BIY Learning Centre -- Classroom

I have a dream: it involves some way of magically transforming our three bedroom house into a four bedroom one. As time moves on, this becomes increasingly important to my husband’s and my sanity. Our two teenage testosterone-laden sons can’t seem to pass each other in the hall without picking a fight and needless to say, sharing a room exacerbates the problem.  But there is no space for an addition (our backyard is 20 feet deep) and after doing the math, the cost of moving yet again is prohibitive. Last year I looked into having an 8′ wall built down the middle of their large bedroom to give them a little bit of privacy. Unfortunately, because the project is so small, the contractors’ quotes were larger than my tight budget could handle.

In May the Build it Yourself Learning Centers opened at King and Dufferin. If you’re not familiar with the BiY Center, it is a brand new education centre established by Jim Caruk that offers a variety of courses on home improvement and decor. While attending the press conference I mentioned that I was interested in taking their drywall course because I’d decided that I wanted to build a wall in my boys’ room and I was too cheap going to do it myself. Jennie Mester, senior marketing manager for the center, invited me to take the “Helpless Homeowner” course as it started right away and the drywall course, to be held over a weekend, didn’t take place for awhile.

biy workshopLet me be perfectly honest: while I didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to take the course, I really, really thought that I wouldn’t learn much in a  “course for beginner homeowners.”  I mean, I had been doing most of the minor home improvement repairs in our house for the 13 years we’ve owned homes. I know how to caulk, I can hang pictures properly, I can use a tape measure, find studs in walls, and change a light switch. What more could they possibly teach me?

It turns out, they could teach me quite a lot….ahem.

The course ran for 3 and a half hours per night for 5 Mondays. Ian Burns, the director of education for the centre, taught four of the five classes. The electrical portion was taught by a certified electrician. Ian is a master carpenter by trade, has over 20 years experience in the field, and more than 10 years teaching experience. He focuses a lot on safety and gives solid, memorable, examples of why safety is so important when working with tools (fingers and saws come up often).

Beautiful Tools

Over the course of the 5 nights we learned how to:

  • assess our homes for deficiencies like a cracked foundation, leaky eavestroughs or downspouts, holes and cracks that need repair, water issues around the outside of your home.;
  • measure and build a wall frame and attach it to another frame using 2×4 lumber;
  • measure, cut and attach drywall to the wood frame;
  • wire a three way light switch;
  • tape, mud, and add a skim coat to drywall;
  • repair holes that Ian happily put in our brand new drywall (eek!);
  • cut baseboard;
  • change washers on a leaky faucet;
  • prep, prime and paint a wall.

We were also introduced to all kinds of handy and fun tools ranging from large measuring squares to my personal favourite: an electric drywall screw drill. This tool is so cool: once adjusted properly, one pull of the trigger and the drywall screw is inserted to the proper depth — slightly concave so that the resulting dimple can be filled with drywall mud. The learning center is sponsored by Bosch, Stanley, American Standard and Dynamic, so the quality and variety of the tools is very high.

Ian also taught us some things about the common tape measure I never knew. It turns out the different markings on it are there for a reason and not just to look nice. If you look at the 16″ mark on a tape measure, you’ll see a little arrow. At 32″ it’s the same thing. On my tape measure, all increments of 16″ are highlighted in red blocks. Common wall framing is done in increments of 16″ so this makes it easier for measuring.

What’s really so great about this course is the ability to try what they’re teaching you. During the course we constructed three mini walls including frames, drywall, mud and skim coat. Here is what I learned from the process:

  • Cutting two by fours with a manual saw is tiring and precision is important. The straighter the cuts, the better your pieces will fit together. A lot of my cuts were crooked.
  • Measure, measure, measure. In my case, I measured twice but still had to cut twice because I’d cut so crookedly the first time that I thought the next cut was off, when really it wasn’t. I cut the next piece too short and had to cut another.
  • Allow for mistakes because you’re going to make them (see previous bullet point). The biggest mistakes are with cutting (naturally) and particularly with baseboard joins. Getting the 45 degree joints to fit properly can be a challenge. Regarding baseboard cuts, a tip Ian gave us was cut two small “outer corner” joins and label them “left outside” and “right outside,” do the same for inside joins, and keep them in your toolbox. Refer to these examples before you cut your baseboards.
  • Drywall is easy to cut and it doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re going to cover it with mud and visible edges with corner bead.
  • I suck at drywall mud application. The pros make it look easy. Trust me, it isn’t.

Take aways from this course: Learning how to do some more advanced home repairs for myself has taught me a lot. I do feel more confident changing light switches and patching wall holes. Perhaps one of the most important things I learned was that some jobs are better left to the pros. They are the skilled trades and trying to do something for yourself where you have no training (electrical comes to mind), will likely only result in a larger electrician’s bill or the fire department landing on your doorstep. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve been equipped with the knowledge to better understand what a repairman tells me with respect to a repair I need done.

Not only do I have a new-found respect for all trades, but I also have the tools to do some of the jobs myself.

With respect to that wall in my boys’ bedroom, yes, I am going to tackle that one this summer. And I promise to document it along the way, not just for me, but also for the BiY Center. They’re curious to see if their teaching efforts have really been absorbed by their students, and I am going to be their test subject. Stay tuned! I will document my journey as I go.

The Build it Yourself Learning Center is located at 358 Dufferin Street, Toronto.

Visit their website for more information about their course offerings.


BEC Green

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