Spring Dreaming: Kick Start Those DIY Projects

With the days finally growing longer and warmer, now's the perfect time to put that home improvement wish list together—and make those projects happen! Like a lot of us, you've probably got more projects in mind than time to accomplish them all, so here are some tips on how to organize, prioritize, and realize those ideas that have been dancing through your head all winter. Ready to draw up your roadmap to the perfect nest?

Step 1: Establish your Goals
Your ideal home is in your hands, but do you know what you want? Maybe you have a load of little projects you've ignored for too long. Perhaps you envision yourself cooking in a brand new gourmet kitchen by this Thanksgiving. Regardless of what is on your agenda, it's critical to define the projects or rooms you are ready and willing to tackle.

Start by making a list. You may already have a mental list going, but putting it into print will help make your ideas concrete—and more likely to happen. The more detailed the list the better. Consider listing the project or room, estimated amount of time, resources, and of course, budget. (More about budget later). As your list grows, so will your need to do research. Amend and revise the list accordingly without straying too far from your goals. And remember: most projects take longer and cost more than your original estimate, so leave yourself a little leeway.

Step 2: Commit to Your Project
Now that you've resolved to make your nest more livable, narrow in on the design choices that are key to getting the project accomplished. There are a hundred styles of everything—from light fixtures to door handles—and you'll need to decide what style is going to work best.

Starting a clip and/or sample collection is a good way to get your wheels turning. You'll garner ideas, get a feel for pricing and probably discover a couple of products you didn't know existed. This step should also include buying a couple of home and design magazines, visiting a few showrooms and calling around for brochures and samples. Retailers are usually more than happy to provide customers with information, especially if you ask for it in person. Keep all of your research on file and update it until your decisions have been made.

Step 3: Organize Your List
Now that you have all the projects down on paper, plan your method of attack. This entails deciding which tasks you will undertake, when, and in what order. There are always lots of variable here: how much time you have available, the weather at certain times of year, your budget, your abilities, the availability of your friends to help (hint: think about throwing a DIY party). Get out the calendar and block off some dates, in pencil.

It's common to find that your goals may depend on one another. Some projects just naturally want to come first. For example, if you need to paint and put in new carpeting, it's best to paint first and then tackle the carpeting. Think through what industrial engineers would call the "critical path"--the parts of a project that need to precede other parts if the whole thing is to come off without conflicts and waste.

If the manner in which your project unfolds is still a little unclear, do more homework. You'll want to know exactly what steps to follow before you head out to buy materials. This will make your project more efficient and cut down on the number of times you have to return to the store. (Who hasn't known the frustration of visiting the hardware store several times in a single day?)

Step 4: Calculate a Budget (and Stick to It)
Nothing is more critical to your project's outcome as the budget. Whether you have thousands of dollars to spend or a hundred, knowing your budget and sticking to it is crucial to getting exactly what you want.

Remember the rule of 10%. For many projects you'll want to invest 10% more in materials to account for goof-ups. (Flooring, carpeting and tiling are among such projects.) It's best to go ahead and spring for the extra material right up front even if you consider yourself a pro. If the product has to be specially ordered you'll set your finish date back by days or even weeks.

The other rule of 10% is that you will likely spend 10% more on your project overall than you've originally estimated. Some of this extra cost can be attributed to goof-ups but more likely you'll need another tool or two, run into an unexpected problem, or run out of this or that.

With all of these rules in mind, sit down with your calculator and figure out how much you'll be able to spend down to the penny. Then, shop around for the best deal. Certain items will be the same everywhere, but for big-ticket items you'll really want to hunt for sales. Before you go out pounding the pavement, surf the Internet or make a few phone calls. Most stores will be able to quote prices over the phone, plus a short conversation can tell you whether you want to do business with whoever's on the other end of the line or look elsewhere.

If you need to start saving to finance your project, think about opening up a bank account just for home improvements. If you are logged into online banking you can open up a savings or checking account in a matter of minutes. Many financial gurus recommend having an account solely for home-related expenses, so this may be the perfect excuse to get that going. Chip into the kitty as frequently as you can until you've reached your goal.

Invest in Your Nest
With warmer weather right around the corner the time to start planning your home improvement project is now. The best way to ensure that you'll get exactly what you want is by doing plenty of research and putting in a lot of thought. Adopting a meticulous attitude will come in especially handy time-wise with the enormous task of sticking to your budget. With a plan in place and a clear vision, you'll be amazed how much you can get done.

Other ideas:
How to Prepare to Paint
Do it Yourself or Call in a Pro?
Build Your Own Message Center

Article DIY Projects Reference
Article Lifestyle Reference
Article Basics Reference