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Housing

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Save big on home improvements

In the olden days, pre 2020, we all paid scant attention to the condition of our homes. Back then, we focused on the snack we were grabbing in the kitchen, the dog we were leashing for a stroll and the barbecue out on the deck. Now that we are all held in house arrest without bail, we are starting to see the aging kitchen from which the snack came, the scratched floor underneath the dog and the rotting deck under the barbecue. At virtual dinner parties and Zoom wine hours, the conversations turn to home improvements. And with our Stimulus stipends spent, we are all starting to wonder how to save big on home improvements.

We saved 60% on 3 projects – read on!

We recently had 3 situations that nicely illustrated some nifty ideas for savings. With some simple principles we saved $7,000 on the first project, nearly $1,200 on the second and $5,000 on the third. The first was right here at Cashflow Cookbook Global Headquarters. That big chimney on the cover picture needed some work.  The second was a dryer that developed a heat and motion phobia.  The third was a garage rebuild that was close to a full, well, rebuild. Each project highlighted a different idea to save big on home improvements. To illustrate, let’s take closer look at each of these examples.

Look for a different approach.

Nothing says a romantic night like a crackling fire, a bottle of Pelee Island wine and a good Netflix series. Unless of course the chimney inspector says no fires until the chimney is fixed. Who knew that a 1938 chimney would have such issues? After much peering up our chimney, it was decided that a relining was needed to remediate the flue cracks. In other words, about $10,000. Turns out you can put a price on romance and indeed, money can buy happiness.

In true Cashflow Cookbook form, I called around to check pricing. Five chimney places all said that it would run $350 a foot for a stainless steel chimney liner and that, on a 25 foot chimney that would come to about $8,750, plus tax. Seemed like some sort of chimney flue collusion. I noodled the thought of clamoring up our slate roof brandishing a 25 foot stainless steel tube, but the wind was picking up and rain was threatening. What could go wrong?

Wives have a sixth sense about husbands leading themselves into danger and so it was that Deb developed a sudden interest in chimney lining. She found a chimney specialist with a different approach and suggested that I call. I got through to Brad right away and he indicated that he has a special machine that relines the chimney with concrete, fully safe and guaranteed. He had been relining chimneys with concrete for over 20 years. Google glowed about his work with dozens of positive reviews. Total tab? $1,750. In conclusion, shopping around is great, but sometimes a different contractor can bring a different approach. $7,000 in the bank and on to the next chance to save big on home improvements.

Yes you can do it

Broken dryer, home improvement project savings
Broken dryer, home improvement project savings

When my mother-in-law’s dryer packed it in, my thoughts turned to a trip to Home Depot. My brother-in-law and I got together to craft the plan. I brought a credit card and he arrived with his toolbox. Hmm. I’m fairly handy, but hadn’t spent much time on the inside of a dryer. But I remembered fixing a broken ice-maker and I dashed home to get my iPad. I set it on top of the dryer and surfed over to my friends at repair clinic. Entered the make, model and symptoms and there are all of the possible issues, how to test for each, and a little video that shows each step. Nice! With some safety glasses and the right tools, my cat could fix this dryer**.  The Repair Clinic even sell the parts!  Boom. We found the problem on the third issue they listed. Turns out that a little piece of plastic had broken off the door switch. A $9 part and about 30 minutes of diagnostic work. Another $1,200 saved, some good bonding and an excuse for a celebratory beer.

Don’t underestimate what you can tackle yourself. There are so many great videos and PDFs out there to light the path for you. Bring along an in-law for some extra knowledge and know how. You got this. DIY is another great way to save big on home improvements. Another trick is to see if your contractor will let you help, building your knowledge and savings. I tried this approach on a deck rebuild a few years back, check it out. Let’s take a look at one more idea.

Shop around for quality and price

 

garage rebuild - shop around
garage rebuild – shop around

A relative in town had a garage that needed some care and attention, including but not limited to a new roof, soffit, fascia and gutters.  Although price is important,  the wrong contractor could turn the situation from bad to worse. We networked our way to a few contractors and kept a spreadsheet with their name, company, years in business, sense of their competence, their approach and pricing.

Steve had done some work on a neighbor’s house so we tracked him down and he showed up for the estimate. He had a clipboard and a tape measure, but strangely, no truck. Teleportation? Alien beam down? He scrambled around the roof, flailing his tape measure and muttering as he scribbled down numbers. Not too promising. Chad was next, and gave the garage a good staring from the ground. He disappeared into his truck to “work some numbers” and pronounced the garage dead. It needed to be razed and start over. He would reluctantly attempt the rebuild but it would run a good $12,000.

Robert arrives on the scene

And so it went, until we asked a well regarded garage door man who he would use. Robert was the man for the job. He showed up for the estimate in a crisp white (terrestrial) van with custom cabinetry inside of his own hand. Nice. Some careful measuring, a firm Covid elbow tap and he was off, leaving only a promise of a next day quote. Sure enough, there it was in all its detail, including a price of $7,000.

His work was stellar and he even ran wiring for a garage door opener. The floor was swept clean and everything was tight and true. Shopping around and working referrals is a another key to big savings on home improvements.

** I should note that our cat, Susan, is blind and really not great at appliance work. She is, however, an accomplished lounger.

save big on home improvements
Susan the repair cat lounging

If you enjoyed this post, please share it!

How have you saved on home improvements? Let me know in the comments!

Take care and stay safe.

Gordon

 

 

 

The boards were rotting and turning black in spots. A racoon tribe had been digging into the wood for unseen treasures. Some of the planks had split open and a previous deck expansion had made the surface look a bit like a patchwork quilt. Eventually most of the usual husband denial tactics failed and it was time to actually get the deck rebuilt.

Getting the work done by a pro would cost a good $8,000. Enough for a fun trip, 1/3 of a year of university costs, some debt pay down or savings. A do-it-yourself deck replacement was an option, but the thought of prying out 250 square feet of old, nailed-on 2×6’s and replacing some of the framing underneath was a bit daunting. The deck is an irregular shape which would lead to  some tricky angle cuts. The clock was ticking though, as the deck had to be ready for our daughter’s 19th birthday.

Was this a candidate for do it yourself savings?

I costed out the materials and everything could be had for just over $1,000. Time to call my buddy “Rip” – a retired high school shop teacher turned home renovator and get a sense of what he might charge to get the work done. I then offered up myself as a helper, unsure as to whether that would raise or lower his price and whether I would speed or hinder his progress. He agreed to take me on as an apprentice and we booked a weekend for the work. I ordered the materials and had everything on site ready to go. Rip’s skills gave me the confidence that the job would end well. How can you go wrong with a home renovator named Rip? The greater concern was the 56-year-old “apprentice”.

Rip arrived brandishing the nation’s largest pry bar and a pickup truck filled with enough power tools to make Mike Holmes blush.  We filled fresh mugs of black coffee to add some workman vibe, then intimidated the planks off with the monster pry bar. By noon, we were down to the bare framing. Which was great, other than trying to get around on a deck with no planks, 10 feet off the ground. Rip had a good laugh at my knees knocking, even though we had appropriate safety measures in place.

I tried to minimize my interference while he worked

After lunch, we added some more framing underneath and then started screwing in new deck boards in a “frame and panel” approach that had a “frame” of 3 planks all around the perimeter, then boards installed in the usual way inside the frame. This design meant a better looking deck, but more work.

On Sunday, lots more coffee and some tricky angle cuts, which were no problem for us.  Actually, they were no problem for Rip and I tried to minimize my interference while he worked. After a while, we got into a rhythm; hauling planks, cutting and screwing them into place.

By Sunday night, the sun was low in the sky, the deck was beautiful, we were covered in sawdust and aching muscles.  We loaded the last of the tools into Rip’s truck and high-fived our success. A big pile of wood offcuts was next to the garage. I learned a bunch of new skills from Rip and he learned a few old jokes from me. I swept the new deck as Rip’s truck backed up our driveway.

The do it yourself savings weren’t the biggest part of the story…

The deck replacement was a success and saved thousands vs hiring out the whole project. But the do it yourself savings weren’t the biggest part of the story. The fun of learning from a pro, and of building something with my own hands led to a great sense of satisfaction. And there is something about a couple of days of hard work under a beautiful blue sky with an old friend.

Learning some DIY skills can provide major savings, the fun of learning and the buzz of accomplishment. Working with a pro helps you learn how to build things to code and work safely. Skills learned on one project let you take on the next one with confidence.

Where do it yourself savings aren’t an option, always be sure to shop around for price and quality – it works on just about everything  – even veterinarian bills. Pay special attention to recurring monthly costs as I did in a post about commuting costs. Use the freed up cash to pay down debt or build savings.

What do-it-yourself projects have you tried and did you get help from a pro, a book or a YouTube video? Let me know!