We’ve all watched and laughed along with shows like HGTV Rescue My Renovation. Maybe we have all experienced a project or two go south such as theirs. One thing is for sure: projects that end badly all too often were never set up for success from the start.


Prep work and maintaining a safe work zone is worth the time invested in the beginning of a project, because at the end you get to post those amazing before-and-after pics. Prep work and good safety habits create positive repetition, which transforms into a safe and productive work space.  Over time it becomes less invasive and easier to manage.

VOC Hazards

I use chemicals on an almost daily basis. Some of which can have negative effects on our health.  I’m talking about the VOC chemicals found in the paint, stain, aerosol cans, and many materials and products we use to complete DIY home repairs and projects. 

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) can cause headaches, dizziness and even nausea if inhaled.  While the change to zero-VOC paint is a positive one, I still want to stress the importance of keeping your windows open and allowing fresh air into your work area. I always try to wear a respirator mask if I cannot avoid using VOC containing products.

Non-VOC Paints to Try

Latex paint now offers low-VOC or no-VOC paint options to check into. The chalk paint craze has come alongside latex paint for refreshing and re-painting furniture and household décor.  Chalk paint, which is made from mineral particles, contains zero VOCs. I use chalk paint for this reason alone. It can be used to paint walls as well, but be weary of the price tag because chalk paint is higher priced than that of your average latex paint.


Because chalk paint is made of minerals, you can water it down to make a more transparent coverage, and it also blends well with other chalk paint colors to create a custom color not sold in the store. It washes up with water and can be stored in a dry room temperature room just like regular paint. The wax that is used to seal the chalk paint is also more health savvy, replacing polyurethane (which contains VOCs). Wax may take extra elbow grease and is recommended to allow several months for it to completely cure.

New Options for Wood Stain

My personal preference is a gel stain to the liquid version. I find it is less offensive to the nose and it applies more evenly and is easier to control the saturation (how dark the stain soaks into the wood). I tend to splash the liquid stain all over the place. It does still contain chemicals, so wear a mask.

Meg’s Best Hacks for Ultimate DIY Success


Clean stain off of your skin with lemon essential oil. It is amazing and leaves your hands smelling fresh and is not harmful like paint thinner when used on the skin. The brand really doesn’t matter; I end up using so much of it that I buy a less expensive oil than I do for others essential oil uses. I keep a bottle by the sink and everyone in the family has found a use for it. I have also gotten permanent marker off of wood and sticky residue off of many surfaces using my good old bottle of lemon oil.


Combine fabric softener and vinegar to clean brushes. It works wonders if your paint has almost dried on the brush, softening them up and making them usable again. I am the worst at letting my brushes dry out. Don’t make this same mistake.


When painting a large area of the house, which I know will take more than a day, I wrap my paint roller in plastic and keep in the fridge. I also do this with paint brushes and this eliminates the need to wash and rewash brushes and rollers when I know I will just get up and use them the next morning.

*I will note here that I have a separate refrigerator just for my paints and rollers because any VOC in the paint can taint food that is kept in the same space and might possibly make you sick if you eat it.


The importance of a good brush is essential to trim work, but buying a new brush every single project can get spendy. I like to buy the big bag of cheap chip brushes and foam brushes for one-time use projects and toss them when done and keep my good brushes for furniture painting or trim work where I don’t want the brush strokes to show. Painting with the wood grain and keeping your paint strokes going in the same direction, however, helps no matter what kind of brush you are using. 

Prep for a Safe Work Zone

Our community is driven by industries where safety is extremely important. While not all of us work in mining, gas, or oil field industries, we can implement a few safety guidelines for our own personal protection and that of our families as well:

  Make sure all cords are taped down or placed under a work mat to avoid tripping (clumsy girl right here)

  Shut off the electricity to the breaker box in your house when rewiring and attaching light fixtures or doing any kind of electrical work (forgot to do that once and got yelled at by my husband)

  Work in a well-ventilated area, keeping the windows or garage door open to allow fresh air in and the fumes out (Yep, have been sick from forgetting this step!)

  Label all chemicals and cleaners and keep out of reach of children (I have grabbed the wrong container MANY times because the labeling on products is so similar)

  Wearing long sleeves, gloves, a respirator, and safety glasses protects your skin and eyes (I am getting better at this)

    Sawdust can cause breathing and respiratory issues. Exotic woods are especially offending. Wearing a respirator, mask, or installing an inhalation system can be a proactive way to avoid symptoms. (We have learned the hard way cedar dust is especially offending to a hubby who has asthma)

    Remove nails, and other sharp objects from reclaimed wood (especially wood pallets which are super popular DIY material these days) to avoid stepping on them and getting a nail through the foot. (And NEVER wear flip flops while doing projects. I have cut my feet numerous times because I made the wrong shoe choice).   NOTE: The Center for Disease Control recommends getting a tetanus booster every 10 years to stay protected.

Local Paint Disposal

When I contacted our local Sherwin-Williams paint store for paint disposal tips, they suggested contacting the city dump for specific questions regarding oil-based paint disposal specifics.  Employee, Brittany Clapp, was very helpful and suggested adding kitty litter to water-based paint to dry it out before taking cans to the city dump. The local landfill specified that oil-based paint would need to be dropped off at the new Hazardous Health and Waste Bldg., located at the old recycling center at the former dump.

Prepare for Success

That boost of self-confidence in your newfound and upgraded DIY skill set is achieved over time with practice, consistency, and sound judgement just like anything else. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get busy. Just remember, safety first!

By: Megan K. Huber

Photos by Megan K. Huber of Huber Farms

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