Doing it yourself provides its own exercise program

There was an article in a local newspaper about learning how to do remodeling and home-improvement projects. It told about the many benefits of doing such work; including learning new skills; the pride gained from doing it yourself, and, of course, saving money.

It also noted that doing these kinds of projects, especially for first-timers, would naturally take longer than having a pro do it, or even an experienced amateur. One way to find this extra time, it said, was to drop any exercise program from your schedule, and use that time to work on the project.

Now, I've read hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles on getting in shape over the years. These articles always explain the importance of getting enough exercise and offer plenty of tips on how to squeeze exercise into our busy lives.

That's why I was so blown away when I read something telling me not to exercise. It was like my conception of reality was turned upside down.

I thought about this recently as I undertook refurbishment of a bedroom, hallways, and stairway in my home. This was a large-scale project — a lot of Sheetrock repair; a new door; new flooring; and, of course, fresh paint.

Like the newspaper article said, I took time that I'd normally use to exercise to do this work, but it wasn't by choice; I had arthroscopic shoulder surgery a couple of months ago, and I'm still waiting to get my full strength back so I can start exercising again. The funny thing is, even though I wasn't exercising in the normal sense, I sure got plenty of workouts.

When you're working on the second floor and your tools are in the basement, you face a dilemma — how many tools to bring up? You don't want to bring up so many that you'll have a ton to put away, but not so few that you need to make a lot of up and down trips either. No matter how you do it, the exercise you get from traversing two sets of stairs over and over adds up, let me tell you.

I had to remove lamps from the ceilings and patch and paint up there. Just working overhead is quite taxing, not only for the strength required, but also for craning your neck to see what you're doing.


It's also nice when the paint splatters on your hair and face; that way, when you look in the mirror later, it really looks like you accomplished something. Hey, some people pay big bucks to get their hair colored. I got mine colored for free.

I truly admire guys who do this work every day. I have a feeling that their own houses need work, because I'll bet the last thing they want to do at the end of the day is more of the same.

Think about that for a minute. You're a painter yet your house needs painting; you're a carpenter yet your house needs repair. No wonder why so many people play the lottery.

Do it your way

Aside from the workout you get (whether you want it or not), the really good thing about doing your own remodeling is you get the final say in every aspect.

For example, a lot of places sell painting supplies, but I only buy one very well regarded brand along with the best brushes when I paint. Painting is so involved that I only want to do it once.

The only time I've ever heard any valid reason to use less than the best was a landlord telling me he cuts his paint 50 percent when the tenants change because he's really just painting to clean.

If you can wait for the sales — and you can if you're doing it yourself — you can get the best at a good price, so that's what I do. Painting is just too much work to have to deal with inferior materials.

Don't forget, of course, when you work on a room, you have to get the stuff out of the room first. It's times like these when you realize just how dusty and dirty things can get when you don't deal with them for a long time.

Sometimes you'll even find something you'd thought you'd lost forever; I once found a much-loved belt-carried multi-tool, which had been missing for years, when I moved a desk. No such luck this time, but rooms look so much better when they're less cluttered that it's worth a painting job just as an excuse to clean things out. Less truly is more

With any kind of painting, the trick is in the preparation. If you can feel any kind of bump or ridge with your fingers, you'll see it when it's painted. So now you're into endless spackling, sanding, and priming; the problem is in knowing when to stop.

I always tell myself I'm not going for House Beautiful or whatever other magazines there are that celebrate such stuff, and the truth is you tend to focus on the flaws because you know where they are, but others may not even notice.

Others in this case does not include my lovely wife, because she has the impressive talent of being able to spot any drips, runs, or unspackled holes the instant she walks into the room, no matter where they are, in about two seconds. They say that all men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner; how true, how true.

Once all your prep work is done, the interior design aspect of the job begins; you have to chose colors and styles. Here is where I lose it totally.

I have absolutely no sense of style or what matches what. Believe it or not, I go by the names of colors more than anything else. For example, the color I used for the bedroom, a cool and calm light blue, is called Niagara Falls.

Doesn't that have a nice ring to it? I know, it makes no sense, but I have a wife to deal with color schemes and all that. She picks by look, I pick by name, and somehow or another it just works out, how about that.

You don't normally think of painting as exciting work but have you tried painting a stairway ceiling lately? You can use a roller on an extension for the main part, but that won't work for cutting in the sides.

Here — there's just no way around it — you need a ladder. I have a fancy new one where the legs can be adjusted separately, so I set it up on the stairs. Looking at it was weird; it just doesn't seem natural for a stepladder to have two unequal length legs.

Since I've had a ladder collapse under me, I'm very careful around them now. I gingerly got on it and, yes, it held and I was able to cut in the sides and corners, but I never felt real comfortable on it. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. It's going to take me quite a while before my faith in ladders is restored.

The finale

 When you're done and showing off your handiwork, People will admire it unless they're married to you or using a microscope; as long as you get things mostly smooth, you should be OK. If you want absolute perfection — true glass-like smoothness on all visible surfaces — be prepared to pay for it with lots of time or money. There is no other way.

I truly think most of the value from a painting project comes from the cleaning and overall freshening up that goes along with it. My new rules are: No shoes on the new carpets and less stuff in the rooms, including only the bare minimum of stuff hanging on the walls. I hope that following these rules along with the normal vacuuming and dusting  will mean I won't be doing this work again any time soon.

The good news is the project got done and the one bedroom along with the hallways and stairway now look terrific. The bad news is the rest of the house now looks way overdue for the same treatment, sigh. Once my shoulder gets better I hope to get back to exercising, so I guess now is the time to buy more paint while I still have some free time. I wonder if they have a color called Serenity Now?