Tag Archives: do it yourself

To DIY Or Not To DIY

To do-it-yourself (DIY) or not?  My DIY world includes those small home improvement jobs that you might find listed in the Lowes DIY classes, although I don’t have the patience to sit through any of those classes.  My DIY does not include the heavy-duty jobs like: siding, whole house painting, roof replacement, carpeting, flooring, heating and cooling, excavation or anything that requires technical certification.

After proudly completing hundreds of DIYs including my share of screw-ups, I know my skill limits (most of the time) and have established “rules of engagement”—to DIY or not to DIY?.

I don’t do heights so roofing repairs or upper gutter cleaning aren’t part of my portfolio.  In general, plumbing and electrical projects are off limits because of the potential consequences of floods and fire, and crawl space work in areas where I must belly crawl are a thing of the past.

In addition to the fire and flood things, the reason I avoid the plumbing and electrical is the inevitable unforeseen “I have no idea how to fix that” surprises that occur in the middle of a simple job—HELP!  We recently decided to change a bathroom sink faucet which seemed like a basic task but as per my self-imposed ban on DIY plumbing, I called a plumber—glad I did!  Instead of a simple job, it became more complicated when it was determined that to install the drain-stopper the whole pedestal sink had to be removed, reinstalled, and re-caulked.  Our skilled plumber just reconfigured and still finished the job within his hour estimate–100 bucks well spent on a quality job.  I’m sure I would have figured out how to go off the instruction sheet and add the removal and installation of the whole sink to the simple faucet install, but the job completion would have dragged on over days with a lot of stressful head scratching and perpetual worry about a flood.

The plumber I used is one of the professional services who makes up my go to list of skilled, honest, and reasonably priced pros.  It takes some research and sadly some bad contracting experiences to weed out the hustlers and build a list of competent “my contractors” who can be called when it makes more safety, quality, and financial sense to hire a pro and not DIY.

But whenever possible, I DIY to: save some money, in most cases do a better job, and unlike a lot of contractors, clean up my mess.  But DIY takes more than a can-do attitude because you also need the tools for the job or else you’re like a gunfighter with no guns.  I have a garage full of tools and I’ve always had a self-imposed rule that I can only own a tool if I know which end to use.  If you have the right tool you’re more than likely to DIY.  Ladders, saws, rakes, shovels, wrenches, all populate my garage and tool boxes.  Some are frequently used, some were ill-advised, impulsive purchases still in their original packaging, and some are tired, old technology and need to be replaced with the latest and greatest.

One of my projects was replacing all our brass door hardware, a seemingly simple job but after the initial excitement of the proposed redo I realized that 17 doors would require the removal and installation of 34 door knobs, and 51 hinges with 306 screws.  Since this was a project repeating the same work ad nauseam, it had my DIY name written all over it.  It was apparent that my 20-year-old Craftsman driver was too tired for all this work so I justified the purchase of a new DeWalt drill/driver with extra battery, new drill bits and screw drivers, and even a headlight.  And to be sure that the doors would still work after my handy work I watched a few YouTube videos on the correct way to replace door hardware.  You have to pick and choose which YouTube self-anointed expert works for you since there are 1000’s of how to tutorials—some very helpful and some FUBAR.  I finished the project with only a few redo’s and besides the pride of doing it myself I now am the proud owner of a very cool new tool and am a door hardware install expert!

As I do more and more of my own work my confidence level has grown and I am starting to see the wisdom in my brother’s advice on contracting work.  Look at who is actually going to be doing the work and if the moron alert goes off you might as well do it yourself.

We had a terrible experience with a Power Wash Contractor who removed the grime from our siding but also removed a lot of the paint.  “Sorry, must be something wrong with your paint.”—moron alert, too late.  So now that it’s time to clean and waterproof our deck I was determined to make it a DIY project.  Found a deal on a Power washer on amazon, and a gallon of sealer and ready to rip.  BUT!!!“

High-pressure jets can be dangerous if subject to misuse. The jet must not be directed at persons, pets, live electrical equipment, or the appliance itself.  Do not direct the jet at yourself or others in order to clean clothes or footwear.  High-pressure: keep clear of nozzle…Injection hazard: equipment can cause serious injury if the spray penetrates the skin”

So proud of myself for maturing and reading the directions before I skinned myself or totally destroyed my deck since this thing is like a diamond cutter.  After selecting the right nozzle to just remove the mildew and grime and not vaporize the wood, my wife and I successfully completed the tasks with just a few minor oopses.  This DIY job was completed at a fraction of the contractor cost and I also am the proud owner of another cool, new power tool.  The only real problem with the job was sharing the power washer with my wife since it worked effortlessly and was fun to use.  “My turn, my turn.”power washer cartoon

The satisfaction and fun in doing DIY is amazing if you are realistic about your skill limits.  But sometimes the decision to DIY or not isn’t about skill but about the economics of time and cost.  I’ve discovered special contractor offers from Angie’s List and others like aerating and reseeding for $49, cleaning gutters for $49, servicing hot water heater for $49, servicing garage door opener for $49….I couldn’t DIY any of these for less!  Just be aware that these prices are sales tools that are meant to solicit more business, which to me is fair.  I am doubly diligent about checking references for the contractors offering these lower than market prices since most good contractors are too busy to do the coupon thing.  It’s up to you to be smart about who you hire and limit yourself to the special unless you planned on contracting for additional work and the price is right.

DIY is all about knowing your limits and expanding them as you learn new skills.  It’s probably a good idea to eliminate the word perfect from your appraisal of your finished project since success is all about completing the project so that it is of acceptable quality and without hurting yourself.  The satisfaction, savings, and pride in DIY is addictive and the cool new shiny tools you purchase and learn to use can make you a self-certified craftsman/woman willing to take on bigger and bigger home improvements—unless you get a bigger and bigger deal so you can just supervise.

Home Improvements-Do It Yourself?

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.remodel cartoon

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!