The handyman looked at the plaster dangling from the top of our downstairs window. Then, he headed upstairs to check the seal on the window directly overhead.
“It needs some caulk,” he announced when he returned. “If I come out again and fix it, it’ll cost $250. Or, you can pick up caulk for two or three bucks and do it yourself.”
My husband and I exchanged a nervous glance. The last time I’d held a caulk gun was 10 years ago. He never had.
But we’d just been told how to knock 99% off our potential repair bill. It seemed like now was the perfect time to learn!
When we moved into our first house, it seemed like everything started breaking. The toilet ran, the bathroom fan died and rain leaking in that same upstairs window loosened plaster in our dining room.
No wonder homeowners typically spend between 1% and 4% of the value of their home on annual maintenance and repairs.
Thankfully, you can save hundreds or even thousands annually by doing some of the repairs on your own. Here’s how.
Learn to Do DIY Home Repairs Online
Your phone may end up being your most important tool.
Home DIY apps can help at just about every stage of a home improvement project. Better yet, several great ones are free.
Houzz is a social media platform that connects home professionals and enthusiastic DIY remodelers. You’ll find all the design inspiration you could dream of, plus lots of tutorials.
When you’re ready to measure twice (or more) and cut once, Handyman Calculator has more than 100 different calculators and conversion tables. Not only does measuring correctly help you avoid mistakes, you’ll have a better idea of how much material to buy in the first place, reducing waste.
Take a Free Class or Workshop
You can find free in-person instruction at hardware stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Many locations offer weekly workshops.
You can learn to install tile, patch and paint plaster, and tackle other home projects. Some stores will even teach you how to make fun seasonal projects to decorate your house.
Community centers or a nearby community college might also offer home improvement classes for a nominal fee.
Volunteer to Build Experience
Depending on the stage of the project, you might learn to saw lumber, put up drywall, caulk or paint. There’s someone on-hand to answer questions and make sure you work safely. The more you give back to your community, the more skilled you’ll get at various kinds of projects.
If you can, volunteer multiple times at the same site. You’ll see the progress of a project more clearly.
There’s also a better chance you’ll be there on a day when organizers have fewer volunteers scheduled, which gives you more hands-on time.
Lean on a Neighbor for Labor
Maybe you love the buzz of power tools, but hate finicky tile work. Meanwhile, an intricate backsplash is like a fun jigsaw puzzle to your neighbor, but chainsaws are a little too Leatherface for your comfort.
Why not trade labor to get your projects done?
Join forces with multiple neighbors and all of you have a better chance at getting some free help when you need it.
Here’s how to get a neighborhood DIY home repair co-op running smoothly:
- Invite neighbors to sign up for skills they’re comfortable contributing. Aim for a wide spread of possible jobs.
- Assign a fair value to jobs so no one feels taken advantage of later. Time can be a good measure, with an hour of work translating to one “point.”
- Give everyone in the co-op a certain number of points per month to earn or spend by giving or receiving services. Send a monthly email with members’ balances so people can hold each other accountable to do their fair share.
- Accidents can happen, so be prepared. Will co-op members pay for mistakes they make doing a job? Or will homeowners assume the risk of working with an amateur? Make a plan as a group before you get started and have all members sign off on the agreement.
Know When to Go Pro
You can learn to handle a lot of repairs yourself. If you’re in over your head, though, hire a professional.
If bungling a job will result in more extensive (and expensive) damage, and especially if the work is dangerous if done incorrectly, you’re better off calling in a pro from the beginning. Safety comes before savings.
Your Turn: How do you save on home repairs?
Jessica Sillers writes about taxes, small business and careers for various companies and websites. Her next home project is painting the living room.