The Tao of deciding whether to DIY

July 9, 2014

 While friends and family may encourage you to seek assistance with a project, only the warmest relations are likely to offer help themselves. They may say, “That’s what the telephone book is for.” The younger crowd no doubt relies on, CraigsList, or a search engine to find the right service in your area.


I am not anti-professional by any means. There are plenty of decent, hard-working folks who want to help around your home and earn fair compensation.


What I am is anti-hassle. When you decide to do business with someone who fails to appear, do the work properly, or exacts a heavy toll for their services, that means more headaches for you.


You are not in bad form to check up on someone you might hire. There are several methods for determining whether someone is reputable.


Ask your friends, neighbors, work associates, anyone you really trust. But do not be intimidated just because one person had a bad experience. That could have been one repairman on a bad day, or your friend might not have been the best customer.


The Better Business Bureau ( keeps a record of businesses that have a lot of customer complaints. Not everyone knows about it, though, or files a BBB complaint, so its records are not exhaustive.


Check court records in the state where the business is registered with the Secretary of State. The BBB does not track lawsuits, so this is a good supplement when searching for complaints.


However, anyone can sue anyone, sometimes for frivolous reasons. If you find a case, check its disposition. One filing may not mean the business is disreputable, but multiple lawsuits are a red flag.


There are many reasons you might choose to commit yourself to the task—to save money, gain experience, feel more in-charge of your home, or just because you enjoy the work.


If you have multiple projects underway at once, it will benefit you greatly to keep a journal. This helps keep you on track and remember tasks you put off.


A cheap notebook will do, along with a pencil and a straight edge. You could use a computer, but you will find that stopping everything to clean off your hands and clothes each time you want to log an entry will eat up a lot of your workday.


You can stand on a ladder with a pencil behind your ear, scribble down a few notes about that ceiling fan installation in your living room, then toss the notebook to the floor without any fear it will shatter and all your data will be lost.


At the beginning of the journal, make a list of each project, how long you can procrastinate before it blows up in your face, and which tasks are needed to complete each project.


Arrange the projects in order of importance and include the location. For example: 1) Leaky faucet—kitchen; 2) Clogged drain—kids’ bathroom; 3) Change lightbulbs—outside.


Jobs that involve uncontrolled water flow, such as the kitchen, bathroom, or roof, should be priority number one. You do not want water getting into your ceiling, walls, insulation, or flooring.


Each task should have its own section. Here you can list what is wrong, what you have already done, are doing now, and plan to do next, along with the materials you need to buy and any unusual aspects of the job—for example, why does my drain still leak when I’ve tightened the outer nut? This could be a gasket failure or improper seating of pipe sections.


Using your ruler, make a one-inch column on the side and label it “Work Date,” listing any day that you put in actual labor on it. A half-inch column beside that label “Cost,” and write down anything you spend on that job. Finally, if you need to, buy color-coded tabs so you can keep track of bigger jobs.


One of my longest lasting home projects was reinforcing old flooring and replacing carpet or tiles room-by-room. I am still not done with it, though I have had many other projects come and go.


It is so time consuming that, working alone, I have to plan out large parcels of time and hope for fair weather and financial stability. By keeping a journal, I know exactly where I left off and I can start right back up whenever I get the opportunity.


The Tao of Do-It-Yourself is intended to de-mystify simple home and auto maintenance projects. It is not a substitute for professional repair services. If you cannot identify the problem you are trying to fix, refer to the proper specialist right away.


A.T. Miller is an electrician’s apprentice who builds and wires control panels for power systems. He is also a cartoonist, writer, and web/graphic designer. At home, he is an amateur repairman, plumber, electrician, carpenter, and auto mechanic. His most important job is that of husband and father.

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