DIY DIY deadlines Do it yourself

Thoughts for a Wannabe Fixer Upper

Gene and Katie Hamilton
Gene and Katie Hamilton

Not everyone is cut out to be a fixer upper. I think it requires certain personality traits and skills that few people possess. To begin with you have to be extremely well organized and able to work within a timeframe and budget. Now, if you have unlimited time and money you’re what I call a recreational fixer upper and few rules apply because it’s a hobby. But most people who want to renovate a house have time and money constraints so being orderly and organized are key traits to possess.

If you’re organized from the start you’ll have created a master plan for the work and a budget large enough to support the work. That requires a good handle on finances and a realistic approach to what things cost. It’s a given that the first time you renovate a house you will underestimate the time and money required. We know. After completing our first house fix up we doubled our cost estimates and tripled the time and we got more realistic with future renovations.

The idea for our column Do It Yourself or Not came from us learning just how much the projects cost because we couldn’t find that information anywhere. Today there are several contractor cost databases and references available so we can estimate costs for hundreds of improvements and upgrades.

A home renovator should be decisive and by that I mean able to make decisions quickly. Murphy’s law always applies when working on a house because there are so many unknowns. Who knows what you’ll find behind a wall – surely not an unexpected electrical line that appears to lead nowhere. And it’s not until you put a nail through a copper pipe in the bathroom floor (that you didn’t know was there) that you create a major leak. So being decisive and able to react to a problem and solve it will keep you moving forward with your project.

Communication skills don’t come naturally to everyone but they come in handy when dealing with subcontractors and material suppliers. And if you don’t like confrontation your project will take a lot longer. When cabinets aren’t delivered or a dumpster hasn’t arrived your work schedule can have a serious setback. If you’re not comfortable flipping open your cell phone to find out what’s the delay you could be in for a long wait.

Maybe most important is your ability to laugh at the mistakes and miscalculations you made and chalk them up to experience. In the end, having a sense of humor will keep you going when you locked yourself out of the house and have to climb in the window.

We hope you’ll visit us at and when you’re looking the cost of home improvement projects. You can type in your zipcode for a regional cost. Go forth and fix.

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Family Holiday Crossword Puzzle

Enjoying some quality time with the kids while you wait for Santa to arrive?  Here’s a word teaser to work with the kids, either online or print out copies and work with a pencil. It’s your call, either way, enjoy being with the kids this holiday season. Home for the Holidays

Visit us to find the cost of hundreds of home improvement projects at Do It Yourself or Not.


Stocking Stuffers for Homeowners

The pressure is on for the Christmas countdown so here’s our take on stocking stuffers with a practical bent for any homeowner. Give these to yourself or to anyone on your list especially if they’re a new homeowner just experiencing the agony and ecstasy of owning a first home.

A small screwdriver comes in handy for many uses and SKIL has a new cordless palm-size screwdriver that fits in your kitchen drawer. The pink iXO driver is part of the “Tools for the Cure” campaign fight against breast cancer so it supports a good cause. For about $30 it’s an ideal gift for any homeowner. Find more about it at

The most used tool in our house is a utility knife. Actually we have one in the house that we use to open cardboard boxes and packages and another in the garage for cutting materials and odd jobs like scoring drywall.

We can’t imagine life without duct tape which now comes in an array of colors. It secures our outdoor furniture covers, makes a temporary mend in plastic holes and stopped a leak in food cooler.

A new homeowner shouldn’t buy anything without knowing its dimensions so a good quality measuring tape is on the list. We have several in different lengths and keep one in the car, the garage and the house.

Do it yourself painters accumulate a lot of brushes, rollers and pans and we like a paint spinner to keep those brushes and rollers clean so they’ll be good for years of painting. It’s a strange looking gizmo that acts like a kid’s spinning top and spews out the excess water after cleaning.

We’ve made the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs and haven’t looked back, but they’re pricey which makes them a good gift item.

Every homeowner likes to explore ideas to improve their home so give or get a subscription to magazine – shelter or gardening, or both – to be inspired.

We hope you’ll visit us at and to find the cost of hundreds of home improvement projects.


Frozen Pipes and All Its Drama

If freezing temperatures cause burst water pipes in your house call a plumber because the project requires replacing the pipe or sections of it. That’s a job best left to a licensed plumber who has the skills, expertise and tools to do it right. But a homeowner can unfreeze the water in a pipe if he or she can easily reach the pipe. I know because we’ve had experience doing just that.

Many of the older houses we remodeled were poorly insulated so the pipes were an easy target for frigid temps. At first we used a hair dryer to direct warm air to the pipe to melt the water inside it; then we graduated to a propane torch which worked faster, but was dangerous. A heat gun is our tool of choice but we use it with care and caution. The danger is you can easily singe a surrounding cabinet, wall or floor (or yourself) and cause more damage.

In a kitchen or bathroom faucet with a frozen pipe you first have to empty the cabinet to get access to the pipe and then sit/kneel/lay in position to direct the heat to the pipe. Work from the faucet end of the pipe with the faucet(s) open so if any pressure builds up from overheating it can be released out the faucet. This can be difficult and uncomfortable especially when you have to hold the tool for an extended period of time.

Don’t forget to remove the aerator on the end of the faucet. Once while Gene was under our house heating a frozen pipe below the kitchen I was in the kitchen with the faucet open waiting for the water to start flowing. We couldn’t imagine why it was taking such a long time. Gene called up and said “See if the aerator is clogged,” and sure enough as soon as I unscrewed it the water flowed. We figured that as the water in the pipe melted it dislodged some of the minerals and scale in the old iron pipes which got clogged in the aerator. Lesson learned. Here’s how much it costs to Unfreeze frozen water pipes.

We hope you’ll visit us at our to find the cost of hundreds of home improvement projects and advice about doing it yourself or hiring a professional contractor.

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Make a Log & Stick Reindeer with Your Kids

Diy192a You’re sure to be the envy of your neighborhood with this charming log reindeer on the front porch to welcome guests. Or position him in your garden or on a deck looking inside. Wherever the reindeer resides, he’ll be a popular addition to your holiday tradition. We’ve enjoyed ours for years, and the body parts can be taken apart and easily stored. This building project is especially fun for kids, who can gather all the body parts and assemble them.

Since the reindeer is made of unsplit firewood and tree branches, there’s no cost to make one, but you’ll see them selling for $25 to $50, depending on their size.

Here are some guidelines for the size of their parts: a log that’s 4 to 6 inches in diameter and about 20 inches long will make about a 6-inch head and 12-inch body. For legs, use four 24-inch long, 1-inch diameter branches and a 2-inch diameter branch for the neck. For antlers and a tail, find 1/2-inch branches about 8 to12 inches long.

You’ll need a saw, electric drill with spade bits, utility knife and some wood glue. Cut the firewood to make a body and head, and drill holes at angles for the neck, legs, antlers and tail. Whittle their ends to fit into the holes and glue on some button eyes. Decorate the neck with a colorful bow or bandana.

We hope you’ll visit us at our to find the cost of hundreds of home improvement projects and advice about doing it yourself or hiring a professional contractor.