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    A beginner’s manual

    Daniel Bortz

    THE WASHINGTON POST – Do-it-yourself (DIY) home projects can save you time and money and can leave you with a sense of accomplishment. But if you stretch yourself beyond your abilities, they can also leave you with a big mess that you end up having to pay a professional to come in and fix. Before you start one, it’s important to know what is feasible and what to expect along the way.

    Here are four key questions to help you determine whether you can handle a particular task, plus a few projects that are good for beginners.

    DOES THIS PROJECT FIT MY BUDGET?

    Tackling a home improvement project can be less expensive than hiring a professional, but budget is still a factor, said Lowe’s store manager in Clinton, Maryland Frank Guidry.

    You can use HomeAdvisor, a home improvement resource that connects homeowners with contractors, to get a rough idea of how much you can expect to spend on a project. In addition to lists of service providers, the site also has a section you can use to estimate costs based on surveys of homeowners. Be sure to factor in expenses for any tools or equipment you’ll have to buy or rent.

    Your local home improvement store is another valuable resource. “A knowledgeable employee can help you compare costs of different materials and get the most bang for your buck,” said Guidry, who suggested bringing photos of your space and what you want it to look like when it’s done.

    DOES IT MATCH MY SKILLS?

    Staying within your comfort zone for your first DIY project can reduce stress, so make sure to take an honest assessment of your skills. Find step-by-step instructions for your project online and see whether you’re comfortable using the tools required. “If you were learning how to play piano, you wouldn’t want to try to play Bach right out of the gate,” said senior editor Mitchell Parker at Houzz, a home improvement and interior design website. “The same goes for your first DIY home improvement project.”

    A smart baseline: “If you know how to do all of the steps without Googling, it’s a good starter project for your skill level,” said home expert at thumbtack.com and a general contractor David Steckel.

    If you want to stretch your wings a bit, learn how to wield tools and equipment through educational programmes such as DIY-U by Lowe’s, which began this year and includes free workshops with home improvement experts. Home Depot also offers webinars with store associates teaching proper safety measures and skills for specific projects.

    CAN A MISTAKE SIGNIFICANTLY DAMAGE MY HOME?

    Some home improvement projects are riskier to DIY than others. Guidry said it’s best to avoid tasks that require complex electrical, plumbing or HVAC work. “I would leave those jobs to professionals,” he said.

    Steckel agreed. “I’m a handy person, but I would never replace my own toilet, because there’s so much that can go wrong,” he said.

    HOW MUCH TIME WILL IT TAKE?

    Think about how many hours you are willing to dedicate to a project. “Some projects can be completed in an afternoon, while others can take several days or longer,” Guidry said. Home Depot has guides to more than 1,100 projects, including estimated duration and difficulty level, and many one-day options are available.

    PAINT AN ACCENT WALL

    Painting is one of the most popular projects for DIY beginners – for good reason. “You can always repaint if you mess up or you’re not pleased with the result,” Guidry said.

    If you’re new, you should try to start small. (Instead of taking on an entire room, paint only an accent wall.) And although painting is a quick and relatively straightforward task, don’t skimp on the prep work, Guidry said. “Whether you need to repair the walls from damage, take off wallpaper, scrape off flaking paint, patch up holes or simply clean the walls, it’s important to take the time to complete these steps to ensure that the new paint can go on as smooth of a surface as possible,” he said.

    Guidry suggests using a roller alongside a small brush that can reach in corners. Use a drop cloth to protect furniture and any areas you’re not painting, suggested Sarah Fishburne, Home Depot’s director of trend and design, in an email.

    REPLACE KITCHEN HARDWARE

    New cabinet knobs and drawer pulls can give a dated kitchen a facelift, Steckel said. “It’s also very hard to make a mistake unless you’re drilling new holes,” he said.

    Guidry agreed that this is a great project for first-time DIYers. “Typically, the only tool you need is a screwdriver,” he said. For easier installation, bring one of your current knobs or pulls to a home improvement store, so an expert can help you choose the right size, Guidry said.

    CAULK GAPS AROUND WINDOWS

    Most homes in the United States have significant air leaks, according to Energy Star. These gaps can drive up your home’s heating and cooling bills. The good news: You can usually seal leaks by caulking around windows. To find trouble spots, slowly wave a candle around windows; if the flame flickers or blows out, you’ve probably detected a leak. Silicone caulk is moisture resistant, making it an ideal choice for windows.

    STAIN A DECK

    Rain and snow can take a toll on wood over time, but staining a wooden deck can protect the finish from the elements while also bringing out the wood’s rich colour and texture. And you can achieve professional-looking results all on your own. Start by prepping the surface: Sand the wood, then remove dirt and stains using a wood deck cleaner or pressure washer.

    Once the wood is smooth and clean, use synthetic paint brushes to apply two coats of stain for a uniform, polished look.

    REPLACE A SHOWER HEAD

    Although plumbing repairs are often best left to the professionals, removing a leaky shower head and installing a new one is generally a quick and easy task. Use an adjustable wrench to loosen and unscrew the old shower head. (Some can even be removed by hand.) Then clean off rust or mineral deposits on the shower arm with a wire brush, wrap plumber’s tape around the threads of the arm and screw the new shower head on. If you see any leaks when you turn the water on, carefully tighten the shower head with an adjustable wrench.

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