We’ve mentioned this before, but one of the most difficult things about this home renovation process has been remembering how much we’ve accomplished. It’s easy to get busy, especially during the summer, and next thing you know, two weeks (or more) have passed and you haven’t done anything house-related.

The primary reason that it’s easy to forget how much we’ve done is because so much of it has been behind the scenes. We can see the results of our hard work when we walk through the rental unit bathroom, and we can see the difference a coat of paint could make.  But before any of this was possible, tons of work (and dollars) had to go into the not-so-pretty stuff.

When we moved in, neither unit in the house had central heat. Radiator heat isn’t so bad, you say? Think again. We didn’t have that either. In the rental unit, there were two space heaters, akin to something you may see in a mobile home – a small one in the kitchen and a larger one in the dining room. Even better: our unit only had the one in the dining room. How did a space heater warm an entire floor? It didn’t. How did we survive the Chicago winter? Barely.



We essentially closed off the back of the house to try to keep the heat in the front half. We also positioned our dining benches to make a faux tunnel to direct the heat into our bedroom. Not sure if that actually worked or if it was mental, but nonetheless, this was not a long-term solution. The only time the kitchen was warm was the rare occasion when we would use the oven.

One night, a tube of tomato paste fell out of the refrigerator and went unnoticed until the next morning. We decided enough was was enough when the tomato paste didn’t need to be thrown out because the kitchen was the same temperature as the inside of the refrigerator.

Alas, we had heat installed. The layout of the house is like many old Chicago homes. All of the bedrooms are along one side and the living, kitchen, bath and dining are along the other. We had exposed ductwork installed in the bedrooms and vented into the living spaces. We also built closets around the furnaces.


Another behind-the-scenes job that we had to have done right after moving in was redoing all of the plumbing. The pipes were galvanized steel and at least 60 years old. Galvanized steel is not allowed anymore per Chicago code, so we had copper pipes installed. We knew this was a must-do project before tenants move in, otherwise none of us would be able to shower at the same time. Luckily the layout of both units is almost identical (bathrooms and kitchens are stacked on top of one another), so this made for a fairly simple job in the grand scheme of plumbing projects.


We took advantage of someone working on the plumbing and installed in-unit laundry to both units. Previously, the laundry was located in a closet on the back porch and was not nearly insulated enough for pipes to withstand the Chicago winter. We knew this was not only unacceptable for tenants, but the fact that we lived here meant we had skin in the game. There was no chance we were lugging down all of our laundry when it was -20 outside and we definitely were not trying to clean up the mess caused from a burst pipe.


We somehow have no photos of the laundry in our own unit, but we will post more photos of ours at a later date.

Aside from these larger projects, we also did some “smaller” improvements to the rental unit in order to prepare it for tenants:

  • replaced the wood planks around the perimeter with actual baseboards


  • hung closets in each of the bedrooms
  • purchased a new refrigerator that was more appropriately sized for the space


  • installed new light fixtures
  • changed light switch plates
  • patched holes in the walls
  • replaced the flooring throughout

While we would much rather have spent all of that time and money on improving the aesthetics of our own unit, it was important for us to complete all of the projects that needed to be done in order to get renters in quickly.  We’re very slowly but surely chipping away at the projects we want to complete for ourselves. Follow along on instagram and facebook!

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