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Home repairs: When to DIY and when to call in a pro

What are the options when something breaks in your house?

HOW TO: DIY Home Repair Made Easy with These Apps

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Chalk it up to user experience. People come here because they desire that customer service experience. We love our customers, and I think they know that.
- Lindsay Sim, Mitchell Hardware in New Bern, N.C.

I learned the art of home repair from neighbors and friends, shop manuals, and how-to books. But, most often, I learned from my mistakes. Now when something breaks, I almost never make mistakes. That’s because the first place I go to is online. Good to do it yourself info is easily available and most of it is free which includes step-by-step instructions, videos, websites, and mobile apps.

What if You Get in Trouble?

Marc Crabbé of Lima, Peru, said he goes online when he needs help for a range of things, from cooking and “tech stuff” to home repairs — “a bit of everything,” he said.

WikiHow, an online wiki-style community consisting of an extensive collection of well-illustrated how-to guides, is one of Crabbé’s favorite go-to services. He is a WikiHow Facebook page top fan.

Meanwhile, Crabbé said he spends time with WikiHow “for general reading to learn new stuff,” and divides his time between its website and mobile app.

“For specific searches, I usually use the WikiHow website and Google,” he said. “The app is more when I'm in the bus or when I have some spare time … for fun or to get specific information.”

In fact, there are plenty of options for do-it-yourselfers looking for step-by-step guides.

For instance, as Crabbé does, simply search online by keywords. Say, you were hanging a picture and now need to know how to replaster a wall. Someone, maybe a lot of people, will have done the same thing and posted helpful information to get you out of trouble.

Finding Help From Your Friends

If your project is extensive, you may need help organizing your time. For simple projects, there’s nothing like Post-It Notes and a calendar. Beyond that, there are calendar apps, spreadsheet software, and other organizational tools such as Todoist.

Todoist is a simple app that has one job — it keeps you on task. Doist CEO and founder Amir Salihefendic created Todoist in 2007 when he was still a student.

He had a lot of projects and needed to manage his work, said Daniel García of Doist. “He looked at the market and most of the solutions were crappy, so he decided to create his own tool,” Garcia said.

So, Todoist keeps track of tasks and subtasks that you can color code and set deadlines. It can even email you to let you know what’s due and what’s next.

There’s No Shortage of Supplies

You’re going to need supplies to get the job done, such as tools, repair parts, replacement parts, and raw materials. So the next step is shopping. (Full disclosure: I said doing it yourself would save you money, I didn’t say it would be free.)

Going online to manufacturer websites or middle-man sites like Amazon gives you nearly an unlimited variety of selection and price points.

However, let’s say there is a faulty outdoor faucet spraying water across your driveway. Amazon shipping can be fast, but next-day delivery won’t do if you’re flooding your neighbor’s azalea garden.

That’s where brick-and-mortar stores come in handy.

Stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot offer acres of selection. Smaller independently-run hardware stores (think True Value) might be closer to you or, in smaller cities, the only option. Supermarkets and drug stores often have small selections of tools and household repair parts.

Many small hardware stores feature shopkeepers who remember your name and the type of filters you need for your AC and heating.

Winnie Smith and Lindsey Sim, of New Bern, North Carolina, are daughters of one such shopkeeper. The sisters found themselves thrust into the business, Mitchell Hardware, after their father died suddenly in 2018.

“We always planned to get into hardware,” said Sim. “We just thought Dad would be there to show us the ropes.”

Their store has some 50,000 items in inventory. It’s the kind of store where you can buy one screw with matching nut and washer without having to buy three boxes of 100 each.

It has a small staff of nine, many of whom are part-timers, but within them resides an unmatched depth of expertise in boating, electrical repair, plumbing, and, especially, repairing and renovating older homes.

“Chalk it up to user experience,” Sim said. “People come here because they desire that customer service experience. We love our customers, and I think they know that.”

When Should You Throw in the Towel?

If things get out of hand, or you simply want to skip the whole DIY experience, there are plenty of ways to find a professional. Word-of-mouth is a time-tested way, made much easier by social media. Old-school yellow-page phone directories are also useful.

Then there are online referral services. Handy.com is an online service to book top-rated home cleaners and handymen. Apps are available for Android and iOS devices.

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Home repairs: When to DIY and when to call in a pro