In times of economic hardship, "do-it-yourself" is a tempting mantra for many homeowners with dripping faucets, running toilets, leaky windows or sticky locks.
The savings can add up when you don't have to call a repairman, especially for things like painting, plumbing and appliance repair, said Ken Collier, editor-in-chief of The Family Handyman. "Parts are a small part of the cost. Labor is huge," he said.
And if things go wrong? With a small job, Collier said, "Worst case, you have to hire a pro and eat some crow."
There are some home repairs, of course, that an unskilled homeowner should avoid, among them "situations where having heavy equipment makes the job go much better, especially outdoors," Collier said.
Avoid jobs where you could injure yourself or damage property.
Chris Long, a member of the Home Depot do-it-yourself team, recommends calling an expert to replace a tub or shower valve, or do more involved electrical work. And while "any reasonably careful person can hang drywall," Collier said, taping it to cover the seams and joints is "very much an art where a practiced hand makes a huge difference."
But many other household repairs and projects can be tackled by a do-it-yourselfer who takes the time to learn what's required.
David Frank of Libertyville, Ill., does just about all his own home repairs and remodeling — "from electric to plumbing to concrete. Any of it can be done." He started working on his first house, a fixer-upper he bought in college, to save money. "I had to learn to do it, or it wasn't going to get done," he said. Over the years, he has taught himself by reading books, watching home-improvement TV shows and talking to experts.
Besides the money saved, there's "definitely a sense of accomplishment" in doing the work himself, he said.
His advice to beginners: Use common sense, take your time and read as much as you can. "The Internet is unbelievable," he said.
When taking on a project, begin by finding out where in your home you turn off the water and gas, and how the circuit breakers work. If you need a professional to show you, hire one.
You'll also need a good set of tools. Collier recommends such things as a 20-ounce straight claw hammer, a utility knife, linesman's pliers, a flexible putty knife, a four-in-one screwdriver, a cordless drill-screwdriver, a 25-foot measuring tape and an adjustable crescent wrench. Add to that a plunger, groove-joint pliers and duct tape.
If you're going to do any electrical work, be sure to have a voltage sniffer. "Electricity is scary stuff, and a voltage sniffer is a really safe way to know everything is off," Collier says.
There's a wealth of material online, including videos for the do-it-yourselfer.
Even unskilled homeowners should be able to do some basic appliance repairs, Collier said, such as changing a dryer belt.
And as winter approaches, homeowners can do a lot of weatherizing themselves, including adding insulation, and applying adhesive-backed, foam weather stripping to prevent cold air from seeping in around doors and windows.
Other jobs that a do-it-yourselfer can learn include repairing drywall, replacing a deadbolt, or installing a new light fixture or ceiling fan.
Here's where that voltage sniffer comes in. "If you know how to confidently turn that breaker off and you can test it to verify it, you can change that fixture," said Danny Lipford, who hosts nationally syndicated TV and radio shows and is a contributing design editor for Better Homes and Gardens.
Plumbing repairs also can be accessible even to the novice.
"A toilet is really a very simple mechanism and the parts are readily available to change out," Lipford said.
First, the cause of the problem has to be diagnosed. Find information online, in books, or talk to a worker at your hardware store.
If the toilet is running, for example, one way to figure out what's going on is to add a little food dye to the water in the tank, said Long, of Home Depot. If the water in the bowl turns the same color, the flapper valve is likely the problem. The flapper seals the tank, then lifts to allow water to flow into the bowl when the toilet is flushed. If the seal isn't tight, water will leak into the bowl.
It could be that the chain connecting the flapper to the handle is too long or too short. Adjusting that could fix the problem. Or, it could be the flapper itself. In most cases, the flapper snaps out and you can easily replace it with a new one. But first remember to turn off the water to the toilet. It's also a good idea to bring the old part to your hardware store to make sure you're purchasing a compatible new one.
Carole Feldman can be followed at http://twitter.com/CaroleFeldman