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Renovate your old home on the cheap

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The easiest place to find space in your old home is between the studs of your walls, as indicated by this recessed shelving unit for a stereo. The easiest place to find space in your old home is between the studs of your walls, as indicated by this recessed shelving unit for a stereo. Anthony Varriano photo

Home renovations aren’t cheap and can be especially costly for old homes, but there are ways to give your old home a facelift without spending a fortune. Follow these tips to renovate your old home on the cheap.

1) Finish your walls to the floor

What I mean by “finish your walls to the floor” is to hang your drywall so that it comes as close to your floor as possible. Finish your walls to the floor also means applying wall texture as far down the wall as you can if you’re using wall texture. You don’t want to leave a few-inch gap because you know there will be baseboard trim there and then find after you’ve attached the trim that there are glaring spots lacking texture. You can’t re-apply wall texture without covering your trim or removing it, so do the work properly upfront and you won’t run into problems that waste your time or money later.

 

Leaving a considerable gap between your floor and your wall might force you to buy a wider baseboard to affix to the base of the wall in order to hide the gap. That’s exactly what the former owners of my 1925 home did, likely because of damaged edges of the drywall they thought the 3.25-inch baseboard would cover and didn’t. Hint: the baseboards you’ll commonly find at home improvement stores are 3.25 inches wide, and the next largest size is likely 4.5 inches, which increases your costs considerably. Special ordering 3.5-inch baseboard trim is a possibility, so if you have other renovations you can do while you wait for your baseboard, do that.

 

If your renovation can’t wait on a special order, you can affix another piece of trim, called a toe kick, to the bottom of the baseboard so you can cheat the baseboard up the wall and cover the unfinished portions of your walls. The toe kick can help hide the slope of your floors, too, as you can affix it to the baseboard while it’s flush with the floor. It’s a lot easier to do with an automatic nailer loaded with finishing nails than to risk damaging your floors using a hammer.  This is all more expensive than finishing your walls to the floor, though.

2) Use as little wall texture as possible

Wall texture makes painting your walls more expensive, and it’s expensive itself. You’ll undoubtedly use more paint to cover the bumps and holes wall texture brings with it, and you’ll spend more than $12 per can on wall texture to cover your mistakes. That can doesn’t go as far as it says on the can, either. On the medium setting, you can blow through a can of wall texture before you finish two walls in an average-sized room.

 

If you finish your walls properly, you shouldn’t need to use wall texture. Finish your walls with thin layers of drywall mud and then sand them to a flat finish. Vacuum the dust off the floor and the walls, and then wash the walls with a damp rag. You should be able to get away with one coat of paint in most cases.

3) Always paint, never wallpaper

Wallpaper is a pain in the ass to hang and remove. It’s also more expensive than paint. And eventually, you’ll tire of the puppy wallpaper you hung in your son’s bedroom when he was a toddler, but won’t be too excited about taking it down. So just paint instead.

 

In fact, you can save a bunch of money by planning your paint projects ahead of time. I shop the “Oops” paint at hardware stores to get a gallon of paint for less than $10. There is nothing wrong with “Oops” paint. The color just wasn’t acceptable to whomever ordered it. I was actually paid $1 for buying a gallon of “Oops” paint at Lowe’s after a mail-in rebate. That paint goes for $45 per gallon regularly. Even if one gallon isn’t enough to complete my project, I can have the color matched and get just enough to finish the job at regular price.

 

I stretch my paint as far as I can by using a paintbrush as much as possible. Rollers waste a lot of paint, so if you are going to use a roller, invest in the “high-dollar,” sheepskin rollers that advertise “one coat coverage” on the package. They’re usually only a few cents more expensive than economy rollers and are more efficient when painting walls with a lot of wall texture.  

4) Reuse what you can

I took out one of my two bedroom doors and put in recessed shelving in its place, which meant I needed baseboard trim for the wall I added that matched the trim already in the living room. The same trim is used throughout the house, but a lot of it has paint drippings dried to it because the last person who painted failed to tape over the trim. Since that trim needs to be removed, sanded and refinished, I cannibalized a piece of baseboard in my bedroom that was roughly the same shade and mostly clear of paint and affixed it to the new wall in the living room. Since I’m painting the baseboard trim in the bedroom, I’ll buy a new piece and paint it to replace the one I moved.

 

You’d be surprised what you’ll wish you had kept when you start renovating your old home. Since I intend to add both a bathroom and kitchen sink in my unfinished basement, I kept all the plumbing pieces from my kitchen sink upstairs that were no longer needed after I installed a dishwasher. I’ll keep the old faucet when I install a new one as well.

5) Find more square footage between the studs

Old homes tend to have a lot of potential in unutilized space. Homebuilders back in the day were less concerned with how to best utilize the square footage of the home than they were with building a home that was structurally sound.

 

Old homes tend to have load-bearing walls in all the wrong places, and small homes are even worse because there are so few walls. Neither allow homeowners to easily take out walls and create a more open floor plan that makes the home look bigger. So you have to find space where you can. The easiest place to find more square footage in every home is between the studs of every wall.

 

Don’t buy bookcases and make your home smaller. Build a bookcase into your walls and make it look bigger. Every two-inch by four-inch wall has roughly 3.5 inches of potential shelf space between the studs, which are usually 16 to 24 inches apart. While 3.5 inches doesn’t sound like a lot, it provides plenty of space to install supports for a shelf you can extend beyond the depth of the wall.

 

That shelving unit I installed in place of my second bedroom door will have 7.5-inch shelves I can use to store my vinyl record collection. Those records are 12.5 inches wide but don’t need a shelf equal in width to support them. I know this because they currently sit on shelves that are 7.75 inches wide. I’ve pulled them out more than an inch, and they still sit flat on the shelf.

 

So instead of storing my records on a bookshelf sitting on the floor and losing valuable square footage in my home, I’m actually making my tiny home look bigger than it is by keeping the shelves off the floor and recessed into the walls.

 

I’ve already found more square footage in my old home by building a custom shelving unit into my living room walls for my stereo equipment. Instead of having an entertainment center with my turntable, amplifier, receiver and power center sitting on the floor, it’s all neatly stacked in the corner of the living room above my subwoofer. What previously robbed my home of eight square feet now sits in an area less than 2.5 square feet in size.

 

Follow these tips to renovate your old home on the cheap and you’ll not only save some money for a potential addition or new appliances, but you’ll save yourself valuable time, space and headaches.

 

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