10 Things I’ve learned gutting a house

My husband and I are working on a house. A complete and utter overhaul of a 100 year old house. It’s amazing. It’s rewarding.  It’s dang frustrating. And we are only slightly behind schedule.

Our current stage of renovation is – you guessed it – the gut.

We knew when we bought the place that we’d need to tear down a few walls. Ok, probably most of them.  As it turns out – ALL OF THEM. And the ceilings too. And the kitchen floor.

It’s been a learning experience and we still have so much to do!

So here’s a few things I’ve learned during the past month.

  1. It always takes longer than you think.
    We have a renovation schedule. I even based it off of how quickly the first few rooms went.  But somehow the more rooms you do, the longer each one takes.  The need to shuffle furniture around may have something to do with that.
  2. Think and plan 2 weeks ahead.
    A renovation schedule’s most important function is to remind me what I need to prepare for next.  If a crew shows up and doesn’t have the right tools and materials, then we lose a day.  I have to stay a week or two ahead in my planning to keep it running smoothly.
  3. We can’t do this alone.  
    My husband and I work hard. And we still have day jobs. There’s just no way we could gut a 4000 square foot home in 3 weeks in our spare time. Heck, even with a small crew it’s taking longer than that!  Which is why we hired a crew.  Figure out how much you can do, and plan to have someone else do the rest.
  4. Eating out isn’t fun.  
    It’s necessary.  I mean, you can make it fun – but when all the plates, cutlery, cups, and food are in storage… well.. Hopefully you have a few cheap places you really like nearby.
  5. Neighbours are amazing.
    We’ve had the nicest people drop by and tell us that we are the best because we are fixing the ugliest house in the neighbourhood. They want to know how it’s going. One told us her church had been praying for this house (they pray for all the empty houses in this small town, but ours had been at the top of the list).  They make sure we are fed, housed, and have what we need. They tell us the history of the house, the area, the city, the street.  They give us tips on the eccentricities of the city zoning habits.  They are as eager as we are to see the finished product.
  6. Plaster is stupid heavy.Seriously.
  7. If you want things to happen, be there.
    There’s a balance between “a watched pot never boils” and “if you want something done you better do it yourself” in renovations.  If you are never around, things slow down and those doing the tasks feel at loose ends – you are the decision maker after all, and they don’t want to do something wrong.  But you can’t do it all yourself (see #3), and often you can’t be there every moment of the day.  We are still finding the best way to be at the house at key moments – keeping everything going without neglecting everything else in our lives. Like our jobs.  Or our families (it was just Mother’s Day).
  8. Be flexible.
    You have a schedule. It’s more a guideline really. A really positive goal.  The deadline may not actually change much if you shuffle the order of things around in the middle. But don’t give up on it completely! We had hoped to have the gutting done last week, so the trades could start working unhampered. But we aren’t. So we keep on gutting while the trades begin, and do our best to keep out of each other’s way.  And that way we don’t lose any more time.
  9. Messes can be cleaned.
    No matter how many times it gets messy.  My most mixed feeling  the past few weeks has been getting a floor swept and cleaned…. and then watching the cascade of plaster and lathe bury it in the next round of demo.  Because I want that plaster and lathe off the walls. I really do.  But I also really like seeing the floor.  It’s a catch-22. I mean, eventually, the floor will stay clean.  But first – we must make a mess.
  10. Keep the end in sight.
    And I don’t mean just the looming deadline.  I mean the vision of what the end will mean.  Talk about how awesome each room will be.  Go ahead and look at paint colours and imagine how beautiful the house will look when you are done.  Sometimes my husband and I talk in awe-filled voices about when we will have walls again, and how amazing that’s going to be.Also, the deadline though. Because deadlines mean that this topsy-turvy existence won’t last forever.

I know that there are a million more lessons or tips that could be pulled from this first month, but those are the ones that mean the most to me.

Have you every gutted a room? A house? A bathroom?  What did you learn?



3 thoughts on “10 Things I’ve learned gutting a house

  1. Chris Stratford says:

    and the nice thing about the gutting phase is that the meticulousness quotient is pretty low. much less requirement for precision compared to later on.


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