In times of economic hardship, "do it yourself" is a tempting mantra for many homeowners with dripping faucets, running toilets, leaky windows or sticky locks.
The savings can add up when you don't have to call a repairman, especially for things like painting, plumbing and appliance repair, said Ken Collier, editor in chief of The Family Handyman. "Parts are a small part of the cost. Labor is huge," he said.
And if things go wrong? With a small job, Collier said, "worst case, you have to hire a pro and eat some crow."
Unskilled homeowners should avoid "situations where having heavy equipment makes the job go much better, especially outdoors," Collier said, and other jobs during which you could injure yourself or damage property.
Chris Long, a member of the Home Depot do-it-yourself team, recommends calling an expert to replace a tub or shower valve, or do more involved electrical work. And while "any reasonably careful person can hang drywall," Collier said, taping the seams and joints is "very much an art."
But DIYers can learn to tackle many jobs.
David Frank of Libertyville, Ill., does just about all his own home repairs and remodeling — "from electric to plumbing to concrete. Any of it can be done." He started working on his first house, a fixer-upper he bought in college, to save money. "I had to learn to do it or it wasn't going to get done." Over the years, he has taught himself by reading books, watching home improvement TV shows and talking to experts.
Besides the money saved, there's "definitely a sense of accomplishment," he said.
His advice to beginners: Use common sense, take your time and read as much as you can. "The Internet is unbelievable," he said, rich with videos.
When taking on a project, begin by finding out where in your home you turn off the water and gas and how the circuit breakers work. If you need a professional to show you, hire one.
You'll also need a good set of tools. Collier recommends a 20-ounce straight claw hammer, a utility knife, linesman's pliers, a flexible putty knife, a four-in-one screwdriver, a cordless drill-screwdriver, a 25-foot measuring tape and an adjustable crescent wrench. Add to that a plunger, groove-joint pliers and duct tape.
If you're going to do any electrical work, be sure to have a voltage sniffer. "Electricity is scary stuff, and a voltage sniffer is a really safe way to know everything is off," Collier says.
Even unskilled homeowners should be able to change a dryer belt, Collier said, and can do a lot of weatherizing themselves, including adding insulation and using adhesive-backed foam weather stripping around doors and windows.
Other jobs that a do-it-yourselfer can learn are repairing drywall, replacing a deadbolt, or installing a new light fixture or ceiling fan.
Here's where that voltage sniffer comes in. "If you know how to confidently turn that breaker off and you can test it to verify it, you can change that fixture," said Danny Lipford, who hosts nationally syndicated TV and radio shows and is a contributing design editor for Better Homes and Gardens.
Novices can take the plunge into plumbing repairs. "A toilet is really a very simple mechanism, and the parts are readily available to change out," Lipford said.