Frugal Home Repairs: Do It Yourself Or Call A Professional?

Home repairs

One of the unfortunate realities about home ownership is that things in the house break down.  Sometimes the house itself needs repaired.  If you are a first time homeowner you must be prepared to reach for the pocketbook when things break.  Home owners are constantly reminded of the importance of an emergency fund.

Home repairs require that the problem be identified and then fixed.  However, you can save yourself money by doing your own home repairs.  Yet, there is also the danger of making a problem worse instead of better.

Should you fix a problem yourself or call a professional?

Questions To Ask When Fixing Things Yourself

How much does a service call cost?

When you know how much a service call costs, you can give yourself permission to mess with something up to a certain length of time.  So, for example, you might say I’ll give it 30 minutes, and if I’m not confident that I can fix the problem by then, I’ll call a repair person.

I have a personal rule.  The rule is to try and ‘tinker’ with something that broke before you call a professional.  Many times you’ll pay $30+ just to get someone to look at the problem.

Several months ago, the air-conditioning in my car went out.  Since I have little mechanical knowledge, I just assumed the problem was too much to fix and I didn’t even open the hood to look inside.  That turned out to be a big mistake.  When I did take it to the mechanic, he opened it and immediately noticed a wire that had been severed.  The solution was to tape it back together.  My pocket was emptied by a job that took 5 minutes. I could have fixed it had I looked at the problem for myself.

How old is the item?

There are some household repairs that are not even worth entertaining.  If your 12 year old TV goes out, you could just by a new one instead of paying someone a hundred dollars to fix your old one.

What is your level of knowledge?

Always commit to doing as much as you know, but be sure you know your limits.  The problem with many people who attempt their own repairs is they spend hours doing something they know absolutely nothing about.  In the end, you may do more harm than good.

A few years ago our dryer stopped putting out hot air.  I don’t know anything about dryers, but I do know how to remove the screws from the back panel of a dryer.  So, I did what I knew with the idea that I would stop when I had no idea what I was doing.  When I took off the back panel, I saw a wire that had become disconnected from its source.  I simply reconnected it and the dryer started working.  It actually took me less time and inconvenience to fix it myself than to call a repairman and change my schedule for him.

When it comes to electronics, when items break, I usually just throw them out.  Most electronic items will cost $30-$40 just for someone to take a look at them.

How easy are mistakes to undo?

Unfortunately, you can’t fully know this answer sometimes until it is all done.  Plumbing is an example of something that is easy to fix if you make a mistake.  If you break a pipe, only that pipe is affected, and it can easily be repaired.  However, if you start taking your car apart, you had better at least have a clue.

How dangerous is the project?

There are some jobs that untrained people have no business performing.  If you don’t have any clue how electricity works, then don’t be pulling out electrical wires.  If you don’t have the proper ladder system or scaffolding, don’t risk your life trying to get to the roof.

This list of cheap and easy home repairs will help you decide when to fix it yourself and when to call a professional.

Tips for When the Repairman Does Come

When the repair man does come, don’t let him out of your sight.  Sure, this could be for security reasons, but I was also thinking about a free lesson in repairs.  You probably won’t spend the entire time peeking over his or her shoulder, but work from your dining room table so you have a clear idea of what the person is doing.

Let the repairman know that you want to see what is causing the problem when they discover it.

Knowledge is one of the most valuable currencies you can own.  When you learn how houses, cars, machines, or electronics operate, you endow yourself with skills that can save hundreds of dollars over a life time.  Every time you peer into the back of a washing machine motor, you learn something.  This is the same reason why I suggest people learn to file their own taxes even if they plan to use a CPA.

When our freezer stopped working, we had to call a repairman.  He quickly identified the problem as a button that froze under a panel inside the fridge.  Had I not been there, I wonder if he would have told me the problem.  We had issues a couple of times over the next few months, and I was able to fix it easily.  Had I not known, I might have spent a lot of money for his return visits.

Always be sure you get a clear explanation of the problem and an invoice or bill from the company.

How do you decide when you should fix something yourself?

Photo by bitzcelt


















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7 Comments
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  1. Jason @ One Money Design

    Craig, I think knowing your limitations with home repair is especially important. You made the point about leaving certain things to the experts. Electricity is a good example. I don’t go much further than changing the light bulb. I’ll do a little more with plumbing, but I’m certainly not going to be replacing pipes in the wall. Overall, safety first and savings second.

  2. I certainly agree with Jason about safety coming first and savings second when it comes to home repairs. One thing that I am quite good at is painting, so I would be more than willing to paint my own walls instead of hiring a painter. I would not feel safe replacing pipes or doing anything electrical, so I would leave those things to professionals. It is better to spend a little extra to hire a professional in the beginning than having to hire a professional to fix the problems you have created in the process of trying to fix something.

  3. The internet is great. Over the last year our dryer stopped getting hot and out garbage disposal stopped working. I just got on the internet, typed in the problem in a search engine and voila, many other had the same problem with suggestions on how to fix it. Saved a ton of money. This also worked for the car.

  4. Home repair can be a great way to learn new skills too.

    Just be sure that if you take on a larger project you understand how long it is going to take. My dad has always done his own home repair. He rarely calls a repair man but he also has a lifetime of experience under his belt too.

    He is 80 now and still thinks he has to do everything himself. We have spent the better part of the last four weeks redoing a utility room. Tearing out plumbing, putting in new under flooring, new ceiling tiles, new lights, .. and hopefully soon new paint and flooring as that means we are done.

    One suggestion to anyone listening – Don’t start major projects in the hottest house in the heat of summer :) Plan well.

  5. About 5 years ago, my light dimmer broke in my home office. I asked my daughter, who was 6 at the time, if she wanted to learn something new. I showed her how to flip the beaker off, unscrew the wall plate, test with a little tool to be sure the line was dead, and change the dimmer. I pointed and talked, but touched nothing.
    When she flipped the breaker and we came up to the lights back on, I congratulated her. “Jane, you’re six years old, and you just did something most adults won’t do on their own.”
    (disclaimer – if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t try this on you’re own.)

  6. LOL! Reminds me of the time my MIL gave my son a fancy massaging showerhead for Christmas.

    Very pleased, he broke out the wrench to unscrew the old one, preparatory to attaching the swell new showerhead.

    He went twist. The shower pipe went SNAP!

    It broke off inside the wall.

    That was an expensive fix. ;-)

  7. Latest story – The drier just went, not drying at all. Spins, blows, but no heat. With the help of an online diagram, I found it was a thermal switch. Yes, I own a multi-meter, a tool that lets you check voltage and continuity (whether a wire is solid or broken). So the heating element was not bad, but a little sensor controlling it. $60 shipped, will arrive by Friday. A new dryer looked to be near $500. A service call would have pushed $200 as the guy would not be so likely to have this part available and need to order it. For a 20 year old machine, I probably would not pay for the service call.
    The right tools, patience and guidance. And it seems these things really haven’t changed much in 20 years.

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