Southern Gentleman

DIY or DI-Why?

By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of and

Do-It-Yourself projects can be more difficult than they seem on television. The secret to success is knowing the difference between a simple weekend
project and one that should be left to the pros.

They make it look easy, don’t they? The smiling host on HGTV or DIY Network talks right into the camera about how simple it’s going to be to remove this wall and open up the kitchen and dining room, allowing light to flow and parties to coalesce better than ever. A time-lapse video shows the offending wall disappear bit-by-bit while electrical outlets are relocated, a crew installs a new laminated veneer lumber (LVL) header, patches in some new hardwood flooring and stains it to match. Then – less than a minute later – it’s like a brand-new kitchen and no one has resurfaced those ugly old cabinets yet.
I think you know where I’m headed with this, so say it with me: home reno projects just aren’t that easy.
I spent years in a custom cabinet shop transforming sheets of plywood and medium-density fiberboard into kitchen cabinets, vanities, fireplace surrounds, home theatres and libraries, and even with a shop full of tools, there were times when the simplest projects became a struggle. Now, a decade removed from it and with only a small collection of hand and power tools (and no shop in sight), DIY projects are just that: projects. They require more effort and, seemingly, more work.
Now that spring has sprung across the South, the time for DIY is here. Hopefully we can all keep our projects under control and keep them from becoming DI-Why-did-I-do-This, DI-Where-did-the-budget-go and DI-Why-don’t-I-just-go-ahead-and-call-the-plumber situations.
As we work in our yards, on our decks, on that tile project that’s been on hold for two years, we have to know our limits. So ask yourself two questions: What can I do with the skills, abilities and tools I have, with the time I can dedicate to the project, and within my budget? And, here’s the most important one, when is it best to call for help?

The first question addresses some key issues: the skills, abilities, tools, time and budget available. Which is all to say, “Know Your Limits.” Before starting any project take an honest look at the project – and yourself – and assess whether you have the ability to complete the task.
Are you looking to create a fire pit area in one corner of your yard? That could be simple – landscaping timbers, weed cloth, a gravel base, your fire pit or fire pit kit – and doable in a weekend, or it could become complex enough to demand some expert help. Want that fire pit to be fueled by natural gas or propane? Great, can you properly install the plumbing between the gas head and your tank (read: non-explosively and within your area’s coding requirements)? Want to have a brick or paver patio instead of gravel? That’s fine if you know the best way to build your base, lay a pattern, and cut your material so it fits right and tight; otherwise you’ll need to bring in the pros.
Deck projects have quite the range as well. Painting or resealing is relatively simple, as is replacing old boards and performing other small maintenance tasks. But what if you want to expand the deck and add another six feet to it? Depending on the deck (is it elevated or on the ground) and your experience (have you done any framing or are you just a garage DIY hobbyist), it’s a task of varying degrees of difficulty. All you may need are materials and time and you can put it together in a jiff. Or you could find yourself building a deck extension that sags, leans, sinks or even falls off after only a few weeks.
For anything where the health, welfare and safety of you and your friends and family are concerned – say that deck expansion or removing a wall to open up your kitchen and living area like the featured house on some DIY show – it’s best to at least consult with a professional. Do you know how to determine if a wall is load-bearing or not; will you need a header, or support columns? How about tying in the hardwood, tile or patching in the carpet when the wall’s gone? What will you do about that electrical outlet?
When it comes to dealing with the mechanicals – electricity, plumbing and HVAC – it’s best to leave all but the simplest fixes to the pros. Installing a new ceiling fan is an easy job on an 8-foot ceiling, but something entirely different on a 10-or-11-foot ceiling. Replacing a leaky faucet is easy, whereas replacing a garbage disposal falls more squarely in the “call an expert” side of things.
If there’s a chance you could burn down the house, flood everything and ruin the carpet or hardwoods, or go without air conditioning in the hot, humid summer, then step aside and let a master at the craft take a shot at your home reno remedy. Otherwise, watch your budget, keep an eye on your time, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.