Great Savings Tip #91 – Home Repairs Great Savings Tip Series

Today’s tip: Do Your Own Home Repairs Unless…

This tip is number 91 out of 100 in our Great Savings Tip Series—designed to help find ways to spend less and save more. For more ways to save money see our Great Savings Tips page with a complete list of all our tips.

Save Thousands

Tip #91) Do your own home repairs unless… You can literally save thousands of dollars by taking the time to do many common home maintenance tasks or household repairs by yourself.  You can also end up spending thousands to fix mistakes made in the process.  Now, if you’re a Do-It-Yourself (D-I-Y) person, the idea of fixing some part of your house that needs a little TLC can be both fun and challenging.  Yet, not every person is qualified to make home repairs.  So how do you know if it’s a job you can tackle?

Rule Of Thumb

Generally, you should approach home maintenance and repair with a rule of thumb—one that makes sense for you.  If you’re mechanically, electrically or perhaps architecturally inclined, taking on some of the most complicated building repairs may be no big deal.  For most people, however, start by asking yourself if you (a) are good with your hands and (b) either have or can get access to the right tools for the particular job you’re planning.  If the answer is no, then ask a competent friend to help you or hire some professional help.

Don’t Do These

In general, avoid taking on the following home repair tasks:

Some plumbing repairs are easier than others.

A leaky valve? Get a pro. Plugged sink? You can probably check the trap yourself.

(1) Most types of plumbing repairs. Avoid any plumbing repair that connects or reconnects water or sewer lines, replaces a valve or installs new lines.

(2) Most electrical repairs. Avoid wiring new circuits (they may need a permit), or anything to do with the electrical panel.

Let the pro's handle larger electrical issues.

Don't try adding new breakers yourself. Let a pro do it.

(3) Most gas appliance and any gas line repairs. You can probably replace an old burner or cut an old gas line to reroute it, but hooking everything back so that gas doesn’t leak is the trick.  Let a pro do this one.  The big risk is a leak could fill your home with gas.

(4) Most Roofing repairs. Avoid major roofing tasks and make absolutely certain your ladder is properly situated.  The biggest risk of roof repairs (other than making an existing leak worse) comes from falling.

(5) Any hazardous chemical or asbestos removal. These jobs require special gear and call for proper disposal of the waste.  It isn’t worth risking your health to take on these tasks.

Where's your gas shut off?

Learn how to turn off your gas lines, but let a pro handle any problem.

(6) Most high pruning or painting. You may not be afraid of heights, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you.  It’s very easy to reach too far or lean the wrong way.  Avoid those tall ladders unless you have a safety harness and a spotter on the ground.

(7) Most water leaks and resultant mold repairs. If your home leaks, your biggest worry is potential damage to the roof, walls or even foundation (this could happen if the ground under the foundation settles).  With a water leak, you could end up with dry rot or mold or both.  Either might ultimately make your home uninhabitable.  To be sure the repairs are done right, seek professional help.

(8) Most any work requiring a permit. Now, just because some work requires a permit doesn’t make it hard to do.  Still, unless you feel qualified to handle inspectors, complete all work in a professional manner, and in some cases, complete it in a specific time frame, it may be better to go with a pro.

You Can Do These

What are some of the things you can do yourself?

(1) Most painting. Painting isn’t necessarily fun, but a fresh coat of paint can really make a house feel new again.  You don’t have to be that good with brush or roller to do most painting tasks yourself.  However, if you have a lot of painting to do, or you have an exterior that extends higher than one floor, you may want to get a professional.

(2) Minor plumbing. If your faucet is dripping, all it may need is a rubber washer.  If your toilet is running incessantly, you may only need a new rubber flap.  If you want a new shower head, it’s usually as easy at taking the old one off with a wrench and putting the new one on.  If you’re strong enough or have some help you can probably even replace an old wax ring toilet seal.  You’ll need to be able to lift the toilet, flip it over, clean off the bottom, and return the unit to its original position.  Only try this repair if you feel you can handle it.

A cracked switch plate.

You can switch out a plate very easily. All you need is a screwdriver.

(3) Minor electrical. Replacing burnt out bulbs or a broken outlet plate is a snap.  Changing out a new light fixture is usually straightforward, but if the fixture is heavy, or the light is located high up, it generally pays to get some help.  If you have a bad electrical outlet and know something about electricity you may be able to replace it yourself.   Please note:  If you plan on replacing an outlet or light fixture please TURN OFF THE CIRCUIT BREAKER FIRST!  Also, if your fix requires wiring 3 or 4-way switches or replacing a large number of outlets or switches in your house, it usually pays to seek out a professional.

(4) Loose boards, chipped paint, bad caulking. If you’ve got a hammer, nails, a saw, a screw gun, screws, some sandpaper and some fresh caulk, you’ll be able to do any number of minor repairs:  You can fix a loose board, re-coat wood with chipped paint, tighten loose brackets, hinges or doorknobs, or even replace old or failing caulking.  However, if your caulking has failed repeatedly or the new paint doesn’t want to adhere to the surface you’re applying it to; you may have a bigger problem (e.g. it could be a moisture issue).

A hammer, screw gun, wrench, plier and tape are essential.

For many house repairs you only need a few basic tools.

(5) Closet shelving, towel bars and hooks, window blinds, decorative tile, and other miscellaneous items. Your local hardware store is an amazing resource for doing projects by yourself.  Many stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s regularly offer classes to show you how to do certain projects, or they may offer a free flyer that gives step-by-step instructions.  If you think it’s a minor repair, but aren’t quite sure how to do it, ask the sales associate at the hardware store for advice—the one that looks like he or she’s been around the block.

Used improperly a pressure washer poses some serious risks.

Rent a pressure washer for small jobs, but take precautions and leave the big jobs for a pro.

(6) Pressure washing. You can rent a pressure washer and the clerk at the rental store can show you how to operate it.  However, if you are washing a large area like a long driveway or the exterior of a home, you may find it’s a lot more work than you bargained for.  Please take all appropriate safety precautions.  Depending on the unit being used and the particular nozzle you select, the pressure can be so intense it poses a risk of injury and/or can even blow big holes in a deck.

Go In Prepared

Home projects can be a fun way to spend time or a real pain in the behind.  The key is to know your strengths and weaknesses.  Lots of projects are fairly straightforward if you go in armed with a little know how and have the right tools and equipment at your disposal.  Most hardware stores have books and magazines on home improvement. has a huge number of books available.  Either way, there are many good titles to choose from.  Seek out a good general repair book and hang onto it for those times when you’re thinking about doing a project yourself.  Plus, these days you can find all sorts of information on the web or even video instructions for doing certain projects on  Do a bit of poking around before you jump into a project.  The way to save when it comes to home repair is fix what you can yourself and avoid fixing what you know is more than you can handle.  Good luck!

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By Bob Anderson

© 2011 Javabird LLC.  All rights reserved.


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