Shaving the Costly Edges From a Major Renovation

Part One: Avoiding Pitfalls when Buying Shitloads of Stuff

Mr. Money Mustache amongst his favorite elements (sunshine, tools, dirt), setting steel posts for a fancy fence.

Mr. Money Mustache amongst his favorite elements (sunshine, tools, dirt), setting steel posts for a fancy fence.

The New Old House project is going very well, thanks for asking. Slowly, if you measure the progress by any sort of professional standard, but very well, if you consider the fact that I am having an absolute blast working through it bit by bit.

“What a fine life this is”, I thought to myself this week, as I stood out on my spacious new concrete patio which overlooks the park, cutting out some elaborate wooden forms with a high-end cordless jigsaw. It was a very warm day, and the bright sun shining sideways from its winter solstice position lit up the whole scene like a glowing postcard. There have been many moments like this, where the deep satisfaction of solving tricky puzzles and building something big takes over my whole mind and makes me smile and chuckle to myself like a fool.

It’s not all Nailguns and Roses of course, as there have been plenty of obstacles along the way. The complex design required a lot of sourcing of tricky materials (including almost 3000 pounds of gigantic steel beams which I have been cutting and welding all week). The byzantine regulations of the 2012 International Building Code added some troubles as well, especially when interpreted by an overworked and under-motivated crew of building inspectors who often don’t return calls and emails. And my own juggling of family, friends, and construction time has resulted in a very lax work schedule. But with no looming deadlines or financial constraints and the reassurance that I have done this all before, I have had the luxury of taking each thing in stride and working through it, one call, email, and shovel at a time.

The other challenge is the odd feeling of suddenly becoming one of the biggest consumers in town. Almost every day I have to buy stuff. Tools, materials, and supplies are needed in abundance for a project like this, and so I’ve spent about $20,000 in the past three months. On top of all that steel, there is a huge pile of engineered lumber taking up most of the back driveway and more deliveries on the way. I try to remind myself that it’s an investment, and the money will be returned many times over when we sell our current house (this downsizing will free up over $100,000, even after all these renovation costs). But I still see the trucks and forklifts, steel and wood, cardboard and plastic wrap, and can’t help but notice that for now I am chewing up a huge share of my own planet just to build myself a dwelling.

Renovation is always an expensive and complex affair, but I am making a bigger effort than ever this time to take the edge off of it. I am investing extra time and effort to cut the cost and material waste involved in this project, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the results with you, as a mid-project update.

Designing to Reduce Ridiculousness

When faced with a blank slate, most would-be homeowners try to cram in every possible idea and feature. “It would be nice if the kids could each have their own ensuite bathroom, and I really want that dedicated closet just for my shoes this time.” We have felt the same temptation to chase perfection, but are working to suppress it. We avoided the usual urge to add floor space to this house, and instead just re-partitioned the existing space more efficiently. After all, you only have one body and thus can only use one room at a time. Whenever any room sits unused, it consumes your resources while returning no benefit.

There’s also philosophy to consider: by now, you and I both know that adding more luxury to one’s living arrangements will not produce a happier life. But houses can still bring happiness when they meet needs: shelter, a place for family and friends to gather regularly, and a location close enough to amenities that you don’t need to engage in the proven happiness destroyer of car commuting in order to live there.  Since my old house already met these needs, any project like this one must be about the journey itself. The effort, hard work, and overcoming of obstacles must be its own reward.  This is definitely true for me, plus there is the endpoint of greater wealth and ongoing satisfaction of being surrounded by things I’ve built myself.

With the design mostly in place, it was time to go in search of materials. Before even beginning the shopping I was able to decrease the quantity of steel and wood required by negotiating down a few structural details with the engineer. Then I sent the design to a lumber supplier, and reviewed the resulting parts list with a fine-toothed comb to reduce waste and find less material-intensive ways to get the required strength. This was a tedious exercise that involved no rewarding sunshine or adventures with power tools, but it sliced almost $2000 from the budget right away. Smaller designs are generally smarter ones.

 Craigslist Does it Again

Through Craigslist, I found an old steelyard that was going out of business in downtown Denver. There, I was able to buy about 40% of the steel beams I needed for the project, at only one fifth of the price of new steel. They were odds and ends which were of no use to the typical large commercial buyer of this product, so this find was a big score for both wallet and ec0 footprint.

By removing all seats (even front passenger) from my van, I was able to carry 1200 pounds of 13-foot segments safely home from Denver.

By removing all seats (even front passenger) from my van, I was able to carry 1200 pounds of 13-foot segments safely home from Denver.

Reuse and Recycle

I sold the old dishwasher and fridge from the house to free up space and cash. And now I’m making a daily visit to the “Materials” section of Craigslist to scoop up any workable materials and appliances for the new design, displacing the need for newly purchased ones whenever possible.

I tore out whe whole failing spaghetti-network of copper and cast iron pipes from the crawlspace and rebuilt it with PEX and ABS, then took the whole 500-pound lot of the old stuff down to the metal recycling center so it could be melted down and re-used. They gave me a check for $108 for the copper.

And I’ve been reclaiming every 2×4 from torn-down walls and meticulously stripping out nails so I can reuse the classy old-growth Fir elsewhere. While this may not be time-efficient when new studs are only $2.88, it just feels like the right thing to do when I consider the reduction of trash and the decrease in new material purchases.

I’m also making occasional stops at the recycled building materials store, and the most amazing find so far was a brand new $500 modern-style sink with the “Lowe’s Display” sticker on it, marked down to $100 – including tax. It looks very similar to this one:

Score! A high-bling/high-quality sink for very close to free.

Score! A high-bling/high-quality sink for very close to free.

Discounts on Materials

If you go to the Pro desk at Home Depot or another retailer and tell them you are building a house, they will often offer some fine incentives on your larger orders. 10% off, free delivery, and price matching even on obscure items like custom windows from a brand they don’t even carry.  In my area, if you have a building permit in hand you can get a reduction in the sales tax rate as well, saving hundreds more.

A Quick Credit Card Hack

To allow easier tracking of the total cost of this project, I decided to open a new, dedicated credit card just for this house. We chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because of its ridiculous $400 signing bonus, followed by an ongoing 1% cash back. I also took the opportunity to get a new card for my business (which in turn owns this blog) – the Chase Ink Bold which kicked in another $500*. Both of these cards require a certain amount of spending within the first 90 days to qualify for the bonus, but with house and blog-related spending currently very high, it was an ideal time to do something that is normally a bit of a hassle. With the frugal theme of this project, making the time to scoop another $900 out of the air seemed fitting.

An IKEA Kitchen

The kitchen cabinets are often the most expensive part of a renovation like this, and I have heard a $10,000 cabinet set referred to as “cheap” by my fellow builders. But there is a secret: IKEA sells assemble-it-yourself cabinets that come with top-the-line front finishes and hardware, at less than half the price of special-order or custom cabinets. On top of this, we placed our order during the November kitchen sale for a further 20% discount. Mrs. Money Mustache did most of the design and ordering work, we paid IKEA $144 to hand-pick and deliver our complex order (saving us a 120-mile roundtrip drive and a day of painful shopping) and she is now assembling the cabinets with expert craftswomanship in one of the spare bedrooms. Savings on our rather elaborate kitchen: at least $7,000.

My sketches of the kitchen design. Note the 12-foot wall of South-Facing windows above the sink, so I can get a tan while doing dishes in the winter.

My sketches of the kitchen design. Note the 12-foot-high wall of South-Facing windows above the sink, so I can get a tan while doing dishes in the winter.

Mrs. Money Mustache builds a drawer unit for the new kitchen

Mrs. Money Mustache builds a drawer unit for the new kitchen

DIY, Friends, and Barter

The most obvious cost-saving measure available for homeowners is of course doing most of the work ourselves. “Easier said than done”, is a common refrain among the uninitiated, but “It’s much more fun than it sounds” is what those of us in the know say in response. I had a good handle on most of the trades from past experience, but  in a project this large, there is always more to learn.

One of the first projects I dug into, for example, was replacing the whole electrical service of the house. Sure, I had done plugs and switches before, and even wiring runs and breaker boxes. But here I wanted to tear out the antiquated aerial line that dangled ominously across the back yard, entering through a crusty old hole in the shingles to feed a tragic 6-circuit service panel from over half a century ago. This would clean up the appearance of the house, as well as getting wires out of places they should not be, facilitating the upcoming roof framing.

Before: crappy wire dangles right next to back door.

Before: crappy wire dangles right next to back door.

It took some work: I had to coordinate the power company, the building inspector, and the labor of myself, some Mustachians who stopped by to help out on my birthday, and some gracious free advice from an electrician friend I also met through this blog. Research, phone calls, digging a deep 40-foot-long trench, running thick wires through unforgiving PVC conduit, and installing a meter panel on the outside and a breaker panel inside all took me a good several days of hard effort. I had to sledgehammer an 8-foot-long copper grounding rod into solid earth until its head was flush with the soil. But in the end, I learned in intricate detail exactly how to build out an electrical service from the ground up, and saved a few thousand dollars as a secondary reward. Today the power company hooked up my new system for the first time and cut down the old wire. As soon as they left, I plugged my construction radio into one of my brand-new outlets, cranked up the volume, and danced.

After: My spiffy install job is capped by a new digital meter with Zero kilowatt hours on the clock. Ahh, new beginnings.

After: My spiffy install job is capped by a new digital meter with Zero kilowatt hours on the clock. Ahh, new beginnings.

This project has also provided the opportunity for some enjoyable barter with friends who are also working on their own houses. We exchange work visits with each other, where my electrical knowledge earns credits towards their framing or painting skill.

Early in this project, this group of volunteer Mustachians stopped by to help destroy this room, among other things. (At least I was able to pay them with beers and dinner at my place)

Early in this project, this group of volunteer Mustachians stopped by to help destroy this room, among other things. (At least I was able to pay them with beers and dinner at my place)

Finally, I accepted a crazy offer from a reader that is a mirror image of the Carpentourism trip I took to Hawaii last winter. An entrepreneurial young guy is driving out from California and showing up here on January 4th – in exchange for free rent, food, and an education in building houses, he will be working alongside me roughly full time during the weeks (and teaching snowboarding in the mountains on the weekends). The idea sounded just ridiculous enough to work, so we’re going for it and it will surely be a winner in all directions.

And that’s just part one. In future episodes of the New House Chronicles, we will cover “Getting Bids and Herding Cats”, “How to Do Anything Yourself”, “Building a Bathroom From Scratch”, “The Radiant Heat at 90% off Experiment”, and many more topics as they come to mind (requests?). This house project is a big and very fun part of my life these days, so you will find it creeping into the pages of MMM as well.


 *While I can happily recommend these two cards since I have had good experiences with them myself, do watch out for the annual fee which kicks in after a year (I tend to cancel mine and then repeat the process the following year). Also, once you get the card, go to https://dnmoptions.chase.com/, and un-check all the ridiculous opted-in choices for extra spam. All credit card companies do this, but I have found immediately opting out keeps my snail mailbox blissfully empty. At least the Chase implementation is quick and efficient. See this blog’s credit cards page for more details.



  • Anonymous December 20, 2013, 9:17 pm

    > we paid IKEA $144 to hand-pick and deliver our complex order (saving us a 120-mile roundtrip drive and a day of painful shopping)

    Interesting. Usually you seem to advocate spending quite a bit of your own time in order to save money or do something yourself. Here, you’re (very sensibly, I think) trading a bit of money to save your far more valuable time. By any reasonable metric, you’ve made an excellent trade here. It’s nice to see that you’re willing to make such trades when appropriate; some of your other posts come across with an air of absolutism against paying someone to do something that you can do yourself, rather than applying a rational value system to such trades and valuing both your time and your sanity appropriately.

    As far as I can tell, here, the distinguishing factor between this case and many others you’ve mentioned is that you (again, sensibly) despise both driving and shopping and thus want to avoid both. That, together with time, seems like exactly the right metric to use.

    • Retired To Win December 21, 2013, 5:03 am

      Most of the time, I can transport materials for my DIY projects in the covered bed of my Dodge Dakota pickup. But not always. I was happy to pay Home Depot $75 to deliver a large order of materials for a deck — including some humongous 16-foot lengths of lumber.

      You gotta know when you can save, and when it makes no sense to try to. (Oh, the 10% off I got on the materials paid for the delivery. Hah!)

      • Free Money Minute December 24, 2013, 1:54 pm

        Even though you pay to have things delivered, you do save $.50 per mile driven, or more, so the cost is further mitigated along with the time savings!

        • Jamesqf December 25, 2013, 11:09 am

          What the heck do you drive that’s costing you 50 cents/mile? At current gas prices, my pickup costs about 13 cents/mile, the Insight less than 5. Even adding 50% (way more than is reasonable, IMHO) for oil, tires, and other maintenance won’t get you even halfway to 50 cents/mile.

          • Jake Peters December 27, 2013, 8:25 pm


            I think that Free Money Minute’s $0.50/mile would be similar to, or a rough estimate of, the deductible cost of mileage from the IRS, which is $0.56/mile for 2013 (http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/2013-Standard-Mileage-Rates-Up-1-Cent-per-Mile-for-Business,-Medical-and-Moving). It has varied over the past few years, but the 50 cents number is a reasonable guess for this deductible.

            This cost includes more than just the operating costs as you mention. As an example, consider depreciation of a car. A $25k car after 10 years is not worth $25k.

            I would agree that some cars total cost per mile is less than $0.50, but for this discussion of moving larger items, using a cost for a full-sized pickup truck, or something larger, definitely has higher costs costs than in Insight or Fit.


            • Jamesqf December 29, 2013, 12:48 pm

              But depreciation, and registration & insurance, are fixed costs, not per-mile. If you buy a new car and never drive it, it still depreciates.

              Further, as Mustachians shouldn’t we all be driving vehicles that are already pretty well fully depreciated? I could, for instance, sell my ’88 Toyota pickup for about the same price as I paid for it 5 years ago.

    • ABC December 21, 2013, 9:11 am

      What’s painful about IKEA? Where else will you have the opportunity to eat Swedish meatballs and drink Lingondricka? Consider it a cultural experience. If you get tired, you can always sleep on their beds or sofa.

      • David James December 23, 2013, 10:15 am

        While Ikea itself isn’t a painful experience, an entire kitchen worth of cabinets comes in approximately 6,000 separate boxes of varying dimensions, all of which together are likely to not fit in a single load of any appropriately moustachian vehicle. When you have a substantial drive, the fuel costs are a relevant factor, especially when the picking and delivery charge is only $144.

        (My wife and I made the shorter, but still obnoxious trek down to the same Centennial Ikea in prep for a planned Spring kitchen remodel in our Broomfield house, and it’s absolutely something to avoid doing any more times than absolutely necessary.)

        Anyone know when the next Ikea kitchen sale is likely to happen?

        • L'Ingenieure December 31, 2013, 10:08 am

          They happen 2 – 3 times a year, and sometimes even extend the promotion period. Just get in the habit of monitoring their web site. Sometimes the kitchen staff will know.

    • Roses December 21, 2013, 11:31 pm

      And also the fact that shopping and driving aren’t learning experiences like most of the other instances where you’re putting in your own time.

  • Miss Growing Green December 20, 2013, 9:19 pm

    Great ideas! We are also in the midst of a long-term, major renovation and utilize similar techniques to save. I always buy printable Lowe’s coupons from http://www.mycheapcoupons.com – you can get 10% off ones, and $10 of $50 ones (which = 20% off). Home Depot honors competitor coupons too, which is where we use them. That alone has saved us thousands of dollars.

    When we’re preparing to make a large purchase, like a large lumber purchase for our recent front porch project, for example, we always get quotes from at least 3 lumber yards. Home Depot & Lowe’s will beat any lower competitor price by 10%. Many times we can find lumber for 10% cheaper than Home Depot’s price, and then they beat that price by ANOTHER 10%. Couple that with free delivery; pretty awesome.

    One last thing- you can buy gift cards for Home Depot and Lowe’s on Ebay at 10% off the face value. Couple that with the coupons and you’re saving 20-30% on every purchase!

    • Insourcelife December 21, 2013, 12:47 pm

      Thanks for the coupon site link. I usually buy them on ebay but it’s not always convenient since you have to wait for them to come in the mail. Sometimes I need something right now and this should help.

    • Becky January 2, 2014, 1:34 pm

      I second the thanks for sharing the link. I just had a rental water heater go out last week. Since there were two heaters, both about 18 years old, and the burst one was located behind the working one, I ended up replacing them both. I paid about 2.50 for a 10% off coupon, printed it out, and used it to save just over $70. I was also lucky to have a good friend willing to trade a day helping me install them for a bottle of good cognac and an IOU to help with their next project. I’d much rather spend the money on a friend, nevermind the fact that even good liquor is far cheaper than the $800 Lowe’s quoted me for installation!!

  • Mark Ferguson December 20, 2013, 9:35 pm

    Great article. We do a lot of fix and flips and found a great contractor who finds stuff on Craigslist for us. He also goes to Uncle Bennies which is a great find just South of Loveland not too far from you. It’s a used building supply store.

    On one fix and flip I decided to do the work myself. I learned a lot in those 6 months, like never to do it again. Haha. I replaced windows, doors, floors, fixtures, took out a wall, installed a new kitchen and much more in a hundred year old house. If it would have been a for fun project it may not have been so bad. But it ended up costing me much more money because of how long it took than if I would have hired a contractor.

    For kitchen cabinets we use Home Depot. They have nice maple cabinets that you have to order, but they look great for mid to low end houses.

  • Kevin Worthington December 20, 2013, 9:39 pm

    Great post MMM. I’m really looking forward to more updates on the new old house. Seeing the before and after photos really adds to the posts too. Keep up the great work!

  • Pretired Nick December 20, 2013, 9:46 pm

    Oh man, those Ikea cabinets bring back the memories. I like them, but I got pretty sick of building them. I hate how they don’t have the base included, though.
    Right now we’re updating our basement. Trying to decide whether to squeeze a small apartment down there. Can’t wait to have a house that doesn’t need work. Maybe someday…

    • Brian January 11, 2014, 7:32 pm

      Nick, I second that!!! Love the ikea cabinets and put them in my condo when I did a complete renovation. However, i will never forget the pain and irritation of putting those bastards together.

  • vp December 20, 2013, 10:23 pm

    Nice work. Your home renovation posts are my favorite. I used to outsource all of it but you inspired me to tackle the projects myself.

    We’re moving our master bedroom downstairs and thinking about radiant heat so I’m anxiously awaiting your writing on the topic.

  • writing2reality December 20, 2013, 10:30 pm

    Wait, you mean you didn’t strap those steel beams to your bike and pedal home???

    I kid, I kid. Nice work on the electric box. Dealing with the power companies can be more than a pain in the rear as they are almost as bad as the local inspectors with timeliness and flexibility at times. I just bought a place with my fiancee and was fortunate that the previous owner just had a brand new box and meter put in/on the house. One less project of many that I’m actually looking forward to doing in the upcoming months. The big one this spring? Building a shed from the ground up. Gonna be a blast.

    Looking forward to your continued posts on the house project MMM.

  • thehungryegghead December 20, 2013, 11:43 pm

    The IKEA kitchen cabinets are great. I did my kitchen, my parent’s, and my in-laws kitchen all using IKEA cabinets. All the cabinets still look brand new even though it’s been 5+ years. None of the doors have warped.

    I did not use IKEA door handles though, I found better quality ones for the same price at my local kitchen cabinet store.

    Did you decide on your countertop? I used granite for my own but much preferred Caesarstone which I installed for my parent’s kitchen.

  • Frank December 21, 2013, 12:30 am

    Brings back memories.. we reodeled and doubled the size of our house all by ourselves.. We’re up to 1400 sqft now..:)

    The downside in our case was I took a month off work and had to bust butt to get the thing built and at least weatherproof in that time.

    Anyway.. when pounding in an 8ft grounding rod, the thing to do is get a concrete “roto hammer ” drill (mine was $56 from Harbor Freight) then rig a up a short length of say 1″ pipe that connects the roto hammer to the ground rod.

    set the drill to hammer mode and it vibrates its way into the ground as if by magic with zero effort…:)

  • Golden December 21, 2013, 12:36 am

    It still blows my mind that you’re permitted to do your own wiring in the US.
    DIY sparky work is completely off limits here in Australia. (240V which can kill you plus a general nanny-state over-regulation) We’re not even supposed to do plumbing!

    • Golden December 21, 2013, 12:47 am

      I just read that 120V can also be fatal, so there goes that bit of popular wisdom :/ back to the nanny-state theory then

      • lentilman December 21, 2013, 6:47 am

        Current is the killer – look out for anything above about 100 mA as potentially fatal.

        On the other hand, static electricity has a voltage at about 10,000 V but won’t even cause a burn.

        • Golden December 24, 2013, 5:28 pm

          Yup Current = Voltage/Resistance

          Interesting about the UK, I would have expected similar rules. Would they allow you to re-wire your mains? No earth leakage/ground fault devices there!

          Not wanting to come across as a complainypants BTW, maybe just a bit envious of the freedoms to do work on your own home without involving a whole cast of outside help

          • Mike January 6, 2014, 5:14 am

            It’s changed fairly recently (since 1997) and any significant electrical work has to be certified by a qualified sparky. It doesn’t actually have to be done by them, but they have to certify that it’s been done properly and if they’re signing something, that can often cost as much as having them do it. I have no direct experience so I can’t say what qualifies as “significant”.

      • frank December 21, 2013, 10:11 am

        Yes as you just discovered 240V is more dangerous but only because it will push twice the current for the same resistance.

        In fact in the UK (also 240V of course) you are permitted to do your own wiring no problem (at least that was the case before I emigrated in ’97)

        The current code in the UK demands the use of groundfault devices on the whole house, in other words the power circuits will trip off at 30mA and the lighting circuits typically at 100mA.

        The problem of course is that 30mA thru the heart muscle will kill you stone dead!

    • Glenstache December 24, 2013, 2:36 pm

      Does Australia have an equivalent inspection process to the US? Electrical inspections vary in the US by local jurisdiction, but typically includes between 1 and 3 inspections at various stages of the wiring process, which should catch shoddy work. The Australian approach would be more sensible (or at least less nanny-ish) if there is a matching decrease in the inspection requirements with the requirement to hire out the electrical work.

      • Golden December 24, 2013, 5:20 pm

        Ah that would make a difference, it’s been a while since I was in the field but the supply authority never inspected wiring. They would test before connecting supply but it was up to the electrical contractor to ensure Australian standards were being met e.g. correct gauge wire, appropriate depth/protection for underground conduits, no hot joins/loose terminations etc which can’t be detected by an external test.

    • Foampile August 11, 2015, 4:23 pm

      The way some people hack the system is get an electrician to pull a permit, they do the work themselves, the electrician pre-inspects before the inspector comes in. For a fee much lower than what it would cost had the electrician done all the work.

  • Cincy Stache December 21, 2013, 1:00 am

    Great post! I was excited to read more about the “new” old house project since I recently moved into my first home. The first among many projects to come was removing the railing that separates the stairs from the family room in my 1970’s bi-level. The railing wasn’t up to code; and the baby could fit through if he wanted… A friend of mine who’s great with DIY, suggested we replace the railing with a half-wall only a few inches taller than the railing was. I was pretty pumped to learn this project would only end up costing $120 with a few fun savings as well. Two friends combined to construct the wall and teach me along the way. FREE! I bought a $200 Home Depot gift card at Kroger with my Amex blue preferred card saving 6%/$12. Kroger also gave me 4x fuel pts for a total of 800 and $.80/gal off my next fill up; a savings of $11.20. All and all, $100 for my first project at my “new” old house! I’m miles away from the large scale projects of MMM, but the posts are inspiring none the less. Thanks

  • EarlyretirementSG December 21, 2013, 1:16 am

    Hi MMM,

    Been following your blog for sometime now. Haven’t posted anything.
    Wondering if you’ve read this article before. Think you might be interested.
    It writes of the success and progress of the economy and that people could be living lives of leisure, instead of the ridiculous rush for materials which we live in today. This was predicted by Keynes about 100 years back.


    A summary,
    The Industrial Revolution was a relatively fresh memory. The new economy, in which technological innovation raised living standards with remarkable regularity, was trapped in the throes of the Great Depression. And here came Keynes, promising ”the standard of life in progressive countries 100 years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is today”.

    (From 1930 to 2011 real per capita GDP in the US rose sixfold.)

    If this came to pass, Keynes said, humanity would have solved, or be quite near to solving, ”the economic problem” that had bedevilled every generation before us: we would have enough. Perhaps not as much as we wanted to have, or as much as we could have, but enough to survive.
    This was, Keynes recognised, a reality for which we were ill-prepared. ”If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose,” he wrote.
    The question Keynes set out to solve was how mankind would adapt to a world of abundance. ”He saw two options,” explains Nobel prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz. ”One was that we could consume ever more goods. Or we could enjoy more leisure. What worried Keynes was that when you looked at how people in the British upper classes spent their leisure, he was not overly enthralled with what he saw.”

    Btw, keep up the great blog. Although I don’t live in US, I appreciate the tips and views which you provide and the concepts and case studies posted.

  • Mrs. PoP December 21, 2013, 4:00 am

    Ahh the joys of coordinating the electrician with the representative from the electric company as well as having our limbs and muscles available during the typical M-F 9-5 workweek…. that is one part of replacing our siding ourselves that I don’t miss.
    Progress on our garage has been slow, and we’ve found places that we splurged (adjustable shelving that we hope lasts forever) and areas where we saved (our utility sink was $40 on Craigslist instead of $160+ new in the store).

    Had you seen Ikea cabinets in person prior to placing your order? Just curious how sturdy they are and what the finish is like since it seems that not all Ikea furniture is of the same quality.

    • Lina December 21, 2013, 7:58 am

      The IKEA kitchens are of much better quality than their furnitures. My parents bought a IKEA kitchen last year and my new apartment will have a IKEA kitchen. My kitchen was done for seven years ago and it still looks good. Their is a quite big price difference between their cheapest and most expensive kitchen. What I found annoying when planning their kitchen was that you had to pay separately for all the little stuff like handles and certain interior details. Although I would not buy their kitchen appliances.

    • Nate R December 21, 2013, 10:29 am

      Yep, as was said, the IKEA kitchen cabinets are pretty awesome, especially for the price. The drawer hardware is decent quality, as are the hinges. Can’t say the same about cabinets for the same price at Home Depot.
      We used IKEA cabinets in our last kitchen, and plan to do it again as it worked out very well. The cabinets seem to be a great deal, but the appliances, not so much.

      • Ms. Must-Stash December 23, 2013, 8:43 am

        We love Ikea kitchens! The cabinets are excellent quality. We’ve installed two Ikea kitchens to date and have been delighted not only by how easy they are to pull together (my husband and I actually “argued” over who got to assemble the cabinets, since we thought it was really fun), but also over how well they hold up.

        Our current kitchen was installed 4 years ago and still looks new. The doors and hinges hold up beautifully, the drawers are in perfect shape, etc. We tell everyone that there is no comparison between the quality of Ikea kitchens and the general quality of Ikea furniture.

  • Keith December 21, 2013, 4:32 am

    With such a full renovation I was wondering if you were going to put in a radiant heat system tied to a solar water heater. The “Radiant Heat at 90% Off Experiment” future title sounds like you are planning that very thing. I have been looking at that very thing for my future home when my wife and I retire.

  • FI Pilgrim December 21, 2013, 5:25 am

    That project really does look like a lot of fun. And home improvement projects become SO much more fun when you don’t have deadlines. I’ve found that lowering my expectations on project timelines not only allows me to enjoy projects more, it allows me to find great deals on materials (or other money-saving ideas) in the process, which sounds exactly like what you’re doing.

    Looking forward to the articles to come!

  • Laura December 21, 2013, 6:25 am

    I was wondering if you calculated any of the math on owning two homes at one time and factored that into your decision as to whether or not to hire out on the remodel. (You probably have to keep the heat on for example and you are incurring double property tax charges, the opportunity cost of earning money on the dollars tied up in your current house, etc.) I know this is your love so you probably want to do it all. I also realize that since you own both homes outright the double costs may be negligible.

    But I wouldn’t mind some examples to help us with that decision. When we move to a lower cost of living area we will be renting while we learn the city and look for the right house. We plan on buying a fixer upper. We’ve never tackled home improvement projects of this scale before, ever, so each project will take some time.

    We can move in before all projects are done but with a toddler we would of course prefer to be completely done — that’s just not realistic I know. Having some math on our side would help us in deciding what projects to farm out given our slowness and having to pay rent and housing costs at the same time. My husband will also be working so that will slow things down as well.

    I think it’s fantastic that even though you’ve never done something before, you go to the Google or the YouTube and just figure it out. That is truly inspirational!

  • Nate December 21, 2013, 7:08 am

    “There have been many moments like this, where the deep satisfaction of solving tricky puzzles and building something big takes over my whole mind and makes me smile and chuckle to myself like a fool.”

    That right there my friend, is living the life!!!! :-)

    The steel beams were an excellent find from the company going out of business. One of the great advantages to approaching projects like this from a Positions of Strength is you have the time to be more deliberate and intentional about sourcing the supplies as efficiently as possible!!

    Hey MMM – how much do you estimate the total project will cost (including the purchase price)? This process is absolutely fascinating. I can just see the look on my wife’s face later today when she walks in the door. “Darling, we are going to build a house!!!!!!” ;-)

  • OhioDoug December 21, 2013, 7:08 am

    Keep them coming! I’m renovating a 140 year old commercial loft in my small hometown and am always looking for new tips and tricks!

  • KarenInPittsburgh December 21, 2013, 7:29 am

    Fantastic! Your joy in the project is so evident—and what’s not to like— using old skills, learning new ones, and seeing the tangible result of your labor emerge daily. I don’t want to call you lucky–because luck is a bit of a bad word to some of your readers–so I’ll say, you are taking optimal advantage of the good opportunities that your circumstances and natural gifts have opened up for you. I will be delighted to see pictures of you and your family ensconced in your lovely “new” home.

    Just as you are overcoming your resistance to the current spendiness required of your project by focusing on the long term gain, I am trying to overcome my natural resistance to taking any sort of financial risk (hangover from my childhood). It’s so sad that so many of us are happy to waste small sums, but are terrified to invest larger ones in ways that that might actually be profitable now and/or in the future.

    You and your readers have given me the courage to start a house-related income generating project of my own, and I intend to put as much sweat equity into it as my aged body can manage. My husband and I are in the process of buying a rental house–our first foray into this sort of business, and, though it was my idea, I’ve frankly been pretty scared. We’re going to have to do lots of work (and spend some more money) to make it a pleasant and safe place to live. However, I have given myself a face-punch, and am channeling mustachian optimism and taking the attitude that if we work on it, it will work out okay. It’s currently, except for one big problem, in so so condition.

    The original owner of the house died after two years or so in a nursing home and so the house was empty for a while, and absolutely no one was watching out for it so there’s a lot to be done –the most immediate problem is leaking under a rubber roof that has failed, causing a good deal of water damage to two rooms. Right now it’s raining and I worry about the house as if if were a family member in trouble that I’m not in a position to reach out to quite yet. (I suspect that this attitude is way wrong and unbusinesslike. ) The two-apartment house (the unit on the ground level is pretty small and the larger one covers two levels) is old (1900), but it is in a neighborhood that is becoming pretty trendy so renting it shouldn’t be a problem. However, I’d like some rule of thumb notion of how much we should spend on it aside from making it safe. We are paying $95,000 in cash for it. I expect to rent to young people in their twenties; one person on the ground level –and two or three in the upstairs apartment, which has two or three bedrooms depending on room allocation.

    We are not investing money that we need for everyday life. However, this works out, we will be okay.

    I would love to find a contractor with a money mustache frame of mind who will look for both savings and environmentally friendly ways to do things. We are still working on that.

  • Mrs. GreenPennyGardener December 21, 2013, 9:12 am

    I appreciate your first point on reducing design ridiculousness. It is amazing to me how much space or amenities some people think they need to be happy! My husband and I bought our first house in cash – at 765 sq ft it suited us perfectly and we couldn’t have asked for more. We are now in the process of buying our next house, mostly for the three-quarter acre in land so we can expand our garden, and in anticipation of our growing family. We will rent out our first house to help pay the mortgage on the second one.

    I look forward to more posts about renovations as we are trying to plan how to renovate our new house. We are definately newbies; right now just trying to replace a door or the kitchen floor is a big project for us! But we figure the more we just try new things, the more new skills we will learn.

    Thanks MMM for this blog! We started reading it about 6 months ago. Even though we have always been frugal, you have opened my eyes about the freedom our savings/investments can give us, and also the areas of my life where I am still a complainypants!

    • lurker December 21, 2013, 9:53 am

      idea for your new fridge. there used to be a company that made super efficient fridges in California that use a fraction of the electricity to run….and were pretty nice too….forget the name of the company and don’t know if they are still in business but thought I would throw it out there…..nice post by the way….like watching the progress…

  • Bonnie December 21, 2013, 9:52 am

    I’m suprised you aren’t doing solar panels at least for water? Or wind turbine ?

  • Richard December 21, 2013, 10:09 am

    I’m downsizing too, but in the opposite way. I’m selling the house to get rid of over 1000sqft of unused space and moving to a rented apartment. Apart from the immediate and ongoing cash bonuses this creates (all of which will be invested) and the fact that I can walk to 90% of the places I need to go, I’m excited to no longer have to do anything more time-consuming than changing a lightbulb.

    i found that the time and cost of making even minor changes to the house can quickly be enough to make other decisions like owning multiple ridiculous SUVs look reasonable in comparison. Now I will have someone else thinking about how to make those choices most efficiently so I can use my time on things that bring me more lasting happiness, and I get paid for it too!

    I did make one concession to living above the most basic needs by choosing an apartment with a kitchen large enough and modern enough to continue cooking unbelievably luxurious meals. Although I could have saved a little more by forgoing that it would be a relatively small difference.

  • HealthyWealthyExpat December 21, 2013, 10:12 am

    MMM, you are an inspiration to those of us whose toolbox fits into a shoebox and have never done much more than a bit of Zen-like bicycle maintenance. Your example proves yet again that anything is possible to learn if you just do a bit of research, talk to your network of friends, spend some time planning, and then just get down to it. Looking forward to more on the renovations.

  • Giovanni December 21, 2013, 10:31 am

    Ikea cabinets are a great way to save money on the cost of purchasing because they’ve outsourced the assembly labor… to you! Or in this case, Mrs. MMM. You will earn your savings though; a single three drawer cabinet has about 36-40 pieces (not including fasteners and base) that must be located, unpacked and assembled. Of course to make it more than an art object you still need to install it. Once you’ve done a few this process will flow more efficiently and you will develop a system just about the time you’re finished ;)

    One tip, if you have the time and space schedule the delivery a week ahead of your anticipated assembly/install start so that there’s time for Ikea to get you the missing/back ordered parts they didn’t mention when you were purchasing. If you’re doing the hauling, you’ll (hopefully) find out right then what’s missing.

  • Mr. Grump December 21, 2013, 10:35 am

    “It’s much more fun than it sounds” – Is the best line of the post. Having installed my own Water Heater at the beginning of December I made a small step from the “Easier said than done” group to the “…more fun than it sounds group.” I think most people can agree that learning something new is fun and challenging and after the experience is done you are better off having done it.

    Have a great finish to 2013 everybody.

  • Greg December 21, 2013, 10:51 am

    I know you did, but have to ask anyway. You tested the interior for lead before all of that demo work, right?

    I’ve been doing this kind of work for a long time and am still shocked when I find similarly un-insulated walls.

    A few years ago we built our own home and also used Ikea cabinets. The quality is fine, and I was able to modify them as needed for a few custom features like a lowered base section for a dough-kneading area. We opted for the legs, I hate hidden voids like plinth boxes. Plus our cats love the hidey-holes.

    Can’t wait to see your ongoing progress!

    • TomTX December 26, 2013, 7:43 am

      Don’t forget all the time spent evaluating plumbers, hiring a plumber, waiting for them to show up (or driving to meet them @ the jobsite) keeping an eye on what they’re doing, inspecting their work, et cetera.

      For small plumbing jobs, I spend less time by doing it myself.

    • TomTX December 26, 2013, 7:44 am

      Hm, yes – MMM – could you confirm that you tested for hazardous materials in the house before the reno? Stuff like lead in the paint, asbestos in the linoleum, et cetera.

      • Licensed electrician December 27, 2013, 8:25 am

        Homeowners have the freedom to do whatever they want to their own houses regarding lead paint (at least in Iowa and surrounding states). Only ‘licensed’ people are required to do the safe cleanup, protection and disposal of lead painted materials by law.

        • TomTX December 29, 2013, 11:00 am

          I’m more concerned about exposure than whether there are legal requirements. Exposing yourself and your family (especially kids) to a known, well documented hazard like lead and asbestos is dumb.

          • Chris December 30, 2013, 6:33 pm

            Recent research shows that risk from asbestos and lead is very low, and that it is riskier to remove it or disturb it, than to just leave it.

  • Dakota December 21, 2013, 10:56 am

    For recurring searches on Craigslist, rather than scanning it every day, check out Blogtrottr.com. I use it all the time for bigger items where I know exactly what I need. Appliances, bikes, car stuff… Try it out!

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 21, 2013, 11:35 am

      Yeah, I do have some apps with automatic notifications as well (craigsPro and another one from a reader called Mokriya Craigslist). Blogtrottr looks intriguing as well, as a general RSS watching thingy.

    • BodesWell February 21, 2015, 9:49 am

      Also try SearchTempest. It will search within a specified mileage radius, hitting multiple CL regions. Handy if you are already making a trip or stringing together multiple stops over a wide area.

      • Archon October 13, 2016, 3:35 pm

        I’ve found that Searchtempest hasn’t shown me up-to-date results; many of the links I follow are 404s, and doing the same search in a local Craig’s box shows more (and more recent) results. I’ve used it mostly for car shopping, I don’t know how it may compare in other categories.

        In the end, it’s still useful if you’re searching over a longer time horizon for a specific thing.

  • Eli December 21, 2013, 10:56 am

    Did the Ikea kitchen myself at our old house. Really good deal and easy to modify. One word of warning- the doors are great, but the cabinets themselves are laminated MDF. The ones next to the dishwasher started to delaminate from the steam after a few months. I heard later that it’s a good idea to apply polyurethane or some similar waterproofing agent in a humid area. I did it on the underside of the counter above the dishwasher and on the sides.

    Also, see if you can get extra drawer runners and install a toekick drawer.

  • DisruptiveFinancial December 21, 2013, 11:06 am

    I applaud you for downsizing! In the past, I lived in an approximately 500 sq. ft. apartment and found it was more than enough for two people and a dog! These days, it seems that homes are designed to be terribly inefficient. You really don’t need much space if you put some thought into the layout. I plan to design a small place for myself to live-in after reaching financial independence! Keep up the good work MMM, as I love following along with your progress.

  • Ree Klein December 21, 2013, 11:22 am

    This was so much fun to read and packed with awesome tips!!! I was particularly surprised about the discounts you can get at the home improvement stores. That is a tip I haven’t heard anywhere else and sounds really valuable.

    Can’t wait for more…


  • stagleton December 21, 2013, 11:53 am

    Rad! Would be cool to have a project like this. Just be careful of getting a tan through glass. I heard it causes more wrinkles….maybe wives tales

    • BodesWell February 21, 2015, 9:34 am

      I couldn’t help myself… but you CAN’T get a tan through normal window glass (especially multi-pane!) The UV transmission is minimal. To tan through a window you would need fused-silica or quartz panes – science-grade expensive stuff. So, you can wash dishes in front of the window all day and you’ll merely get toasty warm and no sunburn.

  • Adam O December 21, 2013, 12:02 pm

    You mention blog related spending being very high right now, what’s the ” blog-related spending” all about?

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 21, 2013, 8:28 pm

      There’s a big professional site redesign in the works, as well as some travel, paying people for stuff, web hosting expenses and other equipment, and charitable projects.

  • Debt BLAG December 21, 2013, 12:39 pm

    That is really amazing. I think it’s great that you’re noticing how much is being consumed to build up the house. One way to look at it would be that if you bought a finished house, then someone else would have had to do it. I’m also amazed at all the hustling you’re doing to get inexpensive or heavily discounted stuff — obviously great for the pocketbook, but it also looks like you’re stopping lots of waste.

    All in all, an awesome example to set

    And, I do have to say that it’s sad I wouldn’t be able to make it out — especially for the demolition. If there’s anything more cathartic than demo-ing a room, then I haven’t found it yet :)

  • Insourcelife December 21, 2013, 12:41 pm

    In the last picture where a crew of blog readers are ripping out the drywall – is that an external wall that is completely non insulated?? What kind of heating and cooling bills did the previous owners pay in that house before?

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 21, 2013, 8:26 pm

      It was much worse than that – the whole ceiling was virtually uninsulated, the crawlspace had vents right to the outside so winter air could blow right in under the wood floor, the single-pane windows had warps and cracks all around and the back sliding door doesn’t even close (or lock, unless you wedge a stick into it). The furnace must have just run constantly every winter night, from the time the sun went down until the time the next day warmed to a reasonable temperature.

      It amazes me, what people will live with for 60 years. I can’t even go to bed if the curtains aren’t nicely closed and sealed up against the double-pane low-E windows on a winter night :-)

      • Tom December 22, 2013, 7:44 am

        There is supposed to be ventilation into unheated crawlspace areas like that – otherwise the area gets damp which will accelerate wood decay. You can cut down on the moisture movement out of the ground a lot with a layer of poly sheeting on the earth, which might allow you to adjust the size of the ventilation opening. I wouldn’t be in a rush to permanently disable the ventilation opening.

        • Jamesqf December 22, 2013, 11:56 am

          Also, flood insurance may require flood vents in the foundation, or be considerably cheaper if you have them.

        • Josh December 22, 2013, 6:59 pm

          IRC 2009, which is code in our area, allows the HVAC to ventilate the crawl space. Of course you would want to make sure there is a good vapor barrier on the ground and there is nothing nasty (mold, asbestos, etc.) that you wouldn’t want to spread to the rest of the house.

        • Insourcelife December 23, 2013, 8:21 pm

          We have a crawlspace and there are vents built into the walls around the perimeter of the house. We do have a plastic vapor barrier on the ground in there. My understanding is that you close the vents for the winter and open in the summer, which is what I’ve been doing.

      • Darkseas January 2, 2014, 10:11 pm

        It’s easy to think that people were stupid to put vents in crawlspaces. Before you close them up, however, you might want to do some research about why they’re there and what (expensive) insulating you’ll need to do before you close them up.

        Your least expensive solution is to buy metal covers for the vents, put them on in the fall, and take them off in the spring.

        That’s why this article scares me. People don’t know what they don’t know. It’s easy to go on the internet (as another reader says) and learn how to do something. But if you don’t know what needs to be done, you can’t look it up.

        Building a house is not easy. You’ve made it sound far easier than it is, and 99% of your readers would end up spending much more hiring contractors to fix their mistakes than they would to get a contractor to build it.

        No, I’m neither a tradesman nor a contractor. I have renovated three houses for myself.

        • Mr. Money Mustache January 2, 2014, 10:36 pm

          Wow, I hadn’t noticed this crawlspace battle. Darkseas, I did start and operate a house building company (where I got the general contractor license and did much of the trade work myself) for a while so I have had the opportunity to learn what most of the parts do.

          Crawlspaces need less venting if you give them a good vapor barrier over the soil, and insulate the walls. I prefer not to use outdoor vents, because people rarely remember to close and insulate them (mine didn’t even have covers). Then I just stick one of my remote temperature/humidity monitoring devices down there, and can vent it in the unlikely event it ever becomes too humid.

          Colorado is sufficiently dry and sunny (summers at 90F and 7% humidity) that I find some of the moisture-related building code stuff is overkill here. I still follow the code for new projects, but work on so many old houses confirms that much of it is unnecessary. For example, unvented attics don’t develop condensation here, even with giant air leaks from the rooms below.

          I have never found that a friend acting on my advice had to call a contractor to come fix their mistakes. Doing results in learning, so even if you do make mistakes, you’ll have a chance to fix them yourself.

          • Darkseas January 4, 2014, 2:08 pm

            Battle? Seriously?

            But since people are reading these replies who don’t have your experience, let me expand a bit.

            Vapor barrier over the ground? Check.

            Insulation on the walls? OK if that’s the way you want to go.

            Insulation between the floor joists above the crawl space? oops, not mentioned. Since the conditioned space above will be at a different temperature and humidity than the crawl space depending on the season, you really need to insulate there unless you want to heat or cool the crawl space. The real discussion about insulating between the floor joists is whether the vapor barrier on the insulation goes up or down.

            If you do a good job with the top of the crawl space and with the vapor barrier on the ground, you can skip the insulation on the walls at minimal cost to your energy use.

            My point in taking this discussion down into the weeds is to point out that most of your readers don’t have the experience to undertake the renovation of a house on their own. Sure, there are a lot of things they can do themselves and save a lot of money. But shy of them having major experience and a GC license, doing an entire house renovation is well beyond their capability, and your advice may be unhelpful, particularly if they live in a different state where conditions and codes are not the same as yours.

            I have seen lots of D-I-Y work done wrong, much of it dangerously so!

            I would rather see you telling your readers what they can do while they’re learning, not what they might be able to do if they’re general contractors.

      • JMK January 12, 2014, 8:16 am

        Crawl space and no insulation = summer cottage back in Ontario doesn’t it? Funny what counts as a proper house in one climate is a glorified vacation cabin in another.

  • Michael Crosby December 21, 2013, 1:55 pm

    Thanks MMM. With a major project going on, you still spend the time to keep your readers informed.

    Besides being a carpenter, you can add plumber and electrician skills to your resume. For me the biggest skills to learn would be the patience required to deal with the city and inspectors.

  • laura sampson December 21, 2013, 2:05 pm

    we just finished a kitchen/main floor remodel project that most folks count as a 40-50,000 dollar project–we pulled it in under 6,000 dollars–we did all the work ourselves over 6 months or so–we built our cabinets like mrs. mmm we refinished the wood floors we tore out and rebuilt the ceiling, completely rebuilt everything and made what we couldn’t find or build including our maple counters (less than 150 bucks TOTAL) and our vintage barn lights (rewired cleaned and hung for the cost of ONE new light)—we are sitting in this old house–old for Alaska and we feel pretty damn great about the whole damn thing sure we don’t have a working dishwasher yet because we refuse to pay so much for something we can do for cheap and the stove still needs to be replaced but as we find what we want at the price we will pay we will buy them otherwise we’re set–interested to watch your home come alive

  • chris December 21, 2013, 2:31 pm

    When I looked at the picture of the back of your house, I thought to myself, “when less becomes more, happiness multiplies.” Very counter-intuitive, but I see it happening in my life.

    Looking forward to watching the progress on the house.

  • Aarchman10001 December 21, 2013, 3:18 pm

    As a “high-end” architect, I spend my days helping the Plutocracy spend literally millions of dollars in their pursuit of domestic residential “perfection”. The notion of “the best (dishwasher, smart-home-system, bathroom tile, etc.) is certainly illusory, and much of the difference between the “premium” product and the allegedly “less premium” option is in the packaging, graphic design and marketing, rather than the actual material content.

    It is always a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to work with a client who has some limits on their budget, for it is in the need to prioritize and make more thoughtful choices that real creativity is given the opportunity to shine. The first priority is to re-use and recycle whenever possible. The speed with which homeowners and builders discard perfectly good materials in the course of ordinary renovation is sickening to me. Not only is it wasteful and destructive, it often results in the replacement of superior products with inferior simulacra.

    When new materials are called for, I have always believed in–and my clients uniformly report their long-term satisfaction with–the idea that dollars should be spent in a way that guarantees that those areas of highest use are made simply but of the highest quality materials the budget will allow. Forgo plastic bells and whistles–go for solidly-made basics.

    I am surprised and disappointed to see Mr. Money Moustache, whose intelligence and creativity I know to be of a high order, espousing the “Ikea cabinets are just as good” canard. Formaldehyde-soaked particle-board, assembled with staples and finished with the cheapest possible melamine or crappy maple veneer? That garbage is fine for a college dorm or a rock-bottom budget rehab, but the Kitchen of a typical, American family is the epicenter of daily activity–subject to constant wear and tear as well as extremes of heat and moisture variation.

    Yes–you have saved a few thousand dollars on cabinets, but when they look like crap and need to be replaced in a few years, your short-sighted economizing on such a fundamental component of your home will seem like a penny-wise frugality.

    I’ve yet to build a house anywhere that I was unable to identify a capable, local wood-worker, eager for the opportunity to build me a custom Kitchen out of simple, honest materials: “real” plywood with hard-wood edges, assembled with glue, nails and wood-screws.

    In addition to supporting a hard-working, local crafts-person, I get a properly-constructed set of cabinets, built to last and custom-built to fit the room, making use of every available inch, rather than the ubiquitous filler panels necessitated by the use of a stock cabinet system–not to mention the ever-present, dust-collection zone–or gyp-board soffit–above the standard-height upper cabinets.

    You have stated again and again that the Moustachian credo is not about mindless self-denial, but about living free of the shackles of needless consumerism. In my opinion, installing an Ikea Kitchen comes far closer to mindless self-denial and the pursuit of that last penny–not a thoughtful choice about what will work best and most efficiently in the long run.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 21, 2013, 8:18 pm

      Whoa there, Verbose Dude.

      I would have assumed this about IKEA cabinets too, until I learned the details and tried them myself on an earlier bathroom project several years ago.

      The cabinets I chose have solid birch doors and Blum German hardware that moves like a fine watch. They are held together by nicely engineered brackets and custom fasteners, not staples. They will NEVER need to be replaced in my lifetime.

      True, the back parts that you rarely see are veneer-over-low-formaldehyde particleboard. Just as they are in the $12,000 cabinet sets, unless you pay $2000 more for plywood backs, which are also assembled with plenty of glue.

      Particleboard and MDF are more environmentally friendly materials that I actually prefer using when possible, over chopping up solid wood when it is not strictly required. And the efficiency of this IKEA design, packaging, and shipping – I love it. The whole order could be stacked to fit into one closet, and the cardboard after opening could compress into a single household garbage bin. Yet you assemble it to become something big enough to require a box truck to carry it all. These Swedes waste nothing! It is a much better experience than all the previous kitchens I have built with cabinets made offsite and delivered in a sea of cardboard.

      Secondary wood fibers is why all my framing lumber is also engineered, glued stuff like Microllams, OSB, and I-joists. There are valid concerns to moving into a newly built house for people with hypersensitivities to chemicals, but not for us. (Plus we’ll be moving in the spring, meaning six months of open-window living).

      • Justin December 23, 2013, 12:47 pm

        Your focus on “what actually works” instead of “what experts think” is what sets you apart from, well, almost everyone.

      • tomboalogo January 1, 2014, 8:09 am

        Not to mention this: http://www.cabinetstylestudio.com/images/Consumer-Reports-Cabinets-August-2004.pdf

        Consumers report (yes 10 yrs old) on kitchen cabinets. IKEA ranks #4.

        If I’m not mistaken, IKEA just upped the warrantee to 25 years on certain kitchens (http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_GB/campaigns/kitchen_quality_guarantee.html), a little different on the Canadian site (http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_CA/customer_service/warranty.html#AKURUM-RATIONELL)
        so the “need to be replaced in a few years” argument likely goes away.

        As an engineer too, I’ve been impressed by the quality that IKEA has put into it’s cabinets. I think that the website shows video of the testing.

        There was another Consumers Report (that I can’t find) that revealed that the IKEA cabinet hardware (which is what will fail, if anything does) is the exact same hardware as on the high end cabinets.

        Oh and for me, I like the European clean styling instead of the North American fancy wood carving for a kitchen which will collect crap and crud in every nook and cranny for years to come.

        I’m considering downsizing myself (and moving closer to town) other than that I’d be tearing out the 1980’s cabinets and replacing them with IKEA. It doesn’t make sense to gut a kitchen so the next guy will enjoy it.

      • Ian January 17, 2014, 1:01 pm

        We’ve had of rationell kitchen for 8 years now, with solid birch doors. It works pretty well, and nothing has fallen apart even with a couple of toddlers beating on it. Like most Ikea solid wood products, it would feel nicer if they just added 1/8″ more thickness to the doors but they do the job and looks nice and functional. We might’ve spent $7k including our floor model appliances and granite tile counter top.
        It is a notch below the $30+k similar size kitchen our friends had put in but thats ok.

      • Plastic Kiwi May 14, 2017, 5:30 am

        “Woah there, Verbose Dude” *snort*…haha I nearly woke the baby laughing!

        I love comments like Verbose Dude’s, just because I anticipate the comeback!

        My previous next door neighbour here in NZ, a German, brought her Ikea kitchen WITH HER from Germany when she emigrated. Apparently it’s fairly common in Germany to take your kitchen when you move…I thought emigrating with it was excessive but having housesat for them a few times I can attest to the quality! Given the crazy prices of new kitchens here it turns out she was actually very canny for importing it!

        All we need now is an Ikea in NZ!

  • Rob Eisner December 21, 2013, 5:31 pm

    After a local kitchen designer offered to redo our small kitchen for 43K plus tax provided we were ok with the cheapest material, we discovered that a man who had built some furniture for us was now doing kitchens. For a about $6500 in 2004 he built us cherry cabinets (solid cherry fronts, quality drawer rollers) that I finished myself with a couple of coats of wipe-on varnish. This included stand for the stove because we were raising the counter height, breadboards, and a corner unit with cabinets below and quality butcher-block top we could both sit at. We hired his installers (one day, $900), his tile gal for the counters, our own electrician and plumber. Bought expensive arts and crafts tiles with inlays, expensive ceramic farmer’s sink, high quality fixtures, cherry trim kit for dishwasher, fridge, and .new pull-out vent fan. Did the little bit of painting ourselves. Total under 17K. Our realtor said we had added way over 50K to the value of the house. If you find the right people and do your own coordinating and finishing . . .

  • steve December 21, 2013, 8:03 pm

    If you haven’t already, I’d suggest signing up for the rollerauction.com mailing list. They auction off the resources from comanies going out of business, and you can get incredible deals on tools and building materials.

  • LL December 21, 2013, 9:10 pm

    I’d love to know about the Hawaiian hot water outdoor shower using black tubing coils on the roof that you mentioned in a previous article, if/when you build it.

  • Stephen December 22, 2013, 3:06 am

    Kudos on the electrical work. Some achievement. And that kitchen, you will have to share some real pictures once it is finished. The double windows on the high wall are an idea I may have to steal some day.

  • Longtime Swedish reader December 22, 2013, 8:03 am

    Longtime Swedish reader here, just wanted to mention: The Ikea instruction booklet in the picture of Mrs. Money Mustache has the title “Rationell” which means “rational” in Swedish. Quite fitting for this blog post, the kitchen renovation and the downsizing project in general.

  • Steven December 22, 2013, 9:20 am

    I’d be really interested to see the costs of a good co tractor versus mmm labor and time. In many ways it is a very good feeling to complete something with your hands, I defer to a professional and instead tend to make sure the costs are comparable to the job. I’m a believer in being FI buys you time, so in your case it buys you the time to do a diy project, I would prefer the professional and using my FI for other outlets. Thanks for the post.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2013, 7:17 pm

      I’ve done the math many times on my own DIY work..it usually ends up saving me about $50-$200 per hour that I work. Plumbing is where I save the most, landscaping the least. But it’s irrelevant these days because I love the work and really need the exercise anyway.

      • Maverick December 23, 2013, 12:44 am

        Fully concur. I estimate that material is usually 1/3, and labor 2/3 of a typical home project. Furthermore, the quality of MY work is better than any contractor work as I can add more time since I am FI. There is a high level of satisfaction / pride when you step back from a quality installation.

      • Ben December 23, 2013, 7:07 am

        Holy schnitzel! Plumbers charge over $200 per hour in your area?

        Round here (Columbus, OH) plumbers tend to be the most expensive trade but I’ve never seen more than $110/hour labor. After accounting for their profit and markup their invoices rarely climb over $150 all-in (not including bare materials). Whew!

        Nice looking service installation. Are exterior disconnects and panels a CO thing?

        One more thing – I know MMM values his manual labor, but if you ever want to get a ground rod driven in a hurry then rent (assuming you don’t own) a rotary hammer. You’ll be 8 feet deep in seconds.

        • Ellie December 23, 2013, 9:26 am

          Where I live (Chicago north suburbs) plumbers charge $195 just to show up. Consider yourself lucky!

        • TomTX December 26, 2013, 7:17 am

          Don’t forget all the time spent evaluating plumbers, hiring a plumber, waiting for them to show up (or driving to meet them @ the jobsite) keeping an eye on what they’re doing, inspecting their work, et cetera.

          For small plumbing jobs, I spend less time by doing it myself.

      • Josh December 23, 2013, 8:56 am

        I too have “made” $200/hr installing my own septic tank and drain field. Even after renting a backhoe. I’ll admit it wasn’t a job for any do it yourselfer, but after a good deal of research (and some helpful building officials) it wasn’t that difficult.

        I have a friend that manages a plumbing supply store that sold me the drain field chambers for wholesale prices, saving over $1000. Knowing the right people certainly helps.

      • Steven December 23, 2013, 8:51 pm

        I think your last statement was the most important because you love the work and want to do it, that’s the most important. Its what you enjoy the most and feel is worth your time.

  • Mr. 1500 December 22, 2013, 9:30 am

    Nailguns and Roses, ha!

    Welcome to the Remodel because MMM has an Appetite for Construction.

  • michelle December 22, 2013, 10:53 am


    These posts couldn’t have come at a better time. We have a lot to do around our house and I’ll be devouring every word you publish (:


  • Cattis December 22, 2013, 12:34 pm

    We have an IKEA kitchen, it´s over 20 years old and still in good condition :)

  • Steve N December 22, 2013, 3:25 pm

    Doing a renovation here Down Under in New Zealand, it’s gets real expensive real quick. Due to a rash of leaky buildings built during the 1990s, the building consent process is now really onerous: $25K to get the architects plans and city council consent, before actually building anything. If I had read this blog earlier, I probably would have a) stayed in my old house b) and my old job where I could bike to work.

    If you haven’t already come across her, US architect Sarah Susanka is a proponent of the “not so big house” where all spaces are used effectively i.e. the antithesis of the “MacMansion”. She has written several books and has a website notsobighouse.com

    • Cujo December 23, 2013, 12:46 pm

      LOVE Susanka’s work. Everyone here who plans to buy, or especially who plans to remodel or build, a house should read this.

  • nostash December 22, 2013, 3:30 pm

    I installed an IKEA kitchen 2 years ago now and couldn’t be happier with it. For us it was 2/3 less expensive than any other options. The best part was the surprise made in the USA stickers on the cabinet frames that I noticed on assembly. The worst part was I bought it all on credit and am paying for it still. I was obviously not a MMM reader back in the winter of 2011. I’m on the right track now though. Thanks all.

  • Kaila December 22, 2013, 4:53 pm

    Reading about your renovations brings to mind a very cool company right near Denver that I somehow got on an email list for: Repurposed Materials. http://www.repurposedmaterialsinc.com/

    I live in Massachusetts so using stuff from them doesn’t necessarily make sense for me, but they get a lot of neat supplies from unusual sources and their email newsletter includes project ideas and implementations by clients. Some of their materials include different kinds of membranes, ropes and cables, tanks and buckets, barrels, timber, bleacher seating, and a lot more. It’s been fun for me to see people get creative with what they have to offer, and I’m sure that you (and other Mustachians) might get a kick out of using some of their stuff.


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