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How to Halve Your Renovation Costs

Low costs do not have to equal low-quality finishes when it comes to renovating old properties — there are many ways to keep a lid on your budget. Here, Natasha Brinsmead reveals how she and her husband, Bill, kept down costs during their Victorian house renovation.

Far more than self-builds, renovation projects are notorious for going over budget, due to the nasty habit they have of springing up unexpected, and often unwanted, surprises that result in yet more money being spent on the project.

However, there are many ways to keep costs under control when renovating a house and replacing kitchens, bathrooms and period features — all without resigning yourself to a poor-quality finish.

Of course, one of the best ways to keep costs down is to bite the bullet and take on some of the labour required on a DIY basis. Having said that, if you lack the correct skills and even the patience and enthusiasm necessary, then your DIY efforts could actually end up costing you more than if you had got the professionals in to begin with — so it is important to get a good idea of what you are and are not capable of tackling yourself.

One of the easiest ways to control costs is to keep things simple. What this means is choosing standard-sized fittings, using materials which most tradesmen are familiar with and generally trying not to over - complicate matters.

Buy cheap, buy twice

Yes, it sounds like something your grandad may have told you, but it is true. There is a time to save and a time to spend. For example, we tried to save when it came to paints, both matt emulsion and gloss, and every time we bought a cheap product we ended up having to repaint due to poor final coverage or gloss that turned yellow within a matter of months. So, too, when buying fittings such as screws, nails and wall plugs — all the cheapest versions we tried to get away with bent, snapped or rounded off. Same goes for adhesives and grout, plus tools such as drills and saws.

Buying recaimed

Many renovators of period properties are keen to get the details right and to use authentic fixtures and fittings wherever possible. For this reason, reclamation yards are usually teaming with renovators on the hunt for that perfect piece for their home, and the recent popularity in ‘shabby chic’ style interiors, including reclaimed furniture and fittings, has meant that it is now much harder to find a bargain than it once used to be. You might find that you have more luck – and end up saving more money – at an auction house, flea market, second-hand furniture shop or even charity shop than you do at a salvage yard these days.

Online auction sites such as eBay are also worth a look and it is certainly still possibly to grab a bargain — but be open to the idea of restoring furniture and even joinery items yourself. We were quoted over £1,200 to have a new set of French doors made up for our dining room, but ended up finding an authentic Victorian pair on eBay for just £150. We had to have them reglazed at a cost of £80 and put in some elbow grease sanding, undercoating and painting them, but they now look far better than a new set could ever have and cost us £970 less too.

Mix and match

One of the cleverest and most effective ways of saving money when renovating is to mix more expensive items with cheap off-the-shelf buys. Kitchens are the perfect room in which to employ this technique. Don’t be fooled into thinking you must have the highest quality unit carcasses when in reality they will never be on show. Likewise, cheaper unit doors can really be transformed by the addition of high-quality cabinet knobs and handles, or a solid wood worktop. Many of the most fantastic kitchens featured in H&R have been given this treatment.

Likewise, simple, standard sanitaryware can be dressed up with smart brassware and bathroom accessories.

Don't be a snob

Never turn your nose up at DIY warehouses, small local, perhaps ‘unfashionable’, firms, and flat-pack furniture companies. It may not sound nearly as impressive to tell visitors that you got your kitchen from Units ’r’ Us down the road as it would to say it is from some high-end, hard-to-pronounce German company, but the fact that they have asked you where it is from in the first place means they are impressed, so you can feel smug in the knowledge that you have saved yourself money and if your pride really does end up getting in the way… lie.

Kitchens, bathrooms and wall and floor tiles are perhaps the best example. Having decided upon 10cm x 10cm matt white wall tiles for our kitchen we were shocked to find that the ones we liked in the brochure of a top-end retailer came in at over £100/m2. After searching around we found near identical tiles on a floor and wall tile website (www.wallsandfloors.co.uk) for under £10/m². When it came to our kitchen, most of the quotes we had back from specialist kitchen companies were well over our budget. Eventually, we had it made for us in solid pine, supplied unpainted. A pine kitchen may not have been what we had in mind, and the work that went into knotting, priming, sanding and painting the whole thing may have almost driven us mad, but we now have a well-made, painted Shaker-style kitchen that cost us just £1,500.

There are some amazing bargains to be found from many of these retailers and, providing you don’t kit your whole house out to look like one of their room sets and don’t mind carrying out the odd bit of customisation, then no one will suspect a thing.

DIY Dos and Dont's

One of the best ways to save money when renovating is to do as much of the work as possible yourself. However, some jobs require real skill and attempting them yourself, only to mess them up, could just end up costing you more.

DOs

DON'Ts

  • Decorating
  • Ripping out old bathrooms etc.
  • Battening walls and fixing plasterboard ready for the plasterer
  • Laying wooden flooring
  • Tiling and grouting 
  • Fitting a kitchen
  • Digging trenches and simple drainage
  • Fitting rainwater goods
  • Hanging doors
  • Fitting skirting boards and other decorative mouldings
  • Some electrical work, such as replacing light switches
  • Plastering — this is a skilled job and if you mess it up it really will show
  • Some electrical work (visit www.partp.co.uk for more details of what you can and can’t do)
  • Any plumbing work involving gas — this must be carried out by a CORGI-registered contractor
  • Bricklaying — again, a skilled task that may look easy but isn’t
  • Anything involving expensive materials that you are not confident working with — such as large-format, heavy stone wall or floor tiles, glazing or solid timber worktops that need to be cut to size