The pandemic has halted the most common home improvement excuses in the book --“I’ll get to it if I ever have the time.” For many homeowners, aside from money, time is the scarcest resource holding them back from tackling projects around the house, especially those of a more do-it-yourself nature, like reorganizing, repainting or decorating.
But now, as dining rooms have turned into desks, and nights and weekends once filled with functions, practices or social outings are spent in the house, people have a unique window of time to be productive while leisure and social opportunities are now scarce.
“Prior to quarantine, I was up before the sun to go to the gym, then rushing to get the kids and myself ready for school and work,” said Mandy Ryan, who lives in Clifton Park with her fiancé and her two children, ages 9 and 11. “I can’t even imagine doing that again now.”
As a homeowner, Ryan’s list of projects has always felt never-ending, she said -- yet they typically ranked below spending what free time she had out golfing or hanging by the pool with her family.
“We started by repainting our finished basement, then moved onto getting topsoil and planting grass seed,” said Ryan. “After that, we got a new front door, and took advantage of the townwide garbage pickup in Clifton Park to rip up all the flooring in our bedrooms and hallways.”
While Ryan’s projects were not completely DIY -- she hired pros to install the floors and the front door -- she and her fiancé were comfortable handling the other projects like painting, and minimized shopping trips by selecting supplies online beforehand.
“We wanted to make sure these projects were done right,” Ryan said.
“It's nice to see people able to divert their attention away from work and back to the household and those who live inside it,” said Brian Abbale, co-owner of Crescent Ace Hardware in Clifton Park. Abbale has noticed more customers working on their own projects without professional help, and as his business remains essential, he’s giving homeowners the confidence to get the job done by putting the right products in their hands.
For young, single homeowners with less handy experience, quarantine has also provided a jolt of motivation to take on projects that have needed doing long before they even moved in.
“Quarantine has made me a little stir crazy,” said Emily Lanchak, who owns a historic Halfmoon farmhouse built in 1843. “So, I have been going nonstop with home projects, and working through the headaches and character that comes with an older home.”
Lanchak purchased the home when she was 21, and initially spent money planned for small projects on necessary expenses like a new hot water heater and central air. Today, she has the resources -- both time and money -- to tackle projects that have been on her list since day one.
“I’d thought about redoing my kitchen floors for a long time and thought it would be too costly,” said Lanchak. “But after researching flooring options, I realized I could do the project myself for around $300.”
After getting the rhythm of putting together tongue-and-groove vinyl flooring, Lanchak then built her own liquor shelf and a bar top table with leftover pallets, finishing the wood with stain. She touched up the paint and rearranged the appliances, creating an entirely new kitchen layout for a few hundred dollars.
“I have a bad habit of taking on projects far beyond my abilities, like remodeling my kitchen in under 48 hours,” Lanchak wrote in a Facebook post featuring before and after photos of her kitchen. “But I am impressed with myself, and proud.”
Abbale says it is oftentimes a stroke of bravery, like Lanchak had, that allows people to finally give a DIY project a try, even one beyond their comfort level.
“Don’t psych yourself out,” Abbale said. “You’ll learn one of two things --either something new that you actually enjoyed doing, or something you’ll never want to do again.”
For DIY projects that require less experience, Abbale recommends not only painting walls, but reimagining kitchen cabinets or vanities with a fresh coat of paint. Replacing fixtures in the bathroom like a shower rod or towel rack, or adding new shelving, are simple and functional, yet can elevate the look and feel of a space.
Other, less cosmetic tasks, like updating old doorknobs and handles, replacing or cleaning out slow-draining sink taps, or power-washing the outside of the house, are OK for beginners, Abbale said. Anything involving electrical and plumbing work is best reserved for homeowners with a particular skill set.
“After getting some level of DIY experience themselves, homeowners will have an easier time deciding whether the next project is DIY or worth hiring a professional,” he said.
For Brooke Fluegge, who owns a historic family property along the Hudson River in Troy, it was an abundance of time spent at home that pushed her to redo her first floor laundry room, prompting an online search for new decor to go along with a paint color she’d used for a previous room.
“I’ve been home alone, not working, and I couldn’t stop staring at how outdated the interior of the laundry room was,” said Fluegge. “I knew what work needed to be done, and between my boyfriend and I, we were comfortable doing all the work ourselves.”
Fluegge tore down the cabinets and painted the wall to add a fresh update to the laundry room. And then, utilizing Target’s buy online/pickup in store feature, was able to source a new wallpaper, door handles and a rack to hang linens.
“It’s a very tiny room off of the side porch, said Fluegge. “So, I wanted to make it feel like a separate room rather than another entryway into the house.” Fluegge said her next project is to reimagine her entryway to the home to match the updates done elsewhere.
What remains true with all at-home projects, whether they’re done during a global pandemic or on a pre-planned schedule, is the feeling after getting the job done.
“Is my new kitchen perfect or up to professional standards? No,” said Lanchak. “But being able to say that I did it myself, and to walk into my kitchen and surprise myself with the work I’ve done, is rewarding enough."
Taylor Rao is a frequent contributor to the Times Union. Reach her at [email protected] or @whodatgirl_2bd.