Figuring out how to install a new tile floor in the family room paid off big for my friend Mary Brock, who lives in South Carolina. A closeout sale of 25 cents each for 12-inch ceramic tiles, basic installation tools and a simple how-to book gave her the confidence she needed to give it a try.
She said: "I got a serious physical workout, great results and still enjoy the bragging rights of a do-it-yourselfer. Plus, with the money I didn't spend on materials, we got new furniture for the room."
While her results are remarkable, Mary is not unique. Homeowners are increasingly saving a lot of money by picking up screwdrivers and wrenches, and donning safety glasses to tackle home repair projects. They're finding step-by-step instructions online, which often include big doses of encouragement and confidence, too.
Of all the things that need repair in a typical home — and are most often ignored — drippy faucets and leaky toilets most likely top the list. They put money down the drain, but calling a plumber can empty your wallet even faster. The solution is simple: Fix it yourself.
An online search for "fix leaky faucet" turns up a plethora of instructional sites. Or turn to page 48 in the richly illustrated book "Dare to Repair" by Julie Sussman and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet for step-by-step instructions on how to do that repair with a couple of washers or a simple valve replacement.
Leaky toilets are the most common cause of high water bills, says Kay Keating of the free website Toiletology 101 — a site that is as entertaining as it is useful. Take a seat in her online classroom, and she'll teach you how to fix the leak yourself, and even to detect a leak you didn't know you had with inexpensive replacement parts available at any home improvement store.
Next to drips and leaks, appliances are the household culprits most often in need of repair. Calling a service technician is an option, but you could wait for days and end up spending a fortune. Doing those repairs yourself is a much better option.
Chris Hall, president of RepairClinic.com says, "You can expect to chop days off your downtime and cut the professional's invoice by at least 75 percent, which is the portion of a repair bill attributed to labor, travel and a mark-up on parts." Hall, based in Canton, Michigan, along with his staff, offers free repair help online and by email. The company stocks parts for nearly every major home appliance in service in the U.S. today, with same-day shipping and an absolute money-back guarantee on returns within 365 days of purchase — no questions asked.
According to Hall, most refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers can be repaired at home by novices. It's all a matter of figuring out what's wrong, ordering the replacement part and doing the repair with the help of an online technician. "No matter the problem, fixing it yourself is always worth a try," says Hall. "At the very worst you'll have to call a professional, so why not try it yourself first? Chances are great that you'll succeed."
While the internet is a great resource for how-to's covering nearly every home repair challenge, free in-store how-to clinics at home improvement centers like Lowe's and Home Depot offer hands-on instruction with a live teacher. Libraries and bookstores are replete with do-it-yourself handbooks and instructional guides, and cable channels like DIY and HGTV offer helpful entertainment while building one's confidence.
Not all home repairs are suited for the do-it-yourselfer. In those rare cases when you simply must hire a contractor, exercise extreme caution. Get three bids if possible, and check with your state's contractor licensing board to see whether any complaints have been lodged against the subject. Then, insist on a written contract. A good rule of thumb: Never pay more than 10 percent up-front or $1,000, whichever is less. Pay the balance only after the work is done — and done satisfactorily.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.