More Than You Bargained For: How to Cope When a Minor Fix Becomes a Major Renovation

Yes, very often a small fix turns into a bigger problem — but you have what it takes to handle it.

By Tina Jepson


We’ve all been there. You go to change the tile around your fireplace and notice that there is a crack in your wall. Or maybe you’re ready to install a new light fixture and you realize you’re missing that all-too-necessary junction box.




Sometimes, it feels like one minor fix or improvement sets a series of “unfortunate events” into motion. Don’t worry, it’s not just bad luck or a poor investment — it’s all part of home ownership.


Cope with compounding home “fixes” by following these tips:


Take a Step Back and Evaluate

Avoid getting flustered or angry. After all, you CAN and WILL be fine. Once you first notice that a small fix is part of a bigger problem, begin with what you know.


Ask yourself:


-“Can I fix this myself or do I need to call a professional?”

- “Are there any immediate hazards that I need to be aware of?”

-“What can I do now to get started?”


For instance, if you know there is a structural or electrical issue that requires knowledge beyond your current scope, then stop what you’re doing and call a licensed professional. They’ll help guide you through the next steps and you’ll save yourself time and money by getting it fixed correctly and permanently.




Once the professional work is complete, start thinking about what you need to do to complete the project(s).


Organize Your Thoughts

Grab some paper and a pencil and write down everything you need to do in the form of a checklist or spreadsheet.




Include even the most minute details and don’t forget to jot down extra necessary information such as the materials needed, estimated time of completion, whether or not you need an extra set of hands, and total cost.


For example:


- Buy 3.5-inch octagon junction box and 20-foot lamp wire (Est. $22)

- Shut off power to the switch by the door

- Reroute wire to new area above door from the existing switch

- Check joists for water damage from recent bathroom flood


The more detailed your checklist, the easier it will be to create a plan and designate tasks.




At the end of this step, you will have a complete list of everything you need over the following days/weeks. Before you jump into it, do the following:


- Make a shopping list

- Recruit help (if needed)

- Determine what must be addressed first

- Browse your “to-do” list and prioritize each task


Begin with any major problems and work your way down to the smaller ones that don’t necessarily impact day-to-day life. For example, if you have water damage, your first priority would be to perform standard safety measures such as switching off power to the house. Then, you would need to assess the problem areas and salvage any materials that can be reused, and so on. Tasks farther down your list include choosing paint colors and adding decorative trim.





By weighing what needs to be fixed immediately versus what tasks can wait, you’re guaranteeing your home remains livable and comfortable for as long as possible.


Keep it All in Perspective

When problems arise, it’s remarkably easy to become overwhelmed. But if you continue to keep perspective, you’ll finish the project within a reasonable time frame.


A few additional points to keep in mind when you encounter hurdles:


- Tackle one project at a time, making sure you complete one entire fix before moving on to the next project. This will keep you on-task and less stressed by a large to-do list.


- Always keep your budget in mind. If a project, fix, or renovation becomes too expensive (especially if you’re working with a professional such as a contractor), discuss alternative options such as builder-grade finishes or assisting with labor. Don’t forget to browse secondhand stores to score deals on everything from French doors to hardwood flooring.


- When in doubt, ask someone who knows. You are bound to save yourself headaches by learning how to do it right the first time.


For some homeowners, it may feel impossible to make lemonade from life’s lemons when it seems like you’re drowning in them. Yes, very often a small fix turns into a bigger problem — but you have what it takes to handle it. Good luck!





Images used with permission, courtesy of and

Next: 8 Things to Know Before Hiring a Renovation Expert