The boards were rotting and turning black in spots. A racoon tribe had been digging into the wood for unseen treasures. Some of the planks had split open and a previous deck expansion had made the surface look a bit like a patchwork quilt. Eventually most of the usual husband denial tactics failed and it was time to actually get the deck rebuilt.

Getting the work done by a pro would cost a good $8,000. Enough for a fun trip, 1/3 of a year of university costs, some debt pay down or savings. A do-it-yourself deck replacement was an option, but the thought of prying out 250 square feet of old, nailed-on 2×6’s and replacing some of the framing underneath was a bit daunting. The deck is an irregular shape which would lead to  some tricky angle cuts. The clock was ticking though, as the deck had to be ready for our daughter’s 19th birthday.

Was this a candidate for do it yourself savings?

I costed out the materials and everything could be had for just over $1,000. Time to call my buddy “Rip” – a retired high school shop teacher turned home renovator and get a sense of what he might charge to get the work done. I then offered up myself as a helper, unsure as to whether that would raise or lower his price and whether I would speed or hinder his progress. He agreed to take me on as an apprentice and we booked a weekend for the work. I ordered the materials and had everything on site ready to go. Rip’s skills gave me the confidence that the job would end well. How can you go wrong with a home renovator named Rip? The greater concern was the 56-year-old “apprentice”.

Rip arrived brandishing the nation’s largest pry bar and a pickup truck filled with enough power tools to make Mike Holmes blush.  We filled fresh mugs of black coffee to add some workman vibe, then intimidated the planks off with the monster pry bar. By noon, we were down to the bare framing. Which was great, other than trying to get around on a deck with no planks, 10 feet off the ground. Rip had a good laugh at my knees knocking, even though we had appropriate safety measures in place.

I tried to minimize my interference while he worked

After lunch, we added some more framing underneath and then started screwing in new deck boards in a “frame and panel” approach that had a “frame” of 3 planks all around the perimeter, then boards installed in the usual way inside the frame. This design meant a better looking deck, but more work.

On Sunday, lots more coffee and some tricky angle cuts, which were no problem for us.  Actually, they were no problem for Rip and I tried to minimize my interference while he worked. After a while, we got into a rhythm; hauling planks, cutting and screwing them into place.

By Sunday night, the sun was low in the sky, the deck was beautiful, we were covered in sawdust and aching muscles.  We loaded the last of the tools into Rip’s truck and high-fived our success. A big pile of wood offcuts was next to the garage. I learned a bunch of new skills from Rip and he learned a few old jokes from me. I swept the new deck as Rip’s truck backed up our driveway.

The do it yourself savings weren’t the biggest part of the story…

The deck replacement was a success and saved thousands vs hiring out the whole project. But the do it yourself savings weren’t the biggest part of the story. The fun of learning from a pro, and of building something with my own hands led to a great sense of satisfaction. And there is something about a couple of days of hard work under a beautiful blue sky with an old friend.

Learning some DIY skills can provide major savings, the fun of learning and the buzz of accomplishment. Working with a pro helps you learn how to build things to code and work safely. Skills learned on one project let you take on the next one with confidence.

Where do it yourself savings aren’t an option, always be sure to shop around for price and quality – it works on just about everything  – even veterinarian bills. Pay special attention to recurring monthly costs as I did in a post about commuting costs. Use the freed up cash to pay down debt or build savings.

What do-it-yourself projects have you tried and did you get help from a pro, a book or a YouTube video? Let me know!

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