The 3 Best Mistakes I’ve Ever Made

By Scott Sidler • October 6, 2014

Construction-MistakesI’m not usually in the habit of reliving the greatest hits of my renovation follies, but just like you, I’m not perfect. I don’t always do the right thing or know that answer to every question about old houses.

Just like you, I sometimes act too quickly with not enough information or in other cases, I put a project off for years because I just can’t figure out how to do it. The latter is what I call “Renovation Paralysis” and it affects me more than you’d think.

Renovation Paralysis happens when we are too scared to start a project for fear we’ll screw it up. Well, I don’t want to be paralyzed anymore and I want to help you overcome the paralysis you are facing too. I know there is some project you’ve been putting off. Not anymore!


How To Overcome Renovation Paralysis

Inspired by the final words of Gary Gilmore, an advertising executive at Wieden+Kennedy came up with the simple phrase that not only transformed a small upstart into a juggernaut of a company, but is still today the perfect and only solution to Renovation Paralysis.

JUST DO IT! This simple slogan changed everything for Nike and it can do the same for you.

Enough with the excuses. There are a thousand reasons you aren’t qualified to do it, and those reasons won’t go away until you actually DO…IT! The people with more experience? How do you think they got experience? They DID…IT! They probably screwed it up the first time and the second time as well. Their third attempt was passable and by the fourth and fifth attempts, they were getting pretty good.

When I was a baby, my Father and Uncle built swimming pools for a living. And when I was talking with him about starting my restoration business, he gave me some great advice to get me off my butt. I knew I was handy but felt woefully under qualified to restore historic buildings even though that was what I wanted to do.

He said, “Scotto, (I’m 37 and he still calls me Scotto) you just gotta start. When I was building pools, the first couple we built were possibly the ugliest pools I’ve ever seen. They took forever to finish and we lost money on them, but we learned a ton. I’m still proud of those first pools because Uncle Kenny and I somehow figured it out. And when we were finally finished, there was a pool where before there was just a lawn.”


The 3 Best Mistakes I’ve Ever Made

So, in the interest of inspiring you to JUST DO IT, I am going to share 3 of the biggest remodeling mistakes I’ve ever made. Trust me there are way more than 3. These are only my greatest hits, and great they are! So, with no further adieu…


#1 The Not-So Cedar Closet

A couple months after my wife and I were married, she went out of town to a friend’s wedding and I decided to surprise her with a new closet. Our old house had tiny closets and I came up with an ingenious layout that would allow her to fit (most of) her clothes.

To be an extra awesome husband, I decide to build and line the closet with cedar to keep the moths away. I worked all weekend building custom shelving and double hanging racks. Then I set about lining every remaining inch of the closet with Western Red Cedar. It looked gorgeous and worked exactly like I’d hoped.

One problem, I used the wrong wood. Western Red Cedar is great for exterior trim since it is rot resistant, but it is not the kind of cedar you make closets out of. That would be Aromatic Cedar. Oops!

Result: I spent twice as much as I should have and the moths are still there, but I know the the difference between Western Red and Aromatic Cedar

#2 The Wood Filler Failure

By far, the most visited page on my site is The 7 Best Products to Patch Wood. Where do you think that information came from? That’s right, my house.

Our back door was almost rotted through due to the heavy rains we get here in Florida and a lack of gutters. One day I decided to patch it using some Durham’s Water Putty, which is a very good product. I knew it needed to be primed and painted as soon as it was dry because I very uncharacteristically read the instructions on the can.

Did I prime it? 5 years later and I have not yet primed it. At this point, the only thing that would help that door is to be thrown in a fire. I’ve never seems a bigger pile of mildewed, mushy water putty and rotted wood.

Result: The door is trash now and will be replaced soon, but you better believe water putty doesn’t leave my shop without 2 coats of primer and paint on it.

#3 The Dip Strip Dilema

The first set of windows I restored for a client I brought to a dip tank to have them stripped. It worked great, except for a couple things.

First, the stripper wasn’t neutralized completely, which has caused the paint to slough off in sheets months after we reinstalled the windows. Yuck!

Second, I primed the windows too soon after they came out of the dip tank. The moisture content of some of these windows was likely in the 40-50% range, which is terrible. Priming every inch of them trapped the moisture inside and this, along with the stripper, caused massive failure of my paint, putty, and pride.

You can read more about the whole debacle here.

Result: I had to completely redo an entire house of windows at my cost. I lost thousands of dollars, but I will will never dip-strip windows again and I now own a moisture meter to make sure my windows are under 12% moisture content before they get primer.

Feel better about your abilities? You should because we are all learning and trying to figure it out one project at a time. Experience only happens when you try something. You’ll never be experienced till you get up and give it a shot.

My friend Steve Quillian of Wood Window Makeover puts it this way, “As long as you’re smarter than the thing you’re working on, you’ll eventually win.”

So, what are you waiting for? Go screw it up big time! Then learn from those mistakes and do it right the next time.


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5 thoughts on “The 3 Best Mistakes I’ve Ever Made”

  1. I needed this post today as I have been working on my wife’s laundry/mudroom in our new 1970’s ranch style home. Seems as one thing goes wrong everything else tumbles quickly after. The “I’m sick of this renovation” attitude bubbles to the top fast. Thanks for sharing your struggles to lighten the load of mine. Much appreciated

  2. “As long as you’re smarter than the thing you’re working on you’ll eventually win.”

    Is there a meter for that?

  3. Hey Scott, I’m a recent subscriber to your blog.
    I LOVE IT! I just bought a 1868 Victorian and am looking forward to my mistakes!
    I have 19 windows to rework and I think I will take your advice about NOT dipping them.
    Sanding the floors is also on my list… I look forward to finding a post about that too.

  4. Just want to thank and let you know I appreciate and read your blog.
    I usually jump into projects and learn as I go, make mistakes. Maybe not the best way.. but at least I make a move.

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