DIY Home Improvement Essential Skills


If you have been around here long enough you know I briefly worked for a builder.  When I worked for that builder, we had a sorta thing.  Maybe a little bit of a superstition, perhaps. You see, it became a little bit of a habit, a ritual almost, that on the day we picked to cut the water on (for a house), we just as certainly ensured that it was cut back off for its first full overnight.

Now, let’s take instead the time I walked into a house to find it, well … raining, from the sunken family room ceiling. If I could only do this justice, but I mean – raining … and plumbers and trim carpenters and innocent bystanders scrambling frantically, as if in some early cartoon, this way and that.  It was a little bit of a surprise for sure, especially since the house was in its final days of construction. The plumbing lines had been pressure tested, the permit had an inspector’s signature on it, and the walls sure as heck had been closed up.  Those lines, too, had been installed by a highly reputable, thoroughly professional plumbing company.

If I could only say that that was the only time I ever witnessed something like it. … Unfortunately, I can’t.

flooded basement clean up from an unglued fitting

I think back also to some of the plumbing adventures I’ve had in my own homes.  Debacles, leaks, tear outs/redos, excessive trips to the home center (or the plumbing supply house) for a not-grabbed part or a much-needed tool – yes, yes, yes and yes. … Yes.

Now, does that mean though that I’m not a pretty decent DIY Plumber? Nope. Darn good, I think. I can get most jobs done, and done most of the time with limited mess. Hmmmm, kinda just like those professionals.

Sweating copper – no problem, toilet repair/replace – same, faucet repair/replace – no problem. Hot water heater – yes, snaking drains – sure, new supply lines, new drain lines – check and check.

So, I get it, you are starting to think to yourself – “Well then JB, with such a mad set of plumbing skills, do you ever hire a professional plumber?”


When to Hire a Professional Plumber?

Well, recently I discovered a pretty nasty crack in the cast iron main sewer drain as entered the concrete slab in our basement.  I hired a plumber.  While it’s likely that I could’ve successfully repaired it (after a trip to the local rental center), this time I felt – time was of the … essence.

plumber reparied cast iron pipe

A time before that, I had hired a plumber, at $750 … on a Sunday – to open up that same sewer drain as it was blocked somewhere between the house and the curb.  Using their super industrial snaky thing, it took a pair of guys only about a ½ an hour to get us back up and running.

Now, I know, now you might be thinking, “$750! … for a half an hour of work  … What?!”

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Truth – I paid it, well … because I understood (as with the cutting off ritual above) the “what ifs” of the situation.  What if I couldn’t get the line clear with the equipment I spent good time and good money to rent (and surely not without a good share of cursing)?  What if, worse, I damaged that pipe? … So, yes, I paid it and I paid it pretty happily.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating calling a plumber, or any specialist for that matter, for every little thing.  And okay, in this case – $750 was a little high.  I mean – it was a Sunday; they were over within 2 hours.  I felt the full impact of what I’ll call “emergency pricing.”  I, I … Anyway.

Bonus Coverage: For a fuller elaboration of When to Hire a Plumber, please see my guest post for The DIY Show Off, there.

* Knowing the What Ifs

But perhaps this all highlights the most important, most essential of all the diy home improvement essential traits, extending far beyond plumbing: Knowing the What Ifs and knowing when to pick up the phone to call someone that has a lot more experience than you.

And while, yes, it does alone mitigate risk, ya gotta admit – it’s tough to compete with all the right common parts and all the right tools right out there on a truck. Pretty dang convenient and easy …  even if it costs a little bit more, wouldn’t you say? Sometimes.



Thanks for reading & we just don’t talk like we used to – please drop me a line in the comments below. For more on Essential DIY Skills, please see our Category = Essential Skills. Cheers. ~jb

Pictured aboveMark T. Elia, Mark of Excellence, NJ