May 25, 2010

DIY (Carole)

DIY stands for Do It Yourself (not to be mistaken with DUI -- a very different thing).

I grew up in a home where it seemed like my dad could make or fix anything.  Now that I'm an adult, I'm pretty sure that was not really true, but it seemed that way to me when I was a kid.  For instance, my mother wanted a 2nd linen closet in the upstairs hallway.  Dad sketched some plans, cut a large hole in the wall and within a couple of weeks there it was -- looking just as permanent and finished as the original one on the other side of the bathroom door.  He also painted every room in the house,  refinished our kitchen cupboards, upholstered several pieces of furniture (with the help of my mother), painted the outside of the house and dozens of routine plumbing  and electrical jobs during my 18 years at home.  I remember many interesting trips to the hardware store to pick up some part or other to repair an appliance that had gone AWOL.  I often had the fun job, as a little girl, of handing him tools while he tore something apart before putting it all back together again.

Naturally, when David and I got married I assumed he would be right on the same page with this whole DIY lifestyle.  Don't all men have these skills?  Aren't they hardwired into the male DNA??  Uh, no.  And even though I'd made a hundred trips to Ace Hardware with my dad, I didn't have a clue either.  Watching was not the same as learning, it turned out.

But David (mostly) and me are living proof that these skills can be learned.  We started small with a couple of low-risk painting projects.  Painting  has much to recommend itself as a beginning place.  Not only is it pretty inexpensive, but it is easily painted again if things go bad.  My children can attest to the dozens of rooms we have painted over the years.  We've saved ourselves thousands of dollars in labor costs and it gave me a much-needed creative decorating outlet when our budget was tight, tight, tight.  David used to joke that I was losing square footage on the house by repainting some of the kids' bedrooms so often!

While in dental school, we lived with an elderly woman in a beautiful home by Lake Michigan.  Amazingly she had NEVER owned a dryer.  I know, it's hard to even imagine that.  But there you are.  We were unwilling to live without a dryer, being the young, modern twenty-somethings we were.  Happily, we had friends with real jobs who were looking to get rid of their old dryer.  They just gave it to us because it was very, very noisy.  They'd had this dryer for a few years while in college (having purchased it used from other college students) and the cause of this loud racket had never been discovered by the several repairmen they'd brought out to their house.  David hauled our "new" dryer into the basement and hooked it  up.  Sure enough, a very very loud and annoying scraping sound emanated from deep inside the drum.  I was willing to live with this, but David was sure that the cure couldn't really be that tough to find.  His fix-it rule is that you keep removing screws and taking off parts until you find something broken -- then you replace that.  I'm here to tell you this simple method works the majority of the time.  You just have to keep close track of all those screws you took off!  He used this technique on the dryer, eventually found the broken piece, took that broken piece down to the Sears Parts store and we ended up with a super-quiet dryer that we used for the next 10 years.  I think his total cost was under $10.  When we finally bought a nice matched washer and dryer, we sold this dryer for $120!

In our first house we had beautiful wood floors in the upstairs.  Unfortunately that half held all the bedrooms.  This made for some very chilly feet in the frigid mornings in Wisconsin.  The living spaces downstairs, however, had ugly linoleum and wall to wall carpet.  So, one crisp fall morning, I bought a specialized crowbar and began ripping out the wood floor in our bedroom.  By the time David got home from work the deed was done.  There was no turning back.  He spent the next 2 months laying that wood down in the kitchen (I took the girls on an extended vacation . . .).  And we had the bedroom carpeted.  We both thought it made more sense.  Had he ever laid wood before?  Absolutely not.  Had he seen it done?  Nope.  But we talked to a few knowledgeable friends who worked in construction and gave it a shot.  That beautiful wood floor was a big plus when we sold the house a year later.  

Over the years we've laid a lot of tile, replaced light fixtures, sink faucets, toilets, installed a sprinkler system, laid sod, made curtains, and generally made our houses into the homes we want to live in.  I'll do a future post on the amazing custom woodwork David built in our dining room and entry way.  (Am I proud of my husband?  Yes, I am.)

Maybe my children think their dad can make or fix anything -- and he just about can -- but his many impressive skills were learned one at a time over many years of necessity and a willingness to give it a shot.  Not only have we saved ourselves thousands of dollars, but we've had a lot of adventures and fun along the way!


Sherry said...

Neither of us are really do-it-yourselfers. When we were in New Zealand Eric helped a few friends who were fixing up their homes and adding rooms and such. I was very insistent that he go help them so he could learn about how to do such things.

I also think in some cases it may be worthwhile to pay somebody to work with you on a project. I think that many times people who ARE capable of handywork could also really use the extra money. Working with them gives you the chance to learn how things are done, and gives them a chance to make some money on the side. And it's still far cheaper than hiring a contractor.

G said...

Can I just say ditto to everything you said Carole? My dad was like that, and my husband and I are diving in head first and trying to learn. But then I would add that basically EVERYTHING you just said is directly applicable to car repair as well!!! My husband knew NOTHING about car repair when we got married, but I grew up handing tools to my dad while he worked on cars. My husband has come a long way. From nothing when we got married to changing a timing belt 6 years later! I'm proud of him :)

Chelsea said...

I'm lucky to have a husband that is very handy. He actually would prefer to do everything for the house ourselves! It's been fun so far!

Packrat said...

Love this post.

Give me a putty knife, crowbar, and a sledge hammer and watch out! The house will never be the same. I've ripped out "acres" of old carpet, linoleum, and crumbling plaster. (Once, when taking down outdated paneling the whole plaster wall behind it came crashing down around me. Ouch)

You are right; not all men have the fix-it DNA. My husband can sometimes fix things, but he is not a builder.

When we were getting ready to put one house on the market, I refinished (sanded, stained, and Verathaned) all the doors, cupboards, and any dinged up woodwork. I only needed help rehanging the doors. The house looked really nice, so we were able to ask more money for it. (And, I had little children and was working full-time. I had more energy then.)

Packrat said...

PS: I have no idea why there are highlights in my comment.

Jenae said...

This post makes me excited to grow up and buy our first fixer upper!

My dad also could fix anything. May Seth learn those skills before we have children...