At thirty years old, the house has plenty of remodeling opportunities. Beyond that, though, I want the house to reflect something about me and my family, rather than continuing to be what it was when we purchased it – a truly tacky, cookie-cutter house with a design whose primary objective was being cheap to build.

At first I assumed I would hire someone to do some carpentry work, but the estimates came back well above our expectations and what we were willing and able to invest. Then I turned to YouTube. It truly sparked the do-it-yourself flame inside a person with no prior experience at any such thing.

This is my first home after three decades of renting apartments in various cities, so there was a big learning curve – from what is going on behind the drywall, all the way to figuring out what exactly we want to do, for what reasons.

“Let’s face it. Aren’t we all just sick and tired of watching TV shows that only millionaires can afford to do the projects?” Jeff Thorman of the YouTube channel Home RenoVision DIY asked on a recent video, touting his tutorials as aimed at “real people with real budgets.” His channel has more than 1 million subscribers currently.

Thorman has 30 years of experience as a general contractor in Canada and has been a truly invaluable resource in my own DIY adventure. His channel is an example of great YouTube content on the topic of home renovation, though there are many others. Explanations of what needs to be done, how to do it safely, complete visuals of the work and witty, entertaining asides are all packaged into neat, well-produced videos with good audio quality.


It goes a long way to actually watch someone do the work, as any apprentice working alongside a master can attest. You can study a book, but somehow that only gets you so far when you are talking about labor skills like carpentry and woodworking.

Diving deep into YouTube DIY videos also brought me into what feels like a new kind of virtual community that has millions in its ranks. A recent hour-long video that I studied closely had nearly 200,000 views and garnered 1,440 comments, many of which had several replies from the channel and other viewers.

“I’m currently remodeling my bathroom. I ripped out the shower and today (after watching your pex videos) converted from copper to pex and put in a new shower mixer, head and handheld feed. No leaks, I’m insanely excited I did it all without a plumber!” wrote a user named Rebecca Sutter, adding that her next step is installing water resistant drywall and mosaic tile.
“You are awesome, Rebecca!!! Cheers to that!” replied the channel.

Some other viewers responded to Sutter’s comment that plumbing is best left to a professional. Of course, there will always be naysayers, however well meaning. My father, himself an ardent DIY-er who has completed countless projects on his homes over the years, responded with absolute shock when I told him I was building a partition wall and installing insulation and drywall in a soundproofing project between rooms, saying, “You’ve got to hire someone for that!” That project turned out well, though, and was a good one to do at my skill level at the time.

Besides, hiring someone wouldn’t have been a justifiable expense for us. Considering that the material cost of renovation by a contractor is generally 20-25%, and the rest is labor and taxes, doing such aesthetic, livability and design work really could remain solely in the domain of those with means far beyond our own.

The choice to invest the time in learning skills and doing it myself is also part of an effort at frugality that transcends home improvement and permeates an entire ethos of becoming financially independent and gaining basic life skills beyond one’s chosen profession. The rather old-fashioned idea is catching on, and freely available tutorial videos on any imaginable topic are fueling that flame.


While YouTube DIY videos have been a vital resource, they have also been just one part of the journey for me. Realizing that my drive to remodel is fueled by a desire to gain individual pride in my home and imbue it with personal expression has led to a search for applied skills in such areas as design, efficiency and sustainability.

“A home base is a place in the world with your name written indelibly all over it. By investing your personal time and effort into this place, it necessarily becomes more than a financial investment: It becomes the center of your life,” John Connell wrote in his book, Homing Instinct. Connell is the founder of the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont, where I aspire to attend workshops to go to the next level of working with people and growing beyond my basic skills.

I’m also getting involved in the makerspace in Portland, Open Bench Project, which holds workshops and has a variety of woodworking equipment to use as part of a membership there. Getting what I want in a house, to make it a home base, is an ongoing process for as long as I am able, and one that will involve both pushing myself and knowing where to draw the line and hire someone with either specialized skills or specialized equipment. DIY repaving, anyone?

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