Living in a small house, it’s important to maximize your bang to buck ratio. For most of us, this means DIY — which can be daunting. You’ve watched all the videos, and haveread all the articles, but you’ve still got cold feet. That’s not a bad thing. Tackling a project you’re not ready for can be a disaster — especially in a small house where every square inch is valuable living space. You need to make sure you’re prepared — and when it comes to DIY, experience is essential.
When my wife and I began restoring our 1936 bungalow, we were novices. She had a bit of DIY picked up from her family over the years, but I didn’t even own a hammer. We started our restoration with a tidy plan, but small jobs turned into big ones, and when stripping off wallpaper became tearing down walls, I got scared. One day, mid swing, the realization hit me that I was destroying something that I had no clue how to replace. I was in over my head.
I had to learn on the job, but you don’t have to. Opportunities to get DIY experience are all around you if you know where to you look. So how do you get DIY experience without tearing into your own walls?
Tear into your neighbor’s walls.
If there is one thing that every Do It Yourselfer needs, it’s another set of hands. As an aspiring home builder you can’t be shy. Brother-in-law installing a new sink? Hold the flashlight. Is your neighbor laying a new patio? Grab a shovel. Make yourself available.
Small jobs turn into big jobs, and small experiences pile up into large ones. Make yourself useful, then indispensable. Not only will you gain valuable experience with no risk to your small house, but you’ll make yourself popular among your personal DIY circles. Before you know it, your friends will be calling you looking for help, and when it comes time for your project, not only will you have hours upon hours of experience to draw from — you’ll have a pocket full of favors ready to call in.
Or maybe your neighbors are as helpless as you.
It’s possible, I suppose. If you can’t make yourself useful with acquaintances, why not make yourself useful with strangers? When my wife was in college, she spent a summer building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Her qualifications? None. To this day she tiles a floor as well as the pros do.
Charitable organizations like Habitat need warm bodies and are a fantastic opportunity for the novice Do It Yourselfer to gain valuable work experience.
For my wife, Habitat was a crash-course in everything home building. She tiled floors, cut lumber, framed walls, hung siding, and tar papered a roof. She was 19 years old. Habitat is willing to train, and you can take comfort knowing that your training hours are contributing to a worthy cause.
Even with hundreds of hours of volunteer work under your belt, there will still be jobs that you shouldn’t tackle alone. Some types of jobs — like major electrical work — are beyond even the most devoted DIYers. In the early stages of bungalow restoration, we had major plumbing and electrical fixes that would have been foolish to undertake without help. There is a certain point of complexity when you can no longer learn what you need to from DIY forums and YouTube.
You’ll need to hire somebody. And while the idea of a hired hand makes every DIYer cringe, you should look at it as a learning opportunity. If you think you can learn a lot from holding up drywall while your neighbor puts in the screws, it’s nothing compared to what you’ll learn in a single afternoon with a master tradesman.
When we hired a Master Electrician to undertake an extensive rewire of our house, I never left his side. I pulled wires through walls, flipped breakers, and did minor wiring jobs while he worked through the major problems. It was a primer to electricity, and by asking questions I turned an unexpected expense into a learning opportunity that has paid dividends. I still won’t be fishing in my breaker box with a screwdriver, but after apprenticing myself for a single afternoon I’ve never again needed electrical help in our small house.
When in Doubt, Dive In.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.— Douglas Adams
Being a first time Do It Yourselfer is a bit like being a first time parent — there’s no such thing as being ready. There comes a point where you need to take a deep breath and jump in.
Even after all your volunteering and self-apprenticeship, this is a frightening prospect. What if something goes wrong?
Well, it probably will. But that shouldn’t scare you off. Very little goes as planned when building. But if you’ve read all the articles, have torn into your neighbor’s walls, and have seized your learning opportunities, you’ll be ready.
Ready enough, at least.
To learn more about Habitat for Humanity volunteer opportunities in your area, visit http://www.habitat.org/getinv/.
Joe is a writer and DIY small house enthusiast. When he isn’t writing, he and his beautiful wife can be found restoring their 1936 Bungalow. It may someday be finished. To learn more about Joe visit josephholschuh.com.