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Updated on Friday, March 15, 2019
If you’ve always relied on your landlord or a contractor to fix things in your home, you may be tempted to just pull out your phone the next time something breaks. But as many seasoned homeowners will tell you, it’s not always worth dialing a professional — especially if you’re dealing with a simple fix that almost anyone (even you) can master.
Not only are contractors sometimes hard to book for smaller jobs, but their costs can add up quickly, experts say. “It’s often pretty expensive to have somebody come and fix something that you might be able to fix really easily with an inexpensive part,” said Don Vandervort, founder of the home improvement site HomeTips.com.
It can also be empowering to tackle a job yourself, says Danny Lipford, host of the home improvement show “Today’s Homeowner.”
Just be prepared for some surprises — especially if you’re a first-time fixer upper.
“Keep a sense of humor,” says Los Angeles resident John Morell. When Morell decided to install wood floors in his home, he underestimated just how tricky the job would be to finish. It took him twice the amount of time that he expected, and he made a number of mistakes. But he doesn’t regret trying, he says — “It came out great.”
5 easy DIY repairs
If you don’t have a lot of experience wielding power tools or taking things apart, try to stick with smaller projects and work your way up, Vandervort said.
There’s no shortage of relatively simple projects that you’ll likely be able to do yourself. Most will take just a fraction of the time it would take for you to call and then wait for a professional. For example, some projects that you could take on now before working your way up to bigger jobs include:
Fixing a leaking faucet
Cost to hire a professional: $200 or more, according to HomeWyse.
Cost to do it yourself: As little as $2.48 to $30 or more, depending on the parts you need.
This classic home repair project often just requires a screwdriver, pliers, a wrench and some basic know-how to complete. Before you call a plumber, look for some step-by-step instructions and try fixing the problem yourself. “Taking apart a bathtub or shower valve that’s defective or a kitchen sink that’s dripping or not working properly — those are some pretty easy repairs,” Vandervort said. “They usually involve taking the handle off and opening up the body of the valve and replacing a washer or a cartridge inside the valve.”
You may need to purchase some individual parts, like a new O-ring or a faucet repair kit, but there’s a good chance you won’t have to spend more than $5 to $20.
“It depends on the make of the faucet,” Vandervort said. However, a lot of common faucet parts are available at home improvement stores. Just make sure you bring the parts with you when you go to buy a replacement, he adds; that way, you don’t accidentally buy one that doesn’t fit. “That’s the case with parts of almost anything you’re fixing,” he says.
Rescuing a jammed up garbage disposal
Cost to hire a professional: $200 or more, according to HomeWyse
Cost to do it yourself: Potentially $0 if you held onto your disposal wrench; less than $5 if you need a new L-shaped wrench
According to Vandervort, a malfunctioning garbage disposal is another common household problem that’s often relatively easy to fix. Often, people don’t realize that reviving a locked garbage disposal can sometimes be as easy as pressing a reset button at the bottom of the disposal, he says.
You may also be able to unclog it with the help of the L-shaped hex wrench that came with your appliance. “You stick this hex wrench into the bottom hub, you crank it and it breaks free whatever you have in the garbage disposal,” Vandervort said.
Replacing broken or dated hardware
Cost to hire a professional: $65 to $200 or more, according to HomeWyse
Cost to do it yourself: $3 to $10 or more, depending on the part
These days, hardware parts are often so standardized that it’s relatively easy to find a replacement if you need one, says Lipford. Just make sure you carefully compare your old hardware to the new hardware that you’re considering purchasing, he says – especially if you’re trying to replace something that has a lot of parts that need to match, such as a cabinet hinge.
With the help of a screwdriver, you can swap out basic drawer knobs for something more stylish, or purchase new knobs for interior doors that aren’t closing properly.
“We had a few where the door would not latch,” said Stephanie Tilton, who runs the blog Dogwood DIY and has fixed up several houses. However, removing the old, defective doorknobs and replacing them with new ones was relatively simple, she says.
Working with hardware isn’t foolproof, though, so be careful. For example, New York City resident Ellen Sheng says her husband tried to fix a loose hinge on a bathroom cabinet by repositioning it and wound up botching the job so badly he later had to duct tape part of the cabinet. Now, she says it looks like Frankenstein. “I think he watched some YouTube videos and was like, ‘I’m just moving the hinge; how hard could it be?” Sheng said.
Repainting the interior or exterior of your home
Cost to hire a professional: $300 to $700 or more, depending on the job, according to HomeWyse.
Cost to do it yourself: Less than $50 for a smaller project.
One of the easiest, most cost-effective DIY repair jobs is to paint an area of your home that sorely needs a refresher, Lipford said. “There’s no better value that you can bring to something without almost no tools and limited skill than painting,” he said. “It could be painting your mailbox. It could be painting your front door, which is a significant return on your investment.”
You could even paint the sides of your home gradually over time, he says, rather than hire a painter to do it all at once.
Unlike other home improvement projects, painting is relatively low risk, Vandervort said. “You can easily correct any mistakes that you’ve made,” he said. “It’s not permanent and it gives you an opportunity to express your creativity and personality.”
Just be sure to follow some basic safety protocols before you pick up a brush, he says. For example, make sure you have a solid ladder and are comfortable using it if you plan to paint some hard to reach areas. Also be sure to test any paint from before 1978 for lead – especially if you plan to scrape the paint from older woodwork.
Fixing a drafty attic
Cost to hire a professional: $800 to $1,500 or more, according to HomeWyse
Cost to do it yourself: Around $145 to $500 or more, according to Home Advisor
Even repair jobs that seem big or intimidating can turn out to be relatively simple or rewarding. For example, Danny Lipford recommends adding insulation to your attic in order to save money on your next energy bill. “One of the least sexy home improvement projects you can do is putting insulation in your attic,” he said. But it can later make it much cheaper to heat and cool your home.
Installing insulation can come across as complicated, so you may be tempted to hire help rather than attempt it on your own. But if you have the time and energy, you can do it yourself, Lipford said.
You don’t necessarily need to do the whole attic at once, he adds. “You might just do one corner of the house,” he said. With every little bit that you do, “you immediately are getting money back.”
The bottom line
Tackling your own repair and home improvement projects can be a great way to save money and build your confidence as a homeowner. Starting out with small, low risk projects can also help give you the experience and foundation you need to move on to bigger jobs. “It gets you comfortable and more confident with using tools,” Vandervort said.
Just try not to get too overconfident right away. Some projects may seem like they’ll be easy, but they require far more skill and craftsmanship than you might realize, Lipford said. For example, you’ll find a number of YouTube videos and articles teaching you how to finish drywall. But even experts struggle to get the finish right.
“I’ve done drywall for 40 years,” he said. “I still can’t stand it. I still have problems with it all the time.”
There are also some projects that are just too dangerous to do yourself, such as fixing your home’s wiring, or are too risky to take on without the help of a professional. For example, if you attempt to sand your own wood floors, you could accidentally ruin them by sanding too far into the floor, Vandervort said. Similarly, a bad plumbing job can force you to go without water until it’s fixed.
“Avoid things where a high level of craftsmanship is important to the end result,” Vandervort said. “Craftmanship is something that becomes very visible in certain projects.”
If you’re not able to match an expert’s quality on something that’s highly visible, then you could come to regret trying to do it by yourself.