I just moved into my own place! It’s my first home, and I’m excited. However, I know there are repairs I’ll have to do myself, and I have some improvements I’d like to make too. Problem is, I don’t know where to begin. How do I use these tools, and where do I even get them? How do I make sure my work is safe and not damaging my home? Does anyone offer training for new homeowners or something?
Dear Recovering Renter,
Congratulations on your new home! It can be daunting to move into your new home with the understanding that it’s really yours, as in, you’re responsible for not just its maintenance and upkeep, but you can do whatever you want with it as well. The flip side of that though is that if you’ve been renting your whole life, the broadest extent of your home improvement experience may be watching HGTV and whatever you could do in your rental without risking the ire of your landlord.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to get the skills you need to properly maintain your new home, and even tackle those upgrades and improvements you have on your list. Let’s talk about where you can go to learn some new skills.
Visit Your Local Hardware Store
Most hardware stores, especially large national chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s, both host classes and workshops designed to help new homeowners get comfortable with doing their own work around the house, making their own improvements, and fixing their own problems without spending a ton of money on contractors or specialists. For example, Home Depot’s weekly workshops will show you how to do things like install decorative moulding, install tile flooring, properly paint interior walls, and more—all things you may never have had to do as a renter.
Of course, the classes at your local hardware store aren’t enough to really prep you to be a professional by any means. The classes are too short, and the instructions too vague. However, they are a good starting point for further research, and there’s plenty of additional information available online as well. Lowe’s has a how-to project center with walkthroughs for common household projects, as does Home Depot.
If you have a local, independently owned hardware store in your area, even better—check with them too. They may also have classes or workshops, and even if they don’t, odds are they’ll be more likely to give you useful how-to information, worthwhile tricks to help you get started, and—best of all—the name of a good, trustworthy contractor or handyman in your community to call if you need help. Plus, they’re great places to get your DIY toolkit stocked up if you don’t have the right tools already.
Use Technology to Help You
Don’t underestimate the internet here. There are a lot of people out there willing to show you how to do things incorrectly, but I’ve found a number of truly useful and helpful how-to videos on YouTube for basic home repairs. Check out tutorials and how-to guides on sites like The Family Handyman and This Old House—good, reputable sources for home improvement information. Cross reference anything you find with multiple sources though, just to make sure you’re getting good information. We mentioned above that the major hardware stores have their own tutorials and how-to guides online, check them out as well. If you see a video of someone replacing a garbage disposal, for example, or installing a new sink, make sure you watch multiple videos and make sure that what they’re doing is applicable to your situation.
Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, or Another Home-Building Project
Another great way to get hands-on experience with home improvement projects is to volunteer at your local Habitat for Humanity, or any other home-building project in your area. In some cases, you’ll find yourself building a home from the foundation up, other times you’ll be inside the house, roughing out the interior or putting the finishing touches on the kitchen, bathroom, or bedrooms. If you make it a bit of a regular thing, you’ll accomplish two goals: You’ll do something good for your community, and you’ll learn home improvement skills you can put to good use when you get home.
You’ll really pick up the skills you’re looking for if you become a regular though, and volunteer on those down-days when there aren’t big groups mulling about. If there’s anything I learned working on a Habitat site, it’s that work slows down when there’s a big volunteer group around—the vets have to stop actual work to give out assignments and show people how to do things safely. That’s a good thing for you, since you need to learn. Once you have the basics down though, your visits will be more productive and informative, so don’t give up! Keep going back—you’ll learn more every time.
Work On Your Friends’ Home Improvement Projects
The fastest way to get some hands-on experience with the tools and projects you may want to do in your own home is to do the work in someone else’s. If you have friends or family tackling their own home improvement projects, they’re likely looking for help. You’ll have the opportunity to go hands-on with the tools you want to learn, and the projects you want to know how to do—and ideally you’ll be able to learn from someone who knows how to use those tools and already has a plan for the project that you want to tackle. After all, your friend needs help with their project, and you need some experience doing home improvement work, so it’s a win-win.
Since this may or may not be a contractor-led exercise, make sure you pay attention and stay safe though. You don’t want to learn unsafe habits from your friend’s home reno. With luck, you’ll pick up all the skills you want, and you’ll have a friend who’ll hopefully be willing to help you out when it’s your turn.
Hire Someone to Shadow
Like we mentioned, your local hardware store may have some leads on reputable contractors that can help you with your home improvement project. We know, you said you wanted to do it yourself and didn’t want to pay someone else to do it, but the best way to learn the right way to do things is to hire someone willing to let you help them, and who’s willing to show you how to do it yourself. If you get someone good, they’ll show you the ropes and essentially put themselves out of a job.
Of course, not every handyman wants to do that—some will try to wave you away because you’re slowing them down, others will conveniently withhold information so you wind up needing them anyway. Expect some of that, and when you interview your prospective handyman or check up on your future contractor, make it clear that you want this to be a learning exercise for you—that as long as it’s safe and practical, you’ll want to help out. Explain you don’t want to just to speed things up, you also want to learn, and you want to know how to properly repair the work in the future. If the person you’re interviewing has a problem with that, look elsewhere.
Know Your Limits, and Get Help If You’re In Trouble
Remember, part of owning a home is being responsible for it. There are just some repairs and projects you shouldn’t tackle without the right tools, know-how, or manpower. If you’re in over your head, admit it and get outside help. You don’t want to wind up hurting yourself, seriously damaging your home, or wasting a ton of money on a half-assed repair or improvement that should have been done properly the first time. Like we mentioned above, you can always hire someone willing to let you shadow them or help out a bit, and see how it should be done, take your lumps, and get it right next time.
With luck, you’ll pick up the skills you need pretty quickly, and when it comes time to work on your own home, you can do it with confidence. Remember, stay safe, go slowly, and do it right the first time so you don’t waste time, energy, and money fixing a botched job later on down the line. Good luck!
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Photos by denphumi (Shutterstock), The LEAF Project, First Baptist Nashville, Lentini, Bill, and First Baptist Nashville.