Saturday, January 02, 2010

DIY Home Improvement Means Not Having Someone Else to Blame

Like a lot of people, I and my partner at the time wanted to buy a house, but the ones we could afford were not in areas that we liked, so we took the time honored route of buying a fixer, and trading sweat equity in order to get into a nicer area

That paid off handsomely, which was actually not the reason for this house purchase. It's one of those emotional decisions that, for once, worked in my favor. My area is rich in history and has no shortage of historic houses in nice areas that need love and attention. I just wanted to lavish love (and attention and money and time and money and anguish and money ... ) on a house that needed it. It's one area where you can really make a difference as a nicer house improves the neighborhood which helps everyone. (Well unless you're involved in gentrification, but we'll steer clear of that hot topic.)

The trouble is that when on a limited budget (that means just about everyone to some extent) there are always long lists of things to do and only one or two of you to do the work. So you save your pennies for the projects that you want someone else's expertise in - most recently for me is seismic reinforcements. After learning all about it I decided that I wanted someone else's help (and information about it changes so fast I'm glad I sought help.)

For the rest that you can conceivably do, you have a list of doable projects that you (ok, I) think about and think about and think some more about. Then I finally get tired of it and start on one until I hit a stopping point which leads to too many unfinished projects. Usually the reason is that you've discovered that some essential thing has to happen before you can proceed - I call this: going backwards in a project. Recently I decided that I really needed to finish a project, not just start one.

This particular project - a deadbolt - had actually taken some thought as I wanted to put said deadbolt on a door that had a window. I wanted to get around the problem of someone just breaking the window and undoing the deadbolt, so I found one that had a key on each side ("double cylinder" I think) and when we're home I leave a key in it on the inside (for fast exit in case of fire) and when we're gone on vacation I remove the inner key.

So first I did the easy part and replaced the same keyed door knob (didn't have to drill any new holes for that), then it sat for a couple of weeks until the above "I need to finish a house project" bug attacked and putting in the deadbolt was a natural target since I already had most of the hardware.

The thing about doing it yourself is that you have to accept that it's going to take you 4+ times as long as a professional who does this every day. I'm a computer professional and from time to time I'll help a friend out with a computer problem and I find that they've spent days on something that I can fix it 30 seconds. The reason is that I've already spent all those hours learning about the various ins and outs.

The other thing about fixer houses is that you had better really like tools

This job "required" a drill, a key hole drill bit, a spade drill bit, a 1/8 " drill bit, a wood chisel, a hammer, and a screwdriver. (Plus the usual: measuring tape, small T square level, and pencil) Simple huh?

The job actually took a drill, a different template kit from Home Depot which made lining things up easier, a key hole saw from the kit, a spade bit different from the one in the kit because the kit one wasn't lined up quite right. a 1/8" drill bit, the kit's nice wood chisel, a mallet (don't screw up your chisel with a hammer!), a utility knife (works better to use it to draw the outline to chisel out the mortise.

But nothing ever goes as planned and this is the problem with DIY. WHEN you mess it up there's no one else to blame (stupid locksmit - oh that would be me), you just have to be prepared for it.
So add to the above: small dowels and glue to help fill mis-aligned holes
a smaller spade bit for the dead bolt part that goes into the door jamb because they neglected to tell you that the one to put the dead bolt in the door is really too large for the other side of the jamb.
A Dremel to help make micro adjustments
A Die grinder for those not so micro adjustments.
A patient, but easily amused spouse or partner who is willing to help.
A headlamp because you don't have enough hands to hold a flash light.
Eye protection
Lipstick - this is not a joke. Lipstick put on the end of the dealbolt shows where it's striking the jamb. Rumor has it even the manly locksmith guys carry it, so feel free to look for it when they are working for you, so you can tease them about it.

Things that helped:
- patience - especially when chiseling the motises (those insets you have to make for the striker plates)
- sculpture experience for same motises - this helps you to avoid whacking your hands with the mallet
- upper arm endurance - you are drilling a very large hole in a door and the drill can catch so you need to be able to hold on tight.
- a good sense of touch as it requires putting in bolts where you can't see the screw hole
- a good eye for when things are mostly level - it's not precision work, but the closer you are the less rework you have to do.
- a sense of humor
- the knowledge (hopefully not misinformed) that you are not making things worse
- health insurance (not used this time but always good to have) - note the upper arm endurance section - drills that catch on things try to turn the body of the drill - often into you.

2 sessions later, I now have a working deadbolt and all my fingers, toes, eyes and dogs and sanity and marriage, and a sense of accomplishment. Besides it's fun to actually get something done with all of your toys.

When I first published this I typoed DIY as DYI. I wonder if that stands for Do Yourself In.


Elf said...

Oh, cool, lipstick on the end! Good tip. I have this deadbolt that I haven't gotten around to installing... I've done 2 in the past, but for some reason this one bothers me.

Ellen said...

How come?

Elf said...

Dunno. Weird door? Existing oddball deadbolt lock that requires removing first so there's more potential cleanup to do? Every time I start to think about doing it, I make up excuses for not. Plus like I have a billion higher pri things to do it seems.

Jennie said...

I'm thinking of replacing one of my locks with a double-key, for similar reasons. Am hoping that simple replacement is mucho easier than installing.

Yeah, I thought that with the new thermostat I just bought, and THAT was dead wrong...