This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

TOOLS: up a point today

Posted by Matt
I really liked Paul's recent fix it yourself article, so I thought I'd share some similar stories. We recently brought a contractor/handyman into our new home for a few simple tasks.
  1. Install a full-height pantry cabinet we purchased previously.
  2. Install wood trim around an unfinished shelf in the master bedroom.
  3. Add some shelves to our master bedroom closet.

Total bill: $314.5 Materials: $12

I had the terrible realization after our contractor had left that I could easily have done everything he had done if I had simply had the right tools. I don't mean to demean contractors, as a highly skilled contractor is indeed an important and valuable person to know. If you need help finding a good one, my wife and I are fans of Angie's List. My point here is that these jobs were relatively simple ones that required more tools than know-how.

The pantry was a big-ticket item, although my wife was able to save more than $2000 off the first bid she got by shopping around and having me put it together. Admittedly, there were probably even cheaper things we could have put in, but our new kitchen is fairly nicely appointed and we wanted the pantry to match the rest of the kitchen cabinets. Remember, we plan to be here for a while. One of the main reasons that we brought the contractor in was that I was a little worried about damaging such an expensive item.

The primary concern of the installation process is making sure the pantry comes out level, but really all that required was putting in some shims and then attaching it to the wall studs (with a drill, which I've got). There were a few minor complications I couldn't have dealt with, the first of which was a metal heater vent that needed to be cut in half (reciprocating saw) so that the pantry wouldn't rest on it unevenly. Also, there was some trim that needed, well, trimming (circular saw) and an electrical outlet that had to be capped off (which I could have done with my flat-bladed screwdriver and some wire caps that I had).

The trim project in the master bedroom was simpler, except that it required cutting the trim pieces at an angle (miter saw). Really, that was the crux of the project. The contractor used a finish nailer to attach the trim pieces, but I think I could have done just as well with a hammer.

The third project was almost sad. We have a closet organizer in the master bedroom closet, but wanted more shelves and less hanging space. All this required was cutting (circular saw) a 16" deep white board to the right length to fit between the existing shelf mounts. The contractor spent several hours on this; I'm not sure why. There was no detail work to be done, no finishing, no installing or fastening. Just cut to length and slide in. But it did need that saw.

Now, the whole time that the contractor was working on these projects, I was running around the house doing the things that I DID have the tools for. The one that stumped me was the one that inspired this post. There was a bedroom door that would not latch because the latch and wall plate were misaligned. I simply needed to widen the cutout for the plate slightly (less than 1/8th inch). I wasted about a half an hour trying to fake my way through it with a screwdriver and then the side of a drill bit (I know, I know; I'm embarrassed). When the contractor returned from his lunch break, I borrowed his chisel and finished the job literally within 3 minutes. That's when I realized, "this stuff's not rocket science. I can figure it out; I just need the right tools for the job."

With just the tools we DO have, my wife was able to:
  • install cabinet rollouts in the master bathroom
  • mount a swing-arm makeup mirror on the wall

and I was able to:

  • Replace a tub spout that had a leaky diverter
  • Mount our rear speakers on the wall near the ceiling.
  • Take apart our dryer, reroute the vent from the back to the side, replace the plug with one that is compatible with our older 220 outlet, and put it back together.
So, for anyone facing a similar set of projects, consider the questions that I ponder in the wee hours: how much would it have cost me to purchase the tools needed for the jobs that we hired our contractor for? Less than $302.50? Now, how much money could I save on all our future home improvement projects (I still have a few lined up) if I was outfitted with these tools?

Now it finally makes sense when I hear someone mention "investing" in tools. I'll also consider the local tool library for tools that I would use really infrequently and that would be cumbersome to store and/or maintain.


Matt said...

One thing I forgot to mention about home projects yesterday is to KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS, whether just for the materials you buy or if you also choose to hire someone to do the work for you. Home improvements are tax-deductible, so I just put all these receipts into my file labeled "taxes" and give them all to out accountant at the end of the year. After this month, I might need to consider creating a special file just for Home Depot receipts. :)

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