By Dusty Overby
on 6.16.09

know-when-to-do-it-yourself

You are a man. Should you set your mind to something, it’s unlikely that any force can stand firm against your resolute will. That’s why I want to encourage you to cast doubt and fear from your mind with regard to those home improvement projects that are steadily piling up around your ankles. You are a man, master of your domain.

On the other hand, hindsight has proven many a would-be Bob Villa to be harebrained in his scheming, ill-equipped in his outfitting, and ill-advised in his execution. Quite frankly, I do not wish to find you reduced to a quivering pile of man-goo by a chore that you just couldn’t tame. That’s why we’re going to discuss what you should definitely tackle on your own, how you ought to go about it, and what things are better left to the professionals.

First off, you can write an article for Gear Patrol. Get the rest of the dos and don’ts after the jump.

Why Wouldn’t I Just Pay Someone To Do That?

pay-someoneLet’s just say it. The economy sucks. Pretty much any and all real estate inventory is sitting in some degree of stagnation. That’s one reason that a lot of people are hunkering down in their existing homes and choosing to make upgrades or repairs to improve its value and livability. That’s what this writer is up to, anyway.

It’s in that same vein that I submit to you, all machismo aside, that choosing to tackle projects and fixes around your domicile via D.I.Y. skills can save you some serious cash. In my three years as a homeowner, I’ve managed several high-frugal success stories that spurred me to an unshakable belief in the “git ‘er done” mentality. Among other smaller jobs, they include:

  • Replaced whole house carpet with laminate flooring – Saved $1,500
  • Installed new ceiling fans and lighting – Saved $450
  • Interior painting – Saved $1,500
  • Minor plumbing repairs – Saved $300
  • Designed and built garden/tool shed – Saved $900

In case you can’t add (like me), that’s nearly $5,000! I don’t list these accomplishments to brag, rather I share them with you to say, “If I can pull it off, then so can you!” See, I’m just a regular guy. I don’t have any special training, construction experience, or even rudimentary math skills. I do have great hand-eye coordination (from growing up on video games, no doubt), but, then again, I did almost shoot myself with a nail gun once, so my competence is questionable. I digress. My point is this: you always need more “gear money” and you’ll really enjoy spending the cash that you saved by doing a project yourself.

To Do (It Yourself) Or Not To Do (It Yourself), That Is The Question

do-it-yourself-or-notPlanning is paramount. When you are considering a project, three factors should weigh into your D.I.Y. decision.

  1. How much do you stand to save by doing it yourself?
  2. Do you have or can you obtain the skills, tools, and supplies necessary to make it happen?
  3. What level of finished quality do you require and can you attain this without a professional?

To the financial component, a little research is required. First, price the purchased item or the contracted service. Several estimates may be required. Then determine how much (or how little) it will cost you to achieve a comparable result. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of your time, which has a real cash value (figure it out here). Does it still make sense to do it yourself?

Recently, I needed to pour a concrete slab. My original thought (because I’m cheap) was to mix and pour bag concrete into my form. However, a little research saved me a lot of work, as I learned that having the premixed concreted delivered by the pros was exactly the same price as simply buying the 60+ bags I would need. A few phone calls saved me a lot of hassle and labor. The lesson? Know when to say no to D.I.Y.

As for skills and tools, honesty is the best policy here. On one hand, I’d encourage you to tackle any project within reason. On the other hand, don’t get in over your head. Getting yourself hurt, killed, or blowing up your budget (or house) is not the D.I.Y. way. Some things, (electrical repairs, for example) are not projects you want to learn on.

If you are going to need tools or supplies that you don’t already have be sure and include them in your budget. For heavy or specialty equipment, check with your local rental store for rates. Oftentimes, if you pick up a tool late in the day, you can use it all evening and only be charged for a few hours rental. More on your burgeoning tool collection in a moment.

Finally, you need to determine your tolerance for variability in results. If you are an incurable perfectionist, D.I.Y. projects may not be your cup of tea. When you decide to resurface your cabinets or tile your bathroom, there’s no one to blame or to call back to the job if things get a little wonky. Unless you are a professional, don’t expect professional results. However, in pretty much every project I’ve tackled, the savings I’ve earned were more than enough to salve my expectations. Let me be clear, I’m talking about the difference in your doing an 85 or 90% job, as opposed to paying a pro for near perfection. If you think your results at a given project will be too poor to justify the saving, steer clear.

The Right Tool Can Make Or Break Your Project

right-toolsI cannot stress this enough – use the right tool for the job. Every time I’ve ever tried to take a short-cut or improvise a tool, I’ve regretted it. There’s a tool for every job; choose and use the right one. I urge you, as a man, to make the building and maintaining of your tool set/collection a point of pride. Good, quality tools will last you a lifetime. A properly composed stash will take you nearly as long to accumulate, as Walt Kowalski of Gran Torino will gladly tell you.

Some of you will be luckier than others, inheriting well-worn pieces from your father or grandfather. Treasure these tools and honor them by extending their usefulness. They weren’t meant to simply gather dust.

Others of you will have to start from scratch, but do so with any eye towards passing them on someday. A good lineup of tools is not unlike the prized baseball card or comic book collection from your childhood. Sure, if you had plenty of money, you could probably go out and buy whatever you wanted straightaway and completely. That’s not really the point though. Gathering the constituent members is a labor of love. So it is with the useful denizens of your garage or shed.

It’s Called Do It Yourself, Not Do It By Yourself

do-it-not-by-yourselfSometimes the right tool isn’t a what but a who (go ahead, snicker away). If your job calls for brute strength, then get some more bodies involved. I recently tried to wrangle some railroad ties on my own. That was a mistake. My back begs you not to make the same one.

Also, D.I.Yers are a group that loves to share knowledge with one another. If you need some information, a simple internet search will direct you to a variety of sites and forums. The web offers seemingly limitless access to plans, videos, guides, and how-tos.  Also, look to engage the knowledge and experience of those around you. Maybe your dad was the original handy-man-guy or perhaps you’ve got a contractor buddy. In any case, ask around. Chances are you’ll glean some useful knowledge. You might even find it in the comments below. I hear that a lot of GP readers are pretty sharp guys.

Let’s continue the conversation. Got your own D.I.Y. success/horror story? Tell us about it, or share your best project tip, in the comments below.

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