The Two Year Mark and an Equation for Remodelers

This is something I would never have realized without having a houseblog that allowed me to easily look back on my bold predictions, but I believe that I have just solved one of the great puzzles of remodeling. We all know when we think a particular project will be completed, but how can we predict when it will really be done?

Today I put the 2nd coat of stain on the door of our family room closet. That got me to thinking about how long it had been since I had started sanding the door. A quick search on our site revealed the answer…1 year, 11 months. Ironically, I titled that post ‘back in the saddle,’ which implied that we were back on the horse for a ride, not just a quick trot around the yard. Sadly, the door sanding post came a good six months after the room was allegedly nearly done. And not to mention that in the meantime some animal(s) had holed up under the tarp for enough time to do unspeakable things to that door.

So, to summarize, here’s the chain of events that have led to “finishing” our family room:

  • Fall 2007: Chloe moves out of her room, freeing it up to be our TV room
  • 7/2008: I will give us a pass here, since Ginger was born a year earlier, but we now finally start the project.
  • 10/2008: We are nearly finished after only 9 weeks. We are on a ROLL here!
  • 5/2009: That’s strange…where did the last 7 months go? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because the door is being sanded, and we are going to be done soon.
  • 5/2010: Now would be a good time to get the patio cleared off for the summer. Ooh, wait a minutes, what’s this crap under the tarp?! Damn it, this never would have happened if I had just finished sanding this door when I stopped a few weeks (a full year) ago!
  • 4/2011: Last week I did actually finish sanding the door (as well as the upstairs bathroom door), and I stained it this weekend. Things are really moving now!
  • The future: All that’s needed now is two coats of poly and some hinges. How long could that take? [I am documenting this now as a challenge to ourselves to actually see this thing through.]

So back to the question of when a given project will be completed. After analyzing many such improvements in our house, I have realized that all projects can be broken down into a simple equation…

Multiply these factors together:

  • Cost of project (in US dollars)
  • Number of children squared
  • Disgust or annoyance with the project (measured in # of hours it takes to force yourself to start working on it on a Saturday morning)
  • Number of other projects that are competing for your attention
  • Number of times you think or say “wouldn’t be it be cool if…”

Divide by these factors:

  • Bank account balance or equity line in US dollars
  • Partner’s “encouragement” to finish (units are # of times subject comes up in a one month period)

The end result will be the number of months it will take to finish the project. The amazing thing I have discovered, though, is that no matter what project you plug into the equation, the end result is always virtually the same…somewhere between 3 and 4 years. This doesn’t apply to the entire house remodel, mind you, as that will never be done, but it is a good estimator of how long a single component of the remodel will take.

I hope that others will find this equation useful and stop themselves before they even start projects. Or better yet, before they purchase their home. If you stopped telling yourselves that this “little” project will only take a few weeks, you could save a lot of headaches and cash. Try this out before embarking on your next job and see if it still makes sense! And if anyone finds this to be useful or discovers missing factors, please let me know in the comments.

And since we are actually getting close to finishing this family room, let’s get back to the closet door. As with all our old fir doors, it looks fantastic with fresh stain, most importantly, there is no visible trace of it having been used as a toilet.


This kind of gets me motivated to start working on the rest of the upstairs doors. How long could that take?


8 thoughts on “The Two Year Mark and an Equation for Remodelers

  1. I am SOOOOOO in the same boat!

    Another interesting data point is the surprisingly high percentage of my posts that contain the word “finally”, as in “I finally finished …”


  2. I love how your door turned out. I have one that is similar that has a half dozen different colors of paint on it. Any suggestion of product to use to aid with the refinishing?
    Thanks so much. I love following your site.


  3. Karin,

    My order of preference for stripping doors:

    1) Have someone else do it, if you have a local stripping center, like Houck’s (

    2)Our speedheater ( works great, but they are spendy. Also, I only have good luck on big flat surfaces, and I’m never happy with it for detail work.

    3) Otherwise, I use a gel stripper. The trick I figured out a couple of years ago was to use some steel wool after getting the bulk of the paint off. A scraper or blade works great for taking off the thick stuff, but it always took many more applications of stripper to get the remainder. I tried using steel wool one day, and it worked great for getting the last little bit. It grabs all the fine paint and the residue that tends to stick in the paint. Once the paint/gel has gummed up the pad, you have to toss it.

    With all methods, I am careful to never do any dry sanding or scraping, because I don’t want to create any lead dust.


  4. Why didn’t you save us sooner? We now have at least a dozen such “little projects” going. Why did we start new ones when the old ones weren’t done yet? I have no idea. Must be a form of mental illness.

    Thanks so much for your blog. Its an inspiration and a comfort to us!


  5. I am just now trying stripping many layers of paint from the first of many surfaces in my house. I rented a Silent Paint Remover (knockoff of the Speedheater, since I couldn’t figure out how to purchase one) and it works pretty well! I was working on a linen closet sort of thing–hard to explain, clearly added after the construction of the house, very Frankenstein’s monster-esque in construction, but solid as a rock. The SPR took off multiple (like, 4-6) layers of paint in one go, which is a delight. In particular, when those layers just…melt off…the triple-beveled edges of something. That said, if I wanted to refinish the wood (which I don’t, none of it matches, and some of it appears to be either flooring or paneling), I would probably have to follow up with the gel stripper or something. The oldest layer or paint or varnish is quite adherent, more in some places than others, and is a challenge to remove. I’d say I have to hit most places twice with the SPR to get down to the wood, but with grain-ier wood, it’s almost impossible to get it all out. One side of the upper door has bright mint green paint that seems to have soaked completely into the wood and would have to be sanded out–if I weren’t going to repaint, which I am. Perhaps *my* house has extra-adherent paint, too. 🙂 I have three interior doors that badly need to be stripped, which is my next project. My house is only 700 sq ft (in PDX too!), and the floors are wood, so I will probably paint them to keep things brighter and lighter. Unless they strip down well, in which case all bets are off. 🙂
    My version of home remodeling is to just plod along, one project at a time, and not jump right from one to the next. My next thing will probably be the doors, but I want to experiment with rehabbing a window this summer, too, just to see how long it takes. I figure I’ll pick one I can’t get open anyway, so if it stays the same, no harm done.


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