The Do-It-Yourself Myth
We live in a do-it-yourself age. Just look at the number of retail stores and departments devoted to home improvements. There are Internet sites that cover just about every repair or fix-up contingency. Bookstores have entire sections devoted to the do-it-yourself (DIY). And, let’s not exclude the specialized television programs that make it appear you can add on a room or build a deck in just one hour.
Consumers are bombarded with the notion that they can fix or build just about anything they need around the house. All they need is the right tool, the right set of instructions, the right book or the right gizmo. If only that were true.
Obviously there are many very talented homeowners who can and do repair and maintain their own homes. The rest of us try, fail and usually end up spending more money than we would have if we had called a professional in the first place. An engineering newsletter I receive estimates that only one in ten homeowners really has the skills to do the job. Before tackling any project, homeowners should ask themselves if they really have the skills to accomplish the task. If not, the project is already in trouble.
“But I can save money, do it faster and do it right.” Is that you talking or the TV commercial? I remember one plumber telling me, “Mr. Jones, the next time you want to fix your plumbing, don’t do it on the weekend.”
Unless you have an unlimited supply of time and patience, you should not use a DIY project as an opportunity to learn a new skill. Books, TV shows, the Internet or one-day seminars are no substitute for thorough training and years of experience.
Any long-time homeowner can tell you that a DIY project will take more time – usually two or three time more – than you expect. If you have a deadline, chances are you will end up compromising quality to get it done on time.
Safety is always an issue. Do you know how to handle the power tools and construction equipment safely? Do you have the proper eye and hearing protection, breathing filters, gloves, goggles?
When our neighborhood was new, someone rented a tractor-mounted auger and offered to drill fence postholes for anyone who wanted them. Several men climbed on the tractor to add weight so the auger could dig into the clay soil. Digging stopped when we saw orange wrapping coming out of the hole with the warning: “Danger underground electrical power cable.” We narrowly averted a disaster for several families.
Are you familiar with the building codes that apply to the project? Do you understand the structure of your home? One well intended DIYer removed a wall to enlarge a room only to discover that the removed wall supported the floor above, and it began to collapse.
You should always consider how the quality of your work will affect resale. The value of your home could be seriously diminished, especially if the work does not comply with local regulations.
Will things go wrong? Yes. Will the unexpected occur? Yes. A friend of mine cut off the water to his house so he could fix a leaky kitchen faucet. He disassembled the faucet and went to the garage for a washer. While he was away, his kids turned the water back on. A stream of water hit the ceiling and flooded the kitchen in minutes.
What do you do if you decide to paint the trim on your house but discover some of the wood is rotten? Suddenly, the “simple” paint job calls for a carpenter. Are you prepared to do both?
When you assume you can do the job more inexpensively, you are not assigning any value to your own time. Only you can decide if the DIY project is more important than spending time on something else, such as entertaining the kids while plumber repairs the faucet. And if you think your workmanship is equal or better than a professional, give it the ask-your-spouse test.
Homes don’t come with an instruction book. If they did, they might contain only one sentence: “If it breaks, call a professional.”
Contributed by David S. Jones, reprinted with permission from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.