5 DIY Projects You Should Attempt - picture of man and woman painting walls

5 DIY Projects You Should Attempt (And Some You Shouldn’t)

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As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m tighter than a skeeter’s ass in a nose dive. If something needs to be fixed or maintained, I’m always looking for ways to save money. Of course, that means I take on a lot of DIY projects. When we first got married, I was basically clueless when it came to repairs. Slowly, I’ve learned my way around everything from basic electrical to minor plumbing and it has paid off for us.

Owning large, expensive things means you are going to have to make the occasional repair. Most of the time, being able to do fix things on your own can save you money. But, doing it yourself doesn’t always provide the most value. Here are 5 DIY projects you should attempt yourself…and some you shouldn’t.

Painting

Last weekend, Holly and I painted the bloody deck. It’s not as if painting a deck takes a lot of skill, but the 2×2 railing spindles made it take forEVAH. Although painting can be tedious, anybody should be able to do it. We’ve painted every house we’ve ever lived in…and it is a serious PITA, but the savings is totally worth it.

When to hire a painter – When it comes to painting, just grab a roller and get to it. Painters charge an incredible amount of money to save you the hassle of doing it yourself. The only painting I’d consider hiring out is exterior painting…and that is mainly due to heights.

Plumbing

Taking care of basic plumbing needs is a piece of cake. Installing a sink or fixing the guts to your toilet is something that everybody can learn quickly. I’ve even learned how to snake out some small clogs in our drains. Save yourself hundreds of dollars and do these projects yourself.

When to call a plumber – Last week our water heater bit the dust. Sure, I could have installed the new heater myself…but it probably would have taken me 4 tries and 8 hours to do it. Knowing that my knowledge was limited, I ponied up the $250 for installation and haul-away. It was well worth my time (and my money).

Landscaping

I’m not going to stand here and say that I’ve never had anybody else mow my lawn. I have. (It’s a long story.) But, if you have the time, mowing your own lawn should be a given. For the most part, we take care of all of our landscaping ourselves. From pruning the bushes to cleaning out flower beds, we do every last sweaty bit of it. It is called sweat equity for a reason.

When to hire a landscaper – If you don’t have the skills or the knowledge to complete some landscaping projects, doing it yourself can cost you dearly. For instance, I’ve cut down a few small trees in our yard. However, cutting down our ginormous black locust tree required a wee bit more skill so that I didn’t end up with a skylight in my upstairs bedroom. I also hire somebody to treat my lawn because…well…I suck at it.

Electrical

Completing minor electrical repairs on your own can save you quite a bit of dough. Learning how to change a light switch or put in a ceiling fan is pretty simple stuff. Just make sure to turn the power off before you attempt any electrical repairs. #unintentionalafro

When to hire an electrician – Let’s make this simple: hire an electrician any time you don’t feel comfortable with electricity. Frankly, I’d rather not fry myself to a crisp…and I’d rather you didn’t either. For anything more than a simple light switch repair, I’m calling a professional.

Automotive

If you know your way around cars, you can save yourself a ton of cash by taking on DIY projects. My brother-in-law changes his own brakes. My dad likes to change his own oil. Hell, I know lots of people who can even do their own engine repairs.

When to hire a mechanic – Anytime you are like me. I hire a mechanic for almost everything. I’d rather not get crushed, so I don’t change my own oil. I can jump-start a car, but I have no idea how to fix the engine. Cars are expensive pieces of equipment, and I’d rather not jack mine up worse.

Overall, choosing whether to hire it out or do-it-yourself depends on the individual. If you have the knowledge and the time, DIY projects can save you a lot of money. On the flip side, you also need to know what your time is worth. Sometimes it is worth hiring a pro just to avoid the headache. If you choose to hire somebody, remember that the first quote you receive is often high. Shop around and find a good deal. Know what you are getting into so you don’t get ripped off.

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40 Comments

  1. Painting l totally do myself. It really does save a boatload of money. It is a PIA as you said. I have tiles some, changed minor things like toilet flush handles etc. I usually try it first, then call in a handyman if it doesn’t work..anything to save money 🙂

    1. We do our own painting too. I have painted so much that I am practically a pro now. It is such an expensive job to hire out too!

  2. We have done all of our own painting for years. At this point we would never hire someone to paint the interior, mainly because I am pretty convinced that we care more and will do a better job than anyone we could ever hire!

    1. I definitely think I do a better painting job than anyone I could hire. I am awesome at it! I would actually consider painting for a living if I didn’t have such a good gig already.

  3. I just love landscaping that I watch every video on Youtube so that I get lots of ideas. And, hiring one is really expensive. Landscaping is like a hobby my kids and I love doing.

    1. Landscaping is one area where I feel really incompetent. I don’t have a green thumb or an eye for good landscape design!

  4. I’m currently painting/ installing board and batten trim in my living room. It would be expensive to hire out, and I want all the trim pieces measured correctly, so I’m happy to do it myself.

  5. Painting and landscaping are just about the only DIY projects we’re willing to take on. Plumbing? Forget it! One wrong move and you’ve got a house full of water. The same goes for automotive and electrical. Anything where death or disaster could be an immediate outcome of my wrong-doing is just better left in the hands of real professionals.

    1. Greg does some plumbing believe it or not. I wouldn’t do it, but he is happy to. He also does light electrical work which is really helpful since we own rental properties.

  6. We take the DIY approach to most things. I feel your pain on painting those spindles!! We redid our staircase last year and sanding and painting the spindles was the biggest time suck of the entire project. But, we are so pleased with the results–completely worth it to do it ourselves. Anything that’s just a lot of labor, like painting, is so smart to DIY. The materials are dirt cheap so you’ll just be paying for someone else’s time.

    1. The results are definitely worth it! I actually thought it was relaxing to paint our deck. My arms and legs hurt for a few days though!

  7. Our new house is the only time that a painter was hired. Mostly because I am still rehabbing my shoulder so my wife and parents thought it was a stupid idea for me to climb a ladder and paint. So my wonderful parents paid for the painters as a house warming gift which was EXTREMELY generous.

    I have a very healthy fear of electricity, but I still do a good amount of electrical work. About the only thing I won’t tackle with electricity is going to be the changing out of a fuse box to a breaker box in my old house, other than that, I’ll give it a go, it’s not that hard.

    1. That is a really nice gift from your parents!!! And your wife is smart to tell you not to paint. Those repetitive painting movements wouldn’t have helped your shoulder at all!

  8. Other than painting and landscaping I get a little freaked out at the prospect of DIYing. I’d like to feel more confident in doing the work myself, but I’m afraid of either hurting myself or making the problem worse.

    1. Me too =) Fortunately, my husband has a few DIY skills!

  9. In our case, lots if it comes down to time. If something breaks in the middle of the week and it’s something we need, like the garage door opener, we’ll call a repairman. Things that aren’t terribly important, we can wait and try to figure it out. We just took apart the dishwasher and and cleaned it by watching a YouTube video. Worked like a charm!

  10. I’m slowly learning more around the house now that we own one, but dang, I loathe doing repairs. I rarely know where to start (usually it’s YouTube). The guy is somewhat handy (or likes me to think he is…) and can do a bit around the house. I call a mechanic for my car though, I’d rather be safe than sorry! A friend recently replaced their brake lights and rewired everything incorrectly and his brake lights came on when in reverse and reverse lights came on when he tapped his brakes – he had to sheepishly go to a mechanic to fix it and looked like a huge idiot driving around town (not to mention it was crazy unsafe!).

  11. Great list, Greg. I’ve only owned a home for about 2 1/2 years, but I’m already getting a really good idea of what I will do myself and what I will outsource. A lot of what you mentioned I will do myself as well but I also will hire out bigger things or things I’m not comfortable doing myself. When we redo our bathroom I will hire out installation of a fan (we currently don’t have one and I’m not about to cut a hole in my roof on my own…) but I will do the demo and installation of the new toilet, sink, etc.

  12. I never used to DIY things until we bought our house and that changed awfully quickly. There are just too many things available online for free that can help you learn what/how to do things. That said, we usually hire out anything that’s electronic or car related. I have no clue what I’m doing with either and just worth it for me to have someone who knows what they’re doing take care of it.

  13. We just paid to have good portions of our house painted. And we pay for someone to mow our lawn. DH is no longer allowed to do electrical work. Our plumber is reasonably priced and reliable, so we use them for major stuff (and add on the minor stuff if they’re out for a visit– it’s an $80 flat fee for coming out, so it makes sense to have them stop drips etc. after they fix whatever major problem we were having since the marginal cost is really low). Next weekend DH will replace boards in our deck, but we will most likely hire someone to paint it (for the first time). Yes, painting is relatively easy, but it takes us a lot longer to do than it takes professionals, even renting fancy painting equipment, and we have a big savings rate and DH already steals family time to work on his for-pay work. Pretty soon we may even have to hire a housecleaner rather than living in squalor if we try to rent out the house instead of hiring a house-sitter while we’re gone.

    What’s the point in making lots of money if you can’t buy time with it?

  14. CharlesMakesCents says:

    Good tips, Greg, and I’m mostly there with you.

    I’d say the most frivolous handy-manning we’ve ever done was when we first bought our house and had to remove and regrout a large part of the shower. I was new to homeownership and hitting the grout as hard as I needed to to get it out felt like I was breaking something instead of helping.

    Sometimes it takes a while to learn that some things actually do just need chudzpah, and yes you really do need to just hit them harder. When you spend most of your childhood/young adult life around computers, it’s counter-intuitive: normally having to do something harder just means you aren’t doing it right.

    Charles

  15. My hubby is really handy so we typically opt for DIY first to save money, but the few times we have called in the experts usually have to do with a potentially life threatening fix. The last time we did, our garage door was on the fritz and when hubby looked up the fix on youtube the person explained that you could lose a body part if the fix malfunctioned. A few minutes later, he was on the phone with the garage door repair people.

  16. I outsource a lot of stuff that I think has a poor ROI. Like changing my oil: do I really want to save that $5 or $10? We also outsourced the installation of our water heater, as you did. I think the labor was around $180, if I recall.

    The savings have to be pretty significant for me to try it myself. Anything under $100, for a one-time job, is usually not a great use of my time.

  17. There are plenty of online resource to help with DIY too, youtube is amazing for it. I not a big fan of the tedious nature of painting, but would certainly rather do it myself than pay those high prices.

  18. I agree with most all of these except painting. Painting a room with normal ceilings that you can reach with a ladder you own? Yeah sure! Painting a 30 foot high foyer where you would need to rent scaffolding or a trapeze? I’m totally calling a painter! A few years ago, we got quotes from about 5 painters and 4 were similar with one being way lower (because he’s a handyman, not a professional painting company). We decided to try the guy with the lower quote because he was referred by our neighbors and he worked out wonderfully. Sometimes you just have to ask around and do some research, but for what we paid him versus how long it would have taken me, I probably spent around $15 an hour and that is totally worth outsourcing in my mind.

  19. We just paid a landscape designer last week $250 to draw us up a plan. Now we’re going to try to do most of the grunt work, so hopefully we don’t regret it.

  20. Very basic, easy repairs and maintenance, Chris and I are comfortable doing, but all in all, we are not big DIY people, so we likely turn to professionals quicker than you probably do. 🙂 But I absolutely agree that DIY can save you a ton of money.

  21. Agree that hiring someone to paint exterior makes sense. Landscaping should be something you can figure out yourself, unless you’re doing some sort of elaborate waterfall/pool/waterslide designs. Simple electrical jobs you should be able to do it yourself but when it comes to more complicated electrical jobs, best to hire the expert. Furthermore, some electrical jobs require a permit.

  22. I DIY too for some things to save money. YOUTUBE has been very helpful with my DIYs.

  23. I know of a couple who are going DIY renovations. Both of them have no idea what they’re doing and the reality is, they’re doing it because they bought too much house and now can’t afford to make the essential renovations.

  24. The older I get the more I hate painting. I’m with you though. Tough it out for interior painting but hire it out for the exterior. I usually do a lot of my own automotive repairs but my hands and back can’t take it anymore so I just paid a mechanic to replace the auto transmission cooler lines and new pan-gasket to take care of a leak issue. 10 years ago I would have been all over that myself. At age 56 I am having to submit to age and the beginnings of some physical limitations.

  25. This is when that menial labour I did as a teenager really pays off. One summer I helped a local landscaper and another summer a local electrician. That\’s knowledge has probably saved me thousands when we redid our backyard and now it looks beautiful plus our home value when up significantly. Don\’t regent those tough summer jobs kids, they come in handy later!

  26. I have done all of those! I can’t stand painting, the monotony of it is mind numbing to me. The main one I tend to outsource is automotive (well used to since I don’t own a car anymore). It’s so much easier to take the car to the quick lube for almost the same price to do it yourself at home, plus you don’t have to figure out where to put the old oil.

  27. Sometimes it’s not only about skill, but about time. Finding the time for me to be free from work and for my dad to be able to come and help me with some of these DIY projects is next to impossible, which is why I’ve hired some things done that I could’ve done myself if only I had the time to do it.

  28. I love DIY and between my boyfriend and I we can DIY just about anything. That makes us really handy for friends and family and we’ve helped so many people with their new houses painting and landscaping. He’s even handy with electrical. It’s definitely a money saver to have some of these skills!

  29. I’m getting better about paying for things that I can’t do/would set me back healthwise. But I really, really can’t imagine a time when I’ll pay someone to paint for me. The only exception will be when our house needs to get painted.

    We call an electrician for most things because we’re paranoid. Pretty soon we need to get the place rewired, since there are a ton of outlets that inexplicably don’t work. I personally don’t care, but it drives Tim crazy. Plus none of them are three-prong, which is actually a worry.

    We also called in plumbers to do our toilets. I’ve replaced one before, but that was before my health problem cropped up. So there’s that, plus we didn’t relish the idea of manhandling a toilet into the car (a used one at that, ew), finding a dump to take it to and still pay for disposal fees. We decided it was worth paying $130 for it. I was grudging about it, but I sucked it up.

    And yeah, we pay a mechanic for anything auto. We’re lucky enough to have found an honest one.

  30. If anyone else needs to replace a water heater any time soon, put it on the free section of Craigslist. I kid you not, I had 3 people at my house for the heater within 10 minutes. The first guy got it. I hooked up the new gas one myself with copper snap on fittings from HD. The hardest part was hauling the old one up the basement stairs because of the sediment but knowing what I do now, I’d have the guy taking it from me do that part next time. The scrap metal must be worth it? I had better luck getting rid of a busted hot water heater than a working microwave.

    1. Why would someone want a used water heater? Must be the scrap metal. Good tip!

  31. There are so many handy YouTube videos and online resources out there now, it’s a lot easier to try doing things on your own. I’m iffy on electrical, but have swapped out light switches and outlets on my own. I turned off all the power to be safe and it was surprisingly easy!

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