How to do DIY Projects Safely, Properly and Efficiently
By Tim Wojnar
Whether you are just beginning your DIY journey or are an experienced craftsman, I believe the steps laid out in this post can help you complete your work more efficiently. This article details a systematic approach to completing any type of DIY project big or small. For those people out there who are like me and may look at the steps below and say, “why is this the most efficient way?” I will offer two short answers. Rework and quality. If you miss a step or make a mistake, the cost (both financial and time lost) of redoing some of the work will far outweigh taking the time to complete the steps below. Lastly, if you don’t properly plan out your jobs, you may get away with not having to do any rework, but the quality of the end product will suffer which may lead you to do the same project again sooner rather than later. So without further ado, here are the steps you need to take for any successful DIY project.
Determine if you would like doing the work – I would say one of the most important characteristics of any successful project (not just around your home) is if the person performing the job enjoys the work. Don’t get me wrong, you will not enjoy every single portion of every project you tackle, but if at the end you don’t get an innate sense of joy from successfully completing the project, then don’t do it. Find a relative (who knows what he is doing) or hire a professional, but don’t do it yourself as lack of desire will lead to poor quality and you hiring someone to fix what you did before everything is said and done.
Ensure that the work is within your capabilities – Now, if you are working on something you have never actually done before, then it is likely you are stretching your capabilities. However, if you have never worked with connecting electrical wiring you should not be adding a new branch circuit or complicated light system until you have had some practice wiring basics. If you wish to do more complex projects around your home, I applaud your zeal, but please work your way up to these projects. If you want to do more complex electrical projects, but have no experience, start by replacing a light switch or outlet (make sure you do these with the power to the circuits turned off). If you are trying to learn too many new skills at the same time you will get discouraged and ultimately not complete the project, or even worse complete it in an unsatisfactory matter.
Thoroughly research the work you are to perform – In today’s day and age, there is almost too much information out there on DIY projects. This is a blessing and a curse. While there is good information out there on how to complete projects properly and safely, there is also information out there done by individuals who don’t thoroughly explain the ins and outs of a project or do not give good advice at all. The point I am trying to make is don’t watch just one Youtube video as prep for a project and think you are covered. I would suggest watching at least three videos or reading three posts (or a combination of videos and blog posts) about the project you wish to complete to. This will give you a broader perspective of what is required to complete project and even if you are a seasoned craftsman. Lastly, make sure your sources talk about proper safety measures within the videos or posts and that you understand how to do the job safely.
Write a complete plan for the project – Everyone has probably had some experience with assembling furniture from an IKEA type source and have spent hours assembling something that should have taken 30 minutes. Why is this? Because the building plans suck and do not contain all the details you need. On the flip-side, I have been pleasantly surprised by large pieces of furniture that come with detailed instructions that seem like a breeze to assemble cause of well laid out instructions with proper labeling. The moral of this story is planning matters and it should not just be in your head, it needs to be written down. While this may seem like overkill, this is the most important time saving measure for the project. Take a well written instruction manual as an example, they have every step written out, all the tools that are needed, all the raw materials needed, and safety and troubleshooting instructions. The more meticulous you are about this plan, the smoother your project will go and the more time you will save (for instance, not having to run to the hardware store for that one piece you forgot to purchase.)
Troubleshoot for possible pitfalls before starting the work – Technically this is part of your project plan, but I believe this is important enough to mention separately. Former Navy Seal Commander Jocko Willink has said is his numerous books that “The enemy has a say in your plan” in referring to when you create a plan of attack you need to account for the enemy trying to foil your plan. While there is no living enemies trying to foil your DIY project, there are plenty of ways that your house can throw off your project. Unexpected things happen and the more you are prepared for them, the better off you will be. So while there will never be a perfect plan to deal with every issue, looking at your plan and thinking about what could go wrong ahead of time and what to do if something does happen is a must. At the very least, part of your plan should be how to put the job in a safe position and have a phone number for a contractor who can quickly correct the issue if something does go terribly wrong
When executing the work, slow and steady wins the race – We all know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, but in the time we live in, speed is looked at as the solution for almost everything. As I mentioned in the intro, the biggest time waster when it comes to DIY projects is rework. I personally know the feeling of a project taking a lot longer than I thought it should take, but most of the time it was a result of not properly planning and also failing to account for all the details of the project that can make it take longer than you would expect. So if you have been disciplined enough to follow the steps above, then allot double the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a project so you don’t feel you have to rush through the process. Following your detailed instruction to the “T” and working in a deliberate manner with tools neatly arranged will make the process a lot more enjoyable and will lead to a superior end product. Also, when you are deliberate about your process, you are more likely to work safer because if you think following a plan is slow, then you should consider how much time you can waste at an emergency room if you hurt yourself.
Don’t forget to properly inspect/test your work and clean up after your project – Your completed project looks beautiful, but before you get on with the rest of your day make sure you finish strong. My mother hired a contractor to redo her bathroom a couple years back. The contractor was an older man who I can tell really cared for his work and took his time to complete the project. There was one mistake he made when he finished the project, he failed to inspect and test his work. After the work was completed I inspected the bathroom for my mom to ensure the quality of work. I found a mis-wired GFCI outlets (If you don’t know what a GFCI is, follow this link) and later on we discovered they did not properly cut the drain underneath the sink which started leaking. By not testing his work, it cost the contractor two trips back to my mom’s house to fix the issues. So take time at the end of your work to inspect and test your work (especially true for electrical work) if at all possible. Also, make sure you put your tools away and any spare raw materials are neatly packaged. You may wish to label the excess material with what project it’s for to ensure that if you have an issue in the future, you have access to those parts.
Enjoy your handywork! – As stated in the first step, what is the purpose of doing projects if you don’t enjoy the process? Go ahead, admire your work and feel good about your accomplishment. It took a lot of brainpower and patience to complete that project and you deserve to relish in the moment. This will also help you feel motivated to tackle the next task on the honey-do list and repeat the steps above.