Q. My wife and I have bought a house in a small rural town that her family is from. I have been working on making some minor repairs on this 100-year-old home such as fixing a leaking drain line and installing a sump pump in the basement. I have an electrician who is going to install a couple of new fixtures including a ceiling fan in the living room. The electrician who has been here has pointed out several deficiencies in the electrical including an outdated breaker panel. We had the house inspected before we bought it and the inspection indicated that there was nothing emergency/critical that needed to be done but did indicate some things that needed to be looked at by a professional. We are planning to update the kitchen and first floor bathroom and have had a contractor out and he suggested to tear those areas out down to the studs and start from a clean slate. The price to do this was way out of our means; we do have some monies saved to do some renovation but not nearly that much. Should we consider a second mortgage or tone down what we have done? — Nathan, a regular reader

A. You are asking an age-old question. My best advice is to go slow and don’t overextend yourself.

Be careful when meeting contractors. Generally when they look at your home, it is the first time they have seen the place. The initial reaction can be to tear it all out and redo it.

That is not always the right approach when you’re trying to make some improvements on a budget. First consider what you might be able to do yourself and use the professionals when absolutely needed.

When it comes to an old house, the best way to get stuff done and build, over time, good home equity is to do it yourself, with maybe some help from your friends.

If this is a home that you are planning on spending the foreseeable future in, a home equity loan is a good way to get much needed improvements completed and be able to pay it off over the next few years.

With an older home there probably is always something that can get upgraded, so don’t spend all your monies in your first projects.

Jeff Deahl is past president of the Builders Association of Northeast Indiana. Questions for the Square Corners column may be submitted to jeff@craftsman-design.com.

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