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How to gain your DIY skills for free

The handyman looked at the plaster dangling from the top of our downstairs window. Then, he headed upstairs to check the seal on the window directly overhead.

“It needs some caulk,” he announced when he returned. “If I come out again and fix it, it’ll cost $250. Or, you can pick up caulk for two or three bucks and do it yourself.”

My husband and I exchanged a nervous glance. The last time I’d held a caulk gun was 10 years ago. He never had.

But we’d just been told how to knock 99% off our potential repair bill. It seemed like now was the perfect time to learn!

If you’re considering your own home repair or remodel, you’re not alone. Amid the increasing transition to a work-from-home life, 75% of Americans said they’re making improvements to their homes, according to a recent Travelers insurance company survey.

We’re here with ways to help you get started on your own DIY.

Guide to DIY home repairs

When we moved into our first house, it seemed like everything started breaking. The toilet ran. The bathroom fan died. Rain leaking in the upstairs window loosened plaster in our dining room.

No wonder financial experts recommend homeowners save between 1% and 3% of the value of their home for annual maintenance and repairs.

Thankfully, you can save hundreds or even thousands annually by doing some of the repairs on your own. Here’s how.

Learn to do DIY home repairs online

Your phone may end up being your most important tool.

Home DIY apps can help at just about every stage of a home improvement project. Better yet, several great ones are free.

On Houzz, a social media platform that connects home professionals and enthusiastic DIY remodelers, you’ll find all the design inspiration you could dream of, plus lots of tutorials.

Pro tip: Before you start a project, decide where it falls on your to-do list. You might want a backsplash, but if you need to repair a broken front porch step, use your funds for necessary expenses first.

Wikihow and YouTube are other excellent sources. The first time we scoped out the inner workings of our toilet tank, YouTube videos helped us replace the faulty valve.

When you’re ready to measure twice (or more) and cut once, Handyman Calculator has more than 100 different calculators and conversion tables. Not only does measuring correctly help you avoid mistakes, you’ll have a better idea of how much material to buy in the first place, reducing waste.

Take a free class or workshop

You can find free in-person instruction at hardware stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Many locations offer weekly workshops.

You can learn to install tile, patch and paint plaster, and tackle other home projects. Some stores will even teach you how to make fun seasonal projects to decorate your house.

Community centers or a nearby community college may also offer home improvement classes for a nominal fee.

Volunteer to build experience

Want to do good and get hands-on experience with a real house? Sign up for a local Habitat for Humanity build.

Depending on the stage of the project, you might learn to saw lumber, put up drywall, caulk or paint. There’s someone on-hand to answer questions and make sure you work safely.

The more you give back to your community, the more skilled you’ll get at various kinds of projects.

Pro tip: Habitat for Humanity volunteer activities have been suspended in some parts of the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. Check with your local organization for updated information.

If you can, volunteer multiple times at the same site. You’ll see the progress of a project more clearly.

There’s also a better chance you’ll be there on a day when organizers have fewer volunteers scheduled, which gives you more hands-on time.

Lean on a neighbor for labor

Maybe you love the buzz of power tools, but hate finicky tile work. Meanwhile, an intricate backsplash is like a fun jigsaw puzzle to your neighbor, but chainsaws are a little too “Leatherface” for their comfort.

Why not trade labor to get your projects done?

Join forces with multiple neighbors and all of you have a better chance at getting some free help when you need it.

Here’s how to get a neighborhood DIY home repair co-op running smoothly:

Invite neighbors to sign up for skills they’re comfortable contributing. Aim for a wide spread of possible jobs.

Assign a fair value to jobs so no one feels taken advantage of later. Time can be a good measure, with an hour of work translating to one “point.”

Give everyone in the co-op a certain number of points per month to earn or spend by giving or receiving services. Send a monthly email with members’ balances so people can hold each other accountable to do their fair share.

Accidents can happen, so be prepared. Will co-op members pay for mistakes they make doing a job? Or will homeowners assume the risk of working with an amateur? Make a plan as a group before you get started and have all members sign off on the agreement.

Know when to go pro

You can learn to handle a lot of repairs yourself. If you’re in over your head, though, hire a professional.

If bungling a job will result in more extensive (and expensive) damage, and especially if the work is dangerous if done incorrectly, you’re better off calling in a pro from the beginning.

If you decide you want to hire outside help but worry about the cost, there are ways to finance your home improvement project.

Safety comes before savings.

Jessica Sillers is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

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