Ask the Builder: Save big money on exterior house projects by doing them yourself
The volume of incoming requests I receive from DIYers at the Ask Tim page of AsktheBuilder.com is rising faster than the Fed can hike interest rates to tame the raging inflation. With the prices of necessities such as fuel and food taking larger bites out of family budgets, there’s often scant money left over to hire contractors to do work.
If you can’t afford to hire a contractor, you may be wondering if you can tackle a larger project yourself. I know it can be intimidating, but it’s never been easier to do some larger projects. Years ago, you couldn’t learn from videos on the internet about how to do a repair task. Now many manufacturers have excellent instructional videos that can give you the confidence to do the job just as well as or better than some subcontractor sent to work on your most valuable asset — your home!
You will also be surprised by the vast selection of tools you can rent to do tasks that require you to be up in the air. Years ago, man lifts didn’t even exist. Now you can get motorized lifts with giant articulating arms that allow you to safely paint that tall gable end on your home or reach a difficult sidewall above a steep roof. Never before has it been easier and safer for you to do exterior work on your home.
For example, imagine you wanted to install gutter guards. I’ve tested many and discovered the best ones out there. (You should go to AsktheBuilder.com and read my Gutter Guard Test Results column.) Some companies charge astronomical prices to install these simple products. If a man lift can drive around your home, you might complete the job in less than a day. It’s possible to save well over $1,000.
Two months ago, a friend rented one of these man lifts to do exterior painting. He’s OK with using ladders for work up about 15 feet in the air but is terrified to go up further. In just two weekends he not only got all the high painting work done, but he also used the lift to install a heavy light bar over his bocce ball court.
An often overlooked tool you may not be aware of is simple pipe scaffolding. I have owned four sets for 40 years. Masons traditionally use this scaffolding, and it’s strong, safe and stable. Once you stack the pieces together, install the cross braces, set the aluminum platforms and then the guard rails, it’s as if you’re standing on the ground. The scaffolding allows you to kick anxiety and fear to the curb while you diligently work 20 or 25 feet up in the air.
Where I live in central New Hampshire, I can rent six sets of this scaffolding, including the aluminum work platforms, for just $300 per month. This would allow you to build one tower that would get the bottom of your feet 30 feet up in the air. It’s plenty of scaffolding to set around a ranch home so you can walk across the top of all six sets placed next to one another and travel almost 50 feet down one side of your home. Don’t underestimate what you can do with this strong steel pipe scaffolding.
Angel, a young woman who lives in upstate New York, is using this scaffolding to help her build a dormer on her home. I’ve been coaching her over the phone as she marches through this daunting project. She attempted to get contractors to bid the job, but none called her back. She’s got the three Ds: diligence, determination and discipline. She’ll not only get the dormer done; she’ll also save tens of thousands of dollars in the process.
Let’s say you want to install new vinyl siding on your home, but you’ve never done the job before. What would you say if I told you it’s extremely easy to do it and modern trim pieces have made it even easier. Add to this the extensive amount of how-to videos you can watch for free online, many produced by the actual vinyl siding manufacturers.
There are some aspects of installing vinyl siding that do require some expertise, but the odds are your home might not have these challenges. I visited the Vinyl Siding Institute website and they have a huge section that shows you how to install vinyl siding including a marvelous free interactive installation manual. There are wonderful videos there too.
When you see how easy it is to install vinyl siding, I’m guessing you’ll get motivated just like Angel. Her dormer job is much much harder than just installing vinyl siding and she should be an inspiration for you.
I’ll leave you with this. My father-in-law had a great saying that you should consider: “Success breeds success.” It simply means that your confidence builds as you tackle tougher and tougher projects achieving great results each time. If you have a garden shed, cover it with vinyl siding first. Once you complete that, you’ll say, “Heck, that wasn’t so bad. I’m sure I can do the house now with some of that pipe scaffolding!”
Please send me before and after photos of the tough project you completed.
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