I was somewhat surprised on one of my web surfing jaunts to see a blog dedicated to ways of saving money weigh in against the notion of doing odd jobs and building projects yourself. Because for my homestead – and very likely yours as well – if we didn’t do our own odd jobs and building projects, then no needful jobs or building projects would ever get done.
The article is Saving Money – Or Not – With DIY Projects, and it’s worth a read if you’re genuinely unsure of whether or not you’ve got the ability to tackle a project on your own. Of course for big projects it’s very important to understand going in exactly what will be necessary – time, tools, materials and a certain degree of skill. Homesteaders already know about budgeting their time toward the “work in progress” that describes our way of life, as there are always a dozen or more projects and repairs that need doing. Most of us, if we’ve been living this way for some years, have amassed more tools than many city-folk even know exist. In fact, for most projects the primary concern is coming up with the money to purchase the materials, and making sure we’ve got every little nut, bolt, pipe, sealant and extraneous parts before we start.
Perhaps the author is speaking more to urbanites than those of us who live out in the boonies on purpose and strive continually to be ever more self-sufficient. When the faucet washers wear out and start wasting our precious water supply (and driving us crazy with drips), or the drain clogs or cracks, or the windows break or the door needs replacing, we aren’t usually inclined to call a plumber or contractor. Heck, many of us would laugh at the very idea of paying some stranger extra to drive from town to our property and repair or replace what we could repair or replace, for ten times more than we could do the job for. But even urbanites with some tools, patience and an ability to turn screws/wenches could fix a leaky sink or hang a door without breaking the budget.
DIY disasters can cost big money to fix. Before starting any home improvement project you will need to understand each step from start to finish. Research potential pitfalls and problems you may encounter along the way to determine if the project is over your head. Be honest with yourself because your enthusiasm will quickly wear thin if something goes wrong – and if you don’t know what you’re doing, things can head south quickly.
That paragraph in the Money Bucket article made me chuckle. Sure, the author is talking about ‘home improvement’ more than simple repairs, but we homesteaders are quite used to those type of projects. We remodeled our kitchen last summer, which included replacing a window and door, re-siding the exterior wall, re-plumbing so we could move the sink, re-wiring, installing new cabinets and countertops, removing a bar to make room for the dining table we inherited, drywall installation, re-framing, flooring and insulating the attic space, and even reinforcing the main load bearing beam. It cost a pretty penny for all the materials, and we did have to replace the drill twice (old chestnut and locust beams are literally hard as rock). And of course things discovered along the way once we got into the walls and attic weren’t planned for but had to be dealt with anyway. Such is life.
Hiring a reputable contractor to complete an upgrade at your home generally gives you the peace of mind that the job is done right the first time. You will pay dearly for that peace of mind, but in some situations it can be worth every penny.
Heh. That’s kind of a surprising bit of advice to give to people described in the first paragraph of the article as “…planning to sell and need to update your home to make it more attractive to potential buyers…” I mean, if you have to pay dearly to upgrade your home in order to sell it to somebody else, then your improvements aren’t likely to cover the costs in this awful real estate environment. If you’re already underwater on that mortgage, digging yourself in deeper isn’t going to help.
It’s a little different if your home is where you plan to live for the rest of your life, but not much different when money’s tight. I had no kitchen all summer (it wasn’t officially finished until Thanksgiving), had to cook on the grill out back while a big sheet of plastic served as a front wall to my house. We all worked very hard, this is not the kind of project that allows much time for other things, and it involves everyone. It even upset the dogs and cats. But if we could have found a contractor to do that much structural damage to a hundred year old chestnut cabin with a crew of a dozen, it would have cost more than we paid for our entire homestead. Literally. And no, that would NOT have been “worth every penny.”
Sure, those kind of huge projects – new roof and/or installation of solar panels/wind or hydro generators, reworking the entire water supply (my next big project), tearing out walls or floors to get to wiring or plumbing, building a barn, etc. aren’t things one undertakes lightly. Or often, if you can help it. And it certainly helps to build up your confidence in the meantime by tackling small repair and replace projects first, learning to handle all the tools, and such. And exercising your mind about how to plan clever ways of getting around serious issues that may be encountered.
It’s all good for you, and just puts that much more of yourself into the overall Being we lovingly call “Homestead.” Good planning works too, so that several projects can be tied into one – the solar panels at the same time the new roof goes up. Replacing the old water-guzzler toilet with a low-flow at the same time you replace the sink and shower. Going ahead with the better insulation when any section of wall comes out. Things like that deserve the time it takes to plan ahead.
Money Bucket is correct in their bottom line that doing things yourself doesn’t always save you money, especially if you’ve got more money than time, skills and tools. But for those of us who have dedicated ourselves to a broader, more expansive and involved way of life that highly values self-sufficiency, doing things yourself is simply another aspect of the life we’ve chosen for ourselves. And we’ve usually got way more time, skills and tools than money to spend. Plus at least one friend with enough time, skills and tools to help us out if we need it.
In an economy like this one, sometimes a friend will help just for the nightly cook-outs, fresh garden veggies and fruit, refreshing cool-down at the swimming hole after swinging a hammer and wielding a circular saw all day, and maybe some iced beer and story-telling around the fire while the fireflies rise.
Money, after all, isn’t everything.