In the time since I’ve become a homeowner, I’ve ambitiously taken on a lot of projects that were completely foreign processes and totally over my head. Or some might say, projects that I probably had no business taking on myself. In any case, by taking my time to learn about how to do things the do-it-yourself way, I’ve not only saved myself a lot of time and money, but my tool intuition and general sense of know-how has improved by leaps and bounds.
See? Now I know that I can remove asphalt by hand.
In this time spent learning about projects, processes, materials, and general how-to-do-things-rightness, I’ve picked up a few tips worth sharing. Keep on reading, and share some of your own tips in the comments too.
Tip #1: When searching for help online, be wary about local codes:
This point is a serious one that crosses the board. I’m talking about bloggers (like me), contractors, and even some experienced professionals who provide tips that may not apply to your state, county, or your personal situation. Be wary about specific codes, and do follow-up due diligence to make sure what you’re doing is going to be acceptable by your local building authorities.
For example, When I was building my deck, the very widely used online deck builder program incorrectly assumed that I only needed 18-24″ footers, wherein in New York with a 48″ frost line, the inspector was going to be measuring for holes that went upwards of 52″ deep to be beneath that frost line.
Tip #2: Whether it be online or in print, be diligent to check the date that the article was published.
In building our flagstone patio, we found a lot of tips in the interwebs advising that there was this “brand-new-amazing-expensive-but-totally-worthwhile sand that would soon be all the rage for these types of patios.” Want to take a quick guess about what they’re talking about? Our common landscaping friend, Polymeric Sand, that’s who. And Polymeric Sand has been around for awhile, there’s nothing new, or elusive, or even very expensive about it now that it’s sold by any landscape architect around the country. In 2012, it’s the go-to for paver gaps, but if someone is reading this in 2025, well, I probably just dated myself.
The big tip here: Never invest trust in an article that doesn’t have a publication date tied to it; the chances of it being outdated are too risky. These same authors the year prior had written about techniques using normal sands or cements between flagstones, techniques that are outdated and proven not as effective, but are still documented in text floating around out there for innocent DIYers like myself to inadvertently stumble upon.
Tip #3: Don’t dismiss your local buddies.
Sometimes, it helps to talk it out with others, whether it be with passionate DIYers, authorities in building, or experts in a niche field. The local building inspector. The paint desk specialist. Your cousin’s husband. The landscape architect that insists that we should go for the extra 2″ of crusher because, in her experience, it’ll be more solid in the long run. All of these people, and many others, have served as a sounding board for my DIY projects by simply helping me think through processes and make smart decisions. And usually, it’s advice given for free. Or in exchange for a coffee and bagel or an awkward you-just-saved-me-so-much-time hug.
Catching the home improvement bug at an early age, Emily Winters is a now a devoted DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects she covers on her blog Merrypad range from painting a wall to building a deck, so it’s only natural she landed at DIYNetwork.com. You can follow Emily on twitter at @merrypad and like her on facebook at facebook.com/merrypad.