Shaving the Costly Edges From a Major Renovation

Part One: Avoiding Pitfalls when Buying Shitloads of Stuff

Mr. Money Mustache amongst his favorite elements (sunshine, tools, dirt), setting steel posts for a fancy fence.

Mr. Money Mustache amongst his favorite elements (sunshine, tools, dirt), setting steel posts for a fancy fence.

The New Old House project is going very well, thanks for asking. Slowly, if you measure the progress by any sort of professional standard, but very well, if you consider the fact that I am having an absolute blast working through it bit by bit.

“What a fine life this is”, I thought to myself this week, as I stood out on my spacious new concrete patio which overlooks the park, cutting out some elaborate wooden forms with a high-end cordless jigsaw. It was a very warm day, and the bright sun shining sideways from its winter solstice position lit up the whole scene like a glowing postcard. There have been many moments like this, where the deep satisfaction of solving tricky puzzles and building something big takes over my whole mind and makes me smile and chuckle to myself like a fool.

It’s not all Nailguns and Roses of course, as there have been plenty of obstacles along the way. The complex design required a lot of sourcing of tricky materials (including almost 3000 pounds of gigantic steel beams which I have been cutting and welding all week). The byzantine regulations of the 2012 International Building Code added some troubles as well, especially when interpreted by an overworked and under-motivated crew of building inspectors who often don’t return calls and emails. And my own juggling of family, friends, and construction time has resulted in a very lax work schedule. But with no looming deadlines or financial constraints and the reassurance that I have done this all before, I have had the luxury of taking each thing in stride and working through it, one call, email, and shovel at a time.

The other challenge is the odd feeling of suddenly becoming one of the biggest consumers in town. Almost every day I have to buy stuff. Tools, materials, and supplies are needed in abundance for a project like this, and so I’ve spent about $20,000 in the past three months. On top of all that steel, there is a huge pile of engineered lumber taking up most of the back driveway and more deliveries on the way. I try to remind myself that it’s an investment, and the money will be returned many times over when we sell our current house (this downsizing will free up over $100,000, even after all these renovation costs). But I still see the trucks and forklifts, steel and wood, cardboard and plastic wrap, and can’t help but notice that for now I am chewing up a huge share of my own planet just to build myself a dwelling.

Renovation is always an expensive and complex affair, but I am making a bigger effort than ever this time to take the edge off of it. I am investing extra time and effort to cut the cost and material waste involved in this project, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the results with you, as a mid-project update.

Designing to Reduce Ridiculousness

When faced with a blank slate, most would-be homeowners try to cram in every possible idea and feature. “It would be nice if the kids could each have their own ensuite bathroom, and I really want that dedicated closet just for my shoes this time.” We have felt the same temptation to chase perfection, but are working to suppress it. We avoided the usual urge to add floor space to this house, and instead just re-partitioned the existing space more efficiently. After all, you only have one body and thus can only use one room at a time. Whenever any room sits unused, it consumes your resources while returning no benefit.

There’s also philosophy to consider: by now, you and I both know that adding more luxury to one’s living arrangements will not produce a happier life. But houses can still bring happiness when they meet needs: shelter, a place for family and friends to gather regularly, and a location close enough to amenities that you don’t need to engage in the proven happiness destroyer of car commuting in order to live there.  Since my old house already met these needs, any project like this one must be about the journey itself. The effort, hard work, and overcoming of obstacles must be its own reward.  This is definitely true for me, plus there is the endpoint of greater wealth and ongoing satisfaction of being surrounded by things I’ve built myself.

With the design mostly in place, it was time to go in search of materials. Before even beginning the shopping I was able to decrease the quantity of steel and wood required by negotiating down a few structural details with the engineer. Then I sent the design to a lumber supplier, and reviewed the resulting parts list with a fine-toothed comb to reduce waste and find less material-intensive ways to get the required strength. This was a tedious exercise that involved no rewarding sunshine or adventures with power tools, but it sliced almost $2000 from the budget right away. Smaller designs are generally smarter ones.

 Craigslist Does it Again

Through Craigslist, I found an old steelyard that was going out of business in downtown Denver. There, I was able to buy about 40% of the steel beams I needed for the project, at only one fifth of the price of new steel. They were odds and ends which were of no use to the typical large commercial buyer of this product, so this find was a big score for both wallet and ec0 footprint.

By removing all seats (even front passenger) from my van, I was able to carry 1200 pounds of 13-foot segments safely home from Denver.

By removing all seats (even front passenger) from my van, I was able to carry 1200 pounds of 13-foot segments safely home from Denver.

Reuse and Recycle

I sold the old dishwasher and fridge from the house to free up space and cash. And now I’m making a daily visit to the “Materials” section of Craigslist to scoop up any workable materials and appliances for the new design, displacing the need for newly purchased ones whenever possible.

I tore out whe whole failing spaghetti-network of copper and cast iron pipes from the crawlspace and rebuilt it with PEX and ABS, then took the whole 500-pound lot of the old stuff down to the metal recycling center so it could be melted down and re-used. They gave me a check for $108 for the copper.

And I’ve been reclaiming every 2×4 from torn-down walls and meticulously stripping out nails so I can reuse the classy old-growth Fir elsewhere. While this may not be time-efficient when new studs are only $2.88, it just feels like the right thing to do when I consider the reduction of trash and the decrease in new material purchases.

I’m also making occasional stops at the recycled building materials store, and the most amazing find so far was a brand new $500 modern-style sink with the “Lowe’s Display” sticker on it, marked down to $100 – including tax. It looks very similar to this one:

Score! A high-bling/high-quality sink for very close to free.

Score! A high-bling/high-quality sink for very close to free.

Discounts on Materials

If you go to the Pro desk at Home Depot or another retailer and tell them you are building a house, they will often offer some fine incentives on your larger orders. 10% off, free delivery, and price matching even on obscure items like custom windows from a brand they don’t even carry.  In my area, if you have a building permit in hand you can get a reduction in the sales tax rate as well, saving hundreds more.

A Quick Credit Card Hack

To allow easier tracking of the total cost of this project, I decided to open a new, dedicated credit card just for this house. We chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because of its ridiculous $400 signing bonus, followed by an ongoing 1% cash back. I also took the opportunity to get a new card for my business (which in turn owns this blog) – the Chase Ink Bold which kicked in another $500*. Both of these cards require a certain amount of spending within the first 90 days to qualify for the bonus, but with house and blog-related spending currently very high, it was an ideal time to do something that is normally a bit of a hassle. With the frugal theme of this project, making the time to scoop another $900 out of the air seemed fitting.

An IKEA Kitchen

The kitchen cabinets are often the most expensive part of a renovation like this, and I have heard a $10,000 cabinet set referred to as “cheap” by my fellow builders. But there is a secret: IKEA sells assemble-it-yourself cabinets that come with top-the-line front finishes and hardware, at less than half the price of special-order or custom cabinets. On top of this, we placed our order during the November kitchen sale for a further 20% discount. Mrs. Money Mustache did most of the design and ordering work, we paid IKEA $144 to hand-pick and deliver our complex order (saving us a 120-mile roundtrip drive and a day of painful shopping) and she is now assembling the cabinets with expert craftswomanship in one of the spare bedrooms. Savings on our rather elaborate kitchen: at least $7,000.

My sketches of the kitchen design. Note the 12-foot wall of South-Facing windows above the sink, so I can get a tan while doing dishes in the winter.

My sketches of the kitchen design. Note the 12-foot-high wall of South-Facing windows above the sink, so I can get a tan while doing dishes in the winter.

Mrs. Money Mustache builds a drawer unit for the new kitchen

Mrs. Money Mustache builds a drawer unit for the new kitchen

DIY, Friends, and Barter

The most obvious cost-saving measure available for homeowners is of course doing most of the work ourselves. “Easier said than done”, is a common refrain among the uninitiated, but “It’s much more fun than it sounds” is what those of us in the know say in response. I had a good handle on most of the trades from past experience, but  in a project this large, there is always more to learn.

One of the first projects I dug into, for example, was replacing the whole electrical service of the house. Sure, I had done plugs and switches before, and even wiring runs and breaker boxes. But here I wanted to tear out the antiquated aerial line that dangled ominously across the back yard, entering through a crusty old hole in the shingles to feed a tragic 6-circuit service panel from over half a century ago. This would clean up the appearance of the house, as well as getting wires out of places they should not be, facilitating the upcoming roof framing.

Before: crappy wire dangles right next to back door.

Before: crappy wire dangles right next to back door.

It took some work: I had to coordinate the power company, the building inspector, and the labor of myself, some Mustachians who stopped by to help out on my birthday, and some gracious free advice from an electrician friend I also met through this blog. Research, phone calls, digging a deep 40-foot-long trench, running thick wires through unforgiving PVC conduit, and installing a meter panel on the outside and a breaker panel inside all took me a good several days of hard effort. I had to sledgehammer an 8-foot-long copper grounding rod into solid earth until its head was flush with the soil. But in the end, I learned in intricate detail exactly how to build out an electrical service from the ground up, and saved a few thousand dollars as a secondary reward. Today the power company hooked up my new system for the first time and cut down the old wire. As soon as they left, I plugged my construction radio into one of my brand-new outlets, cranked up the volume, and danced.

After: My spiffy install job is capped by a new digital meter with Zero kilowatt hours on the clock. Ahh, new beginnings.

After: My spiffy install job is capped by a new digital meter with Zero kilowatt hours on the clock. Ahh, new beginnings.

This project has also provided the opportunity for some enjoyable barter with friends who are also working on their own houses. We exchange work visits with each other, where my electrical knowledge earns credits towards their framing or painting skill.

Early in this project, this group of volunteer Mustachians stopped by to help destroy this room, among other things. (At least I was able to pay them with beers and dinner at my place)

Early in this project, this group of volunteer Mustachians stopped by to help destroy this room, among other things. (At least I was able to pay them with beers and dinner at my place)

Finally, I accepted a crazy offer from a reader that is a mirror image of the Carpentourism trip I took to Hawaii last winter. An entrepreneurial young guy is driving out from California and showing up here on January 4th – in exchange for free rent, food, and an education in building houses, he will be working alongside me roughly full time during the weeks (and teaching snowboarding in the mountains on the weekends). The idea sounded just ridiculous enough to work, so we’re going for it and it will surely be a winner in all directions.

And that’s just part one. In future episodes of the New House Chronicles, we will cover “Getting Bids and Herding Cats”, “How to Do Anything Yourself”, “Building a Bathroom From Scratch”, “The Radiant Heat at 90% off Experiment”, and many more topics as they come to mind (requests?). This house project is a big and very fun part of my life these days, so you will find it creeping into the pages of MMM as well.


 *While I can happily recommend these two cards since I have had good experiences with them myself, do watch out for the annual fee which kicks in after a year (I tend to cancel mine and then repeat the process the following year). Also, once you get the card, go to https://dnmoptions.chase.com/, and un-check all the ridiculous opted-in choices for extra spam. All credit card companies do this, but I have found immediately opting out keeps my snail mailbox blissfully empty. At least the Chase implementation is quick and efficient. See this blog’s credit cards page for more details.



  • Becky December 22, 2013, 6:42 pm

    Way to go doing all the extra work to pull the nails to avoid waste! It’s a ton of work, and wood is so cheap that financially it doesn’t make much sense, but I appreciate when builders think about environmental impact!

    We just bought our first house, and are DIYing upgrades. We haven’t done much, since it’s been less than a month, but we’ve been diligent with watching craigslist and going to the Habitat for Humanity ReUse shop! We’re hoping that by taking our time and watching for deals, we’ll be able to save quite a bit of money. My husband works from out of our garage, so we had to start upgrading the garage right away. We managed to get insulation for half off (of the Home Depot price) from craigslist, and found some of the electrical doo-dads (clearly he’s in charge of this stuff) from the ReUse store.

  • Matt December 22, 2013, 8:46 pm

    Mustache! Thanks so much for the Chase link at the bottom of the page to stop receiving junk mail!

    I LOVE not receiving junk mail!

    I also thoroughly enjoy reading about your exploits with the new house. Keep it up!

  • Chris December 23, 2013, 3:19 am

    I almost bought new IKEA kitchen cabinets, for about $12,000, but instead I decided to refinish my existing kitchen cabinets, including all new hardware, for about $800. I am sooooo happy I refinished, instead of buying new. I love how they turned out, and I feel good every time I look at them and think about how much money I saved.

    Also, I am considering putting my refrigerator in my unheated mud room addition, in order to potentially save on electricity usage.

    • phred December 24, 2013, 2:21 pm

      frig in mudroom may be a good idea or a bad one; it depends on where you live. If mudroom gets to near freezing, the frig’s thermostat will never click on and the food in the freezer will thaw. If mudroom gets past 80, compressor will run longer than normally trying to dump its heat.

      • phred December 24, 2013, 2:32 pm

        forgot to add: You may be able to buy an add-on “garage kit” for the frig to take care of the low room temps problem

        • Chris December 24, 2013, 4:15 pm

          Thanks alot for the tips, phred. I’m in Colorado, like Mustache.

          I’ll look into the “garage kit”. Also, I may roll my fridge into the mud room in the winter, and back into the kitchen in the summer.

          Part of me thinks that would be a pain, and part of me thinks that every time I walk into the mudroom just to get food from the fridge, it would remind me to stay frugal, and eventually even bring me more happiness as I’m doing it.

          I’m also considering getting an energy consumption measuring device to compare the difference. I want to get one anyway, to do a thorough, whole-house, consumption reduction, and eliminate ghost loads.

          • salvador August 21, 2014, 4:11 pm

            if you want to lower you electricity costs just convert a chest freezer to a fridge… a fridge runs on 15x more electricity! so instead of wasting 1kWh per day you consume like 0.05kwh the equivalent of running a 50w lamp for 1 hour (yes its that efficient)

  • Liz December 23, 2013, 6:07 am

    Love that you are using IKEA cabinets for your kitchen. They have great styles and are good quality. Keep us updated, I really enjoy reading about your house project!

  • Chris December 23, 2013, 6:34 am

    I’m a great fan of IKEA cabinetry. The big issue with it is that the hardware suppliers are downgrading their metal ball bearing drawer slides to vinyl ball bearings. So if you load a pot and pan drawer like you normally would, they will wear out in about five years. What I end up doing is once they wear out, I replace the tracks only (not the drawer boxes itself, just the slides/tracks) with high quality ones from a standard hardware supplier. Easy and cheap fix. Double points if you can score the replacement tracks on craigsliste or the likes.

    Currently I believe IKEA is using blum, so it is an easy replacement part.

  • Cujo December 23, 2013, 6:42 am

    An opportunity to show off my own kitchen remodel… http://www.flickr.com/photos/ganley/sets/72157623968185396 … gutted to the studs, moved a doorway, new hardwood floors, granite countertops, nice appliances including an induction cooktop. Total around $18,000. Ikea cabinets FTW. Can’t say how long they’ll hold up, but 4 years in and no problems.

    • Kat December 23, 2013, 9:29 pm

      Nice! I love the deep drawers instead of cabinets.

  • Justin December 23, 2013, 8:23 am

    I can feel the zen-like “living in the moment” you experience when you are on your own job site and crafting your soon-to-be home.

    The whole project looks like a fun one. And you have managed to make the process more social by having helpers. Awesome!

  • Jacob December 23, 2013, 9:13 am

    Dude, killer work on the reno. We hope to make a purchase similar to yours in the coming years and will be putting in a TON of work as well, so these tips are extremely helpful. I’m and avid DIY enthusiast as well, and have some contractors in the family who can help out (for pizza and beer, of course).

    And great call on the IKEA cabinets. We have a family friend who went that route recently, and only dropped about $2,000 for the entire kitchen, and it looked phenomenal. The untrained eye (mine) would NEVER distinguish those cabinets from someone who spent $15k.

    I look forward the the updates on this project, will be bookmarking for our future house projects.

    Also, you are a baller for hauling steel beams in a minivan.

  • Sarah Clem December 23, 2013, 9:16 am

    We are remodeling my mother’s attic into an apartment for our retirement. This project is so fabulous to read about and give us ideas. Thanks for the IKEA kitchen idea!!

  • Jess Mink December 23, 2013, 9:27 am

    Habitat for Humanity often has home construction trift stores. It’s what they do with building material donations that they can’t use in the houses they’re building for whatever reason. You can often get really nice, unusual things there for stupidly low prices. Rehome is the most common name of these types of stores, but sometimes they get cute names like Construction Junction.

  • Matt December 23, 2013, 10:31 pm

    Did you paint the bricks? They look like they have been spruced up in the before and after Electrical Service pictures.

  • Gypsy Queen December 24, 2013, 6:17 am

  • Yin Yang December 24, 2013, 9:23 am

    Hey there MMM, your massive renovation/rebuild project sounds amazing and exciting. I’m envious of your skill, knowledge, and free time! That combination is surely a recipe for happiness! I bought a suburban home new (off the builder) back in 1989, and I now need to do a complete reno on my ensuite bathroom. The wife wants a large glassed in shower as the main feature, and doesn’t really care about anything else. My problem is that I don’t even know where to begin! I have no construction knowledge or experience, and I don’t really want to go the route of blindly calling up a few contractors for estimates and fall into the trap of getting ripped off down the line, or dealing with shoddy workmanship, etc., etc. Where do I start to research design/layout options? Any advice, books, or other information you can offer up to a renovation rookie like me would be helpful and appreciated. I hope to actually take the plunge and retire this spring, so I will be available to help with the demolition and be a flunkie to whatever expert I hire to do the reno. If you’re available this spring – you’re HIRED! I’ll fly you to Toronto – the ice should be melted by then! Merry Christmas.

  • OptimusFrugal December 24, 2013, 11:07 am

    I’m fortunate that my wife also found the 20% off deal at IKEA. To keep costs down we are going to top those cabinets off with a counter top made from 24″ x 24″ polished porcelain floor tiles. I found some photos of kitchens made with these on line and they looked very sleek and modern. Similar look to a slab type counter top due to the near absence of grout lines from the full counter depth tiles. We also opted for the IKEA delivery. It was amazing. Every item individually tagged and numbered. We found a few missing items and a few extra. IKEA made a second trip and corrected everything no added charge. Hopefully we will get our cabinets out of the boxes and in the kitchen soon.

  • Glenstache December 24, 2013, 2:43 pm

    The use of remnant and reclaimed materials is great. There are a few of these in the Seattle area that I have frequented and found some great deals for various projects. However, the cost-effective use of these materials is pretty much limited to DIY applications. This is because they generally take more time to install, and if you are hiring a craftsman and between $50 and $100 an hour to do work, any savings on materials quickly evaporate.

    Sam Clark has an excellent discussion of this, amongst other things in the book: “Independent Builder: Designing & Building a House Your Own Way, 2nd Edition (Real Goods Independent Living Books)”

    Come to think of it, this book is also a great general reference for anyone contemplating remodel or new construction with sound advice on layout, materials, lighting, and some nuts and bolts information including load bearing reference tables, etc.

    • Jake December 24, 2013, 9:29 pm

      Available at the Seattle Public Library.

  • Rob in Germany December 25, 2013, 1:17 am

    Did you ever consider going with an induction stove? Very popular here in Germany, use way less hydro than a regular stove, with the added bonus that if a pot boils over it doesn’t make a huge mess as the stove top barely heats up.

    Only negative is you need special pans, didn’t know this till after we upgraded!

    I should add it is highly unusual for a family to downsize to a smaller house, don’t know of anyone who has done that, everyone ALWAYS, up sizes!

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 25, 2013, 5:03 pm

      These induction stoves sound like a neat invention, but I’m very happy with gas stoves: very powerful, works with any old cookware, and the fuel (natural gas) is almost free. Plus you can get very stylish high-end units on Craigslist for a fraction of new prices, courtesy of the people down the road in Boulder upgrading their $1.5M houses to $3M houses on a regular basis, which of course requires complete upgrade of all appliances.

      • Rob in Germany December 28, 2013, 3:12 am

        Thanks, agree it makes sense to go with a nice gas stove, and the added bonus of not having to buy new pans (thankfully the pots worked)!

        I do love the out of the box thinking, most people would have simply ordered new appliances and complained about budget busting renos!

  • jestjack December 25, 2013, 5:21 am

    Interesting article…I have felt the same sheer “joy” as you when doing this kind of work…and for sure, it is not for the faint of heart. Looking forward to future episodes….I have seen no mention of a “wood burner” for heat….not in the plans? Good Luck and Happy Holidays…

  • ultrarunner December 26, 2013, 11:41 pm

    Are you giving tours of the project? My business partner (another MMM reader) and I are finishing up a remodel of a rental property (in Gunbarrel) this week and will have some newfound free time soon (yay!!). She and I would love to swing by some day and say hello.

    – Chris

  • Licensed electrician December 27, 2013, 8:23 am

    Just wondering about your electrical service. I’m assuming the main panel is greater than 5 feet inside the house warranting the need for an external disconnect.
    NEC now requires 2 ground rods. The connector for the service wires into the house needs a plastic bushing to protect the wires. You need to install duct seal compound to keep condensation from moving between the meter enclosure and inside the house. The conduit strap should be installed above the expansion coupling because the ground will pull down on the conduit. A communication connector block is also required by NEC for the other utilities to bond to the house grounding system.
    I can’t tell but inhibitor should have been used to stop corrosion on aluminum conductors.
    Just a few things that need to be corrected. Anyone can wire but it takes a licensed electrician to do it right.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 1, 2014, 6:07 pm

      Thanks for the tips, L.E.!

      Yes, the main panel is a good 30 feet away (I placed that near the kitchen where the most circuits are located to minimize the required quantity of wire, whereas I wanted the meter on this part of the house that is out of the way of everything else).

      Although the inspection for this part was already passed as-is, I have made the changes you recommended just for extra quality – except the second ground rod, because that’s just excessive and I’d only do that if forced to do so :-)

      I’d like to offer an alternative to your last sentence: “Anyone can wire, but you will learn faster with ADVICE from someone who knows what they’re doing.” If I had to hire licensed people to do all the fun work like this and my plumbing, it would take away all the fun of building for me.

      The key to DIY to be willing to try, learn, have more experienced people make fun of you, and persist until you get it right. The resulting skills last a lifetime and pay incredible dividends.

  • Zora December 27, 2013, 10:13 pm

    Ah, I recognize those Adel medium-brown cabinets! My hubby and I spent a couple weeks putting the same thing in our major, total-DIY kitchen renovation this past summer. After much puzzling over an efficient design, we got the perfect solution courtesy of some friendly anonymous Internetian over at ikeafans.com. The message board chatterers on that site offer good advice on design as well as pros and cons of the various products (don’t get the lazy susan!). Overall the whole experience made me feel smart and the finished product looks and functions great!

  • brydanger December 28, 2013, 3:53 am

    Ah MMM…
    Just recently found out about your site through a new friend.

    I’m not yet deep in, but fun reads given the similarities.
    My wife and I left our jobs almost two years ago, spent the first year driving mexico and central america and are now back home and working on a remodel as well. We did some SERIOUS downsizing over the years in order to be financially stable and to be able to move into our vw bus for the trip…and now anything over a studio apartment seems large. =)

    Instead of buying a new/smaller house, we decided on a direction that you and your readers might find useful (at least for those looking for a dramatic downsize). We are converting our existing garage into a loft/apartment/ADU (accessory dwelling unit) for us to live in while we rent out the house itself.

    Effectively, once the remodel is complete next month, we will live rent/mortgage free- a HUGE step in our progress toward true freedom!!

    Look forward to seeing the finished photos!

  • CTY December 29, 2013, 1:55 am

    MMM I too love DIY projects. Over the years we have done every major & minor job ourselves. I don’t think there is anything more satisfying. My husband and I didn’t know too much about remodeling when we started but we watched a lot of This Old House and spent a lot of time in the library. We bought quality tools as we needed them These days we learn everything on line (love video tutorials). Oct 2011 we retired and downsized our house (bought a foreclosure for a song) b/c we are empty nesters. The new house needs some tweaking. 2011 we replaced the fence around the whole yard (corner lot 1/4+ acre). 2012 lawn & garden (nothing but dirt due to no water while house was vacant) In 2013 we installed a new central AC unit, went solar & I remodeled the kitchen by myself. IKEA made the kitchen possible. I chose butcher block counters; IKEA’s price was quite a bit less than anything else we found. They were even less money than cheapest laminate from the DIY centers & no need to buy the end finishing pieces. Then a great surprise– after buying the hardware for installing ($60), I found the hardware enclosed with the counters. The farm sink is also from IKEA for $300 (1/4 the price of similar farm sinks). I found a great tutorial on line for retro fitting the sink. The IKEA drain assembly was $30 less than the DIY store. The cabinets were in excellent shape so I refinished them. I tiled the back splash with subway tile (demo at the DIY store), replaced the garbage disposal, installed a dishwasher and reconfigured the plumbing to give more usable under the sink space. This was my first solo project (my husband was busy troubleshooting the wayward sprinkler system)– I never thought i could do it on my own (even the butcher block cutting). What a great feeling. Slated for 2014 is a few new windows, exterior paint job & gutters. The only reason we can afford all of this is because we do all of our own work.
    Keep the updates coming.

  • phred December 29, 2013, 10:44 am

    Now that you and the Mrs are getting older, are you going to put a walk-in bathtub in one of the baths?

  • Sandee December 30, 2013, 11:06 am

    A nuts-and-bolts question regarding the upgrading of your electrical service (and the overall renovation itself): do most US jurisdictions allow this type of work to be done by a non-licensed person? I’m assuming you pulled the required permits and had inspections – were they OK with the work being done by someone who is not a licensed or professional electrician (I’m assuming you’re not)? My husband & I have completed quite a few minor upgrades to our house, and he has become quite well-versed in residential wiring & power; however, we had always assumed that completing larger desired modifications to the service itself (burying the line from the power pole, re-locating the meter) would have to be done by a licensed professional. In a more general vein, are there any construction efforts related to this project that your jurisdiction requires to be completed by someone you would need to hire, because you yourself don’t have the credentials?

    • Frank January 4, 2014, 7:33 pm

      If it is Your prmary residence you can do anything yourself, with the required permits and inpections, includng main power feeders.. This is true in Oregon at least

  • Jonathan December 30, 2013, 8:01 pm

    Home Depot in florida will send bids for orders over $2500. I had one com back with savings of close to $1000. This is awesome when you need items of high markup like tools and fasteners.

  • PeterK2003 January 6, 2014, 1:39 pm

    Does IKEA have any online configuration tools to help you layout your kitchen?

  • m January 7, 2014, 11:50 am

    When we remodeled our last kitchen, I got IKEA quotes, Home Depot and Lowes Quotes and Custom built quotes.

    We wound up ordering from an outfit called MEIkitchens in florida, cabinets came in flat boxes, all plywood boxes with soft closing doors and drawers. I think they came out to around 65% of the IKEA and Lowes price, and lowes was for MDF at that price point. We had another website that would have taken us to half price, but didn’t have all of the design options for corner cabinets etc.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 10, 2014, 5:37 pm

      Hmm.. MEIKitchens – thanks for the link. Looks like a good website, as they have the prices online. At first glance, it looks a bit MORE expensive than IKEA, but I don’t have their prices memorized enough to compare side-to-side. Anybody else have data for a comparison between the two? I’d love to have a new recommendation.

      If I provide this link, and enough readers click on it, MEI Kitchens might get in touch with me and we can go from there :-)

  • jestjack January 10, 2014, 5:37 am

    Been following your renovations on the new place …pretty neat stuff going on…Was wondering if you might touch on heating systems. JUST had a furnace failure at a rental home I’ve owned for some time which included but were not limited to three radiators bursting….( had -3 with windchills of under -20). Anyway the cost of a boiler replacement is phenominal at $8 to $10K. AND after paying this I have the “priviledge” of paying around $4 a gallon for home heating oil. As crazy as it sounds I’m seriously considering going with electric baseboard….sure expensive…but lower upfront cost…no maintenance….versus the $10K “investment”…$4 oil AND $350 per year service policy on the unit which actually covers very little. Your thoughts on this would be appreciatted AND may even make for an interesting blog post. PS…scrapping the radiators and selling the full tank of fuel oil may actually cover the costs to have the new baseboard heaters installed…

    • brydanger January 10, 2014, 10:23 am

      Natural gas is by far the cheapest (oil being the most expensive at about 2.5x higher than natural gas… and rising).

      Obviously a natural gas furnace is an option, but if your place is small enough you may be able to heat the entire space with a fireplace. We just had ours installed in our garage conversion and it should easily pump enough heat to warm our 500sqft home!

      WHen converting to natural gas, you will likely even be able to get a “kickback” from your city or state for “going green” to help offset the conversion.

      Electrical is next cheapest, but having lived in spaced with baseboard heat…i didn’t love it. The heater reduce usable wall area and are noisy. They are also a risk of burning yourself (or certainly for kids if you have them)

      • jestjack January 11, 2014, 3:10 am

        Thanks for the input…Oil heat has just gotten prohibitive and doesn’t look like it is ging to get any better. Gas is available but there are no incentives from the utility. In addition, I worry about the future of “nat gas” …I remember not so long ago this stuff was pricey and there is always the concern with CO2.My plan…so far…is to remove the radiators and place the electric baseboard where they were. This actually may be more pleasing to the eye and actually may give us more room as the radiators take up a lot of space. The unit is is about 800 square feet and there is a wood burning fireplace insert if the tenants should decide they want supplement their heat. But electric baseboard has it’s drawbacks…real or imagined. I have EB in a newer place that is a bit larger and the electric bill in the coldest months with a pretty “aloof tenant” was about $250 for everything…not too bad IMHO. I’m thinking this will provide “zone heat” on the cheap. Thanks for the input!!!

  • Money Saving January 11, 2014, 6:41 am

    This is going to be one of the awesomest feelings in the world when you are completely done with this whole project. Major props to your wife for working with you and taking the time to do things right the first time. She sounds like a real winner!!!

  • Paularado January 13, 2014, 12:10 pm

    FYI: Boulder Lumber delivers for free. They even deliver to the mountains so I’m sure Longmont isn’t a problem. Love them!

  • Weedy acres January 20, 2014, 7:53 pm

    For those who are DIY ing it and eager to learn, http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/ is a great set of forums, organized by room, with a lot of pros as well as experienced DIY-ers, who hang out and answer questions for people figuring it out themselves (or supervising contractors to do the same).

    People will help you tweak your kitchen design, engineer your plumbing stack, fix your tiler’s mistake, pick the right trees for your backyard, and on and on. It’s a fabulous resource.

  • Guy Madison January 23, 2014, 6:05 pm

    I also looked at Ikea, but I didn’t like the MDF board used… my neighbor is a cabinet maker in his garage, he drinks all the time and he has ALL of his fingers.

    So.. I bought a book with lots of pictures and examples off amazon on cabinet making, picked up a hybrid cabinet saw, jointer, planer, nail gun and a few misc tools off craigslist for about $1500. Then built my entire kitchen out of Padauk (the red wood xylophones are made of) and 3/4″ birch for about $3500 in wood.

    I now have all the tools to build every kind of built in wood cabinet I need. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this path to anyone.

    If I were to do it again, I would do a face frame design over the euro (Ikea style) there is a lot more slop in a face frame design but you get a lot more savings in room with the euro design.

    • brydanger January 23, 2014, 6:23 pm

      there are always options if you have the time/patience!

      for our garage turned studio apartment im welding cabinet frames from steel (for that modern industrial look) and were making the doors completely out of scrap wood we’ve been picking up around the woodshop for the last few months.

      We’ll see how it turns out…it may just send me running back to ikea- but so far the only cost is for the steel and whatever free time we have ;)

    • ultrarunner January 23, 2014, 6:24 pm

      Hey Guy,

      If you don’t mind, could you share the title of the book? I’ve been looking for a good book on cabinet making.

      – Chris

  • Parker January 9, 2015, 6:35 pm

    I read stuff like this and think ‘cool.’ But think about my major kitchen/electrical overhaul 5 years ago that was done by an independent contractor who worked his ass off for 4 weeks and think it would have taken me 3x as long. Not having a kitchen for a month was one thing, not having the kitchen for 3 months is another. Same with my bathroom that was recently remodeled, which I paid someone about $3k. With them doing it, I didn’t have a shower for about 8 days, with me doing it, I probably would have not had a place to bathe for about a month. Some DIY projects are only possible if you have the luxury of time or an alternate living space. Not to mention, people who do construction everyday for 20 years are most likely going to do a much much better job at remodeling!

  • Noa February 16, 2016, 9:29 am


    Requesting you please do an article on ABS, you covered PEX, that’s water in, now we just need waste out and we will be total plumbers! :)

    Thanks MMM!

  • Harry March 3, 2017, 12:17 pm

    MMM, is there anyway you can share some photos of the kitchen sink work with PEX? I have been enlightened about redoing my kitchen sink without the expense of going through my neighbor. So far you have 75% convinced me to go the PEX route instead of copper.

    Many thanks!


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