After hundreds of home projects, the most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to know your skill limits. I have abandoned my macho male I-can-do-anything persona and adopted the COST-CONSEQUENCES method of deciding when to tackle a job myself or when to help the economy by hiring a professional. As a rule, I don’t do plumbing or electric since the CONSEQUENCES part of the decision process is the potential for flooding, electrocuting my family, or burning down the house. The actual plumbing/electrical tasks usually aren’t that hard but it’s the hidden problems that arise during the installs that can lead to some “holy crap-what-do-I-do-now” moments. Shut off valves that have never been used may not shut off and initial install short cuts can turn into real head scratchers.
We are doing some cosmetic upgrades to our half bath including: getting rid of the original homebuilder installed gold faucet and wall light, and adding some fresh paint. As I break out my Timberlands and size up the job I realize that the shiny new oil-rubbed-bronze faucet and light won’t match the old gold doorknob, door hinges, flush lever, and towel and toilet paper holders. They’ll all need to be replaced which follows the rule of remodeling—always more work and cost than anticipated! The first step is to select all the fixtures, and make countless trips to Sherwin Williams to pick my wife’s perfect wall color. I soon realize that there is a real bonus to this job since all the drilling and screw driving will give me an excuse to buy a new wireless drill to replace my 20-year-old dead battery drill—thanks Amazon.
Next I call the plumber and electrician to schedule the faucet and light installation. This is a good time to talk about contractor selection since there are a lot of gypsies out there. We moved to North Carolina 20 years ago and one of the biggest challenges was finding a base of contractors (plumber, electrician, heating/cooling) who wouldn’t hustle us. After a few whoopses we found some great contractors with the help of Angie’s List, neighbor’s recommendations, and trial and error. The contractors we call our own are: great tradesmen, reasonably priced, clean up after themselves, and people you trust in your house. I’m sold when a worker walks into the house and puts on those little protective booties.
As per my earlier cautions about doing your own plumbing, the plumber started the simple install and realized that installing the faucet drain plug required removing the whole sink which would have freaked me out if I had tackled the job myself. The electrician also needed to take a few extra steps beyond the 1-2-3-4 installation instructions. Both earned their money and reinforced my decision to hire a pro to tackle the unknown.
I charged up my new drill and selected the perfect drill bits and screw drives to replace all the accessories (doorknob, hinges, towel holder…). In my enthusiastic handyman mindset, I had ordered a full set of drills and screw heads to prepare me for anything although I probably only will use 2 or 3 of the dozens of choices for my limited tasks. As I started my part of the redo, my love for YouTube videos grew since I used them for everything from the correct use of my new drill to videos clarifying the cryptic install instructions.
The project was a true team effort combining the expertise of the plumber and electrician, my wife’s painting skills, my handyman skills and of course my new drill with enough accessories to drill and screw the world. If you hire contractors as part of your team make sure you request: current references, final cost estimate, and a clear timeline for work completion. On small jobs most trades people quote an hourly rate so keep the small talk to a minimum and open all boxes before they arrive to make sure you have all the necessary parts for the installation. I also have a step ladder available and offer to be the extra set of hands if needed. Otherwise I get off their shoulder and let them do their magic.
If you own a house, it will always need work so you have to decide what is the perfect team mix of doing it yourself and hiring pros so you don’t destroy more than you fix. There is nothing more rewarding than making your house better and taking pride in your handy work which also includes the pros work since you paid for it. “primum non nocere”—First, do no harm!