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The Moving Diaries: Our Worst Home Renovation Decisions

by - Wednesday, December 07, 2016

On the bumpy road of home renovation, you can expect to make some mistakes along the way. As we pack up this house, I thought I would share with you some of our worst home renovation decisions that, looking back, have us shaking our heads. Some of these cost us time and effort while others had a financial impact. Nothing earth shattering but these mistakes and the lessons we learned continue to stick with us.

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Worst Home Renovation Mistakes

1. Opting for the cheaper solution

When we renovated the basement, we had to deal with a slight slope in the floor from an old floor drain. One option was to level the floor with cement but this would have increased our budget and pushed out our timeline. We decided on a cheaper quick-fix solution: drill holes in the subfloor and fill with high expansion foam. The thought was the foam would raise the subfloor just enough so there wouldn't be any 'bounce' when we installed the laminate flooring. It was a 'good enough' solution.

Had we gone for the cement levelling, we would have realized that the floor was uneven near the drain, but also sloped from the exterior walls toward the center of the room and slightly sloped from the left wall to right.

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Look closely and you'll notice that the toe kick beneath the cabinet on the right is taller than the one under the bench seating. The sloped floor made installation of the cabinetry very difficult. So difficult in fact that instead of installing the cabinets ourselves, we had to hire someone to do it. In the end, saving a few dollars upfront ended up costing us even more money at the back end.

Lesson learned: For structural or difficult to change issues, get them done right from the beginning.
Don't skimp on the things that provide the foundation for all other elements.

2. Designing in isolation

The very first renovation we did in this house was an overhaul of the dining room. We removed the pink carpet, added shutters and wainscot, and installed a bold and graphic wallpaper. I loved the wallpaper at the time, but I didn't realize it would impact so many other design decisions down the road. We decided on the wallpaper without considering what the room around it would look like.

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The wallpaper dictated the curtains and carpet and artwork. It impacted the decor in the adjoining living room too; yellow chairs and brown wood accents were brought in to make the two rooms feel cohesive.

Lesson learned: Don't make a design choice in isolation. Consider all your elements, perhaps create a mood board, before you make your first purchase.

3. Impulsive design

It was in the middle of a long winter storm that we decided to turn one of our bedrooms into a home office. We were antsy for a project, we needed a home office, and we knew we could turnover the room quickly. We headed to Ikea and literally walked the aisles, coming up with the design on the fly. We picked out cabinets and countertops and As Is castoffs that we could piece together to create an office for two.

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The design was fine (it still stands as one of my most pinned projects ever) but it required an immense amount of effort. This was a true Ikea hack: most everything was repurposed into something different from what it was intended for. Expedit standing bookcases were mounted on the wall. Filler panels were made into cubby holes. Massive, heavy countertops morphed into an L-shaped desk. The room worked well but felt disjointed. To complement the modern design, we decorated in a trendy style that never quite felt like "us". The fern green walls and graphic curtains were a departure from the more subdued, traditional decor of the rest of the house.

Lesson learned: Although the room was functional, the design didn't work. We rushed to have a solution, to finish a project, and in the end we weren't completely happy with the result. To create a room that meets your needs and feels good, you need to marry form and function.

4. Sticking to the schedule

There's three competing factors in any renovation: time, budget, and quality. Rush to meet the schedule and you might have to pay more to get the work done quickly and the quality may suffer as a result. Opt for top quality and your budget and time spent might be pushed to the extreme. It's always a fine balance of knowing which factor trumps all.

During our kitchen renovation, we came up with the idea of putting in-floor heating beneath the kitchen tiles. But it was a Friday and our electrician had just left the job site. The next day, we planned to start the floor tile installation. Adding in-floor heating to the scope would delay our project by at least a week. And so, we decided to press on.

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It was a decision we regretted that first winter after the kitchen renovation. Our galley kitchen features a pair of sliding glass doors at one end. We placed a curtain in front of the doors to hold the heat in, but we still feel the chill of our Canadian winters on our feet.

Lesson learned: Opting to stick to the schedule was an abitrary decision. We were doing the tile install ourselves so a delay wouldn't impact anyone's time but our own. We gave too much importance to the schedule and were left with a long-term issue that could have been easily resolved.

5. Wrong materials for the job

There's a few materials we've used in this house that we likely won't be repeating in the new house. The materials themselves weren't the problem - they worked fine and performed as expected - but in certain applications their shortcomings have revealed themselves over time

Marble Backsplash In The Kitchen:

I mentioned this in a look back at our kitchen renovation, but the marble backsplash was one of the most disappointing features. Marble is a porous material that is susceptible to staining by foods and spilled liquids. As a backsplash, the marble is most problematic in the area behind the sink. Repeated splashing from washing dishes and cleaning has left that area dulled. As well, the mini tiles we used has many grout lines and requires frequent maintenance to keep clean. If you go with marble, a larger tile might be a wiser choice for the kitchen

Laundry Room Tile:

You've heard how important it is to test paint swatches and see how they look in different light conditions. The same can be said for floor tile. We searched for a tile for the laundry room for weeks. We finally settled on a light grey with a muted striated pattern - or so we thought. In the windowless laundry room, beneath the pot lights, against the graphite washing machine and off-white Ikea cabinets, the floor looks very cream. This problem would have been tough to anticipate, but next time, I might be inclined to put together a mood board with paint chips and cabinet samples to see how it works all together

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Porcelain Tile for Kitchen Floors:

In the kitchen, we installed a grey-green porcelain tile with Ditra underlayment. The floor is solid and strong. Despite dropped dishes and constant traffic, not one of these tiles has chipped or cracked. But the porcelain tiles are very hard on the feet. I've had kitchens in the past with ceramic tiles or wood flooring and find that porcelain is the most unforgiving. If you're looking for durability, it's a great choice but you'll need shoes/slippers or rugs to make it feel comfortable.

Does it sound like I'm nitpicking over small details? While I call these mistakes, I know that's a subjective decision and what we found to be issues might not be a problem for other homeowners.
Have you had some renovation mistakes of your own? Tell me in the comments! I'm always curious to hear about life after the renovation and the problems that reveal themselves over time.

Coming up soon, I'll also be sharing our Best Home Renovation Decisions. We're moving this weekend (!!!) and I'm already missing this house, mistakes and all.

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