Monday, September 5, 2016

How to manage the mess of renovation in an apartment, condo, or other small indoor space

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

It's one thing to DIY in a garage or workshop — it's another to paint, sand, saw, and otherwise muck around with no outdoor space to call your own and wall-to-wall beige carpet covering your whole living space.

Here's how we've handled doing super-messy and time-consuming projects — painting cabinet interiors and doors, retexturing and painting walls and ceilings, staining and painting furniture, and spray painting hardware — in a second-floor condo with a teensy balcony and no usable uncarpeted area.

Tip #1: Choose a less-trafficked area if possible.

This might not be possible if your space if super small, but give it a try. If needed, choose a space with a door to block out kids, pets, and other curiosity seekers. I've had cabinet doors dry with sweet little paw prints in the paint. A studio apartment might not have a door option, so you'll have to work quickly and supervise any interlopers.

Tip #2: Keep on keeping on.

Speaking of which, when you don't have a dedicated workroom, you want to get your project over with as quickly as possible so your dual-task room returns to normal. Look at drying times for the products you're working on, factoring in your local humidity. Most products dry within 30 minutes to 3 hours (and will give an approximate time on the label), so check back frequently to see if the items are dry enough to sand, wipe down, and start on the next coat. The paints or other products won't fully set for days to weeks, but they should be dry enough to keep working on your project much more quickly than that.

Look at all that expanse of space!

Tip #3: Cover, cover, cover.

One way to handle doing projects on beige carpet is to hate the carpet. Task accomplished! I've even kicked over a jar of dark brown stain onto it. Funny fact: A product named "stain" does not wash out! But if you like your carpet and need it to last longer, or if you're renting (Security Deposit!), go overboard in covering your space. I love old sheets for large-scale coverage. We've used all our sheets from college in this manner, and you can always find good candidates at thrift stores if you don't have your own. Proper tarps also work well, of course, as do old or cheap shower curtains or liners. Waterproof the specific work or drying area you're targeting, and use the non-waterproof materials at the edges to protect outlying carpet or furniture. I like plastic trash bags for my waterproof tarping needs. You can split them open to make them cover a larger area, and they make a good surface for items to dry on without sticking to the cotton of the sheets or getting all linty.

For spray painting, you can build a safe space out of a cardboard box larger than whatever you're spraying. I find spray painting large items to be challenging in a small indoor space so reserve it for small items like cabinet hardware.

To avoid getting paint or stain where you don't want it (walls, cabinets, floors, trim), use green FrogTape for painters (we've tried other brands and this one works the best for us at not bleeding and coming off cleanly). Tape on some paper or plastic sheets for blocking off larger areas.

Tip #4: Prepare for cleanup.

I like using water-based, latex products because they clean up with soap or detergent and water — things everyone has on hand, yes? But you can use oil-based products, too, as long as you remember to add a can of mineral spirits to your shopping list. I also like having a selection of microfiber cloths dedicated by color to their renovating tasks — they work well for cleaning up spills but also drying brushes, applying brushless products, and wiping down sanded surfaces. In short, have appropriate cleaning products on hand for whatever you're using.

Prepare yourself emotionally, too. No matter how many precautions you take, renovating is a messy business. This seems like a silly point until you actually need to start slinging paint and stain so near your off-white carpet. Wear grubbies and chemical-safe gloves, know that you'll need to wipe and vacuum up sawdust, and let the mess happen, with the cleanup to follow.

I've also found it helps to be
a billion months pregnant.

Tip #5: Plan out your drying.

As mentioned, plastic tarps of one sort or another can make a good drying surface. You can maximize limited drying space if you can dry some things vertically. I find this works best with paint and not as well with stain, which seems to want to drip and run more. Try it out with a sample, such as the back side of an item or a part that's not seen as much.

These little pyramid thingies are your friend. I haven't been able to use them to flip over a drying cabinet door immediately — it always leaves little dots where the points go — but I can use them quite happily in other ways. My MO for getting four cabinet doors drying at once is to paint the backs of two and lean them vertically to dry — resting the backs on a draped sheet over furniture or other safe space and the bottom edge on plastic. Then I paint the fronts and edges of two other doors and lay them out on the pyramids on a table to dry flat. The pyramids keep the edges from sticking to the drying surface and lets the fronts (the part you see most) dry undisturbed. Once everything's had a chance to dry, I can flip them all and reverse the drying spaces.

Remember brushes, stirrers, and other tools in your drying plans. If you're waiting between coats, you'll want to cap any paint or other liquid tightly, but if you wash out your brushes each time, they'll be pretty drippy when it's time to come back. If you'll be on the same color still, wrapping the brush well in plastic wrap keeps latex paint at least fresh enough for hours to a couple days. (If you're planning to wait a couple days, wash! But if you forget, I'm just saying….) If you'll be changing colors or products, go ahead and wash out your brush and have a microfiber rag handy to squeeze and dry it out as much as possible before the next coat.

Tip #6: Remember your communal-living manners.

If you're in a shared building, keep quiet hours in mind. Power tools and other loud tasks are best saved for reasonable timeframes (let's say 10 a.m. through 9 p.m. as a general guideline). Smells can be harder to contain, but try not to make neighbors miserable by constantly dousing a communal outdoor space or the area under their windows with noxious chemicals. We even got chastised for having bulky packages delivered to our condo and were asked by our property manager if we could have them delivered elsewhere — um, well, no. Furniture and building supplies properly belong in our condo! But we did try to keep a better lookout for packages (our deliverers don't knock or buzz to alert us) so they didn't sit at the entranceway for long. If you have a lot of trash or recycling as a result of your projects, make a mercy run to the dump rather than overflowing the building's receptacles.

Tip #7: Ventilate and protect yourself.

If you look at the back of any can, it will mention using it in a well-ventilated space. I always feel uneasy about this since we can't do much fancy for ventilation in our living room or bedrooms. What I can do, though, is open windows and skylights, turn fans to blow fumes out, and then use respiratory masks as needed if I'm dealing with particularly grody chemicals or sanding. (I try not to use much that would need that. For instance, I prefer no-VOC latex paint whenever possible, such as Benjamin Moore's Natura line — no affiliation.) Remember that paint pre-1970s can (probably does) have lead, and astonishing precautions need to be taken to deal with it in any way other than painting over it.

Tip #8: Consider alternative spaces.

You might have more space available to you than you think. Is there a relative or friend who'd let you borrow a garage or basement for a weekend or longer? Is your balcony or porch large enough to do some projects on? Do you have a communal yard space you can access for short periods (remembering to be courteous about cleanup and others' enjoyment)? Your locality might even have some sort of workspace available for rental or use by the community.

Whatever you choose, don't let being in a small space keep you from the home renovation projects of your dreams!

What are your tips for renos in a small and enclosed space?


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