edited by Amy McCarthy
One of the best sources of free information on fixing or changing anything is your local building supply store. Your visit will be most productive if you go in with at least a smattering of knowledge about the job you’re undertaking. If you’re a true novice, do some research at the local library, where you can find many “how-to” books. Don’t take just one person’s advice as the final word; opinions vary on how to handle the same job. You can also ask any employee at the store for help. Sometimes, stores like Home Depot and Lowe's offer classes on different home renovations, like laying tile or creating a mosaic backsplash.
Consider taking a class. Many local adult education programs and home and building supply stores offer courses on carpentry, Sheetrocking™ and taping walls, tiling and so forth. The experience you can receive at a moderate cost is well worth it, because the more practice you have, the better you’ll do in your home. While some tasks can be done well with minimal practice, others, such as taping walls, take (in my view) a lifetime to perfect.
If you’re doing any significant renovation, check into the need for a work permit, especially if it involves electrical or plumbing work, or the removal of walls. It’s best to go by the book so that you don’t run into any problems when selling your home. If a contractor is doing the work, he should pull the appropriate permits for you. If you elect to do this kind of work yourself, be sure you know what you’re doing, as it most certainly affects not only your safety, but the value of your home too.
If you’re in doubt about the quality of your design decisions, consult a professional. You can usually hire someone whose style you like to lay out a master plan that you will implement, or simply make some suggestions. This can be cost-effective insurance against major mistakes or simply self-doubt.
Expect that everything will take longer than you anticipate. Doing a good job takes time, and your patience will show in the end.
If your house was built before the mid-1970s, remember that any major renovations may involve dealing with lead paint. Check with a knowledgeable source about whether this is an issue in your work. Your home may also have other safety issues, so it might be a good idea to have it re-inspected before continuing to renovate. Outlets, lighting, and wiring can all need updating from time to time.
Updated August 2012