Mental Health Benefits of Home Projects

by Al Heavens | The Home Remodeling Podcast

Al Heavens is a Haddonfield, N.J.- based, nationally syndicated, home-improvement writer and author whose newspaper columns, magazine articles and books have been the first word on remodeling for 50 million readers for more than three decades. He is the author of What No One Ever Tells You About Renovating Your Home and Remodeling On The Money: Fifteen Innovative Projects Designed to Add Value to Your Home, and was “The Gadgeteer” on Discovery Channel’s Home Matters program.

A quick update on my most recent blog post about home gyms:

The Washington Post reported Sept. 21 that a study by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association claiming that working out in gyms was safe used what scientists called “flawed data” and was, in fact, commissioned by the gym owners’ association. The study did not actually conclude that working out in gyms was safe.

In the meantime, Six-Minute Mile reports that three major fitness chains — Gold’s Gym, 24-Hour Fitness and the parent company of Boston/NY Sports Clubs – have filed for bankruptcy.

Forbes reports that a new crop of home fitness start-ups has raked in billions of dollars that may have otherwise gone to traditional gyms and boutiques. A company called Tonal, for example, recently raised $110 million for a wall-mounted product that lets people work out at home and is driven by artificial intelligence. 

If you are planning to build a home gym, the data seem to support such a move.

A recurring theme in these blog posts since the pandemic began has been the quantifiable increase in home-improvement projects – both do-it-yourself and having professionals doing it for you.

CouponFollow, an online coupon platform that provides access to discount codes, surveyed 1,000 customers and found that “90 percent of homeowners and 78 percent of renters” reported starting a home-improvement project, and “64 percent of owners and 63 percent of renters said they were successful in doing so.”

Bathroom repair was most popular, followed by interior house painting, CouponFollow reported.

Seventy-three percent said the projects helped their mental health during the pandemic, while 66 percent said the projects encouraged them to stay home, according to CouponFollow.

Looking around the neighborhood or taking long early-morning walks on trash days, I have uncovered abundant evidence to support CouponFollow’s findings that home-improvement work is being attempted, especially the old toilets, sinks and empty paint cans that line the curbs.

What I have not found, however, is anything to support that these projects have contributed to better mental health.

Instead, if my neighbors are any indication, the response to the question – asked at a safe distance, of course – “How is it going?” is always “The work never seems to end.”

What we’re going to talk about in this article are the effects a home improvement project can have on your mental health.

My latest project is a perfect example.

Ten years ago I bought a relatively inexpensive, mostly plastic greenhouse with a zipper door for my wife’s birthday. She was unhappy with the tomato plants we buy at the nursery or the farmer’s market every May. She believed that if we bought the seeds and started early, we could produce more and better tomatoes.

The greenhouse was shoved into a space between the back of our garage and the fence that separates us from the parking lot of the professional building next door.  I built a six-inch-high platform for it with cedar boards because the space sometimes floods in heavy rain.

Unfortunately, the greenhouse began falling apart within a couple of years. I kept repairing it with tape and plastic sheeting. When the zipper-door failed, I replaced it with a homemade wooden screen door that I covered with plastic in cold weather.

Spring and the pandemic arrived neck and neck this year. Staying at home offered a huge opportunity to garden, but with local sources of plants limited by closure orders, I realized I would need the greenhouse to start things from seed, which I had to order online.

Everyone, of course, had the same idea, and that meant long delays in processing orders and a lack of availability. Long story short, the greenhouse did its best, and I was able to produce tomato and pepper plants, but I knew it was time for a replacement.

After extensive Internet research, I found what I wanted. It had an aluminum frame and polycarbonate roof and side panels, as well as a roof vent that, in combination with an exhaust fan, would lower the daytime temperature well below the 110 degrees that was stunting plant growth. It would fit the eight-by-six and a half-foot platform with six inches to spare. 

The greenhouse kit arrived in two boxes Aug. 18. I had already decided that this would be a year-round greenhouse from which we would harvest lettuce in winter, so, after dismantling the old one and salvaging the wooden door, I insulated the platform, which I then covered with sheets of half-inch exterior plywood that I waterproofed.

Having tiled several bathrooms for myself and others over the years, I decided tiling the greenhouse floor would help reduce heating costs during the winter (sun heats tiles during the day, heat is slowly released at night, reducing the use of the electric heater, which operates on a thermostat).

It had been at least 10 years since I had done any tiling, and that led to some problems – not enough adhesive and some cracking under pressure. In addition, I was working in direct sunlight from 10 a.m. until about 6 p.m. daily, under constant attack from mosquitoes, which led me to take more breaks than I had planned, thus extending the length of the first phase of the job.

Before I began tiling, I removed the four pieces of the base of the greenhouse from one of the boxes to check the measurement and found that the platform had to be longer. Fortunately, a pressure-treated four-by-four I found in the yard filled the bill, but I began to wonder if there were any more problems that I wasn’t yet seeing, and that affected my mental health slightly.

The worst part of any project these days is the shortcomings of directions – in this case 30 pages of no words and hard-to-discern sketches.

I am a stickler for reading directions from start to finish before starting any project. It was on page 10, I believe, that I first learned that the greenhouse was designed to sit on four eight-inch metal posts that were also used to connect the corners of the base. I cut each of them with a metal saw so they would kind of fulfill their original function.

I then discovered that the manufacturer recommends that the greenhouse be assembled by a crew of at least three people, with the result that it would be finished in three or four hours. My crew comprised of 70-year-old me and maybe an hour of my wife’s help more than two weeks down the road.

When I reached the point in construction where I had to install the ridge beam, it was me on one end and the step ladder on the other. Eighteen years ago, when I drywalled the ceiling of the garage, it was me on one end and a “T” – a long and a short 2-by-4 – on the other.

My most helpful friends are made of metal and wood.

I didn’t keep track of the number of times I had to undo something and redo it, starting with the base (not including the nine replacement tiles), just about every rafter, reversing nuts and bolts, the vent, the sliding door – the list is endless.

The worst was yet to come, however. Remember the eight-inch metal posts? The greenhouse, it turns out, was not meant to sit between a garage wall and a fence. It is meant to be assembled in the open. This allows the builder to slide the polycarbonate roof panels into channels that give them a tight fit.

I did find a way around it. The directions call for using clear silicone caulk to seal all the seams, and I followed suit.

Unlike the folks who are tackling home-improvement projects to keep them sane during a pandemic that seems to have no predictable end, I did make mine much more complicated than it really needed to be.

Many of these do-it-yourselfers had trouble refurbishing furniture, while those who tried painting the exterior of their homes or make kitchen repairs were not successful. My father was the furniture refinisher, but I have painted the exteriors of two houses (the current one twice), and “easy” is not the word that comes to mind.

“Rain” is the word that comes to mind.

The trick, if I can call it that, to a successful job is improvisation: in other words, to be able to think on your feet. The greenhouse is not perfect, but I think it will do the job it was designed to do.

That fact has. I am happy to report, contributed mightily to my mental health.

If doing DIY projects are more than you want to tackle right now, Cipriani Remodeling Solutions can help you with your project. Your metal health will improve knowing your project was designed with style, built the right way and you’ll your beautiful new space.