DIY Your Life

As much as it pains me to admit it, my father was right all along.  For as long as I can remember, he’s been the kind of guy to “do-it-all” himself.  

While most people might hire out work to a contractor, not my father.  He was a die-hard do-it-yourselfer.   He’d teach himself how to do anything.  Then he’d order any tools needed to complete his project.  Even if took ages to complete, he’d do it all himself.

When I was younger, I thought this was a fantastic waste of time and money.  If he was going to spend all that money on books and tools, wouldn’t it cost about the same to hire a contractor?  

I thought a contractor could complete the job faster, and do a better job.  So I thought…

Now that I’m a homeowner myself, I realize I was wrong.  Very wrong.


The Back Story

I grew up in very rural part of the world.  If you can imagine a life living off-grid, you wouldn’t be far-off from the truth of how I grew up.  We had power and water (most of the time), but not much else.  It was an extreme DIY life.  We did everything ourselves.

When most people in the modern world need something, they simply pop over to the store.  Right?  Growing-up, stores weren’t even an option.  There just weren’t any stores nearby.  We had to either fix it or build it ourselves.  

For heat, we cut down trees and chopped the wood.  It was the only heat we had.  I spent many summers chopping wood…all summer long.  While other kids might have been out at the beach enjoying summer vacation, I chopped wood.  A lot of wood.

For protein, we fished and hunted wild game.  It was the only meat we had to eat.  Seriously.  If we didn’t catch it or kill it ourselves, we didn’t eat it.  It wasn’t until I moved away from home that I had my first opportunity to eat a real beef steak.

For a kid growing up, this kind of “do-it-yourself life” seemed like a hard life.  Consumerism and a corporate job seemed so much easier.  Seductively easier.  

The chains of consumerism don’t look like chains until you’ve worn them for awhile.


Toilet Replacement

This weekend I had my own little DIY job that inspired this post.  .

One of our toilets finally rusted through the bolts (after 30 years), and was beginning to leak on the bathroom floor.  It was time to replace it!

While we could have gone ultra-frugal and just replaced the rusted bolts, a new toilet seemed like a better idea.

old toilet
The 30 year old rusty toilet ready to be removed.
Rust everywhere.  You can see the hole where the rusted bolt broke and fell through when I touched it.  It was definitely time for a replacement.

Modern toilets are designed to use a lot less water than older 1.6 gallon toilets.  Most models now flush with 1.28 gallons or less per flush.

Considering that our bi-monthly water bill costs more than a new toilet, it seemed like a good idea to upgrade to a high-efficiency model.

Before last weekend, I had never installed a new toilet in my life.  Turns out, the job is extremely simple.  It only took about 10 minutes of pre-studying (using Youtube) to understand the process.

The hardest part was actually getting the old toilet removed.  Believe it or not.  Time and rust had done their thing, making some of the bolts difficult to remove.  Others just fell right off.

In total, the entire job took a couple hours.

New toilet!
New toilet installed. No leaks on the first try!

How much did it cost?  The toilet was $149 and the water supply line was $5.25.  After sales tax, the total ended-up being $168.90.  The cost will show up in our “August 2016 Dividend Income and Expenses” post.

Had I hired-out this project to a plumber, it would have easily cost twice as much.  Those guys won’t show up for less than $150.  Doing-it-yourself is simply the better option.


Being A Homeowner & Contractors

For many years I relied on my landlord to do most of the fixing….and I paid for it too.  Most of the costs are hidden while you’re a renter.

This all changed after I became a homeowner.  You could say that being a homeowner rekindled my DIY spirit…but that’s stretching the truth a bit.

What really changed my mind was the gigantic amount of money contractors charge to do extremely shitty work.

Contractors basically suck.  They do terrible work.  It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of contractor either — Painters, carpenters, flooring installers, furnace repair men, plumbers, fence builders, roofers….they all do shoddy work.

All the while charging you more than $100 per hour.

Which is ridiculous when you think about it.  I’ve never made $100/hr in my life.  If I ever did shoddy work like that, I would have been fired.  Unfortunately, this kind of behavior seems to be the norm with all contractors I’ve used.

If you are a contractor that does excellent work, then I sincerely apologize.  You are a rare breed amongst your brethren.

I think the main reason contractors do terrible work is that they’re in a big hurry all the time — they rush through the entire job.  They hurry so much, the work isn’t quality.  

That’s only when you can get them to show-up, of course.  Most of the time they’ll start a job, leave it half-done, and then not show up for a month.  Yet another common problem with contractors.

What they get away with is absolutely deplorable and unprofessional behavior.


A DIY Life

After years of trying to hire decent contractors, I realize the folly of my ways.  

I’ve learned my lesson.  My father was right.  While I don’t take it to the same extreme he did, I now see the benefits of doing-it-yourself in most situations.

DIY isn’t a waste of money — Doing-it-yourself will save serious money!

I won’t beat around the bush either — doing-it-yourself does take a lot of time.  But that’s because you’re doing it right.  

As a homeowner, I want a quality job.  I’ll take my time and do it right.

Contractors simply don’t care enough to do a quality job.  Before they’ve finished, they’re already on the phone lining-up the next job.  Quality doesn’t matter to a contractor like it does to a homeowner.  The contractor doesn’t live with the results, you do.  

It may take you longer, but the work will get done correctly.  



I’ve often heard people say, “I don’t have to tools to do [the job] myself, and buying them would be too expensive”.  Frankly, that’s a stupid excuse!  The cost of tools shouldn’t frighten anyone away from a DIY job.

As I’ve shown in previous posts, you can get the most common tools almost for free.  The kind of tools you’ll use all the time.  

thrift store drill
Every homeowner should have some basic tools.  Many of mine were either free, or extremely low cost.

Any truly specialized tools can be rented from your local home improvement store — Tools like tile-saws and jack-hammers.  You really don’t want to purchase those for one-off DIY jobs.  Specialized tools are frequently better to rent.  

Renting will often get you a better quality (and heavier duty) tool than you would normally purchase anyway. 

But there’s numerous other options to consider when it comes to tools.  Refer to my old post about tools for additional ideas.


Getting Started

Think you don’t have the skills required to do-it-yourself?  A lot of people skip the DIY option because they believe they lack the skills to do it properly.

You know what?  You couldn’t possibly do a worse job than any of the contractors I’ve hired.  Even the most inept homeowner can do a better job than those guys!  It’s because you care.

In most cases, DIY work is actually pretty easy.  I’m serious!  Most of the time it isn’t hard.  All it takes is a little time to learn.

Before YouTube, most people had to learn from “handyman guidebooks”, like this one.  Now all we need is YouTube.  A few minutes of watching instructional videos can give you a good idea how to complete most DIY jobs.  No books required.

Need even more help?  Local home improvement stores, (like Home Depot) offer free workshops to get you started on a huge variety of projects.

Got a DIY project you want to tackle?  Just do it!  Jumping-in is absolutely the best possible way to learn!  

Getting started is half the battle!


[Image Credit: Flickr]

24 thoughts on “DIY Your Life

  • August 31, 2016 at 2:01 AM

    Great post and I couldn’t agree more. Once you become a homeowner, DIY is the way to go! Especially with YouTube nowadays, you can find out how to do almost anything.

    I just replaced our kitchen faucet a few weekends ago and for fun I priced it out with a plumber. $135 to have him do it. For me? :30 minutes and done.

  • August 31, 2016 at 2:03 AM

    Nice work! I am a big DIYer as well. Like anything the more you do the more you learn. And as a homeowner there is always going to be something to fix.
    We are just getting through renovating our home, and by doing a majority of the work we saved a ton of cash.

  • August 31, 2016 at 4:00 AM

    I couldn’t agree with you more, if at all possible, I fix things myself.

  • August 31, 2016 at 4:18 AM

    Nice work on the toilet replacement! I had my own toilet DIY project a few months back. It was daunting at first (I’ve been slowly getting into DIY the last few years since I’m a homeowner), but you are totally right…it’s fairly easy with the help of YouTube and the right tools. I now have confidence that I can fix most things in my house and will definitely try first before hiring a contractor.

  • August 31, 2016 at 4:50 AM

    You make a great point that contractors just don’t care as much as you do. It’s not their house after all.

    Nice job with replacing that toilet. We had to do the same thing a few years ago. Ended up watching a bunch of YouTube videos, follow the directions, and bam! Perfectly installed toilet! It’s not possible to do everything ourself though unfortunately. We want to install some lighting in our living room but can’t figure out the electricity part

    With tools, we actually have a local non profit in our city called the Tool Library. We pay $50 per year and get access to all sorts of tools that would be a fortune to buy or rent. Basically works like a library. You just show up and can check out any tool for a week. Its worked out pretty well so far.

    • August 31, 2016 at 7:28 AM

      Yep, in my post about tools I linked to a tool library search page. Great resource!

  • August 31, 2016 at 5:14 AM

    This highlights one of the areas of savings associated with early retirement.

    Before I retired, I’d hire out something like this (and pay twice as much) since I didn’t want to waste the precious free time I had on doing home maintenance projects.

    Now I have all the time in the world and can do many home maintenance tasks myself. Bang! 50% discount!!

  • August 31, 2016 at 5:25 AM

    Sad to admit, my wife is the DIYer in our house (she painted our entire two story house). Power tools and I don’t get along. And I almost caught our roof on fire installing a fan. Although, I have tiled three bathrooms and a laundry room. I also installed bamboo flooring with my one of sons (he used most of the power tools). We saved thousands in labor, but also had to set aside a lot of time.

    cd :O)

    • August 31, 2016 at 7:23 AM

      I think the important point in this story is that you *didn’t* light the roof on fire. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

  • August 31, 2016 at 5:57 AM

    Wow, you really, really lived a rural life, a 1%’er! I think us “wood choppers” were lucky though – we learned a lot of self reliance.
    Home repairs? I have cornered myself a couple of times by having homes built that I myself could then not as easily repair myself because the “fit & finish” of a higher end new home was beyond my own capability.
    I’m contemplating building another one, in rural Oregon, but know deep down if I stick to something older I can do all the work myself.
    Thanks for the reminder about the value of diy.

  • August 31, 2016 at 3:47 PM

    Your father wasn’t a DIY’er, he was a survivalist! 🙂

    I’m terrible at DIY stuff, I have tried a few times and failed most of the time. Fixing the fireplace didn’t work, getting rid of a clog in the sink didn’t work, it goes on, and on. MY current problem with DIY is that although I care, I’m very well aware of the risk of making things worse than when I started. Try to remove a clog in the sink, end up with a flood in the entire apartment. Sounds crazy, but that’s what scares me the most: making things worse.

    Note that I rent, I don’t own the place.

  • August 31, 2016 at 4:58 PM

    Great job! I also like to do as much of DIY repairs as I can without sacrificing safety. I hate having to hire a contractor, but sometimes you just don’t have a choice such as when repairing a leaky roof or some other major repair. I would be afraid to replace the toilet myself, mainly because I don’t know if I want to experience all the yucky stuff underneath after all these years 🙂

    BTW, same problem exists with car repairs as well. Unless you know and trust a mechanic, it’s easy to get ripped-off.

  • August 31, 2016 at 5:52 PM

    We are total DIY folks for all but major electrical or roof repairs (we know 2 people who were seriously injured doing basic roof work). My husband has changed out about 10 toilets in our rentals in the last few years. We manage them ourselves and we’d lose a ton of money if he hired all of that out. We could do it – but why pay someone else when it only takes a couple hours? (Actually much less now!)

  • August 31, 2016 at 7:12 PM

    Okay, I am encouraged to hear about so many people replacing the toilets themselves. I will give it a try next time I have to replace one. Though, I still have a brand new toilet seat sitting next to my toilet that I have been planning to install for the past year or so. I think I will wait installing the new seat till I need a new toilet in a couple of years.

  • September 1, 2016 at 2:55 AM

    Your right about installing a new toilet, the worst part is removing the old one! I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer and earlier this year we finished our basement. To have the basement finished when we built the house would have been an extra $10,000. We ended up doing it for about $4,500. I did most of the work except drywall. I don’t know how those guys can get the walls so smooth, I will always pay for a good drywaller!

  • September 1, 2016 at 1:33 PM

    Yeah, drywalls are hard. I had to fix a hole in a drywall and no matter what I did, I couldn’t match the patch exactly as the rest of the wall. I made this hole to fix a knocking noise issue that I thought was caused by loose pipes in the wall adjacent to my garage, but instead the noise was coming from the waterline valve. I re-adjusted the main waterline pressure valve and the knocking noise went away, but still had to fix the hole in the wall.

  • September 1, 2016 at 2:40 PM

    Great post, especially like the parts on getting/renting/borrowing tools you need instead of buying brand new ones. A few tool exchanges have started up around the Twin Cities, you pay a monthly fee and can rent just about anything for a few days, they also have a shop with larger tools that you can come in and use. Some people even rent a lawn mower.

  • September 1, 2016 at 6:23 PM

    Sometimes I get very scared to DIY. Today I found out my car battery was Dead beyond repair (no amount of jumping would have recharged it) so I had to replace it. Had to go to 4 different auto stores to find one that carried my car’s battery. I saw them replace the battery and man I’m glad that I wasn’t the one who changed it through learning it in YouTube. However, for simple projects like changing spark plugs, I sure do want to do it myself!

    • September 2, 2016 at 7:34 AM

      Some things require very specialized tools to DIY. It’s kindof a problem.

      On one of my cars, the dealer actually has a special tool to pull the spark plugs — because they’re in such an unusual/hard-to-get position. This unique tool is required for removing them without completely taking out the engine.

  • September 1, 2016 at 10:57 PM

    I’m not a DIY but for somethings I have friends I call on. One did cabinet work so he is excellant at building stuff plus it helps keep him busy and gives him extra money since he is basically only living off SS

  • September 2, 2016 at 6:57 AM

    Great job! I replaced all the toilets in our condo and rentals too. It wasn’t fun, but it was a lot cheaper to DIY. The old toilets had huge tanks and they were wasting a lot of water. I try to DIY a lot of things now, but I still call a contractor to help with some stuff. Last week, I had to replace a water heater and I called the water heater company. This was on the 2nd floor and I’d screw up my back if I tried to DIY. I don’t like going up on the roof either…

  • September 2, 2016 at 9:34 AM

    After flipping house last year I can say I agree with a couple of exceptions:

    Electrical, major electrical work is not something I feel comfortable with taking on myself. We found a great electrician that we can trust and he charges reasonable fees.

    When we needed a new water tank (for our personal residence), we bought the tank from Home Depot, we thought we would price out one of there preferred contractors. They want ed to charge, no joke $4k to install our water heater!!! I think they thought because we lived in a certain area we would pay those prices…not us. We called our favorite plumber and he installed it , including picking up the tank and delivering it to our house for $350.

    We did finally find an awesome contractor, he did one of our flips. He was professional, on time, answered his phone, most importantly he super detail oriented, his work was flawless. If he keeps that up he will be extremely successful. But that is one out of many we went through.

  • September 5, 2016 at 8:49 AM

    I knew my girlfriend was serious about me when she asked me to re-caulk her bathroom sink. I had never caulked before, but I watched some videos on YouTube, bought the appropriate caulk and gun, and made my girlfriend incredibly happy. DIY is great for relationships.


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