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Doing it up

Top 10 refurb tips

Before moving into our place we were complete DIY novices. My DIY experience consisted of failing to put a blind up and making a shoe rack that is permanently in storage… So basically, we’ve had to learn a hell of a lot. Based on our experience so far, here are our best bits of advice.


#1 | Fork out for good sandpaper

As grim a job as it is, if you’re doing up a house you’re going to do an insanely large amount of sanding. As we’re trying to keep costs down, we used really cheap sandpaper for the first few sanding jobs. This is the falsest economy of all time because shit sandpaper just disintegrates and is utterly useless + infuriating. It will end up costing you more and taking longer so go for decent quality sandpaper.

Also worth saying that sanding by hand is a mug’s game. Buy a power sander (we have an orbital and corner sander) as they too will save you a hell of a lot of time and cost around £30 for a basic model.

#2 | Have a plan

Something else that we soon learnt was that doing random jobs here and there is a terrible idea. Not only does it mean you do jobs in the wrong order, but it’s also less rewarding because you feel as if you’re achieving nothing.

We now tackle one room at a time and write out all the jobs that need doing before making a start. Then we look down the list and roughly plan the order, paying attention to where one job needs to be done before another eg: don’t paint the skirting before sanding the floor as the sanders will mark the paint. The list is then stuck on the wall of the room so we can tick jobs off as they get done.

#3 | Find the best way to do a job as early as possible

There are dozens of ways that a job can be done but only one way that will be the most efficient. Finding this best method sooner rather than later should be your goal as it’s incredibly easy to waste hours doing a job ineffectively. For example, we used a heat gun to strip the skirting paint in our bedroom. The first metre must have taken me 2 hours but by the end I was probably doing 4 metres an hour after tweaking the method and using slightly different scrapers. Vary your methods of doing things until you find the best way and then stick to it.

#4 | Don’t dive in without doing your research

Certain jobs have to be done a certain way or you may end up doing more damage than good. Stripping paint from a fireplace, for example, needs to be done with with paint stripper rather than a heat gun as the intense heat can crack iron. Another example is painting MDF – you need to use a special MDF primer paint before emulsion coats as the finish will look blotchy otherwise.

These are tips that you only find out from research so spend the time looking into this stuff before cracking on with a job. At the end of the day, if you feel really uncomfortable about doing the job yourself you should probably be paying someone else to do it.

#5 | Borrow kit where possible

The DIY approach no doubt saves a lot of money. It does, however, require a lot of tools and bits of equipment that add up. The chances are you’ll have family/friends/neighbours/colleagues that have most of the equipment you need sitting in their sheds gathering dust. Borrowing and lending equipment is a great way to keep costs down and avoid having bits of equipment that you only use once.

#6 | Seek help

About 15% of jobs to refurb a house are rewarding. The rest are largely monotonous, repetitive tasks that take yonks. With these tasks, if possible, it’s great to have someone helping you with to not only speed things up, but also to keep you sane. Whilst sanding our floors I went on holiday for a couple of days, leaving Haz to fend for herself. I returned home to a broken woman as sanding a floor is definitely not a task you want to do alone. Get help from family and friends – the best ones will be happy to help.

#7 | Use paint rollers over brushes

You will get a far better finish using a roller to apply paint than a brush. Brushes are good for tricky areas and cutting in but that’s about it.

#8 | Shop around

Unless money is no object, shop around for all DIY-related goods just as you would for anything else. Prices vary massively and you can’t always rely on one place to be the cheapest. As a general rule, we use Wilkos as a first port of call for most stuff as it’s usually the best value. However, Screwfix is often a good shout and Toolstation is worth considering. B&Q is very rarely the cheapest but has just about everything. And then you have the likes of Gumtree, FB Marketplace and eBay which are perfect for certain kit.

#9 | Before starting a job, ask yourself if it’s worth it

When we first moved in we were adamant that we’d strip back every single square inch of woodwork and repaint it. 5 hours into stripping the caked-on paint of our bedroom door architrave, we realised our plan was overly-ambitious.

Some jobs simply aren’t worth spending the time and money on and being able to identify that is key. Unless you plan on doing DIY every day of your life until arthritis prevents you, be pedantic about the jobs that are and aren’t worth doing. Nobody will ever pay as much attention to the finish of a job than you will whilst you’re doing it.

# 10 | Have a Kitkat

Haz and I both work 9-5 office jobs and, believe it or not, have hobbies other than DIY. We try to spend as much free time as possible on the house but ultimately, if we’re really not in the mood or are knackered, we’ll pour ourselves a G&T/stubbie and flop on the sofa.

There have been periods when we’ve been doing housework flat out for days in a row and we always end up burning out and ultimately being unhappy. Unless you’re one of those types that will not stop until something is done, find time to chill or you’ll end up resenting the seemingly endless job list and maybe even your home.


Most of these tips are more around attitude and approach rather than the act of DIY. I suppose that’s because pretty much anyone can pick up a paintbrush (or roller) and slap it on a wall but having the right approach is what will lead to you doing the best job and having fun at the same time.

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