Having been a single mother for a number of years, I have had to execute my share of backyard do-it-yourself projects. Some have had wonderful results; some have been abject failures. If I’ve learned one thing over the years, there are some things you can handle by yourself, and some things you leave to the experts. The key is knowing when to differentiate between the two and knowing when to ask for help.
From Painting to Plumbing
I have mostly had good luck with painting. I’ve painted a number of rooms in my time, being the only one who I could actually rely on to get a job done. Except for my kids; they were always great little helpers. But I was pretty much on my own when it came to home repairs and refurbishments. Picking a good paint and priming the surface are pretty much the most important requirements for painting a room. You should also get plenty of painter’s tape and drop cloths, as well as good brushes, a paint roller and tray, a bucket for mixing paints and paint stirrers. You can also get a small tool that helps you paint along the ceiling and baseboards evenly. As long as you have these essential tools, painting should go pretty smoothly.
Plumbing – not so much. I have only attempted a couple of plumbing jobs and they have had mixed reviews, at best. I learned to restart a garbage disposal with the reset button and an Allen wrench, so that turned out pretty well. But my foray into changing out a faucet and replacing my bathroom counter top was not so successful. The project was completed, but there is still a small leak under the cabinet. My recommendation – leave it to the experts unless you are married to a plumber.
Tiling can be fun, or not
Have you ever looked at the tired, dingy backsplash in your kitchen and wished you could change it? Well, you can. But it takes a lot of work, planning and precision. Tile work is not easy, and I don’t know if I’d tackle the job now or not. It’s definitely a choice as to whether I want to ruin my nails or have new tile. Hmmm – I’m on the fence. But I have actually tiled a backsplash before – years ago when I was young, supple and enthusiastic.
The most important decision to make about tiling is whether you want to rent a wet saw or attempt to cut the tile with a manual tile cutter. I used the manual tile cutter years ago. I would give it mixed reviews. There were a few broken tiles, but it was a success for the most part. Also, you have to learn the difference between regular tiles and trim, bullnose and corner tiles. These all go together to form the look you are interested in achieving. And now, there is also the irregular edge tile (often the stylish glass tiles) that you will have to match together if that’s the look you’re going for.
Once you have decided to tackle the project, you have to purchase an adhesive to stick the tile to the wall (after you have prepared the surface, of course) and the appropriate color grout to go between the tiles. You also need a tiling sponge to wipe off the excess grout and spacers to ensure that you place the tiles accurately. If you are still on board, then good luck, you’re ready to tile. I would definitely recommend viewing a DIY video on one of the hardware store websites or other sites dedicated to do-it-yourselfers. These can be a big help with seeing the project actually executed and completed. But also get an instruction book to keep by your side to help you remind yourself which steps to complete in which order.
Personally, I don’t know if I’ll attempt tiling again by myself. It’s a very dirty process and really is hard on the hands and nails. I’m proud I can say I’ve done it, but I’d definitely have to give it some serious thought before I’d attempt it again.
When DIY is the only alternative
My youngest daughter was once a budding gymnast when she was younger. She was pretty dedicated to the sport and wanted a balance beam to practice on. I was a single mother and the balance beam cost around $200 or $300; it just wasn’t happening. My daughter referred to it as a gym beam, and after a misunderstanding while being stopped at a light next to a liquor store, at which time she excitedly announced that there was Jim Beam on sale for only $7.99, I decided to put on my big girl pants and tackle the project on my own.
I marched myself to the hardware store, where I selected an 8-foot 4×4 timber and a 2×4. I then bought some metal brackets, screws, a few feet of padded indoor-outdoor carpet and some upholstery tacks. I took it all home and got out my tools. I sawed the 2×4 into three equal pieces and secured the 4×4 to them with the brackets and screws, with one piece of 2×4 in the middle and the other two at the ends. Then I cut the carpet with a box cutter to fit the 4×4 and tacked the carpet onto it with the upholstery tacks. Voila – a balance beam she could practice on. She was delighted and Mom was a hero!
I live in Florida; we have hurricanes. The inescapable fact is that sometimes we have to put up hurricane shutters to protect our homes, and hurricane shutters come in various forms. There are the fancy, electrically operated ones that are way over the budget of the average homeowner, especially the average single mother. There are the shutters that are installed at the sides of each window and can be pulled over the window manually (still a little pricey). Then there are the metal or fiberglass panels sold at the DIY hardware stores that you screw or nail up yourself (more affordable). And last, there is plywood, or anything you can find to nail up and use to function as a barrier between your windows and 100 or more mile-an-hour winds. That’s unfortunately been my alternative most of the time.
In 2004, Florida experienced 16 hurricanes; of these Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne seemed to hit my area the hardest. It seemed that just as we had begun to recover from Frances, we got hit with Jeanne. My rule of thumb is that if the winds aren’t predicted to reach much above 100-135 miles per hour, I stay put. I’ve lived in Florida all my life, so I usually know when to panic and when to ride it out. So when the warnings began to alert us that Frances was on its way, packing hurricane force winds of 95 miles per hour, I knew it was time to break out the – what? Wait, I don’t have shutters. Well, then it was time to get creative. I had two small windows and four sliding glass doors in my townhouse to cover. I began to scour the house to find items which I could use to block the windows. I had recently replaced some old bi-fold doors with new ones, but had not disposed of the old ones. I thought the old doors would be perfect for covering two of the sliding glass doors. Some extra plywood that I had on hand sufficed for the windows. But the other two sliding doors – how was I going to handle that? Finally, I found some extra drywall that a repairman had used to repair a wall. Maybe it could work.
I set out to apply my quick-fixes to the problem. The bi-fold doors, though unwieldy, were not that difficult to nail to the wood trim around the sliding doors. Next, I attacked the windows. I realized the upstairs window would have to go unprotected, as the only way to get to it was to climb out onto the roof and nail the plywood on from the outside. Not feasible – how would I get back in, even assuming I could get myself out the window in the first place? Well, on to the next window. It seemed like a pretty easy fix, until my stepladder sunk into the wet, soggy ground while I was in the middle of nailing up the plywood.
Down I went, on my bad knee, of course. Limping away from that disaster, I went upstairs to nail the drywall over the upstairs sliding door. The wind was picking up a bit and I was anxious to get the project done, so I could settle down to figuring out how to make meals with no electricity and convince myself that roughing it with no hot water and candles for light was “just like the pioneers did it.”
Assuming that the drywall would not be that much different from nailing up the bi-fold doors, I picked it up and began to place it over the door. Holy crap! That stuff is heavy, especially in the gradually escalating winds. No sooner had I maneuvered it in place than I lost control of it and it came straight down on my big toe! Mind-numbing pain shot up my leg and my toe began to throb. As soon as I regained my equilibrium, and my pride, I put the drywall up and hastily nailed it in place, albeit with a few nails put in sideways and a lot of cursing. I finally limped inside and washed my toe with cold water and put ice packs on it and my now-throbbing knee (hopefully I wouldn’t need any more ice, as it’s a valuable commodity during a hurricane). My knee and my toe were now throbbing in unison, but my work was done and it was time to rest on my laurels.
Luckily, although winds did get pretty high, and even higher in the ensuing Hurricane Jeanne, which hit not long after, my makeshift shutters held and all was not lost. Except for the electricity, that was lost, for about a week. As I sat sweating in my bedroom one morning, I heard neighbors cheering loudly as I watched the lights and air conditioning come back on. My toenail fell off, but the makeshift shutters had held! It was a true DIY triumph!