Q&A / 

Simple Home Repairs

DEAR TIM: The recent rise in gasoline prices and the forecast for high heating fuel prices have me very worried. I have cut my driving to a minimum, but still the cost of a gasoline fill up is staggering. I need to save money in some other way. I have always been afraid to try home repairs for fear of messing up my home. Are there some things the average person can do with minimal skills and tools? What happens if I make a mistake? Susan B., Tawas, MI

DEAR SUSAN: The rise in prices for petroleum-based products such as gasoline, heating oil, etc. will continue to go up if we as consumers do little to cut consumption. Any first year student of economics knows that supply and demand for products are what set prices.

Repairing a toilet so it does not waste water can save you over $100.00. Do different repairs like this once a week and you will create money for fuel. PHOTO BY: Tim Carter

Repairing a toilet so it does not waste water can save you over $100.00. Do different repairs like this once a week and you will create money for fuel. PHOTO BY: Tim Carter

On a personal level, though, every gallon of gasoline or heating oil and/or cubic foot of natural gas that can be conserved will register as a lower demand so long as millions of us do it at the same time. This lowered demand will help drive prices down. So I am urging all I know to lower their thermostats this winter and buy more clothes to stay warm around the house. Investing in a bicycle for short local trips is also a good idea for many people to help cut back on gasoline usage.

As for saving money by doing repairs yourself, well I have great news for you. You can save thousands of dollars annually if you start with easy projects and begin to build the confidence to tackle larger jobs. Even people with limited hand-eye coordination can do many simple tasks.

For example, let's say your toilet flushing valve sticks open and you have to jiggle the handle to make the water stop running. If you call a plumber, it might generate a one-hour charge of labor that could cost $80 or more. Would you be shocked if I told you this can often be fixed with a $5.00 part and ten minutes of your time?

Repairs to doorbells, patching concrete, replacing doorknobs and patching holes in drywall and plaster are very easy to do and can often be accomplished in an afternoon. Each one of those projects can save you just under $100.00 or in some cases hundreds of dollars.

It is important to note that I am not trying to steal work from professional contractors. Since most of us have a finite amount of cash to spend each month, something has to give. If you still want to hire pros to do your work, then you will buy fewer new clothes, electronic products, food or entertainment. In other words, some other business will get hurt no matter what you do. It simply becomes your choice as to who and who does not get your dollars.

You may not believe it, but you can probably do very simple electrical repairs and save money. Replacing a standard switch or outlet is not hard and can be very safe if you follow established rules and tips as well as the National Electric Code. Good old common sense and some help from a friend or neighbor who has tackled electrical repairs is also a good idea for the beginner.

Exterior painting is also another area where you can save money. You may not feel safe on a ladder, but perhaps you can paint all of the parts of your home where no ladder is needed. First hire a painter who is willing to work with you to finish the parts you can't reach and let him do all of the high work first. Then you finish the job working from the ground. This sounds crazy, but I know of three painters who would absolutely work out a deal such as this.

If you make a mistake, do not panic. The key is to start with projects that will telegraph mistakes quickly. For example, if you try to patch drywall and the surface is rough because you added too much joint compound, you can see that right away. Scrape off the excess wet compound and start over. If you want your first drywall repair to turn out well, get a scrap piece of drywall and practice repairing it in your garage until your skills improve. Once you have the touch, move indoors and proceed with the real repairs.

One mistake you can make is stopping the flow of money to home repairs. Neglecting small repairs or putting them off until the trouble areas get worse can lead to very large repairs and in some cases, hidden damage. It is very wise to keep up with even the smallest home repair issues.

If you have to buy new tools to do repairs, buy quality tools. These tools often cost more money, but deliver professional results and are far easier to use than cheap ones that may seem more attractive.

Always read any enclosed instructions that come with any product you intend to install. Take the time to fully understand them before you start the job. All too often people neglect instructions and waste time and money. Money is not something that should be wasted at this point in time.

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