Home: Dishaw family takes on big DIY home renovation
The DIY skills come from screwing up. You make a mistake you learn pretty quickly you’re not supposed to do that again.
— Josh Dishaw
MIDDLEBURY — Over the past decade a lot of things have worked out well for Josh and Meghan Dishaw — especially in the last few months.
The couple met at what was then Fletcher Allen Healthcare in Burlington and have been married for seven years. They agreed on Middlebury, Meghan’s hometown, as a place to settle, even though it was far from Josh’s native northern New York.
They bought a condo in the same complex as Meghan’s parents, perfect for when their first child, Hatley, now age four, came along. It was large enough for the three of them and for Josh to run his medical education company, which he started in 2012 after a career as a paramedic.
Then Greeley, now age two, joined the family, and the condo began to feel cramped.
Just as they started to get serious about finding bigger quarters, a “For Sale” sign appeared in front of a cape-style home a few hundred yards away. They learned that the house was built originally by Hannaford Career Center students and faculty.
Ready or not, they knew they had to move quickly.
“We were in a condo with two kids, a dog and a cat,” said Meghan, a former medical assistant. “We talked about getting something larger. And then when we saw this house come on the market, we didn’t have a Realtor. We weren’t prepared to sell.”
Regardless, two of the fastest real estate deals in Addison County history soon went down.
The Dishaws twice looked at the home, the second time on a Tuesday evening.
They knew it would need work and renovation to their taste, but it would be near Meghan’s parents — Kathleen McKennan and Timothy Cope — and schools and amenities, and it was attractive and structurally sound.
“It was a perfect 1978 home,” Josh said. “It’s a nice little cape. All the preventative maintenance, all the little things that needed to happen along the way were done very well. It’s warm, it’s efficient … But there were some small projects that we wanted to work on when we moved in.”
They made an offer that Tuesday night.
The next morning they told their broker, Beth Stanway of IPJ Real Estate, they were ready to sell their condo.
That morning the first person to look at it made an acceptable offer, and two hours later their bid on the home was accepted. A month later both deals closed virtually in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown.
“We just got lucky,” Josh said.
Then came the move and the renovations — largely undertaken by Josh, with plenty of help from Meghan, especially on the design end.
“I’ve got a lot of the vision, and he’s got a lot of the know-how, which is great for a team,” Meghan said. “He’s got the skills and the tools, and he’s also an excellent teacher.”
The work — some ongoing, some done — is extensive. It includes:
• A complete rebuild of the upstairs full bath.
• The removal of two downstairs walls, one of them loadbearing, to create an open floor plan with a playroom and living room flanking the kitchen.
• New fixtures for the downstairs half-bath.
• Significant cosmetic upgrades to the rooms upstairs and down.
After 20 years of do-it-yourself work, Josh, also a Middlebury firefighter, had no hesitation in tackling the multiple, interconnected projects. He said DIY has run in his family for generations.
“I’ve remodeled houses in the past,” he said. “My dad pretty much taught me. He had learned from his father. It’s just one of those things where I’ve done it a few times, and I’m pretty confident.”
When the pandemic struck, Josh also moved his company into online education, which cut out travel and allowed him to focus more on moving and renovating.
“It freed up a lot of time,” Josh said.
Other projects are further along, but the upstairs bathroom might have produced a higher percentage of the construction waste — the room was stripped down to studs and floor joists.
The leaky toilet had damaged flooring and subflooring, and wallpaper no one liked (Meghan described some of the home’s papered walls as “Pepto Bismol pink” and “bright daffodil yellow”) made it almost as easy to start with new sheetrock rather than stripping the old.
They also bought new fixtures: a basic child-friendly tub enclosure, a Kohler toilet with an aqua piston rather than a flapper valve because Josh believes that system offers a longer life, and a vanity on which Josh and Meghan chose to splurge a little.
“We wanted a nice marble top with it and soft-close hinges,” Josh said.
They spent locally on building materials, paint and fixtures, with the exception of the tub enclosure.
“Most of it (came) from Goodro’s. I did get some from rk Miles,” Josh said, adding he typically shops at both. “They’ve both been wonderful.”
Because Josh, Meghan and her parents have done the work, costs have been contained. Josh estimated as of early May they had spent about $7,500.
But that hasn’t included disposal of construction debris. As of early May the Addison County Solid Waste Management District transfer station remained closed except to commercial haulers. Meghan joked their yard might not be making them welcome neighbors.
“At one point we had two toilets and a Dumpster out front, and a big pile of sticks and yard debris,” she said
Downstairs the Dishaws have removed the wallpaper and painted, cleaned wood flooring, replaced the toilet and vanity in the half bath, and removed the walls to create their open floor plan.
Meghan said the open space will allow them to keep track of their children and share their activities, and also enjoy a brighter and more engaging environment when company visits.
“We want to make sure we have them in our line of vision so we’re connected even when we’re not actively engaging in play with them,” she said. “It also actually brings a lot of light into the house, opening up walls and exposing different walls and bringing a cheery atmosphere into the space.”
One of the walls was the main load-bearing wall running down the middle of the home, however.
“I had a beam engineered for the right distance so I could span the whole space so I could take out a load-bearing wall I didn’t want there,” Josh said.
Its installation showed off the teamwork that has helped throughout the renovation. Meghan said: she and her father held the support beam while Josh secured it properly.
The Dishaws said McKennan and Cope have been there helping, entertaining and reading to their children, feeding them all, and working on projects.
“They’ve been great,” Meghan said. “They’ve been a huge help.”
The Dishaws also made sure Hatley and Greeley were invested in the process. The children colored on walls before they were taken down, and took part in the first stages of demolition.
“A lot of what I did is find ways to get the kids involved, so they felt like this was their home and they felt like they were part of it,” Meghan said.
More work lies ahead, starting with the kitchen and then eventually grander plans.
“Five, 10 years from now we’re going to put a big addition on this place and make a nice wonderful bathroom connected to a master bedroom,” Josh said.
Josh encouraged others who might hesitate to go ahead and pick up tools.
“The DIY skills come from screwing up. You make a mistake you learn pretty quickly you’re not supposed to do that again,” Josh said. “It’s all temporary. It all can be fixed with, more often than not, pretty simple fixes.”
Meghan said she and Josh are painfully aware they have been fortunate at a time many others have not.
“Things really fell into place for us, and we’re really, really grateful for that. But really our heart goes out to all the people who are on the front lines or have family members, or they themselves, are sick,” she said.
She and Josh look forward to a time when people can get together again, and those they are close to can visit them in their new home.
“We can’t wait for that day,” Meghan said. “It will be a great day when we can allow other family and friends in.”
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