To DIY or not to DIY

That is the question
Jason Raish illustration

Never again. I said “never again,” and I meant it. I had bought my fifth house in a little more than a decade, and for once I had a house that didn’t need a lick of work. I could just ride out the next several decades there without ever doing any more renovations. One day the coroner would come and load me into his van. As my soul drifted upward, it would look down upon my house with satisfaction that I had never done another renovation.

Well, I made it three years. And now, once again, I’m staring down the barrel of significant home improvements. This time will be the last, though. I really mean it. This one last project just makes so much sense. How can something that feels so right … be wrong?

Anyway, since I’m in this place again, I’ve begun to take stock of all the lessons I learned in grueling, frustrating past renovations. One lesson I will never forget: Consider carefully the cost-benefit of being a do-it-yourselfer.

I understand the appeal of do-it-yourself renovations. It saves you the rigmarole of scheduling help. More importantly, it saves you money.
It generally makes perfect sense to do work yourself if you’re proficient at it. Why pay somebody to change out a bunch of light fixtures when you can spend a couple of hours doing it yourself?

So I get it. I have spent countless hours doing renovations myself (and, as a kid, doing them for my do-it-yourselfer dad). Countless hours. And there’s the rub.

Time is money. Everybody knows that. But tools are money, too. I shudder to think how much I’ve spent on tools that I used once, bought but never used, lost, lent to someone and forgot about, or discovered had been stolen from my shed. And, despite the expense, my tools have generally been inferior to what a professional would use.

One thing I will never touch again is plumbing. I’ll never forget the entire weekend I blew with a friend on a plumbing project. Few home projects are more maddening than sitting in a tub trying unsuccessfully to get a good seal on a tangle of copper pipes. After we decided these water pipes were our Waterloo that Sunday evening, I called a plumber. He came out and did what we had been trying to do – in less than an hour.

So unless you’re some kind of plumbing savant, I say leave it to the plumbers.

For the record, the friend that helped me on that project is an inveterate do-it-yourselfer. He now claims that if we had to do it all over again, we could pull it off today. “I will have you know, I am now a total expert on sweating copper,” he said. “You know what made the difference? I watched somebody do it on YouTube.”

He offered to spend the time to teach me how to do it. I told him not to waste his time.

As expected, he gave a doleful groan when I told him I had recently called a plumber to replace the shutoff on my low-flow toilet. Ordinarily, I would have just popped by the hardware store and knocked out the project quickly. But in this case I took one look inside the toilet tank and decided the shutoff just looked too weird for me to replace in a reasonable amount of time. I felt guilty about it, but I called a professional.
As it turned out, I made the right call. The shutoff part threw the gray-haired plumber himself for a loop. He told me the toilet was an unfamiliar brand, and he spent half the afternoon in the supply store trying to track down the rare type of shutoff that goes with this toilet.
Better him finding the part in a pro store than me installing the wrong part from Home Depot and ruining my weekend wondering why it didn’t fit. I’ve been down that road.



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