Best site or resource to learn construction, DIY home improvement?
April 4, 2014 8:42 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn how to renovate or add on to a house.
posted by uni verse to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best site? Someone else's job site.

In other words, work or volunteer for people who have the skills you need to learn.
posted by slidell at 10:03 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Volunteer for something like Habitat for Humanity or Christmas in April (May be under another name in your area): both use team leaders who are know what's correct and make sure things are built or repaired correctly.
posted by easily confused at 2:33 AM on April 5, 2014

Decades ago I read The Well-Built House by Jim Locke. It did not give me the skills to actually build anything, but it laid out the basic components and process of house construction so that had some idea what I was looking at inside of walls or when looking up at the framing visible in an unfinished basement. There are many, many discreet skill sets with all sorts of little details, fine points, rules and exceptions that go into actually, physically, doing the work, much of which you just won't understand until you're actually doing it. Expect to read just enough to feel vaguely oriented, and then start a project. Guidance from someone who knows what they're doing will save all sorts of time and expense.
posted by jon1270 at 4:41 AM on April 5, 2014

Add on to a house? Like as in adding a room addition?
You need to learn to walk, before you learn to run.

The problem is not knowledge, it is skill. You can acquire the knowledge from many places, including youtube or the local library. Don't get me wrong, you absolutely need the knowledge. So start reading home construction books, and watching DIY videos. But, knowing how to do it, and being able to work with the tools and actually doing it - they are different things.

Start with more basic DIY projects, and build your skill set from there.
Change a ceiling fan.
Set a toilet.
Patch a hole in drywall.

Patch a hole in drywall is a good example. The knowledge needed to do this is very small. There is nothing to it. The skill to do it well, to make it look like there was never a hole there before, that can take a lifetime of practice and skill. Master the ability to some basic things first, get comfortable using tools, then start thinking about a big project like a room addition.
posted by Flood at 4:49 AM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Background: I grew up in a house built in 1790, in the course of my parents refurbishing that I learned how to solder copper, run wire, swing a hammer... with some caveats which I'll get to in a moment (and I promise there's also web site recommendations at the end of this).

As an adult I told myself that I'd never do any of that crap again. Then I became a homeowner, and we decided that we needed more space to move a woodworking hobby (which I'd also told myself I'd never do), and through a comedy of escalations that space became way more complex than a shed in the back yard. And I've re-plumbed the house, and... yeah.

Back to those caveats: The sorts of things I didn't retain, and probably never learned to begin with, are things like: What are the nail spacings and requirements on sistered studs? Interior and exterior fastener spacing on sheetrock? Gobs and gobs of stuff like that, all made more complex by the fact that I undertook to learn it all from code before I took my living roof structure to an engineer for his stamp (a lot of this would have been specified on plans if I'd paid someone else to draw them).

And by now I've had the city inspect my plumbing (feed lines, I will hire someone to do drains), electrical (including subpanel feeds and buried lines), and carpentry, from framing to finish.

So, the first thing I'd do: Buy the Taunton Press Code Check series. In fact, every homeowner who has to deal with a contractor should have a copy of this. If you're going to do electrical, get a copy of Rex Cauldwell's Wiring A House.

Start drawing your plans, with an eye to knowing where every single nail and fastener goes. When you have a question, Google it. Keep track of where the useful answers come from, because there are sites where people do quote code chapter and verse, and sites where the "wisdom" as worthless as recommendations from Home Depot associates.

I hang out on Home Refurbers (okay, I'll out myself), mostly because it's an extension of LumberJocks (which I heartily recommend), but Home Refurbers has never really found its stride.

To be fair, part of this is what you're asking: I believe that part of getting a contractor's license is a two year apprenticeship. When you're asking for information from professionals on a web forum, you're hoping that they'll give you for free what they have put great effort into learning. Which is why I suggest that drawing plans with an eye towards detail is a good way to focus your questions so that they're obviously from someone who wants to participate in a community.
posted by straw at 8:27 AM on April 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

I've done lots of rennovations, remodeling and more than a few add-ons. I did this for a living for better than a decade and I don't know even twenty percent of it. While I appreciate your ambition I have to caution that your question is tantamount to "I want to be a lawyer" or "I want to learn computers". There is an enormous amount of skill and knowledge involved, most of which is not immediately apparent to the novice and a good portion of which is unknown to even those with experience in the field.

You are going to need tools too so don't forget to add that to your cost estimate if you haven't yet.

I don't mean to be discouraging. Start with the simple projects - and a solid relationship if you are in a relationship - before you get frisky and take a sawzall to the side of your house.

Oh, and buy tarps.
posted by vapidave at 12:07 PM on April 5, 2014

I bought a house, the oldest part of which was built circa 1840. My wife and I engaged a contractor to build an addition, but he was willing to work with having us do a quantity of the labor to save money. At the time, I was a competent woodworking hobbyist with a tool problemoppotunity. As a result, we did most of the demolition, all the tile work, all the painting, and nearly all the finish carpentry. We also had two entire rooms left without drywall and with bare-bulb fixtures - in effect, enough to pass inspection. A few years later, we finished those rooms. Here's what I learned: I love finish carpentry (but a trained eye can see the blemishes). I like painting. I like tiling floors, but will never tile another wall again (I said that after the bathroom and ended up doing the stone tile on the fireplace surround a few years later). I'm horrible at sheet rock and not particularly good at mud and tape, but could certainly get better with practice.

Things that are disastrous when they go wrong (plumbing, electrical, heating), I'm inclined to leave to a pro, although I have no problem removing/installing major appliances.

How do you learn this? I learned a lot of the practical stuff by making furniture as a hobby (ie, joinery) - except for crown molding - the joinery in houses is pretty elementary. Some was in the trenches.

When we tore off an old room, I tried to salvage as much of the flooring as I could since it was roughly the same vintage as a section of upstairs flooring that would need patching. This is a case where what you read in a book doesn't really work out so well. There was a section on how to replace a section of damaged strip flooring which I had to do except for 32 boards. I timed the work as 30 minutes of chiseling per board end, or 32 hours spent chiseling. I detailed how I repaired it here and I wish I could've done better work but the floor patching was about 3/64" narrower than the original and I couldn't find a modern match. All things considered, it came out well enough and certainly looks much better than when it started. For this (and many other jobs), I was willing to try and willing to make mistakes and prepared to deal with the consequences.
posted by plinth at 6:36 PM on April 5, 2014

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