Easy Tips for DIY Success

A few years ago we installed new hardwood floors in our living room, dining room, and kitchen. We did this ourselves, in a 100 year old house, that is so not level/plum or any of the things that would have made the job easier.

In 2018, as we were getting ready to embark on a bigger reno, I was thinking back to the flooring project and remembering that overall, it went smoothly. And then, you know, a year later, I thought, maybe I should write out why it went smoothly and post it?

It could be because we’re back in the thick of it, with construction crews out of the house and the remaining work really left for us to complete (and I’m using that as the excuse for no photos in this post). I guess this stage has me reflecting back on simpler times when we only had floors to install. When I wrote out a list of lessons learned from that first project, I realized that they are really lessons in helping any DIY home project be successful and we are still trying to live by them now.

So here we are….with a few lessons learned from floor installation, that can apply to a lot of in-home reno projects.

Lesson 1: Keep It Tidy

Regardless of the project, set yourself up for success by establishing the work zones you need.

    • For our flooring project, we set-up a work station for cutting, and an area or tray for those items needed to mark the last piece in each row. Keeping everything in that same place means you’re not wondering where the marker/tape/measuring tape/hammer/etc went to….I always have a tray or container of tools with a project. All of the hand held tools and equipment ALWAYS goes back to the container. Life is easier, when you know where your safety goggles and your hammer are.

Lesson 2: Plan Ahead

Get all of your equipment ready. Make sure you have all of the pieces. Get organized in a way that won’t be in the way of your project. Clear stuff out, but don’t clutter your routes through the house. And pack away breakables and things you think of as precious; art, textiles, whatever you would be upset over damaging when it could have been prevented.

    • We had 12 boxes of hardwood flooring in our house. The instructions clearly said (because yes, we read them) to work out of more than one box at a time. We followed the instructions. We opened and stacked. Work out of 3-4 boxes of wood and stack/pile the wood by size.  This makes it easier when your looking for a small piece v. a baby piece v. a medium small piece.

Lesson 3: Speak the Same Language

You might be thinking, oh – do you and Adam not speak the same language already? Well….to be fair, I am multi-lingual, but the common language in this house is English. However, that does not mean we always understand one another. Take the time to make sure you’re on the same page, using words to mean the same thing.

  • When it comes to flooring, that meant name different pieces of flooring based on size and look. As we worked, we started with the naming and eventually when he asked,  “Hey hun, can I get an interesting baby baby piece and a regular medium piece for this row?”, I knew exactly what he meant.

Lesson 4: Take Deep Breaths

It is really easy to become exasperated when you’re feeling under the (flooring) gun (rental ) to get a project completed in the limited amount of time you have. But a pause in the rush so you can get it down the way you want it can really be what helps move things along.

  • When we were working on the flooring transition between the living and dining rooms it was challenging.  We wanted to ensure that we wouldn’t have some tiny little row against our wall that would be impossible to rip to size and nail AND we wanted to really make sure that our lines were straight so the floor didn’t have some big wiggly line from the living to dining room.  When someone suggests that a not so straight line is okay because “aren’t we putting a dining room table in there anyway?” Take a Deep Breath.  This is how you stay married during a reno.

Lesson 5: Invite People Over

When others are in my house it provides me with an extra reason to pause before saying or doing something that will not help whatever challenge we’re facing in the moment.  My in-laws, one of my sisters, friends.  Keeps me nice and focused on the task, and as polite and thoughtful as my parents raised me to be.

  • There is not specific flooring related example to this…but I’m pretty sure (like 100% confident) that more than once the presence of others helped me be a little more patient. The trick for me is pretending other people are around when it’s still just the two of us.

Other Tidbits

As for sources on how to actually install a wood floor, ours came with instructions and we googled for more.  Once we were confident everyone was saying basically the same thing we were off to the races.

During our initial flooring work on the main floor of our house, we rented a flooring nail gun. Our general philosophy on purchasing bigger pieces of equipment for the house is that if we know we’re going to use it enough that the rental becomes more expensive than the purchase, then its better to simply buy it. And then we wait for a sale (often around Father’s Day) to make the purchase.

The whole rental timeline piece definitely became a stress point during the kitchen floor install because keeping it one more day to finish (which we needed to do) caused us to spend more on rentals overall than purchasing would have been. This was very frustrating for some folks in this house. Our thinking about the situation assumed we could finish in the time we set aside…even though we kinda knew better. Chalk it up to another lesson learned.

Now, post-addition, we’re laying more flooring. And guess what? We bought a flooring nail gun kit complete with air compressor and a variety of guns/staplers. This has meant we’ve been able to tackle rooms and closets as we have time, since whole empty weekends don’t exist right now. We also know that eventually we’ll be installing trim everywhere and taking on other projects where the compressor and guns/staplers will be put to good use. Much less stress in an otherwise stressful time. Friends have also benefited from this, just as we have benefited from their equipment at times. And an air compressor is an amazing tool, everyone should have one. Seriously.


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