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Sweat Equity

Paying Less In Exchange For Some Work

Part 10 Of Our Real Life Remodeling Journey

Publisher's Comments

The following story is part of a series of articles about my family's experience with our home's remodel. Links to the other stories are found at the bottom of the page.

If you're familiar with Habitat for Humanity, you might recognize the term "sweat equity". It refers to the work that the beneficiary of a Habitat home is required to do before they can take ownership. In simple terms it means exchanging effort or work for ownership in the home.

For our remodel we chose to take a similar route in order to defray some of the project cost. Was it worth it for us? I think it was and it might be something to think about in your own remodeling project, depending on the scope of work, your capabilities and whether your contractor is agreeable.

The Type Of Work We Took On

We signed up for 2 types of work on our project - daily cleanup and the priming and painting of the walls and ceilings. We left the painting of the trim to the contractor since we felt he had more expertise at achieving acceptable results than we did.

If you're wondering how doing the cleanup ourselves could shave some dollars off the contract, it's because most contractors and remodeling contracts contain a line item just for that purpose. If there's one or perhaps several workers that take a half hour each day to clean up the work zone, it can add up to a manhour or more per day. For a more involved remodel like ours, that can add up to a thousand dollars or more.

Painting was another job we felt we could handle and it saved us several thousand dollars. Just look at what most interior paint jobs cost and you'll see that it can be one of the pricier line items in any project.

painting the additionApplying The White Primer Coat

In our case, we agreed to prime all the walls and ceilings after the installation of drywall followed by ceiling paint and ultimately, wall paint. The job took us roughly the equivalent of a full work week to accomplish.

painting the additionPainting A White Ceiling Over White Primer - Did I Miss Any Spots?

Depending on your skills and your ambition there are a number of jobs you can sign up for. Besides cleanup and painting, there are tile jobs, backsplash installations and roofing. It's just a matter of what you think you can handle and the type of arrangement you can work out with your contractor.

Working Within The Schedule

Keep in mind that any task you sign up for, except maybe cleanup, will likely have to fit into the overall project schedule. You'll essentially become one of the subcontractors and maintaining the project schedule will ride on your performance.

For our project, we had about 5 days to get the priming and ceiling paint applied before the hardwood floor was scheduled for installation. Any delay on our part would have meant that we'd need to be much more careful when painting. It was a lot easier to get the job done when it didn't matter if we dropped paint on the subfloor.

There was one cleanup job that we had to get done within the confines of the schedule. It was the big cleanup after the drywall had been sanded smooth.

cleaning drywall dustCleanup After Drywall Sanding - Lots Of Vacuuming

If you can picture baking flour spread out across the floor of an entire addition, you'll have a good picture of the amount of dust I needed to remove. But it wasn't only the dust on the floor - the walls and the ceiling needed vacuuming too because there's a lot of dust that clings to these surfaces that can foul up the painting process. That particular cleanup job took about 4 hours.

Working Within Your Capabilities

Before you get any intimations of saving big dollars by taking on chunks of your remodeling project take a moment to get realistic. Sign up for only those things that you're supremely confident you can do effectively, within the existing schedule constraints (including your own personal and/or family schedule) and without getting stressed out. If you've done the job before, you have a much better chance of doing it successfully again.

painting the trimLeaving The Trim Painting To The Professionals

It's probably not a wise idea to sign up for something that you think you can do but have never really tackled before, or haven't done it in the time constraint required by your contractor's schedule.

For our project my wife and I knew we could do the job efficiently. We'd both done a lot of painting in the past and understood the time commitment it would take from our own family schedule. We got it done on time and well enough to squeak a compliment or two from our general contractor.

Can you save money on your remodeling project through some sweat equity? You certainly can. We did. But make sure you're up to whatever tasks you sign up for.

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