My Old House Online

An online community for people who love old houses.

With all the unexpected expenses that tend to crop up (plus all the gorgeous antique and reproduction products on the market), restoring an old house can be expensive. But it doesn't have to be—I was inspired by this month's Old-House Living homeowners, who, despite some money-draining setbacks, kept their restoration costs down by tackling projects one at a time, searching for inexpensive period-inspired decor, and performing as much work as they could on their own (guided by advice from the pros).

How have you kept costs under control on your own projects? Share your money-saving ideas here so we can all benefit!

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Shop, shop, shop. And not necessarily locally. With gas at 3.50/gallon or whatever it is in your neck of the woods, do online searches. Even if you do end up buying local, you can save a lot of time and money by searching and researching online first. Often if you have to or choose to order materials, etc. online, you can find deals on shipping, coupons for free shipping, or other sales and discounts.

Sometimes the 'cheapest' price ends up being the most expensive overall price because the seller adds a large shipping fee. Pay attention to the TOTAL price of the item. For example, a faucet set may be $150.00 at one place and $35.00 shipping - total: $190.00 not including sales tax. On another site, the same faucet may be $175.00 with free shipping. Total: $175.00. Does fifteen bucks matter in your budget? Well if you are me it does!

A general rule I followed with my restoration was the 5-year rule vs. non-negotiable items. It goes like this. If in five years I wouldn't remember or care that I didn't buy the most expensive option (ex. bathroom and kitchen tile), then I went with the least expensive choice that pleased me and worked with the house aesthetically. If in five years, it would still bug me that I cheesed out, then I didn't cheese out, and the item in question went on the non-negotiable list. Using this concept on tile alone, I saved thousands.

However, if the item was on the non-negotiable list, and there was no possible way to find a less costly alternative, I bit the bullet, spent the money and found a way to make up the difference somewhere else in my plans. For example: I wanted a combination microwave and convection oven, wall mount, above my stove. NOT negotiable. It suits the way I cook, and will be useful for a long time. I spent the bucks and bought the one with the largest cooking envelope I could find. It was about $800.00. On the other hand, I didn't need a high-end designer range, so I bought the least expensive one I could find - $400.00, and if I choose to replace it later, I can. No big deal.

Of course, the way we all save money in restoration is in labor costs. You can save literally thousands of dollars if you are willing and able to learn new skills, get dirty, sweat, grunt and if you're like me, swear a lot. Yes, you may have to purchase specialty tools, or borrow/rent them, and yes, you may screw up before you figure it out, but generally you can come out ahead doing certain things yourself. Three places I saved a boatload of money are electrical re-wiring, kitchen cabinets, and tile in the bathroom, kitchen and a half stairwell.

My dad was kind, crazy, foolish (??) enough to rewire the entire house himself after we paid a licensed electrician to bring in a new service and install a new panel. Every single switch and outlet is supplied with brand new wire from a brand new panel, and it all meets (or beats) code. If you could even find a professional to rewire a 1924 plaster and lath-walled house without stripping walls in every room, I can't imagine the cost. Of course, it took my dad months to finish, but time is cheap, right?

I had to replace my kitchen cabinets since that was one room we did have to gut to get the electrical run properly. I was going to try and save the existing cabinets since I knew that I would be looking at a minimum of $25K to do it even half right. I did search after search online until I found a place that sold unfinished cabinets. I contacted them, and they not only sold unfinished, but they would make the odd sizes I needed for a custom look. Woohoo! So I spent less that $5K, including freight for ALL my cabinets, and I spent a couple weeks putting my own custom finish on them. The kitchen looks gorgeous, and I saved at least $20K in the process.

I also saved thousands NOT paying a tile installer. I learned how to install it myself, bought a nice tile saw (a bridge saw, which, for me, was the best choice), and I did all the tile in my house. Four foot wainscoting in subway tile in the bathroom, plus a tiled tub/shower (including a checkerboard pattern in the shower ceiling). Slate in a half stairwell with a custom design I had to cut the slate to certain sizes to execute... that was special... And tile floor, wainscoted walls and backsplash in the kitchen. I bought very inexpensive tile, came up with custom designs/patterns myself and made the 'cheap' tile look expensive. Yes, it took a lot of time, and often was frustrating, and I learned a lot on the fly, but it was worth it because in the end, I got exactly what I wanted for materials cost only.

Make lists of priorities - projects, furnishings etc. PLAN< PLAN< PLAN...  Do not buy things far in advance for future projects unless you are 100% sure it/they will work and it is dirt cheap. Net work with other home owners, salvage yards, antique store etc. Post "wants" on craigslist for supplies, materials and even labor. ( I always put in the labor ad that I will do a Police Background Check and they must furnish references; which I do follow up on)

 

Think out-side the box; maybe even call a local Industrial Arts Teacher/Department and see if they could work one of your projects into a individual or class project. Take measurements of everything you need, carry them with you and make copies to share with Antique Stores, Salvage Yards and other home owners. I hate to think of the numbers of things I have bought thinking they would work great only to discover they were too big or too small etc.

 

If you discover something you bought isn't going to work SELL IT - free up that money so you can use it again. Pay attention to the market and if you see something that is a steal, buy it and immediately SELL IT at a profit and invest the "profit" back into your project.

 

I bought a Louie Vuitton OLD Steamer Trunk at a Garage Sale for $25 two summers ago - it SOLD for $2025.00 on Ebay 10 days later - that paid for the Entrance Chandelier. Things you can't sell online - have a Garage Sale; not only do you get CASH to work with but you get SPACE to work in.

 

Look into Local, State and National Grants and/or Loans. We found a County Wide Facade Loan for 2% interest and we able to borrow $10k with a 10 years pay back. Even in todays economy there are some of these still available.

 

And last but not least find a weathly benefactor or consider "pimping" your other half out... Daddy needs a new pair of Gas Wall Sconces!!!!!!!

 

Kidding sort-of ... rolls-eyes!!!

 

OH YES and realize EVERYTHING will cost more and take longer than you think. That's just a fact of "OLD HOUSE LIFE" so take that into every consideration and plan for it. Be realistic on your projects and budgets. I would say that "on an average" our projects cost 30% more and take 40% longer. Set yourself up for something like that and be THRILLED when it only costs 20% more and only took 25% longer...think of all the time and money you just saved!!!!!!!! rolls-eyes again!

 

Though we are over budget by only about 15% which is doing pretty good as everyone said it would cost a factor of 2 to get the job done. But even these will set us back about $22,000, as they were mostly unforeseen. I think these are ones that get you in trouble more than spending more on the knowns.

But you are right to tackle one job at a time. Unfortunately, we tied our renovation in with the house purchase and that forced our hand. So we are tackling everything at once. A bit mind boggling, but its coming together. We did go over budget on the plumbing as we were only going to do the heating, but decided since the ceiling was open under the second floor bath we might as well replace all the plumbing as well and move a bathroom.

hahahaha (hysterical laughter)!!! Budget.... what budget? Face it, you live in an old house because you love it and wouldn't have it any other way - not because you think you can afford it. I think in the long run old house owners spend far more time and money than raised-ranch subdivisioners, but they are far more satisfied. Plus, must of us would wither and die if we had to live in a raised ranch.

Jim,

Though I agree with you, it is a merely a reality check. As I said, folks stated, estimate costs and multiply by 2. We were well inside that, so from that statement I feel pretty good.

I would hate to think one would get into any project and so underestimate the costs they can never finish and feel like they are accomplishing something. Of course, you could look at it as a lifelong project......like putting a boat in the water before its done.....

 

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