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Remodeling or renovating your house yourself can be an affordable and deeply satisfying journey. You’ll learn practical skills, beautify your living space for less, and feel a sense of accomplishment. You may also slowly lose your sanity as you discover why people hire professionals.
Remodeling and renovating is a lot of work, and requires a lot of skill. As the work drags on and you become increasingly exhausted and frustrated, mistakes may start to pile up. Eventually, you might reach a point where ripping out a portion of your work in order to do it over correctly simply isn’t an option, and you start negotiating with yourself: That tile lippage isn’t that bad, is it?
Some renovation mistakes have to be torn out—but some smaller mistakes can be hidden with a little creativity and determination. Here’s how to hide some common DIY renovation mistakes.
Light switch gaps
Cutting a hole for a light switch in tile or drywall is exacting work that will make you look back fondly on your high school geometry and math classes—and weep openly when you cut that hole too large and discover your wall plates won’t cover the gap completely.
Your solution is pretty simple, though—opt for jumbo-size wall plates. You can get some pretty chonky ones that will cover up your sins, and if you use them consistently throughout the space, no one will ever notice. Many building codes specify the gaps allowable around electrical fixtures, so check to ensure you’ll be in compliance before an inspection.
Too-deep outlets and switches
Something DIYers might forget when doing their first tiling job is the depth of their walls, especially when tiling over tile, but it can also happen if you use thicker drywall or if your chosen tile happens to be thicker than expected. You’ll go to attach your wall plates and discover your outlets and switches are buried too deep.
The solution doesn’t require tearing out your tile—you just need an outlet spacer extender. There are a few different systems to consider, but they all work the more or less same way—they’re plastic pieces that push your outlets and switches further out so you can mount your plates without difficulty.
Shower fixture gaps
Cutting holes in your tile for your plumbing rough-ins can be difficult, and it’s easy to cut a hole so large the trim kit supplied with your showerhead and faucet won’t cover the entire gap. It not only looks ugly, it offers water an opportunity to infiltrate behind your tile, which will eventually cause more problems.
If you have ugly gaps around the shower flange, the escutcheon, and/or the tub spout, you have a few options:
- Grout or caulk: If the gaps are relatively minor and even, you can add some grout or a color-matched caulk. Most grout manufacturers also make caulk in matching colors, so you should be able to locate a tube pretty easily.
- Jumbo escutcheons and flange plates: Check to see if your manufacturer makes different-sized trim kits. If they offer a larger version, that might solve your problem. If not, look at other manufacturers to see if there’s a larger trim kit option that’s similar in style.
- Make your own: If you’re pretty crafty, consider cutting a plastic disc to size, then drilling out a hole for the flange, handle, or tub spout. You can paint it to match the specific finish with a metallic spray paint.
Drywall floor gaps
Hanging drywall is a miserable job. And once you get the walls hung, mudded, and taped and you start installing your flooring, there’s nothing more demoralizing than realizing the gap between the floor and your wall is just a little too large. This is a pretty common problem if your ceiling height is just a little over eight feet—even professional drywall installers will often walk away from gaps at floor level with the assumption that your baseboards will cover them.
And baseboards can certainly be the answer—if necessary, just select slightly wider baseboards that cover more area. But simply slapping baseboards over empty space invites future problems, so you’re better off putting some strips of drywall behind them first. The trick is to glue those strips to the wall instead of trying to screw them, which typically results in broken-up drywall; gluing it will stabilize your baseboards without driving you mad.
Gaps between baseboards and walls
Every DIY remodeler eventually realizes there is no such thing as a straight line. Even brand new houses are a mystifying collection of slightly-off angles and barely-curved lines. This often becomes apparent only toward the end of your remodel job, when you install your baseboards and realize you’ve got an uneven gap between the baseboard and the wall because the wall is slightly bowed.
There are two ways you can try to fix this:
- Stuff n’ caulk: If the gap is pretty big, fill in behind the baseboard with a neutral material—some folks use toilet paper, but anything that can be stuffed into the space will work. Use a thin tool to mash it in there so the baseboard has support. Then simply caulk along the gap line—the material you stuff in will support the caulk so it doesn’t simply sink down into the gap.
- Feather it: Alternatively, you can try to even out the wall. Tape off your baseboard, then use a 12-inch joint compound knife or other straight edge to determine how high up the wall bowing occurs. Then feather joint compound upwards to that point, evening out the bowing. At the point where the baseboard meets the wall, push some joint compound into place to fill the gap. Work the joint compound until it’s pretty smooth and even, then finish as normal (remove the tape before the compound sets up to avoid cracking it).
Uneven floor transition
Renovating rooms can make your house feel new again—but putting in new floors can lead to a situation where you have floors of different heights, with a trip-hazard transition between the two. This often happens when you renovate a bathroom and add floor-warming mats or need to use cement board for a tile installation, and it often isn’t noticed until you’re finishing up. You can put a bullnose or other kind of trim on the high floor, but while that will hide the rough edge, it won’t stop you from tripping over it in the middle of the night.
Your best solution is to install a tapered transition. Measure how high your gap is, then select a reducer that matches the slope you need. If it’s wood, stain and finish to match your floor as closely as possible. They also make tapered threshold transitions in stone if that works better for the floors involved. This will give the floors a finished look and prevent you from tripping over a sudden height difference.
Here’s a not-uncommon scenario: You do some DIY renovations and have a mishap with your water lines, resulting in ceiling damage below. At the end of your remodel, you have the choice of adding another huge job in removing and replacing the ceiling, or doing a patch job that may or may not turn out perfectly (it will not).
To hide the damage (assuming you’ve dealt with the issue and ensured there’s no mold), you can add wood paneling or glue-up surface mount tiles (assuming the ceiling is still level) easily and quickly, without the need to remove everything. This will hide the damage and give your room a fresh new architectural detail.
Gaps in crown molding
Everyone loves crown molding, and everyone hates installing it. Getting those miter cuts correct requires the patience of Job and the skills of a master craftsman—especially once you realize there is literally no such thing as a square angle in your home. If you get your molding up on the wall and have lots of small gaps, you can hide them easily enough.
For gaps between the ceiling and the molding (where the ceiling bows slightly away), caulk is your savior. Apply as thin a line of paintable caulk as you can manage, and clean it up as neatly as you can. When you paint your molding, be sure to tape outside the caulk line so it gets painted along with the molding, rendering it invisible. For gaps at the corners, it’s better to use spackle instead of caulk. Using your finger, rub the spackle into the gaps and spread it as thinly as possible. Using a dry, fine-grit sanding sponge will give you the flexibility to sand the spackle down despite the angle and the decoration on the molding, if any.