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Thrifty finds and a do-it-yourself attitude helps homeowners keep renovation costs down

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2019-06-04 Carola Vyhnak - Special to the Star
a man in a blue shirt: Labour costs in a home reno project can be saved if the homeowner is able — or at least willing to learn how — to do the job. © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Labour costs in a home reno project can be saved if the homeowner is able — or at least willing to learn how — to do the job. a woman sitting on a bed: If you’re up for some DIY projects and can take advantage of loyalty programs with products like paint, then there’s money to be saved on your home renovations. © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited If you’re up for some DIY projects and can take advantage of loyalty programs with products like paint, then there’s money to be saved on your home renovations.

Meet “Drifting Cloud.” She bought so much paint at her local Home Hardware store, she’s known there by the name of her colour.

You could call that a point of pride with shrewd shopper Joanna Czulinski. Her frequent purchases during a nine-month home improvement project earned her between $150 and $200 worth of paint under the chain’s loyalty program, which awards one free gallon of Beauti-Tone for every six you buy.

That’s one example of the budget-stretching tricks that helped Czulinski avoid the fate that can befall homeowners: renovating their way into the poorhouse.

The tasteful mix of finishes, fixtures and furnishings in her newly-updated 110-year-old house in Colborne, Ont., reveals another talent for buying good stuff cheap: $30 for two almost-new vanity sinks and faucets, $50 for kitchen and bathroom hardware, $3 for an overhead sink light — not to mention a bounty of antiques and objets d’art.

Czulinski’s secret? A good eye, a lifelong treasure hunt at yard and estate sales, thrift shops and liquidation stores, and her “local craftsman extraordinaire,” Mark Ayres. Together they turned her home makeover into an exercise in affordability.

“I always loved the house … the bones were really good and everything was built to last,” Czulinski says of the two-storey home she bought four years ago. “It was well-maintained but out of date.”

She had $30,000 to modernize the place while preserving its “spirit,” she says, noting some rooms just needed cosmetic improvements.

She estimates Ayres’s creativity and expertise saved her thousands of dollars. In one instance, he came up with an inexpensive way to make new doors for the kitchen cabinets in lieu of ordering costly custom replacements.

He also built a drywall mock-up of the peninsula to test-drive so she could modify the design, notes Czulinski, who served as Ayres’s hands-on assistant during the renovation.

The resourceful retiree further cut costs by topping counters and vanities with laminate that mimics pricier distressed concrete. Enclosed in an anodized aluminum frame, the surfacing material from Octopus Products is “the best-looking laminate I’ve ever seen in my life!” she says.

Using sheets of beadboard wainscoting to cover bright pink ‘70s bathroom tiles, rather than rip them out, also saved money and mess.

Painting all the walls the same colour, complemented by charcoal grey on the floors, avoided waste and leftovers in multiple colours, points out Czulinski, who worked in the interior design industry for 10 years.

Proprietor Doug Grant and his staff at Colborne’s hardware store saved her time and aggravation by being “so helpful, caring and knowledgeable,” adds Czulinski, who invited them over for “happy hour” so they could see the results.

Caledon homeowner Stephen John credits a similar can-do attitude with saving him thousands during the recent renovation of his 20-year-old house.

Rather than pay someone else $1.20 per square foot to rip up the hardwood floor, for instance, he carefully removed it himself to reuse in a furniture project. He also saved $300 by installing shoe moulding around the edges of the new floor himself.

John even bought a $200 tile cutter — which he plans to use again — to re-tile his powder room, a savings of about $500 on labour. He also eliminated two hours of labour costs by doing his own grouting after paying a professional to install the kitchen backsplash.

“It all adds up,” says the handyman, noting DIYers don’t have to tackle the whole reno themselves. “Just do bits of it to bring the price down.”

But, he points out, “it’s not always about the money when you do these little projects yourself. Sometimes you just like to see if you can do it and learn a new skill in the process.”

One task, however, didn’t require John to even lift a finger. After he contacted Habitat for Humanity about his outdated oak kitchen cabinets, the non-profit organization sent three guys from their deconstruction team to remove them, saving John the $500 a contractor was going to charge. He also received a $2,000 charitable tax receipt for donating the cabinets, which sold the next day in one of Habitat’s ReStores.

Habitat doesn’t charge to carefully remove cabinetry, fixtures, doors, windows and other large items in good, working condition. Proceeds from sales help fund their homebuilding projects.

Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer. She is a contributor for the Star. Reach her at cvyhnak@gmail.com

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