You watch HGTV. You took shop class in middle school. You own a screwdriver AND a hammer. Seems like you’re qualified to DIY your house, top to bottom! On TV, renovations start and finish in less than an hour, with commercials – how hard can it possibly be?
Americans are on track to spend over $300 billion (billion with a B) dollars this year on home renovations. The economy in general and the housing market specifically are thriving and that translates into people putting more money into their most valuable assets – their homes. Couple that spending with society’s fervor about turning everyone’s living room into a setting worthy of its own TV show, and you’ve got a lot of people looking around their house wondering how to tweak it next weekend.
DIY projects can be a huge money-saver and enormously rewarding on a personal level, but they can also be an endless nightmare and a bottomless money pit. Before you start swinging a sledgehammer in your bathroom, use a frequently underutilized tool – your brain – and think about your future as a DIY-er.
If you have no experience wielding a tool or undertaking any home-based projects, start small. Really small. Hang some artwork, build some IKEA furniture, or paint a wall. Do not start by ripping out your kitchen cabinets. The idea is to set yourself up for success by choosing finite, do-able projects that teach you some rudimentary skills and let you figure out if you really want to tackle larger DIY projects.
Do you have the time and dedication for projects that take more than half a day? Significant DIY projects will cause a serious disruption to your home life. They will exhaust you, mentally and physically, and they will be staring you in the face every time you sit down for five minutes. Is this how you want to spend your free time? Perhaps more importantly, anyone you live with will also be forced to deal with this disruption. Solo DIY projects are not always well-received by significant others, so if you can’t enlist your spouse/roommate, tread carefully.
Writing down your plan will help you to appreciate its scope. If you can draw, add some sketches, and if you can’t, use Pinterest or magazines to help you visualize a concrete goal. List out the materials and tools you will need and note whether you already have them or will need to acquire them. Draw up a cost estimate for the supplies. Break the job down into smaller pieces, list out the skills you’d need, and roughly calculate (or guess) how many hours it would take (and add 50%). Assume there will be surprises that make everything take longer and cost more.
The goal is to know what you’d be getting into in terms of cost, skills, and time.
You may want to spend your time doing the project, but you probably already have a job. You might be willing to let a garage renovation drag out for weeks or months, but probably not your kitchen – it would be too disruptive to have it out of commission for any length of time. If you have small children or travel for work, this might not be the right time in your life to embark on a big DIY project. There are only so many hours in a day.
Sure, you can learn a lot from books and on YouTube, and maybe you’re ok with using your basement to practice those skills. But think twice before laying hardwood floors for the first time ever in your front entrance hall for all the world to see. Perfectionists should proceed with caution. Learning new skills is fun but can be time-consuming, so if you’ve got your heart set on re-tiling your backsplash, factor in plenty of extra time for you to learn how. And don’t expect that you’re going to be able to learn three new skills in three days, either. Be realistic.
By this point, you may have realized that you need help. And there are some jobs for which you should always call in a professional. Any significant electrical, plumbing, structural, or roofing aspects of your project should generate a call to an expert. Not only do many of those kinds of tasks require permits – a sure sign that a pro should be involved – but the consequences of your errors can be catastrophic. Electricity, falling off the roof, a collapsing ceiling – all these things can kill you. Plumbing mess-ups are unlikely to cause any fatalities, but a leak can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage to your biggest asset before you even know it’s there. Don’t be a hero. You wouldn’t DIY open heart surgery or piloting an airplane – there’s no shame in getting professionals to handle the serious work.
If you live in a house that’s older than you are, consider it an older home. Any house more than a century old has decades of hidden, out-of-date repair work and antique systems. Every wall might contain faulty wiring, misdirected pipes, and random materials used as insulation. Cancer-causing asbestos used to be a common insulator, and any house built before the 1970s is liable to contain lead-based paint. The older your home, the more imperative it is that you call in some experts.
DIY projects are often more fun to think about than to execute. If you have some handyman skills you’d like to dust off, or are enthusiastic about learning new ones, the DIY route can provide hours of satisfying work while saving you significant money. If that’s not you, don’t hesitate to hire someone to handle projects for you, whether they are big or small, so you don’t have to spend your time on them. Time is a valuable resource you can’t buy anywhere, so if you’d rather spend it playing tennis or writing a novel, get out your checkbook and hire someone to do the work for you.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!