At Reality Homes, we love a good DIY project. Not only does it improve your space, but the hands-on work increases your connection to your home. If you’re like us and are itching to get your hands dirty but can’t quite decide where to start, here’s some ideas to make your place even more fun.
Make a garden bed (or, better yet, many garden beds)
This one goes beyond just being a fun project to spruce up your property. For generations Americans have become more and more detached from our food; we’re more distant from the production and distribution processes, eat food that’s often sapped of nutrients because of the production scale’s demands, and, when it’s all over, waste over 30% of it all! What’s more, fresh produce is more expensive than pre-made fast food that’s not very good for you. This adds up to a scenario that’s bad for our Earth, our wallets, and our bodies.
But the good news is that doesn’t have to be the case! And for what it’s worth, it hasn’t always been — rewind 75 years, and 40% of American vegetables were grown in “victory gardens” that sprouted up due to WWII.
Growing your own produce is — while not always easy when you’re still learning — simple. And the first step to that is having a place to do it. Enter the raised garden bed.
You’ve almost certainly seen some version of them around. In the most general sense, a raised bed is a structure where materials are used to enclose and, fittingly, raise the soil anywhere from about half a foot to a few feet above ground. Typically, the enclosures are made from wood and are square or rectangle, although they can also be made of other materials like cinder blocks or stone and can theoretically be any shape.
There’s a handful of reasons raised beds are so great. They give you easy access to your vegetables without having to walk on the soil and negatively impact roots, are space efficient, reduce weeds, and, when used correctly, help maintain permanently nutrient-rich soil. That last one is particularly significant; by folding in organic matter (composted food scraps, grass clippings, thin leaves) during the non-growing season and rotating your crops to ensure you’re not disproportionately depleting the soil of one nutrient over others, you’ll see your soil’s viability grow over the years. By maintaining rich soil, you’ll grow more produce, bigger produce, and more nutritional produce.
While they’re simple, it still helps to have some tips on creating your own. Luckily, there’s lots of resources online; some good instructions on building your own are here at Home Depot’s site. Using raised beds to grow your own fruits and vegetables benefits everyone: you get access to nutrient-rich, tastier produce for cheap and help decrease the strain on our modern food system. Everybody wins!
Build a treehouse
This one doesn’t exactly have the “helping the environment” and “eating tasty food” benefit, but it sure is fun anyway. Really, this doesn’t feel like it needs too much of an explanation — who didn’t dream of having a treehouse growing up? Whether you’re a parent building one for kids or are just an adult who recognizes that some things are too fun to ever grow out of, treehouses rule.
The important first step is identifying a strong, healthy tree with branches capable of load-bearing. Luckily, we don’t have a shortage of these in the Pacific Northwest. Certain deciduous trees are ideal here, like maple and oak, but some conifers like thick firs or hemlocks can work too (provided their canopy isn’t so dense it becomes a hindrance). While deciduous trees are typically better-suited, that doesn’t mean you can just pick any of them and go; deciduous PNW trees that often won’t be up to the task include alders and birch.
Per the Family Handyman, it’s recommended that branches be at least eight inches in diameter, more if the tree in question is a softwood. To assist in bearing the load and even prevent the structure from collapsing, you’ll likely have to build diagonal support beams, too. This becomes more necessary the farther the treehouse extends from the trunk, particularly if the tree’s branches are minimally supportive.
And before you start, remember to give the tree room to keep growing! Otherwise, you’ll constrict and wound it, which could kill the tree and end up with your treehouse pummeling to the ground years later.
For more tips and steps on building a treehouse, we recommend (again) checking out the Family Handyman’s page.
Set up solar panels
Besides being good for the Earth, solar panels help you save money, too. And, while they might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking DIY, setting up solar panels is definitely doable.
While solar energy saves you money every month, the initial installation costs feel prohibitive for some. That’s where the main benefit of setting up your own solar panels comes from — you’ll save yourself a heck of a lot of money. According to Wholesale Solar, you’ll save on average more than $12,000 by doing it yourself and often more.
Wholesale Solar also points out one of the advantages of DIY-ing your solar: if there’s any single step you’re uncomfortable with tackling yourself, you can contract a professional who specializes in that step (for example, an electrician for connecting your panels to your system), pay however much they cost, and still save a bunch of money. And, by setting up yourself, you also get to customize your solar setup to your home’s needs.
For a comprehensive look at the process and advantages of doing solar panels yourself, check out Wholesale Solar’s thoughts.
Install new light fixtures
On one hand, if you don’t need new light fixtures, you don’t need new light fixtures. On the other hand, sometimes changing stuff up can turn an old space delightfully new.
Installing a new light fixture shouldn’t take too long — typically less than a couple hours. In that span, you can make a room brighter or completely change its personality. Plus, if you’re upgrading from an older fixture to a more modern one, you’re likely saving yourself money in the long run as newer light fixtures are more energy efficient.
If brightening up your home and padding your wallet sounds like something you could get behind, Home Depot has a really handy step-by-step guide on how to install new light fixtures. Check it out for yourself here!
These are some of our favorite ways to get your hands dirty improving your home. If COVID’s got you spending more time at the house and making you realize some ways it could be improved, why not give one of these a try?