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Learn to Do Home Repair and Improvement Projects

Dan is a licensed electrician and has been a homeowner for 40 years. He has nearly always done his own repair and improvement tasks.

My first hardwood floor

My first hardwood floor

Do You Do Your Own Home Repair or Improvements?

It is amazing to me that so many people won't even consider doing their own simple home repair or home improvement tasks. My own parents came out of the depression era of the 1940s when the use of a repairman or even a simple handyman was limited to projects or tasks too large for one person or when specialized equipment or knowledge was required, and I have the same mindset as a result.

While some of the reason for not doing their own home repair work is that people are simply unwilling (too tired, too busy, etc.) I believe the biggest single reason is lack of knowledge. Most people don't know how to fix a broken door frame or a leaky faucet and are thus afraid to even start such a project. At the same time they won't try to learn; to practice in their own home is a scary thought as they really don't know how and have often never used even the simplest of hand tools or may not own any tools at all. This is not a very good reason, though, and I will explain why I believe that.

Sewing center and bookshelves

Sewing center and bookshelves

You Can Learn!

As I've indicated, I grew up with the idea of doing my own home repair and home improvement tasks. Even though my father may have done his own work I didn't learn much from him, while I may have "helped" as a young child by the time I was old enough to actually learn such things I wasn't interested and my father had changed jobs and wasn't home very much anyway. I had to learn myself, and it has been through experience that I have done that and you can too. The only time I've had any kind of professional help in my home has been to work on the heating/AC systems; I simply don't have the equipment nor specialized knowledge of air conditioning compressors to do that kind of work. I have done all other work myself, and over the years I have saved myself countless dollars, and have usually completed repairs far more quickly than I could have gotten a repairman out to do the same job.

You can do the same thing.

You see, there is one simple key to learning to do your own home repairs: believe in yourself. You don't have to know what's inside a leaky faucet; you simply have to believe that you can learn what's inside! You don't have to know how a toilet works to stop incessant running, you just have to understand that you can learn how it works. I repeat myself: belief in yourself is the key to learning to take care of your own home. The rest of the job is a piece of cake compared to that one thing, and I assure you that if you're smart enough to navigate to this site and read this article, then you're smart enough to learn to do simple tasks around your home.

OK, I Believe. What's Next?

The first thing on the list are tools; if you don't have any, consider buying some basic tools.

Perhaps your task is a leaky faucet. (One of my own recent projects was a leaky bathtub faucet). If possible do some research on the internet, try to find the manufacturer and see if there is an "exploded" drawing available showing how the faucet is put together with all the parts. Perhaps a friend is more knowledgeable and will contribute a couple of hours to help walk you through the project. In my case neither was possible: the faucet was 35 years old and buried in the wall. A salesman at a home improvement store might be able to help if he has a model number to work from; repair kits are often available for such work and contain instructions. It was just such a salesman that, given the exterior parts of my faucet, was able to point me to the parts I needed for a repair job.

Once all the information is gathered, it is time to begin work. Don't be afraid, you can do this but only if you can convince yourself to start. As your work will take a while it is wise to provide for plenty of time if possible; don't shut down your entire water system not knowing when it will be back up unless you have a backup plan! A recent job of my own was to repair a broken door frame, if I tore it apart and couldn't get it back together that day it didn't matter as it wasn't an exterior door. If it had been I would either have given myself 4 or 5 times the amount of time I thought it should take or made other arrangements. Perhaps a piece of plywood to cover the opening overnight if necessary. Another project was the replacement of a furnace thermostat: I waited for a day that didn't require the furnace to run before proceeding. A good thing as what might have been a 30-minute job turned into several hours. Plan ahead for contingencies as well as how to do the work. More recently I installed a new prehung exterior door; although the work was expected to take only a couple of hours, we made sure we were prepared to seal off the opening all night if necessary.

If your task requires taking something apart such as a toilet or faucet (and it usually does) make sure that any house system such as water or electricity is turned off. For example, you would not want to have your hands in the garbage disposal when someone turns the switch on! Never forget the safety end of the job, always turn off the appropriate circuit breaker or water valves, and don't depend on switches or faucet handles. If this means working in the dark while you change a light fixture, for example, use a flashlight or a lamp with an extension cord. Work safely at all times.

It may take a while to figure out just how to take an item apart: screws may be hidden by covering trim or tape, or it may not come apart as it looks like it should. Nevertheless, you can do it, just keep trying until you find out how. The O-rings I needed to replace in a kitchen faucet were under a plastic trim piece that simply lifted off without removing the faucet. It took me 30 minutes to figure that out and 5 minutes to replace them and reassemble the faucet. It's part of doing your own work, to learn how things come apart, but it can be done with perseverance and a belief that you can do it.

Once your item is apart, it is usually apparent what is wrong with a little study. Try to figure out how it works and what might be wrong with it. Often the best course of action is to simply replace the entire thing, as in toilet hardware. It might be a little cheaper if particular parts can be found, (O rings for a faucet are a good example) but you're still ahead of the game to buy a complete unit rather than have a repairman fix it.

Reassembly is usually a snap; you already know how it goes back together. If it is a complex assembly, as some faucets are, it is wise to carefully lay out the pieces as they are removed so that you have a record of how it goes back together.

All of these comments are but little hints to help you with a new task, however. The main emphasis remains on you: you will only succeed if you believe you can. The old child's story about the little train that thought he could really does have meaning here; if you don't think you're good enough to learn new things you won't be. If you're confident that you can learn, why then you really can, these tasks are not particularly difficult, just new to you, and other people do them all day long. So can you. Learn to do your own home repair and improvement and enjoy the results.

Repair and Replacement Jobs

Installing a new thermostat

Installing a new thermostat

New ceiling fan installed, including all new wiring

New ceiling fan installed, including all new wiring

What Happens When I Make a Mistake?

Rest assured that you will make mistakes. You will lose and break parts. You will break tools. You will take longer than you think you should and sometimes you will despair of ever finishing. One of my own ongoing tasks is the maintenance and repair of an old RV, and it never goes as planned, often with hilarious results.

It's all part of learning new things. No one learned to ride a bike without falling off a few times, and you will do the same in learning each new task. It may even end up costing you more instead of saving when you break or lose something. That's all right because you won't repeat the mistake and the experience extends to other tasks you will perform.

As you complete a repair job or home improvement project you will not only have satisfaction in knowing that you did it yourself, you will also gain confidence to tackle larger jobs in the home improvement category. You might need to learn to finish drywall, or you might want a new floor somewhere; there will be little out of your range as you gain experience in working around your home.

I have recently helped my son in his first home as he has accomplished his own home repair and improvement tasks. He used to be one of the people afraid to start a project as he knew nothing at all of home repair work, but has now expressed a great deal of pride in his accomplishments. Although he has me as a mentor in his work, it has not really been necessary; I serve mostly to prevent small mistakes that might cost time or some small amount of money. He is, as you are, quite capable of learning these things by himself and just needs a small push to get started. Hopefully, I have given some of that push to you as well; get some tools and "go to school" in your home, it is more than worth the effort.

Many people are more willing to tackle outdoor projects (perhaps installing a flagstone patio) plus I have included several links in this article as an indication of what you, too, can accomplish as well as the type of information freely available on the internet and there are several more below. Should you choose the take a look at them, keep in mind that I am not a professional, that these tasks were accomplished by someone that, like yourself, knew nothing of home repair or most of the projects described when I started doing my own work. I believe you can do it, do you?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2010 Dan Harmon


Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on March 26, 2012:

Glad it worked out for you, Tripp, and thanks for letting me know. It's always gratifying to hear that I've managed to help someone out in their projects.

And like I said, if you just dig in and do it, you will very often find out you can do and accomplish far more than you thought you could.

Tripp on March 25, 2012:

Hey, just wanted to shout out a big thanks. I have not wanted to fool with a few ceiling fans we had with 3 way switches, but after reading through your posts, got one done in about 2 hours today. New switch and fan-light kit! Thanks!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 14, 2011:

If the ceiling box does not have a switch leg coming back from a switch you have a problem. It is possible that one of the switches will come from the light box, through the switch, back to the box and on to a wall plug. Check carefully to make sure that neither switch causes any of the light box wires to go on or off - it would be unusual (but not impossible) to find a ceiling box opening into a room that does not have a switch leg in it. It is possible that someone in the past removed the light fixture and covered the box but the wires that work the wall plug are still there - just spliced and tucked far up into the box.

If you're sure there is no switch leg in the light box you can either run a new wire from a switch to that box or you might consider purchasing a remote control normally used for a fan/light combo for it. There are many styles of remote control and some of them come with a wall bracket that can be mounted anywhere you would like to see a "switch". Another type that I use will actually fit into a normal light switch box - it could be mounted in an "old work" box that is empty but for the remote.

If you use the remote control idea, make sure it will physically fit into the light fixture while remaining hidden and that it will handle the wattage of the bulbs you will be using. You may have to use incandescent bulbs (not the curly florescent ones) as nearly all remotes are also dimmers and may not work with the florescent bulbs.

george on November 14, 2011:

I am pretty handy but am stymied over this one...I removed a ceiling lighting fixture and replaced succesfully with fan and light kit---then took the ceiling light fixture to another location in house that had a safety plate covering a box. There are two wall switches in the room that work outlets but not the ceiling other words it is alwys hot!!! The ceiling fixture I planned for the box does not have a chain...any ideas ?

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 31, 2010:

I'm glad you liked it - thank you for the compliment and comment.

sidclark on July 31, 2010:

Hi there mate, I'm new to hubpages and it's my first time to leave a comment on someone's hub. By the way, I do love the way you write. It's really inspiring and full of thoughts. Keep it up!

You can also visit my hub if you have time :)