things that broke.

Fast forward to 2007.  The patio was still cute, the 900 square foot house was still 900 square feet, and my family had doubled in size with the addition of a husband and two more babies.  I had a job offer in another state, it was time to move along, and, although we didn't know it at the time, the housing bubble was approximately 4 weeks from bursting.  We had completed none of the cute projects we'd seen on HGTV and planned to do someday -- no new matching doorknobs, no patching the cracks in the walls, no period moulding, no rainfall shower, no replacing the cheapo white ceramic tile installed by the previous owner.  We had two weeks to get out of town, two babies underfoot, and about two hundred projects to finish.  And no money.  This confluence of fortunate and unfortunate events was the kick in the tuchis we'd needed, triggering a renovating frenzy that so transformed the house that, by the time the moving van pulled up, we didn't want to leave.  The ugly rusted trim on our fences?  Gone!  Scrubby patches of grass?  Resodded!  Bare dirt walkways?  Buried in crunchy white marble chips picked up at Home Depot for a song.  Cracked walls?  Patched, plastered, and painted to perfection.  Yellow kitchen tile grout memorializing several years of cooking curries?  Blasted away to a sparkling whiteness.  That bathtub drain that never worked?  Hello, plumber.  Two weeks.  Two panicked sellers.  Two thousand dollars.  One transformed home.  It sold before we even had an open house, and we started a new life.  In an ugly house that needs a lot of work.

Thus began my passion for thrifty renovation.  Thrifty renovation is not -- necessarily -- DIY. Nor is it dumpster diving.  Nor does it require becoming or marrying a contractor.  To me, thrifty renovation is about bang for the buck.  What can you learn to do yourself?  What is it inevitably more expensive to try to do yourself?  (In other words, what tasks are you bound to screw up badly enough that you end up paying for it twice?)  What renovations will give you the highest return on your investment -- both in terms of the value of your home and the joy you find in living there?  If you do decide to hire helpers (or do-ers), what is the safest and most economical way to do so?  Let's talk about our own planned or ongoing renovations, and learn from each other.  I look forward to the journey.