Weekend Handyman

When my wife and I decided to buy our first home, to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. It was a text book “fixer-upper” and, at that point, we hadn’t done much fixin’ up. I did have a little experience painting and had hung a few shelves, but that was about the extent of it. However, to bring this particular house out of 1939 and into 1999 would be quite an undertaking. My wife believed, though, with enough time and effort we could eventually make it our own. I never expected all of the knowledge and experience that we gained was going to evolve into a part time career in home improvement.

Our first real estate investment came shortly after the dust settled in our new house. We were hoping that this “hobby” might possibly net us a few extra dollars from a booming market. What was going to be a small scale renovation of a rental property actually became our first flip. And the handyman lessons were included at no charge! Each project that followed grew and so did my familiarity with the skilled trades (not to mention my ability to string together profanities).

I have been keeping a mental notebook about the things I’ve picked-up over the past few years. Primarily, to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Which is usually easier said than done. I cannot count how many times that I kicked myself for doing something boneheaded – again. The tips I would like to share have been useful both for saving time and for saving my neck. Always remember…safety first!

  1. If I can do it…anyone can. The types of jobs that some people will call a contractor for are surprising. Many can be easily completed with just a little time and effort, and for a lot less money.
  2. Plan your project. Know what you need to do and the best way to get it done. Whether you are changing an outlet or building a deck, a little research can go along way. My advice? Google.
  3. Make a list. Write down every part and tool that will be required and take it to your favorite home improvement superstore. There is no greater aggravation than getting started and forgetting to buy even the smallest item.
  4. When in doubt, ask…or call a contractor. The personnel at said superstore should have the answers that you are looking for or, again, check online. Remember, we weekend warriors are not licensed. So, if something is too far outside of your comfort zone, call someone who is.
  5. Be prepared. Beyond the knowledge and tools to complete your project, make sure thatyou have the other essentials. Namely, time, snacks and a bathroom. The learning process requires a little focus and may get frustrating. Don’t make it worse by being in a hurry, hungry or having nowhere to “go”.
  6. Have some patience. This applies to anything relative to managing stress. There may be some bumps along the way. That’s how we learn. Just keep after it and “Git ‘r dun”!
  7. Take your time. My mom used to say, “Rushing through your work often means that you will wind-up repeating it.” I hate when she’s right. “Measure twice, cut once.” “Dry-fit” everything before bonding it. “A stitch in time saves nine.” You get the picture.
  8. Pay attention to the details. Your handy-work probably won’t be displayed in any home design magazines, but do not half-ass something that you don’t want to fix again later. To get a little closer to doing it right, at least peek at the directions.
  9. Wear your goggles, a dust mask and some gloves. Use whatever the job requires to avoid injury. Flying nails, drywall dust and hot copper pipes can be dangerous. Play it safe or you may be sorry.
  10. Turn everything off. Whether it’s the power, the water or the gas, do what it takes to steer clear of potentially bigger problems.

These guidelines have helped me to complete several new projects since those days in our first home. I have laid tile, changed light fixtures and even done some light plumbing, to name a few. And they were all “baptism by fire”. Once you get an idea of how much you can handle, it is surprising what else you will want to take on.

Many of our fathers and grandfathers were handy because they needed to be. Today it is much easier to just reach for the phone book and open our wallets to get things done. I encourage you to try taking on your next home improvement project yourself (and to bribe a friend if you need some extra hands). There will definitely be an appreciation for the newly found knowledge, but more importantly, the sense of gratification that comes from doing it yourself.

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